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July 20, 2011

Book Notes - Deborah Kay Davies ("True Things About Me")

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

Deborah Kay Davies has followed her heralded short story collection Grace, Tamar and Lazlo the Beautiful with a dazzling debut novel. True Things About Me is an engaging first-person narrative about spiraling into madness, and is both disturbing and graphic, but always rewarding.

KIrkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"With a distinctive, cliche-free writing style and a psychologically complex "victim," this first novel from talented, award-winning Welsh writer Davies (Grace, Tamar and Lazlo the Beautiful, 2009) points to a promising future."

In her own words, here is Deborah Kay Davies' Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, True Things About Me:

My novel is about a girl who pursues a guy – for clarity I will call him Mr Blond; he's nameless in the book - who's bad for her. She can't help herself. She's not stupid, but she's fallen in lust. I suppose you could say the book is a short, sharp enactment of the saying: be careful what you wish for. From the second she meets him everything feels new to her, everything is vivid; quivering with erotic possibility. It's train wreck, an idiotic dance, a doomed adventure. But it absorbs her utterly. And then she gets spat out the other side. I don't listen to music when I write – I need, as Steve Buscemi says to his dolt of a fellow crim in the incomparable Fargo, 'total f***ing silence' - but music is important to me. These songs create a sort of mood-board, an aural primer to the way I was thinking. They are the songs I like listening to. And I apologise for talking so much about 'my girl'. I hope it doesn't sound spooky or twee. But I did make her. So she really is my girl. PS: I do also like some happy songs. Honestly.

1. "Bad Romance" Lady Gaga

This song could be the soundtrack to the entire book. No need to look for anything else. I realise that's not how this works but there you have it: 'Caught in a bad romance. Rah rah ah ah ah. Roma, roma, ma ga ga oh la la. I want your love'. Immortal lines. Seriously though, this is a brilliant song. I love it. The lyrics are hilarious, but somehow they mesh perfectly with the tune and create a glimpse into something relentless, obsessive, and true about all those mad relationships people wilfully pursue. The girl in my story could have written this. If she hadn't been so busy running herself ragged, trying to crawl into Mr Blond's stony heart.

2. "I Hurt Myself Today" - Johnny Cash

When I wrote the book, I was very sure that I didn't want to supply pages of explanation – psychobabble and back story blah blah blah – about the formative years of my girl. I get so bored when I read stuff like that in novels. There are not always reasons for everything. That's what makes writing – and life - interesting. Haven't we all done things that later, when looked at with a cold clear eye, you couldn't believe you'd done? Life's a mystery, people are weird. However, and somewhat contradictorily, this song comes close to giving a clue about motivation. She wants to feel alive, and is prepared to go wherever that desire takes her. The song's opening lines; I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel – yes. The whole song is so bleak, so alienated, so unashamedly down it's almost funny. But it taps into the feelings I had about the book as I wrote it. The rough, debasing, and electrifying encounter she has in the second chapter, hurt her on a psychic level. It jolts her little train right off the tracks. It wakes her up, it makes her feel ultra-alive, but below that, the experience immobilises her instinct for self preservation.

3. "I Drove All Night" – Roy Orbison

This song rocks. Also it's cheesy. What's not to like? On all levels it does it for me; the voice, the lyrics … It's also soundtrack-shorthand for the hugeness of my narrator's obsession. When Mr Blond stops calling and coming around she drives to his house in the night. She wants him and she doesn't care who knows it. But, when you stop and think about the words I drove all night, crept in your room, is that all right? You want to say, well, no actually Roy, it's not all right. I get this picture of a guy, steaming with perspiration and desire, slithering into the bedroom of some girl who, safe in the knowledge that 'he' is hundreds of miles away, is peacefully snoozing. I can imagine her waking up as he plonks himself on top of her … Still, this is a great song, perfectly in tune with the book.

