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Frank Burnaby on Island Born

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Island Born by Frank Burnaby

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BCB: What do you think readers will find most notable about this book?


Frank Burnaby:  Well from reviews and conversations from readers, I gather that people are amazed that Island Born is a true story, and that the truth is palpable in every step of it.  And that we were able to accomplish what we did. Island Born threw open the windows on the spirit of adventure for many.  Readers have also appreciated the vulnerability of the characters, and the honesty in the story telling. One comment I particularly liked on Amazon: “Even having finished the book, I come back to it wondering, did they find their paradise on the island, or was it on the boat beforehand, or was it not a place at all, but in the intimacy of shared space and in days filled with purpose?”

BCB: Who do you feel is most memorable in your book, and why? 

Frank Burnaby: Well Gayle, most certainly.  I did not find out what Gayle wrote home to her mother from the Maldives till much later:

I waited for Dr. Rashid at his house cause I couldn’t understand all the wish wash of the pregnancy test results. I had a cup of tea with his wife, Patricia, who came from Malaysia. She was about 28 and very nice. When Dr. Rashid came back, they both congratulated me, and I felt I deserved congratulations. I felt proud, and in a state of ecstasy over the news. Then I flashed on Frank’s face after I’d tell him and thought, Oh no, this is terrible. I went over about 600 ways to tell him, some sad, some happy, some just the facts. I talked Patricia’s head off for a half an hour and then zoomed home on the bike with a gleaming smile on my face that I couldn’t get rid of, no matter how many people stared at me. 

BCB: What is one of your favourite lines or passages in the book, and why?

Frank Burnaby: For me there are many favourites but here’s one: “Gayle was referring to an account of some islanders blown across the sea in their boat, unable to fight their way back against monsoon winds and currents. They had helmed their way over unfathomable depths for thousands of miles in an open boat with a patched lateen sail. They had uplifted their palms to the rain, coaxed fish to a hook, and had sailed on with nothing but the baking sun and shivering stars for a compass. One can only imagine how thin the skin of their small open boat, and how deep their will to survive. But after weeks turning around in the stars they sighted the blue anvil-headed clouds over land. In my heart I knew those men. How they trudged ashore with their stories that nobody could understand. I knew the sea-eye that would steady generations of mariners born to them, as O’Riordan’s had steadied mine.”

I love this excerpt because it says what much of this book is about, that when there is complete submission to intimacy with nature, our potential as human beings can be realized.

BCB: When you look at “Gayle and Frank” as characters, now that they’re on the page, what most interests you about them? 

Frank Burnaby: Seeing them (us) as characters, I have to ask myself how they knew to do what they did. Where did they find the confidence, the spirit to take on the challenges that they did.  And most importantly why? One person said to me, “You and Gayle could have died a dozen times, but you would not let that happen, and you never gave up on her or Joya.” So finally what kept them alive and pushing on?

BCB: Have you acquired any good anecdotes surrounding this book? 

Frank Burnaby: I was always amazed after signing with two very good literary agents in succession that Island Born wasn’t purchased by one of the big publishing houses. Even editors in those houses spoke highly of the story. So why? I was pretty depressed about it after so many years of effort. Then it struck me that the story, even a true story such as this one, was too far out of bounds to fit onto their book lists. Several houses even said so themselves. Was it a sailing story, a romance, a birth story, or what? They just did not know how to fit it in. So now I see it as a blessing in disguise not being published by them, because it forced me to take my story directly to people. And I am so happy it turned out this way. To be in touch with my community was the only reason I wrote Island Born in the first place. It’s back to being a poet and deeply moved after a reading, when even one person appreciates my work. 

BCB: Did writing this book teach you anything new or influence your thinking in any way?


Frank Burnaby: Hugely, even though Island Born happened when I was much younger, the resonant themes in the book challenge me every day, to trust decisions in life that might seem uninformed or impossible, but clearly reside in the heart. At the time, most of what we did was intuitive and relatively unencumbered by cultural restraints and pressures from other people in our lives. We were just out there. But since, I have gathered a fair amount of support and understanding, even compassion for our decisions from a medical point of view as well as an anthropological one. It is interesting to note now that the book ended with the word “backs,” not to suggest a looking back, but rather a person’s capacity for intelligent independence which is the backbone of our human nature.

BCB: Can you suggest one question readers might find interesting to discuss, concerning you, your writing in general, or this book?


Frank Burnaby: One question an editor asked from one of the major publishing houses that rejected the book was: How did ocean sailing, and in particular that last 41 days across the Indian Ocean, transition into having a baby completely alone and unassisted on a desert island? Is Island Born two stories or one?

BCB: Is there any new or established author whom you feel deserves more attention, and what is it that strikes you about his or her work?

Frank Burnaby: Paul Shepard. He calls himself an ecological perceptionist. I came across his writing after our Island Born experience. He affirmed a lot of my feelings about the intuitive motivations for Island Born. One of my favorites was The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game. This from Wikipedia:  “Based on his early study of modern ethnographic literature examining contemporary nature-based peoples, Shepard created a developmental model for understanding the role of sustained contact with nature in healthy human psychological development, positing that humans, having spent 99% of their social history in hunting and gathering environments, are therefore evolutionarily dependent on nature for proper emotional and psychological growth and development. Drawing from ideas of neoteny, Shepard postulated that many humans in post-agricultural society are often not fully mature, but are trapped in infantilism or an adolescent state.” (Wikipedia.org)

BCB: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you, your book, or your writing process?  

Frank Burnaby: I want everyone to know how grateful I am that Island Born is being read. I have been alone with this story for a long time, except for the support of my family, and am deeply appreciative to be able to share it now.

Read MORE about Island Born

 

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Island Born by Frank Burnaby

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