Welcome to Barren Island Books, the author interview series that’s in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. You know the rules by now: my guests are exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with those books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Stephen Moore, author of Graynelore - out today from Harper Voyager! When he’s not being banished to a desert island, Stephen can be found at stephenmoorefantasyauthor.wordpress.com.
Stephen, thanks for joining us! First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
Me? I’m a fantasy author with a very fertile imagination, so I shall probably make up the rest of this! Seriously? (puts on serious face). I have no unusual birthmarks. Mind you, my body is covered in moles! If you took a pen and joined up all the dots you’d probably find yourself with a very detailed scale map of Graynelore. (Nervous cough ...) Sorry, that was a blatant plug for my new book. I’ve been a published children’s fantasy author since 1996 (is it THAT long?). It’s taken me until now to write my first adult fantasy!
I don’t wrestle bears ... I did once try to wrestle a wave on a surfing beach in Cornwall and almost drowned! I’m into all sorts of things. Art, rock music, theatre, movies, books (of course), exploring my beloved North of England, and ... RPG video games. I must have spent years playing Skyrim and Fallout! (And yes, it’s true; I do prefer to play as a female character!)
Perfectly reasonable :-) And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
I’m lucky. I’ve played with ideas all my professional life, so I’m pretty good at snatching them right out of thin air. And if not from there, then my inspiration is just as likely to come from popular culture, art, music or history. In my worlds pigs can fly and mountain ranges float in the sky. (That’s got to be the influence of the huge apocalyptic paintings of Victorian artist John Martin, one of my personal favourites.)
In my new book (did I mention Graynelore?) there are unifauns, characters inspired by a 1973 song by the prog-rockers Genesis. There’s also a place named after another old song by the band Lindisfarne, Dingly Dell ... Mind you, the heart of the tale comes from my own personal family ties to infamous sixteenth century Border Reivers! That’s families living on the English/Scottish Borders who considered theft, blackmail, kidnap and deadly blood-feud as all part of the day job! (It’s true!)
Sometimes I write purely for the adventure of the journey, other times I might have a particular theme I want to explore. With fantasy an author gets to go anywhere they want to go,and they get to do pretty much anything they want to do when they get there. That’s why I love the genre so much. There are no limits. However, it takes two to tango. Without an author there’s no book. But equally without a reader there’s no book. And my books make great companions. If you’re stuck on a miserable desert island, just step inside one and you’re immediately transported ...
To be honest, you had me at unifauns ;-) Now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
As a kid, I was a daydreamer, and art was my great passion; the sticky, wet, colourful side of art. (That’s why, when I grew up, I became an exhibition and graphic designer.) Other than comics – the likes of ‘The Beezer’ and Marvel’s ‘Astounding Tales’ – I didn’t do much reading. That is, until I came upon a beautifully illustrated version of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island. The pictures beguiled me with their beautifully expressed characters: Ben Gunn, Blind Pew, Long John Silver and the rest. My love of the words came later. In fact, it’s still my favourite book of all time. Which is why I gave Treasure Island a name-check in my first children’s book, Spilling the Magic.
Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
Oh dear ... that might well be Treasure Island again. Or Tolkien, or Le Guin, or Dickens, or Roald Dahl, or Laurie Lee, or Robert Westall, or Douglas Adams: they ALL inspired me to write. I truly never thought I had it in me! Perhaps there’s a compendium of their works somewhere in my imagination?
If I must choose just one book, then I’ll go for one that changed the way I look at books. As a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to drift away upon a wave of Pink Floyd music – not be bored to death by the school curriculum books I was being force fed! That was until I came across Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. I loved the weird science of it. I loved the computer print-outs, and the computer-speak. It proved that good books didn’t need to be made up of endless yards of laborious, solid text. (Sorry Mr Dickens ... I do so love your work now!)
I’m glad you found something to ignite your love of reading! For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
I’m a great lover of children’s books. My favourite children’s author is Robert Westall, most famous for The Machine Gunners. I’m going to choose one of his lesser works, the very badly titled Ghost Abbey. At face value it’s a very run-of-the-mill ghost story. However, Westall is a clever writer, and the real theme of his story is stray dogs! That’s people, by the way, and not dogs! A set of characters who have lost their way, by circumstance or personal tragedy. Characters who, at last, find their way home again. Not a perfect book (what book is?) but, oddly enough, one I often return to ...
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
I’m a great fan of the Bronte sisters, or rather, the dark brooding romance of their short and tragic lives. I’ve visited Howarth on several occasions and read biographies. However, although I’ve tried very hard to get into their fiction I’ve often found it difficult. I adore the real-life Emily, and think Wuthering Heights is a gorgeous book title (I’ve borrowed ‘wuthering’ at least once in my own work), but I just cannot read the book. A few chapters in and I’m always stuck. (I promise you, I will try again.) So, when I came to Charlotte’s Jane Eyre I prepared myself for the worst. Well, of course, I loved it! For me, it’s a beautifully drawn tale that didn’t need a team of horses to keep me interested after all. Just goes to show.
Not to worry, I like Jane Eyre much better than Wuthering Heights too! And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
Oh dear, at least three novels spring to mind. There’s a very new one. What’s it called? Gr... Grayn... something or other! Sorry! (Slaps own hand.) I’m going to go for ... either ... Richard Adams’ Plague Dogs or William Horwood’s Skallagrigg. It’s ... Skallagrigg. An amazing and complex fantasy, created out of the harsh and brutal environment of a grim twentieth century institutional children’s hospital. His masterpiece, I think ...
Right. We’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
I adore many forms of music and would find it very difficult to live without it. Today, I’ll choose ... David Gilmour’s ‘The Blue’ from the album On an Island. I like a sound track that fits the mood.
The movie would have to be fun! We all need a good laugh sometimes! So I’ll go for ... Galaxy Quest. It’s the perfect SciFi spoof, and I’m happy to watch it over and over again.
As for the ‘item of my choice’ ...? I’d find it truly impossible to live without my wife and son. So, cheating, I’d like a door. It’s a magic door. When I open it and step across the threshold it takes me home to them.
And if I am not allowed the magic door, how about a pint of Big Lamp Bitter from my favourite pub instead?
Hmm. The magic door does rather defeat the purpose of going into exile, so how about a perpetually replenishing pint to drown your sorrows? :-D Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
I’m fascinated by the Moon. I have a telescope which I use for nothing else but moon gazing. I think I’ll put my island there. Perhaps I’ll bump into Aiken Drum? At the very least I can spend my time looking down upon you all ... it only takes a little imagination.
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
Stephen Moore’s novel Graynelore is out now from Harper Voyager. Available from:
Amazon.co.uk Barnes&Noble Amazon.com PlayGoogle
You can find Stephen Moore at:
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