So, you’re stranded on a desert island, Kandy Shepherd…
Inspired by the long running UK radio programme, Desert Island Discs, I’m introducing an occasional guest blog where I invite authors to share the books they would choose to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Books to evoke precious memories, books to make them laugh, maybe a book to help them survive!
My first guest is Kandy Shepherd, who swapped a fast-paced career as a magazine editor for a life writing fun, feel-good fiction.
Born in Sri Lanka to expat parents – an Australian mother and an English father working for an American oil company – her early childhood was spent in Sri Lanka, India, England and Ireland before her family settled in Sydney, Australia. She says that the legacy of her childhood is a relentless lust for travel. She’s on a plane whenever she can get away and I was thrilled to meet her at an author lunch in London. The Greek islands are one of her favourite places and she uses her travel to good effect in her books, winning the hotly contested RUBY award from RWAus for best short romance novel of the year with Conveniently Wed to the Greek
Welcome to your desert island, Kandy. Your hammock will be hung from a couple of palm trees, there will be fresh spring water, fruit, coconuts to pick and the sea, lapping at a sandy beach, if fishing is your thing. Traditionally, the bible and complete works of Shakespeare will be waiting for you. All you have to do is choose six books that time on the island would give you time to reread at leisure.
Thank you Liz, it’s wonderful to be here, thank you for inviting me. I could do with some relaxing reading on a desert island! What a near-impossible task to choose just six books from the very many books I’ve read over a lifetime of compulsive reading. I actually don’t often re-read a book, there are too many new ones wanting to be read. In narrowing the list, I’m choosing books I know I would enjoy reading again.
Do you want to tell us about your first book and why you’ve chosen it?
Book number one is a cookbook, one I absolutely cherish. Full and Plenty: Complete Guide to Good Cooking by Maura Laverty, an Irish author.
This book, first published in 1960, was given to my mother by an Irish friend. I was interested in cooking from an early age and I loved this book. Not only is it packed with fabulous recipes of the classic home cooking kind, but each section starts with a heartwarming, beautifully written story themed around the transformative power of good food: for example, the country doctor whose mean spirited housekeeper, a stingy cook, goes on holiday to be replaced by a kind young woman who feeds him delicious nourishing meals—and both find love.
Looking back on this book—complete with my mother’s notes, my young comments and my daughter’s childish scrawls—I can see why I grew up to be a romance writer. And I still cook the recipes. Who knows what recipes I could adapt to desert island life?
What a great first choice, Kandy. The combination of food and stories is just about perfect, especially with a little romance thrown in! And I love that little insight into how you chose to write your wonderful romances. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Read, garden, cook, swim wherever possible, and spend time with my family and friends. Lately I’ve been very involved in renovating the small apartment we’ve downsized to.
We’ll go back to that later, but now I want to hear about your second book.
This is a well-loved Australian classic, Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner, first published in 1894.
As a child I thrilled to the adventures of the mischievous Woolcot children—six from their stern father’s first marriage to their late mother and the baby born to their young stepmother—who at age twenty is only four years older than the oldest child.
It’s set in Sydney and the bush, which I loved as so many of the books I devoured were set in other countries. It’s a wonderful story that evokes not just laughter but tears. I still remember loving the characters as if they were real—surely a good lesson for a future writer to absorb.
It sounds,wonderful. We all need stories set in places that we recognise, about people who talk like us and who we might know. As a child I had the classics, and a very limited number of authors. I was given permission to move to the adult library very young – they kept a careful eye on what I was taking out! Thankfully there are so many wonderful and diverse books for children these days.
Those books set in other countries must have had an impact, though. I know you are a great traveller, Kandy. When we met in London a couple of years ago, you had been swimming around a Greek island! Where, in the world, do you still long to go?
Liz, as I write we are meant to be on one of those wonderful ocean swims in Greece. Sadly the world situation means it was not to be. Fingers crossed for next year. I still long to go to Sri Lanka, where I was born, and Ireland where I lived as a small child. I would also like to see more of Eastern Europe. And Venice, I have been to other parts of Italy but never Venice.
Oh, that’s such a shame. I had a trip to the Lake District cancelled. Not quite as glamorous! I did have a brief stopover in Venice after a cruise half a century ago. I’d love to go back there and explore properly. I do hope you manage to get there very soon. It’s quite close to Greece! In the meantime, tell us about your third book.
It’s the classic Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, first published in 1938, a twisted gothic thriller of two wives one dead, one unnamed and haunted by the memory of the glamorous first wife, Rebecca. And then there is the forbidding Mrs Danvers. How chilling are those first words of the opening chapter, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” I can see myself in the hammock reading this again. (Of course I love the movie too.)
