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April 15, 2010

Book Notes - Chris Killen ("The Bird Room")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Chris Killen's debut novel The Bird Room is a wonderfully dark comedy about sex and love from a talented young writer with a unique voice.

The Independent wrote of the book:

"The fragmentary make-up of The Bird Room is seamlessly woven into a perfectly formed whole that fizzes with deadpan wit and cutting one-liners. Killen peppers the narration with modern technologies; whereas lesser writers using similar hooks might get carried away, Killen possesses enough savoir-faire to understand that a story still needs to be told. The Bird Room, a novel of misguided youth, is an exciting debut from a novelist already beginning to display maturity beyond his years."

In his own words, here is Chris Killen's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, The Bird Room:

I'm always listening to music when I'm writing. I've been writing fiction since I was 17 (I'm 29 now), so that's quite a lot of music. When I started writing I was going through a big Charles Bukowski phase, even though I was not American (I'd only been on a trip to America once, with my dad, when I was twelve, where we went to Universal Studios in Florida) and had not spent however-many years in whore houses and rooming houses and dingy bars. But even though the things I was writing were pretty dreadful and derivative at that point, there was something extremely fun and energetic about writing them, and I think a lot of that was to do with having loud music playing in the background – The Jesus Lizard or The Pixies or whatever else I was listening to – creating a mood and, I guess, an energy.

It just seems twice as fun to me to sit there writing and listening to music, even though I know now that the 'best' bits of writing I do are often the ones where I have no memory of them afterwards – the ones where it feels like I've come out of a trance and I'm left staring at three or four or five pages of a word document and the album I was listening has finished without me noticing. I guess I'm just trying to say that even if I'm not consciously listening to the music as I write, I'm pretty sure that whatever I listened to has fed in to it somehow – to the length of the sentences, the tone, the mood, or whatever.

Anyway, enough introduction. Here are some songs that were playing a lot in the background when I was writing my first novel, The Bird Room

'Boilermaker' by The Jesus Lizard

When I had the first ideas for my novel I was living in Canada on a working visa. It was almost the end of my stay and I had ended up at my friend's parents' house in a very sterile, suburban part of Toronto (Richmond Hill), not being able to find a job, doing exercise, giving up smoking, reading a lot, making notes, and slowly working my way through a huge, alphabetized VHS collection (Godard, Godard, more Godard, etc.). Anyway, all of a sudden I was having all these ideas and instead of them being short story ideas they started connecting up in a vague novel-like structure. It was an exciting time, and I felt a bit mad and energetic – not having anywhere to walk to, doing sit-ups and note-making in the spare room of my friend's parents' Canadian house – and I had these two CDs which I would play constantly in the background on a little bubble CD player. One was Liar by The Jesus Lizard.

'Hornets! Hornets!' by The Hold Steady

The other was Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady.

'Bastard Heart' by Frankie Sparo

I considered just writing something about each of the tracks on the album My Red Scare by Frankie Sparo for this blog post. I feel like it is a good representation of the overall mood I was trying to create with The Bird Room – something awkward, melancholic, confusing, unpleasant, and occasionally funny (in a really dark way). Not sure how well I succeeded, but anyway, around the time I was writing final edits on the novel, I sent a CD-R of this album to my editor Francis with some kind of embarrassing accompanying note along the lines of, 'I love this album and think of it as a kind of soundtrack for the novel'.

'Here Comes Alice' by The Jesus & Mary Chain

I will admit here to occasionally daydreaming about a film version being made of The Bird Room. Pretty sure this will never happen. But in my daydream this is the song that's plays in the background in the club when Will the narrator meets Alice for the first time (p. 72). Not very subtle, I know. Good tune, though.

'Melody' by Serge Gainsbourg

The album Histoire de Melody Nelson is mentioned by name, on page 71. Alice puts it on when she's in Will's house for the first time. I chose it as a kind of awkward joke – it was the most 'overtly sexy' album I could think of, to counterpoint Will's extreme feelings of panic/inadequacy/unsexiness.

'Fool Says' by M. Ward

During the period between the first draft being accepted by Canongate and publication, a lot of writing and re-writing went on. One of the things Francis wanted to see more of was a happy time in Will and Alice's relationship – a reason why they'd be together in the first place. I felt he had a good point, and willingly added some 'nice' scenes in. I like how they work in contrast to the darker stuff. In my aforementioned daydream film version, I think of those scenes as a twee montage with this song playing over the top.

'Couldn't You Wait?' by Silkworm

My novel is, in part, about the idea of how little you can ever know another person; how even if they say they've told you the complete truth about themselves, they're still only telling you that they've done so and you have to take their word that it's the truth. How, from that perspective, we are all completely isolated and alone and it is impossible to ever really understand anyone else. I feel like this song is maybe the music version of this feeling of paranoia/pessimism/isolation.

'I Wanna Be Your Lover' by Prince

This song is mentioned on page 166, at a point where Will and Alice's relationship is truly beyond repair. Will has asked her to ignore him. He stands in their bedroom, watching her get ready to go round to his best friend's house on a date – she chooses a dress, does her hair and make up, and listens to this song. As Alice is busy ignoring Will, I used the song as a way of her communicating her possible intentions without speaking to him.

'We'll Make a Lover of You' by Les Savy Fav

This is a song I have mentioned before on the internet – in the short story 'I will murder the tiny break-dancing child' and in a 'top 5' I did for 3:AM Magazine. Around the time I was making final, final edits for The Bird Room, a person broke up with me and I fixated for some reason on this song; publicly writing things like, 'I would like to crawl inside this song and die in it', etc. I feel dreadfully embarrassed, looking back at those things and writing about them on here. However, as well as writing some 'emo' short stories, I think I also managed to plough some of my impossible bitterness into those final edits, making The Bird Room an even more miserable object than it was previously (with this song playing on repeat as I did so). Hooray.

Chris Killen and The Bird Room links:

the author's blog
the author on MySpace
the book's website

Bart's Bookshelf review
Bookgeeks review
Bookmunch review
Brizmus Blogs Books review
Guardian review
Half Deserted Streets review
Independent review
Laura Hird review
Medieval Bookworm review
Peachybooks review
Reading Matters review
Repertory of DJR Melvin
Unbound! review
Various Apologies review
The View from Here review
Vulpes Libres review

3:AM Magazine interview with the author
3:AM Magazine interview with the author
AAT interview with the author
Bookmunch interview with the author
Borders Podcast interview with the author
Dogmatika interview with the author
The List profile of the author
Meet at the Gate interview with the author (by Steven Hall)
LeftLion interview with the author
MOBYLIVES interview with the author (by Tao Lin)

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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