These choices probably depend on the island. I’m being positive and imagining somewhere temperate with regular rainfall, plentiful fruit and vegetables and places it’s possible to catch fish. In this scenario, my worst problem is loneliness. But if it’s a polar island (a frozen desert) or a traditional desert island – all baking sun and only the odd palm tree, I’m stuffed and I need manuals, don’t I? Let’s go with the former island. The nice one. It allows a nicer time for me as the castaway and more interesting books too …
Water Music by TC Boyle
This is my favourite novel. It was TC Boyle’s first and for me, he’s never topped it. Based on the real life adventures of Mungo Park and his doomed trips up the Niger in 1799 and 1803, the language gurgles with life and good humour. It’s the richest text I ever read. I haven’t read it 100 times yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to that on the island and I’m also sure it won’t disappoint – even on the 100th time round.
MI9 Escape and Evasion by MRD Foot and JD Langley
Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky MI9. This would be an inspiring book to have because, let’s face it, as well as sitting in the shade reading as I scoop mango into my mouth and fit in a swim now and then, I’ll need to escape. Or at least draw some kind of attention to myself. I don’t know what wreckage we’re imagining might be around (let’s imagine a radio – go on) but the World War II exploits of this department will keep my mind razor sharp in the matter of getting away. Who knows what I’ll come up with?
Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor
How did I end up on this island? Hmm. I’ll bet I was on a ship. Hopefully not a ship like Star of the Sea though, packed with secrets, lies, intrigue and snobbery! I love this book and it’s faux-non-fiction narrative voice. Every time I’ve read it, it makes me outraged. And compared to some of the characters, I’ll be lucky on my island (heat, light, food and entertainment). Definitely having this one wash up on the beach.
The Poetry of W B Yeats
For declaiming. Especially under the stars at night. By the moon or even the light of the fire I’ll build on the beach – W B Yeats will keep me going spiritually. His poetry is word music – who knows, maybe I’ll end up singing it out loud.
Collected Kurt Vonnegut
You need a friend on a desert island. Someone to talk to. Vonnegut is the kindly uncle I never had, with his wry humanity and keen observations. I’ll ration this book, looking forward to reading it much as you’d look forward to meeting someone you care about for a coffee.
I hope I’m allowed notebooks and pens. All this reading will definitely be inspirational. I might only be allowed to take five books onto the island but hopefully by the time I’m rescued I’ll have written a few more!
Sara Sheridan is an Edinburgh-based novelist who writes cosy crime noir mysteries set in 1950s Brighton and historical novels based on the real-life stories of late Georgian and early Victorian explorers. She has also written for children. Her latest book, On Starlit Seas, is out now.