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May 10, 2011

Book Notes - Christie Watson ("Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away")

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

Christie Watson's Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is a formidable debut novel that cleverly portrays the political and the everyday life of modern Nigeria. This coming of age story is vividly told by an unforgettable narrator, 12-year old girl, moved from the city to a rural village.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Watson's nuanced portrayal of daily life in Nigeria is peopled with flawed but tenacious characters who fight not only for survival but for dignity. Blessing is a wonderful narrator whose vivid impressions enliven Watson's sensual prose."

In her own words, here is Christie Watson's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away:

Tracy Chapman: Fast Car

The first time I heard Tracy Chapman was in New York when I watched her live at Central Park. I was living in New York with my boyfriend who I was completely in love with. It was a really warm evening and I was alone at the concert. I remember listening to Fast Car and I remember fireflies dancing in the air. I remember how my skin felt as I heard that song. I listen to Tracy Chapman now between writing sessions but still some memories from that concert make it into the novel – the fireflies are a feature. And now, after so many years I remember very little about my boyfriend who I was so desperately in love with. But I do remember exactly how my skin felt when I first heard Tracy Chapman sing.

Fela Kuti: "Zombie"

You cannot write about Nigeria without listening to Fela. He was the king of afrobeat and one of the most colourful characters to come out of Nigeria. I love his music for the fusion of so many different styles (highlife, jazz, funk and others), the technical expertise, but most of, for the political message behind his words. Some of his thoughts about women clash completely with mine, and I really don't believe that a man needs twenty-seven wives, but even so, it is impossible not to admire Fela and his music, which has inspired generations. I listened to Fela when I was researching Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away, and his music got me fired up, which I imagine, was always his intention.

Debussy: "Clair de Lune"

I've always had to snatch time to write with babies in the house. I find that Debussy gives me the longest time to finish a piece of work. My daughter could be screaming her head off one minute and transfixed the next thanks to Debussy. Aside from gurgling happily she'd sit quietly in her bouncy chair looking at the sky. I'd recommend Debussy to all mothers who write. I have tried many styles and volumes of music and Debussy is by far the best for temporarily sedating small children, while you finish a chapter.

Miles Davis: "It Never Entered My Mind"

For many years I played the trumpet and I'm a huge fan of old school jazz. The trumpet wasn't an instrument that I'd have chosen as a young girl, but my grandad loved jazz. He played the trumpet and left me his trumpet after he died. I was very close to my grandad and every time I practised I imagined he could hear me. I practised a lot. Miles Davies was my grandad's favourite. He used to stop still when he heard him on the radio except for the fingers on his right hands which played the imaginary notes. I often listen to Miles Davis while I write, and this song always makes me stop writing and close my eyes, remember my grandad and his stories. He got all the fairy tales confused – Goldilocks would be caught by the wolf, and grow her hair really long before losing a glass slipper while climbing up a beanstalk. I miss my grandad's stories, the way his right hand used to play imaginary notes.

Neneh Cherry: "Buffalo Stance"

When I was thirteen years old I listened to Neneh Cherry constantly, and I wore big heavy necklaces flashing with cubic zirconia. On my writing days I save Neneh for emergencies. Some days the writing isn't too easy, there is too much else in my head and I can't break through the jumble of thoughts. If I'm really stuck with a piece I'll make a coffee, listen to Neneh and remember what I was doing when I was thirteen (stealing my dad's cigarettes and hanging around the school bin area kissing older boys) and I'll be grateful for how far I've come. Then I'll dance around the kitchen singing into a rolling pin and I'll realize how far it is I still have to go.

Joni Mitchell: "Both Sides Now"

I fell in love to Joni Mitchell. My partner introduced me to her and we would sit for hours listening to Joni Mitchell, the room lit with dozens of candles. I wrote the scenes that were really difficult and upsetting while listening to Joni Mitchell, and I wrote the scenes that were the most funny. Now we have children who love blowing out any candles we ever bother lighting. But still, when Joni Mitchell is playing my partner can't walk past me without giving me a wink - no matter how many children we fill up the house with.

Nneka: "From Africa 4 U"

Nneka is a brilliant Nigerian artist from the Niger Delta, the region where my novel Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is set. She's very political, and sings about many themes that appear in my novel: the injustice of the western oil companies who are funding the corruption within the government, the extreme poverty faced by local people in an area so rich in natural resources. What I like most about her music though, is the balance. She also describes the beauty and resilience of the landscape and people and that is certainly my experience of Nigeria. When I first visited Nigeria I felt that balance everywhere I looked – from the ultra modern Chinese restaurants to the traditional markets. The music is as life, and as I hope my writing - a mixture of dark and light. If my confidence about writing such a political novel falters, I listen to Nneka to inspire me. She is fearless.

Christie Watson and Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book (at the author's website)
excerpt from the book (at Scribd)
video trailer for the book

The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader review
Daily Mail review
Kirkus Reviews review
Library Journal review
Monsters and Critics review
My Books. My Life. review
Publishers Weekly review
A Reading Odyssey review
Reads for Pleasure review
Uniflame Creates review

Curious Book Fans interview with the author
Other Press profile of the author

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 comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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