An Island by Karen Jennings / #Interview #BlogTour @damppebbles @HhouseBooks


Samuel has lived alone for a long time; one morning he finds the sea has brought someone to offer companionship and to threaten his solitude…

A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper. Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer under colonisers, then fight for independence, only to fall under the rule of a cruel dictator; and he recalls his own part in its history. In this new man’s presence he begins to consider, as he did in his youth, what is meant by land and to whom it should belong. To what lengths will a person go in order to ensure that what is theirs will not be taken from them?

A novel about guilt and fear, friendship and rejection; about the meaning of home.




1. Which character would you like to be in this book?

I wouldn’t like to be any of them! They are all in desperate situations or live very bleak existences. I can’t say that I envy any of them.

2. Do you always take a book/erader wherever you go?

I try to, but if I forget then I also have an app on my phone that I can download and read books through. This saved me once from a wretched afternoon. My husband dragged me along to a pub to watch soccer with his friends. I loathe soccer and have no interest in it. Luckily, I was able to use the time constructively and read half a book on my phone. And I am even luckier that the battery didn’t die! A friend of mine recently had to spend 6 hours in a queue to renew his car licence. He had taken a book along, but he finished reading it after a couple of hours. He then tried reading on his phone for a while but the battery died. 4 hours of standing in a queue, with nothing to read!

3. Say someone asks if they can use your name in a book. Would you rather be the ‘good one’ or the ‘bad one’?

I suppose it depends on what type of “bad one”. If the baddy is a fun character then I wouldn’t mind. But if it was someone truly awful – a manipulative and emotionally draining person – then I might take it personally! In the end, though, I suppose it is an honour to be asked, so I wouldn’t be too fussy.

4. Do you prefer to read/write standalones or series?

Standalones. I enjoy the finality of closing the book or writing the final full stop and knowing that it is over. That’s not to say that there haven’t been series that I have enjoyed. I particularly liked William Golding’s trilogy To the Ends of the Earth and Cora Sandel’s Alberta trilogy.

5. Where can I find you when you are reading?

In bed, on the bed, at my desk, in a chair, on the floor…

6. Where can I find you when you are not writing/reading?

Walking my dogs, pottering about in the garden. Right now the pandemic has really reduced my activities, especially since I am living with an at-risk person.

7. Can you walk past a bookstore without going inside?

Haha! This made me laugh. I haven’t been near a bookstore in months because of the pandemic. However, I am going to a specialist bookstore tomorrow to pick up a book

I ordered through them. I am incredibly excited and feel like a child on the day before Christmas!

8. What are you most proud of?

That is a very difficult question! I don’t know that I have spent much time thinking about this before. I suppose, usually, we are so focused on future goals that we tend to forget past successes or moments of pride. We will be proud of ourselves only once we have achieved this or done that… I am very hard on myself and I don’t think I allow myself to be proud of anything.

9. What goes through your mind when you hold your new book in your hands for the first time?

Joy, fear, anxiety, excitement. A whole lot of everything!

10. What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Take the time to edit, edit, edit. Always ask yourself – about every single sentence – “Is that the best way to say this?” and “What is this contributing?” Don’t allow yourself to believe that a single edit is enough. All of the most important work comes in the form of writing, rewriting and perfecting, over and over again.

Thank you, Karen Jennings and Damppebbles Blog Tours


About the author

Karen Jennings is a South African author. She holds Masters degrees in both English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town, and a PhD in English Literature from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her debut novel, Finding Soutbek, was shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for African Fiction. In 2014 her short story collection, Away from the Dead, was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International short story competition. Her memoir, Travels with my Father, was published in 2016, and in 2018 she released her debut poetry collection, Space Inhabited by Echoes. Karen is currently living in Brazil with her Brazilian husband, and last year completed post-doctoral research at the Federal University of Goiás on the historical relationship between science and literature, with a focus on eusocial insects. In September 2019 her new novel, Upturned Earth, will be published by Holland Park Press. Karen is also affiliated with the mentorship programmes run by Writivism and Short Story Day Africa, both of which promote writing in Africa. Broadly speaking, Karen’s interests lie in colonialism, historically and in the lasting impact that it has had on the continent of Africa and beyond. She is particularly concerned with the quiet lives of the everyday people who have been mostly forgotten by the politicians, big businesses and the rest of the world. In this way, she strives to give the ordinary a voice that can be heard and appreciated.

The idea for An Island came to Karen during an afternoon nap at a writers’ residency she was attending in Denmark in 2015. In her sleep, she saw an old man, fiercely defending his island against interlopers. At the time, there was a vast amount in the news about the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which extended to what became known as Europe’s Refugee Crisis. There was a great global outcry against xenophobic responses and calls for humanitarian aid for Syria’s refugees. At the same time, there was almost nothing about refugees from Africa – not about what drove them to flee their nations, or what their dreadful experiences were, nor about their deaths or their futures. Karen chose to explore the relationship between refugee and landowner, but within an African setting, where xenophobia is as rife as in Europe, though it often manifests itself in different ways despite largely being born of colonialism. By reducing the action of the narrative to two characters, Karen felt that a complex issue could be rendered in simple ways that allowed for a focus on individual experiences.


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