NEW Desert Island Books!

Okay!  It’s not a new idea. In fact it’s been done everywhere. But I find I like reading what people would take to an island to sustain them…

I like listening to Desert Island Discs too – wondering whether, if the island is truly a desert island, they dance to the music, conduct a symphony orchestra, play air guitar truly fortissimo – and all without being embarrassed! And I wonder if the music would be a solace, soothing ebbing spirits as passing days get notched into the trunk of the obligatory palm tree.

But back to the books…

I hope this will be a regular segment on the blog and will introduce readers to writers of quality, both indie and traditional, maybe even hybrid, and that we will have fly on the wall view of them – not just as penmen but as people.

My guests can list up to ten books if they wish. But the crucial detail is that they must also list why they must take those books with them because I want to learn something of the inner writer.

I’ll start the ball rolling. Find below my books and why I must have them with me on the desert island.

By the way, my desert island is not in the tropics. It’s off the coast of Tasmania, not far, but far enough to be a little isolated and far from the madding crowd.


Wind in the Willows – illustrated by EH Shepard. The book has always been comforting, soothing and magical. As a child, the idea that moles, rats and badgers could ‘people’ the riverbank and dole out soul-deep wisdom was little short of a wonder. And almost from the moment he uttered the words, ‘…there is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. I knew Ratty and I were destined to be lifelong friends. Thereafter, I would find myself as a child, wandering along rivers and coastlines and conducting conversations with imagined characters sequestered in the nooks and crannies.

Summer of the Great Secret by Monica Edwards. Still in childhood, I decided Tamsin was also a best friend. She had Cornish holidays, so how could she not be? She was horse-mad. Bingo. AND she made friends with an enigmatic old man who may or may not have had links to smugglers. Because I lived on the coast most of my life and spent whole holidays on horseback, every cove and every beach was scope for the imagination. Tamsin’s adventure stayed with me  and if nothing else, on my desert island I could count off the days in the quaint dialect which I have never forgotten ‘Yain, tain, tethera, methera…’

The Ill-Made Mute by Cecilia Dart Thornton. One of the most word-filled and luminous fantasies I have read. I mined diamonds as I discovered words I didn’t know and on the desert island, I could spend hours writing the words across the sand. I met Cecilia once and was impressed with her devotion to creating one of the most exciting fantasy series of the time. Sadly we’ve not seen anything on the market from her pen for a long time.

Mindfulness Integrated CBT by Dr. Bruno Cayoun. A book on meditation and mindfulness. There will be plenty of time for meditation, and mindfulness will keep me grounded in the present. I have studied this Buddhist-based meditation with Dr. Cayoun and consider this a healthy book to have alongside.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. The first in the Sevenwaters Series. A wonderful book based on the myth of the swan brothers and their sister. This book will take me away to the land of the medieval Celt, to druids and forests of mystery and dark magick. Juliet Marillier’s writing transports me to a world that is so easily imagined but choosing just one of her many books was exceptionally hard as she has ‘transported’ me with every title I’ve read. Daughter of the Forest will help on the days when weather forces me into my shelter – a tumbled structure that I have found and which I believe may have survived from colonial days. There are these bricks, you see, with arrows carved into them…

Landmarks, by Robert Macfarlane. This is a stunning book about the vernacular of landscape and when its first chapter was published in The Guardian under the title Word Hoard, it was meant to be mine for the same reason I covet Dart Thornton’s book. I love words, I love finding new ones, and so Macfarlane’s book will be under my arm as I trudge the coastline of my desert island. I will stand and declaim in a loud voice about an ‘endragoned sea’ and so forth!

And finally, if there exists a Dorothy Dunnett omnibus of either the House of Niccolo series or The Lymond Chronicles, then it will take care of the rest of my reading matter. Anybody who knows me as a reader and writer will know that DD is my absolute top.

You’re the top! You’re the Colosseum,

You’re the top! You’re the Louvre Museum,

You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss,

You’re a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet…’

So you see, if she manages to create all of that for me I shall be entertained for years!

Either omnibus would keep me busy from so many different angles. There is the obvious historical vein, the fascination with the times. There is the poetic angle – not just her use of language but her use of poetry at crucial moments. in the narrative. I can write those poems across the sand…

Then there is the idea of reading her books from the viewpoint of niche subjects – noting down how often she might refer to birds and what kind and in what manner or context, her references to music, to colours, to food. Again writing the references across the sand.

I discovered that such readings have been done by various groups in Whispering Gallery (the Dorothy Dunnett Society quarterly) and the idea charmed me. In fact I’m longing to have the time to re-read Dunnett and find references to fabric and textile and to note them and their context and maybe even research the fabrics.

So that’s my list.

And my beach will be a literary masterpiece if I can just find enough damp sand on which to write above the high tidemark!

That is, if I have the good fortune to have my glasses on a string round my neck as I swim with heavily loaded drybag to the shore.

Come back in a couple of weeks when I will have returned from my sojourn on the island and washed the sand from between my toes. I’ll introduce you to my next guest, UK writer of Anglo-Saxon historical fiction who sits on the right hand of both the great BC and Matthew Harffy …

Annie Whitehead.