March 12, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Poppy Gee's debut novel Bay of Fires is an impressive character-driven literary thriller set on Tasmania's east coast.
I love music, but I never listen to music when I write: I worry it might influence me too much. I prefer to write in silence. In my playlist I have included some songs which are mentioned in my novel, while others are encompassed in an idea, character or a theme.
"Flame Trees" by Cold Chisel
This song, by one of Australia's best known rock bands, is playing on the jukebox when Hall and Sarah have their lunch date at the Pub in the Paddock. It's a song about a man returning to his hometown where nothing has changed. He meets his mates for happy hour at the pub, where they swap tall stories and banter with each other, without going into any meaningful depth. The entire time the man is thinking about the woman he left behind here. It's a sad song – the subtext is about hope and longing. These are two qualities that Sarah and Hall share, although when they hear this song playing they are not at the point in their relationship where they would admit this to each other.
"Forever Now" by Cold Chisel
The two protagonists, Sarah and Hall, sing this song as they are lying on the grass beside the beach after their first passionate, sober sexual encounter together. I could not use the lyrics in my novel as permission to print them was not permitted to me. The song writer, Steve Prestwich, had passed away earlier last year and his family were understandably devastated and had decided to postpone all decisions related to his song writing estate. This song works on a few levels. It is about loneliness and finding joy despite one's own resistance, and also about ambiguous endings in relationships. This song was huge in Australia in 1982 and remains one of Cold Chisel's most successful songs.
"Blow Me (one last kiss)" and "U + Ur Hand" by Pink
There are several Pink songs that reflect Sarah's character. She's tough, she says what she thinks, she doesn't care how that goes down with anyone else. In the first song the tough-girl attitude, masks a fragile woman, which makes me think of my character Sarah. I don't think Sarah is quite as fun-loving as the narrator in You and Your Hand, but I can imagine Sarah telling an annoying guy in a bar, "Rack off, keep your drink, just give me the money, I came here with friends and we didn't come here to meet people."
"Harper Valley PTA" by Jeannie C. Riley
What a great song! It's about Mrs. Johnson, a single mother who is accused by the local PTA of setting a bad example to her teenage daughter. The hypocrisy and double standards outlined in this song occur in my novel, most obviously with how the glamorous American widow Simone Shelley is ostracised. However the community in Bay of Fires does not limit their victimising to one person. Other characters who do not fit into the mainstream image of normality are marginalised, such as Jane Taylor, the prickly guesthouse owner, or Roger Coker, the intellectually impaired hermit, or the salt-of-the-earth campers.
"High Country" by Lee Kernaghan
This is a song about packing up for the weekend and heading up to the mountains to fish and relax, far away from annoying people. Hall sings this song as he is driving along the gravel road in the Bay of Fires, after picking Sarah up to take her out to lunch. It's a nice, simple, romantic country song that has an optimism that reflects how Hall is feeling as he takes Sarah on the date that day.
"Sounds of Then (This is Australia)" by Gangajang
One of the most visual and vibrant songs about Australia, these lyrics describe a humid summer night as people relax on a patio overlooking a cane field. A tropical storm cracks and illuminates the sugar cane farm below. The imagery conveyed by sound and lyric is fertile and sexual in many ways. Something I tried to do in my novel was contrast the lush, wild vegetation of tropical Queensland with the dryer, rugged Tasmanian landscape. My idea was inspired in part by Thomas Hardy's nineteenth century novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, where Tess's emotional state is reflected in the landscape. The song is also about how smells and sensations can resurrect a memory, something that occurs in my novel.
"How To Make Gravy" by Paul Kelly
In this song an imprisoned man wonders what his family's Christmas Day will be like without him. He worries about his children, he misses everyone and he's fearful that his brother might dance too closely with his wife. What strikes me about this song is the idea of being removed from your own life, and desperately wanting to be part of it again. In my novel people became separated, by choice or otherwise. My sisters and I grew up listening to Paul Kelly's music.
"Open Sky" by Lucie Thorne
Lucie Thorne is a Tasmanian folk singer who has the most beautiful voice. Her poetic lyrics tell heartbreaking little stories about human frailty. This song is about someone who feels they have lost themselves. They blame themselves for this.
"Down Under" by Men at Work
My sister gave me this tape as a birthday gift when I was thirteen. My characters Hall and Sarah would have a dusty copy of this tape at the back of their cupboard somewhere, or in Hall's case, on the floor of his messy car. When "Down Under" was released in the 1980s it was always playing on the radio. The song celebrates the idea of being Australian, but it is also about Australians taking more than they need from the land and the sea. This is a subtle theme in my novel – people are being greedy with their fishing practices.
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles
One of my favourite characters is Roger Coker. He began in my mind with the idea of a middle aged man who names his cats after characters from fairytales. Rather than choosing a song that directly mirrors Roger's yearning for love and his hope for a woman's company, I chose this song for its nostalgia, and for the romantic notions in the lyrics and the music. I imagine Roger finding this old tape somewhere in his house and listening to it as he tinkers around in the yard. Maybe it once belonged to his mother, when she was a hopeful girl setting up house beside the sea with her sweetheart, before she turned into a mean old woman dissatisfied with her life.
Finally, there needs to be an upbeat jazz song on my novel playlist. Simone Shelley listens to jazz in her green Mercedes Benz and there is one playing when Hall has a final confrontation with her. I'm not very familiar with jazz so I don't know which song this should be but I imagine something sexy and fun, with an underlying theme of danger.
Poppy Gee and Bay of Fires links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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