Very excitingly, today we are hosting Bryony Pearce as part of the Savage Island blog tour! ‘Savage Island’ has to be my favourite of all the Red Eye books. It’s so atypical in terms of setting and tropes but I LOVED that Bryony thought outside of the box and made geocaching something to fear! The whole book played on expectations and cliches, and even though I was biting my nails the whole way through, I loved every second of it!
Now onto Bryony talking about how the setting represents the interiority of the characters!
Interior world, exterior world
Savage Island has two settings: the ordinary world at home, which is revealed in the Prologue and through flashbacks, and the island itself.
I always intended the island to be more than a setting however; it is more like a character in its own right. The island helps the protagonists, offers refuge or protection (caves, trees, rocks, ravines) and has moods of its own (shown in the landscape, weather, wildlife and time of day).
Further, the island is a representation of the interior worlds of our protagonists, reflecting what is going on with them.
The first we know about the island is its location and name. It is an island in the Shetlands called Aikenhead. (Aikenhead does not, of course, exist, but it is based on existing islands in the archipelago).
The Shetlands are a part of the British-Isles, the most Northerly part, but separate from them, just as the island follows the rules of the normal world but is apart from them.
Aikenhead is a Scottish name (one reason for picking it as the name of my fictional island), but it is also a surname. The most famous Aikenhead is Thomas, a Scottish student from Edinburgh, who was executed for blasphemy at the age of twenty (he was the last person in Great Britain to be executed for this crime).
In my last blog post I spoke about how the story forms a battle between the id and the superego. Thomas is another link to this – the arguments that got him killed were what many in this century might consider logical:
The prisoner had repeatedly maintained, in conversation, that theology was a rhapsody of ill-invented nonsense, patched up partly of the moral doctrines of philosophers, and partly of poetical fictions and extravagant chimeras … That the Holy Scriptures were stuffed with such madness, nonsense, and contradictions, that he admired the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them.
So even the name of the island represents this battle between logic and instinct, what is right and what we want / need. It is also, more literally named after a young man who was killed. A victim.
Before they see the island, the teens are sent a description of it, so that they can prepare. From this they discover that it is mainly peat covered moorland dotted with rowan and birch copses.
The Celtic meaning of the Rowan tree is power, healing, protection and transformation. Similarly, in early Celtic mythology, the Birch came to symbolise renewal and purification. By telling the teams that the island is covered in Birch and Rowan, they are warned that something transformative is going to occur: they will not leave the island the same as they arrived.
The copses offer the team protection when they are hunted and they offer healing in the crutch that Lizzie uses when she is injured.
Birch trees are also associated with vision quests and this is what Ben has when he has his tooth extracted.
When they reach the Shetlands, the island is shrouded in mist: invisible. This is another hint that in going to Aikenhead, the team is going to leave their ordinary world, and enter another where the rules are going to be different.
On the island itself, the birds are its eyes, the animals its barometer.
Above us natural ramparts were completely covered in roosting birds; white streaks calcified the rock and bush-like nests protruded from every cranny. The noise was incredible: cawing and screeching, crying and jabbering – an unruly audience awaiting a show.
At night, when things get dire for the team the wildlife changes – from rabbits, sheep, seals, otters and seabirds to midges, owls, moths and bats – more irritating, more mysterious, more threatening.
During the daytime, at the start of the competition, the island is a beautiful place, sunlit, hopeful and inspiring. But even here, we find foreboding: trees deformed by the wind, the skua hunting the gull. As the sun sets, it transforms. Colours vanish, sounds alter, even the scents change.
We were almost out of the trees and the full moon had risen higher, casting shadows of its own. Twigs cracked underfoot and I noticed that the scents of the island had changed, become colder and fresher. The sounds around us had changed too. The gulls had gone, but now I could hear the buzz of bats’ wings and the distant hooting of owls.
Then there is the weather. As the team gets deeper into the island, as their experiences become more terrible, as their hope dies, the weather worsens: wild winds, storms, lashing rain. As they become more terrified, so their physical environment becomes more terrifying, until the climactic battle takes place on the island’s highest peak, during an epic storm, wherein the wind is as much a participant in the fight as anyone else.
I staggered sideways as a gust of wind hit us. Someone was bowled off their feet, there was a yell of surprise and someone else thudded into my leg, not quite knocking me over.
Curtis and the skinny boy had another cornered and the fourth was too far away, fighting the wind.
My head was pounding, blood was streaming from my nose, my eyes were swollen – definitely blackened – and the wind was screaming.
You get the sense, reading Savage Island, that the island itself is on the side of the protagonists. That there is some hidden Goddess beneath the surface who disapproves of what is happening; nature (Aikenhead) vs. human power (Gates); she sends as much help as she can.