WHAT BOOK would Hilary McKay take to a desert island?

WHAT BOOK would Costa Prize-winning author Hilary McKay take to a desert island?

  • Hilary McKay is reading a new children’s book from Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • Author would take The Tailor Of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter to a desert island
  • Revealed Enid Blyton’s Five On A Treasure Island first gave her the reading bug 

. . . are you reading now?

Three books at the moment. The first is not yet published, but I’ve been given the bound proof. It’s the new children’s book from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, called Julia And The Shark.

Ten-year-old Julia is the narrator. Her story is a seascape; there’s a lighthouse and storms and wild weather. Also, there are the lights and storms and wildness of people learning to live together.

I’ve loved Kiran’s books since The Way Past Winter, but this one is extra special. It has wonderful illustrations too, by Tom de Freston.

Hilary McKay (pictured) is currently reading a new children’s book from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, called Julia And The Shark

My second book is The Button Box by Lynn Knight, which is an exploration of women’s lives in the past 100 years or so. Each chapter begins with an item from the author’s family button box, most often a button, but also a velvet rose, a thimble or clasp. Some small token, with its story of who owned it, and where they lived, and how they lived and why it matters now.

The third book I’m reading is similar: Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. Instead of a button box, though, we have the Thames and the history gathered from its banks. It’s a treasure-hunting, time-travelling, life-untangling journey in wellies on the foreshore. I am loving every muddy squelch.

. . . would you take to a desert island?

Very difficult. It would have to be short, because obviously I would be so busy, what with hammock-netting and fireplace-building and mapmaking, not to mention cataloguing all the flora and fauna of the place.

And it would have to be perfect, because how can your only book be anything less than perfect? So I suppose it would be The Tailor Of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. That’s the shortest and most perfect book I know.

Hilary said she got the reading bug from Enid Blyton’s Five On A Treasure Island (pictured)

. . . first gave you the reading bug?

The reading bug first arrived with me when I was seven or eight years old. It came by way of a very tatty copy of Enid Blyton’s Five On A Treasure Island. I lived in a small house with damp walls in the street behind the gasworks. I’d never seen an island or a castle, nor tasted ginger beer.

Dungeons with gold ingots lying about in piles had not so far been a feature of life at Number 1, Albert Street either, but the moment I discovered them, I wanted more and more and more.

That book turned me into a reader, and being a reader transported me to worlds not yet discovered as swiftly and permanently as any magic carpet could have done.

. . . left you cold?

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men. Unrelieved misery. I remember taking it out of the library when I was very young. (‘Hurray, a book about mice.’ Wrong.)

The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is out now (Macmillan, £12.99).

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