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June 30, 2014

Book Notes - Courtney Collins "The Untold"

The Untold

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.

Published as The Burial abroad, Courtney Collins' dark and mesmerizing novel The Untold has earned her comparisons to Cormac McCarthy.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Collins richly evokes a heartbreaking emotional terrain, setting it against the sparse, brutal landscape of the Australian Outback."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Courtney Collins's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, The Untold:

Just as Australian outlaw Jessie Hickman inspired my first novel, The Untold, so did music. I imagined the story itself was a long song, sung by Jessie's baby, calling its mother back.

During the writing process, I discovered a habit of circling back to songs again, songs I would listen to every day for a year or more. Here is a short list of the music that eventually spiraled me along to completion.

"Shark Fin Blues"
Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By
The Drones

I was living next door to two members of the Australian band The Drones when I first started writing The Untold. We lived in two "shares" separated by a lopsided fence in a seedy suburb of Melbourne. Aside from me, the residents of both houses were all musicians. We numbered nine in total, not including long-stay visitors. Days and nights were mostly loud with the racket of bands rehearsing and impromptu parties.

It may seem an unlikely place to start the long, quiet work of writing a novel, but it proved perfect inspiration for me. The company was excellent, there was an astounding record collection, and during that time Gareth Liddiard (of The Drones) wrote a song, in fact a whole album, that floored everybody who listened to it.

The song is "Shark Fin Blues." It is earthy and elegiac, epic and devastating:

"Standing on the deck watching my shadow stretch
The sun pours my shadow upon the deck
The waters licking round my ankles now
There ain't no sunshine way way down . . ."

Gut-wrenching as it was, I took it as a call from my friend and neighbor to dive deep into the unlovely world of The Untold, if only to see what was there.

Ocean Songs
The Dirty Three

I worked on The Untold over many years, on and off, and this album became a kind of slippery dip for my writing psyche. No matter where I was or how I felt, I could put on Ocean Songs and immediately I was riding across some bone-littered and lonely place alongside my characters Jessie, Jack Brown and Andrew Barlow.

The whole album is beautifully restrained, punctuated by Warren Ellis's violin performance describing a feeling of loss or being lost. The album finishes with a track called "Ends of the Earth." It inspired me to create an ending for The Untold where there was a release from loneliness into something gentle and hopeful.

If you are looking for a soundtrack to listen to while reading The Untold, this is the one.

"Come on Spring"
Kim Salmon

In the 80's, Kim Salmon and his band The Scientists were pioneers of punk in Australia. And yet this song, "Come on Spring," is so very far from punk. It's pop magic, evoking beauty, calling out for something good.

When my book was first released in Australia, I threw a big party, and some of my musician friends played "Come on Spring," mainly because I begged them to. The song speaks to me of a long time waiting and then popping out into the world with an urgent expectancy. It says:

"Come on Spring
Do your thing
Have you got something for me?"

"Ode to Jessie"
Lilith Lane

Lilith Lane wrote this song after she read The Untold (which was published in Australia as The Burial). Lilith's voice is one of my favorites on earth, and when I heard this song, I realized I could finally let Jessie's story go. Because now other people could pick it up and tell it in different ways.

Courtney Collins and The Untold links:

the author's website

Herald Scotland review
Kirkus review
Library Journal review
The Melbourne Review review
Publishers Weekly review
Sydney Morning Herald review

Atlantic Books interview with the author
Australian Women Writers Challenge interview with the author
BookPage interview with the author
Culture Street interview with the author
Weekend Edition interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists

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