Two of the biggest hits of the summer involve love on an island. I’m hoping for a third – my YA novel The Island, although in the spirit of disclosure I should say things get a little darker than they do either in ITV’s Love Island or Hollywood’s Mamma Mia 2. In The Island incurable nerd Link Selkirk is marooned on a desert island with a bunch of fellow students who have made his life a misery at school. But on the island all the rules change – the bullies become the bullied, and Link rises to a level of power over his fellow man (and woman) that threatens to corrupt him dangerously.
The novel was inspired by Radio 4 staple Desert Island Discs, a programme on which famous guests are invited to choose their eight favourite tracks, one book and one luxury, to sustain them if they were cast away on a desert island. The show forms the structure of the novel, as my hero Link lives eight stages of life on the island, all named after (and relating to) one of his favourite Desert Island Discs. A longtime fan, I’ve been gobbling up D.I.D. trivia. Did you know, for example, that Mozart is the favourite classical composer, and The Beatles the most chosen pop artists? Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending is the most chosen piece of all. The most chosen novelist is Charles Dickens, whereas Dylan Thomas emerges as the castaways’ favourite poet. The luxuries chosen vary widely; Theresa May chose a subscription to Vogue, Professor Stephen Hawking couldn’t live without crème brulee and Norman Mailer requested ‘a stick of the very best marijuana.’
The prospect of a sojourn on a desert island ought to be more appealing to a writer than members of other professions – all that solitude and headspace to tempt the muse - but I reckon you’d still need a bit of a survival kit. So in the spirit of Desert Island Discs, I’ve put together my own list – not of discs, books or luxuries but a mixture of all three – the eight essentials that a writer would need on a desert island.
Something to write with and on
It is a truth universally acknowledged that in order to write a novel you need writing materials. A desert island would be the one place where you couldn’t blame Facebook/Instagram/your mother on the phone/emails/the kids/the cat for distracting you. So theoretically if you had a lifetime supply of paper and pens you should be able to write your own personal War and Peace. Unless you decide to blame the heat/the sound of the waves/the mosquitos/the coconuts/that pesky rescue plane.
A kettle is a writer’s staple. I have back-to-back tea and coffee all day, so much so that my doctor actually ordered me to give up caffeine. There’s nothing like making a cuppa to get the synapses firing again if you’ve hit a tricky paragraph, or just to stretch the legs before the DVT sets in. So I’d need a (solar-powered) kettle and a lifetime’s supply of decaf tea bags and coffee. Hopefully there would be a friendly goat hanging around who is amenable to the occasional milking.
If, like me, you are ginger and have see through blue and white skin, then you will need your factor 50. Also watch out if writing at a desk in the sunshine. Experience has taught me the hard way that you will end up looking like a two-tone freak, with lobstered shoulders, arms and snow-white legs.
An inspiring ‘Robinsonade’ novel
While researching this novel I discovered that Robinsonade is not a fruit drink that players drink at Wimbledon. It is, in fact, a catch-all term for books (and films and TV shows) in the ‘Castaway’ genre, inspired by the original desert island yarn, Robinson Crusoe. Swallows and Amazons is Robinsonade, as is Swiss Family Robinson, and Lord of the Flies. My favourite is The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. The classic story of a lowly island prisoner who becomes a fabulously wealthy count and takes his revenge on all who wronged him, has the advantage of being incredibly long. It’s also one of the best adventure stories ever written. And as a bonus it has top tips for escape, just in case the island gets a bit too prison-like.
Daytime telly playing on a loop
This is not for everyone, but my own writing method involves having the telly on in the background while I work. With no disrespect to Phil and Holly and the Loose Women, I have to admit I totally ignore it. Its function is to provide the kind of background noise that other writers get typing away in a café. I expect that someone has invented a solar powered telly, which should be OK as I’m assuming desert islands have wall-to-wall sunshine.
One of the nicest things about being thousands of miles from all that light pollution must be the sight of the stars at night. So it would be quite nice to know what hemisphere you have ended up in, and what all your shiny new stars are called. A planisphere would help you map the heavens and could definitely help you navigate if you could be bothered to build a raft. And if you decide to stay on the island, what could be more inspiring than a constellation-studded sky? As Oscar Wilde said, some of us are looking at the stars. That could be you.
Yes, I know there’s sea everywhere, but there’s no substitute for a nice bath after a long writing day. Especially for the shoulders. Aaaaahhhhh. And actually, a bath is quite an inspiring place – Winston Churchill and Dalton Trumbo both wrote in the bath. Just don’t drop the manuscript.
An inspiring piece of music
If I was to choose, as the convention of the show allows, one disc above all others to support and inspire me in my lonely, sandy exile, I’d like one that reflects my surroundings but is also soothing and evocative. I think I have the perfect choice. It’s By the Sleepy Lagoon by Eric Coates, and it’s the theme tune to…Desert Island Discs.
The Island by M.A. Bennett is out on 9th August from Hot Key Books
Follow M.A. Bennett on twitter @MABennettAuthor and on Instagram @m.a.bennettauthor