Home burning books Burning Books…on Paper—Cailean Steed

Burning Books…on Paper—Cailean Steed

Cailean Steed on dog ears, book slumps, and the books they’d save if their house was on fire—for Burning Books…on Paper, the companion series to our popular podcast

Home follows Zoe, a young woman who has escaped a dark cult called The Children, to start a new, safe life in Dublin. But when someone breaks into her flat, a man from her past who is known as the Hand of God, she is forced to return to Home, the isolated compound in the wilds of rural Scotland where her sister still lives. Returning to the cult, and the life of enforced worship and strict gender roles she had forgotten, Zoe must face everything she believed about her past and find the strength to break free for a second time. 

Dog-ears or bookmarks?

I always dog-ear pages, to the eternal disapproval of my mother (a librarian). I often dog-ear the bottom edge of pages that have a particular image or line that I like and want to return to as well. I like books that look well-read! 

A quote you can say by heart?

In a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.

— ‘Circe’, by Madeline Miller. It’s so beautiful and lonely. 

Do you lend without expecting a book returned?

I always lend with the expectation of a book being returned, but am sometimes disappointed! But as long as the book ends up somewhere loved, that’s the main thing. 

Best book someone gave you? 

I leant (and never got back!) a much-loved copy of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and was complaining about it to my mum. For my birthday that year she got me a beautiful special edition of it, with insert pages of stunning black-and-white photographs of 1940s Barcelona. Definitely not lending that one out!

A book you return to over the years?

This Census-Taker, by China Miéville. It’s a strange but powerful little novella, and seems full of a story much bigger than what’s on the page. I absolutely love the opening, where he plays with voice to create a sense of panic and dislocation. 

The right book at the right time?

I was in a huge reading slump a few years ago, and couldn’t find anything that grabbed me. Then I picked up Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea and sank into it so gratefully. It’s just such a gorgeous, sprawling expanse of a book. 

A book that makes you laugh? 

Rebecca Ryan’s My Extra-Ordinary Life is about a woman who discovers she is the exact human average in all things. She decides that she has to make her life more interesting, and her attempts to do so are relatable and hilarious. There are a lot of pin-sharp and witty takes on modern life in there as well – it had me snorting happily all the way through. 

One of your own books that you’d choose to save—or leave in the flames

I wrote three ‘novels’ while still a teenager – ‘novels’ in inverted commas because they are novel-length but god-awful – and they are still in a drawer somewhere in my parents’ house. I definitely wouldn’t risk life and limb to save them, and indeed should probably throw them on a fire myself!

A book you are reading now?

I’m just about to finish Kirsty Logan’s Now She is Witch, and it’s an amazing book. The novel plays with the idea of what a witch is, and how a woman is defined and controlled by what/who others say she is. It’s brutal, beautiful, surreal and troublingly relevant.  

Home, by Cailean Steed is out now with Raven Books