4. "We're Sailing In A Strange Boat" – The Waterboys

I know the connection with my book and this song may sound a little contrived but I can't help that. It isn't too long into what one could laughingly call 'their relationship' and the narrator admits to herself for the first time that maybe she needs to finish with her lover. She stays at home and broods. She pines. She lies in the bath and listens to him banging the door, shouting to be let in. She finally sleeps and has a dream about a doomed boat amongst icebergs. When she wakes she tries to work out what it means, and finally decides it probably doesn't have a meaning. This song speaks to me – the mystery of our lives, the struggle through to something like peace, the inevitability of death. You could say, if you wanted to, that it has a hopeful last line. Whatever. It strongly connects with something I was trying to express.

5. "The Power Of Love" – Jennifer Rush

There's a chapter where my girl tries to move on, and so agrees to go on a blind date arranged by her well-meaning friend. In the pub, while she waits, this song is playing. Although in the past she and her aforementioned friend have sniggered about its total, ballady lack of restraint and coolness, in the state she finds herself, it's an arrow to her heart. It's also an arrow to mine.

6. "My Humps" – The Blackeyed Peas

Still on blind date night and she has one of those withering, beyond embarrassing experiences that happen to you when you're drunk, desperate and unhappy. In the car, after the visit to the pub, they park. She decides, without any encouragement, to take all her clothes off and show Blind Date Rob her exceptionally beautiful assets. He isn't impressed. He tells her to put them all away. The evening descends into wild, lonely laughter in a hallway. Gentle reader, I know of what I speak – the squirming, blushful discomfort of being seventeen and getting your kit off for some oiky, indifferent boy – it knocked back my belief in my own loveliness by at least a decade. Ouch. But this song is the positive to that negative. It's so out there. So confidant, funny and carefree; My humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps. Amen to that.

7. "You Are My Whore" – The Tiger Lillies

Many of the songs I love come to me through film soundtracks, and this is how I discovered The Tiger Lillies. Plunkett and Macleane is one of my top ten films, and many of The Tiger Lillies' songs feature in it. The feeling I get from this song plugs directly into my book. My girl gets to a place where she tells her lover 'you can do anything you want to me'. And he answers 'I know'. The smothered, operatic shrieking, the bonkers accordion on this track – I can't say any more. Listen to it, that's all.

8. "You're Going To Hell" – The Tiger Lillies

Again, to repeat, listen to it. The juxtaposition of jaunty accordion and ink-dark lyrics is smile-inducing. My poor girl's in a kind of hell, and she loves it. Then later, she doesn't.

9. "Misery Is The River Of The World" – Camille O'Sullivan

This is another song that is so black, so wilfully pessimistic and downright hopeless that for me, it almost flips over and becomes a hymn to happiness and warm-hearted cheer. Late on in the novel my girl is driven out of her home, and like a wraith, drifts past lit-up windows that show her cosy family scenes. No, she thinks, we're all skeletons … The refrain Everybody row, everybody row, everybody row, is so sinister and assured that it could almost be true; it would be a declaration of her beliefs about life at this point.

10. "Is That All There Is?" Peggy Lee

I love this song; the deadpan delivery is extremely funny. And in a way, it's completely true. On the one hand, it talks about these amazing experiences – and doesn't deny they are amazing – whilst on the other says everything passes, nothing can really deliver, we chew it all up and discard it all. I remember walking down the aisle beside my father as a very young bride thinking 'is this it then? Is this how it feels to be walking down the aisle to be married? I also felt as if I was floating above the altar looking down at her/myself in those white weeds and feeling a deep sense of pity, but that's slightly different. The point is, on many occasions in the book my girl is so disconnected from herself that nothing seems real. Extremes of emotion knock her off-kilter. Many times she watches herself in mirrors, or windows, or through out-of-body experiences. As she tries to discover the person she really is, every version she imagines dissolves into somebody else. But in the last, catastrophic chapter she changes. Finally she becomes strong and purposeful. She has come out the other side and everything is clear. Finally she does what she thinks she has to do to survive.

Deborah Kay Davies and True Things About Me links:

The Book Whisperer review
The Bookbag review
Bookmunch review
Financial Times review
Fleur Fisher in Her World review
Guardian review
The Hipster Book Club review
Independent review
Kirkus Reviews review
Philadelphia Inquirer review
Savidge Reads Book Addict review
Three Monkeys Online review

Bookslut interview with the author
Meet at the Gate interview with the author
The Short Review interview with 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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