Lawrence Olivier! But there’s going to be a new Netflix adaptation with Lily James as the young, unnamed wife and Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter. Fanning myself!
You mentioned your move to the city and apartment. I know that you love animals. I think your Ivy is one of the prettiest cats I’ve ever seen. How is she coping with the move?
She and her brother Alfie were rescued as kittens from a feral life in the carpark of a McDonald’s. We also have 20-year-old Tabitha. The girl cats have taken to apartment living quite happily, Alfie not so much. Fortunately we have a small farm in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and he is much happier being allowed out into the garden there.
They are lucky cats to have found such a great home, Kandy. But boys… what can you do?
Your next book Coromandel Sea Change by Rumer Godden, published in 1991m is set in India, a place where you spent some of your childhood.
Yes, this is the story of the young woman, perhaps married to the wrong man, honeymooning in a guest house on the east coast of India still sticks in my mind years after reading it. The wife is bewitched by India, the husband is not. Sensual tension, conflict, drama it’s all there. I’m certainly due for a reread! And I love crime stories. Irish author Tana French’s books are all standouts.
Broken Harbour, book four, in the Dublin Murder Squad series is made all the more enthralling by Tana French’s amazing writing style and depth of characterisation. I flipped the pages very quickly on my first read wanting to know who committed the murder, I’m looking to a more leisurely read while flopped in my hammock.
Oh, I like the sound of this one. I do enjoy crime fiction and I’m always on the look out for a new series, with a great female protagonist. For me it’s all about character. The crime is a puzzle, but it’s her journey that keeps me engaged. I’ll definitely be looking out for her first book in the series. And having taken a quick look online, I see that it’s about to become BBC series. Something to look forward to. But now we’ve reached your last book. Tell me about it.
It’s Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson published in 1995.
This book is part travel book, part memoir, part love letter to Great Britain and its people by the American writer. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in many parts. I first read this on a plane, and had to stop myself from laughing too loudly.
I remember hearing this read by Bill on the radio , and like you I was howling with laughter. It’s such an affectionate memoir; he gets us Brits so well. And I think the one thing you’d need on a desert island is something to make you laugh.
Islands feature in your latest book, Their Royal Baby Gift, the second book in Christmas at the Harrington Park Hotel, mini series is set mainly in Singapore. How did you set about researching your location?
I have visited Singapore several times, the last being six years ago. It’s a fabulous modern city with an interesting history. There’s a personal link to Singapore in my family, my father lived there a long time ago and my husband spent part of his childhood there when his father was in the British Army. I love it and would go back anytime!
Another significant setting in the book is the south-east Asian fictional kingdom of the hero, Prince Edward. He and Sally Harrington, the heroine, spend time together on a private part of the island and that is very much based on parts of Vietnam I visited in February this year (when we were still allowed to travel!)
I enjoyed writing Their Royal Baby Gift and bringing to life some of the Asian settings I love. Of course part of the fun was liaising with you and Susan Meier to discuss our characters, the fascinating Harrington siblings, and making sure they were all on the page when they were meant to be!
I love writing as a collaborative team to create a mini series, Kandy. It was definitely the best part for me. I ‘ve made so many friends and feel so blessed to know and work with writers in this series. But I’m still going to strand you on this desert island! How do you think you’d cope? Could you build yourself a shelter? What would you miss most?
I’m not so sure I’d cope very well at all! After I’d finished my six books I think I’d be desperate to be rescued. Although I would love to be dipping in and out of those glorious blue waters. With time, I could probably put together a rudimentary shelter from fallen branches and woven palm leaves. To be truthful, I would really miss the internet!
Oh, lord, how we would manage without our phones! Checking up on texts and emails, catching up with friends on Facebook. So tough, but you’re allowed a luxury to make your life a little easier – but nothing practical!
My favourite luxury is perfume, a bottle of Allure by Chanel would be very welcome. However what I would really like is some high factor sunblock, I have very pale skin and would burn to a crisp on that desert island—even with a home made hat made from palm leaves!
I think we could stretch a point and allow you both of those!
Finally, if you had to rescue just one book from the waves, which would it be.
It would have to be the cookbook—but perhaps with this in mind I should swap it for One Hundred Ways with Coconuts!
It’s not on Amazon, Kandy. I think you might have to write it!
Kandy Shepherd’s new book, Their Royal Baby Gift, is published in November as part of the Christmas at the Harrington Park Hotel mini series. The digital edition will be available online from today (16 October)
Here’s a taster – Chapter One