October 28, 2014
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.
Edward Carey's novel Heap House is richly clever and dark, a macabre children's book that adults will also fascinate adults.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Full of strange magic, sly humor, and odd, melancholy characters, this trilogy opener, peppered with portraits illustrated by Carey in a style reminiscent of Peake's own, should appeal to ambitious readers seeking richly imagined and more-than-a-little-sinister fantasy."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
A couple of years ago I did a drawing of an ill-faced young man with a large head and dark circles under his eyes, dressed in a scrappy dinner jacket. He became the hero of The Iremonger Trilogy, a trio of books I'm writing; the first is just out in the US, and I'm working on the third at the moment. The first book, Heap House, is set in Victorian London in an imagined borough where all the dirt and filth of London was heaved. In the centre of that vast mound of rubbish live the Iremonger family in a mansion made of up of hundreds of stolen buildings, and it is this misanthropic and cruel family that farms London's rubbish. The young hero is a fellow called Clod Iremonger and he has a special talent, or illness, that allows him to hear objects talking.
While I write I find it almost impossible to have any music to listen to, but when I draw or paint (I've been allowed to illustrate these books myself), I really find music enormously helpful. As I draw and listen I think very hard about the character I'm drawing and how he or she fits into the book, and of the book as a whole.
Ernst von Dohanyi, "Variations on a Nursery Theme"
Heap House is the first volume of the trilogy and it's a very gloomy (hopefully sometimes funny) urban fairytale. I love this piece by the Hungarian composer Dohanyi. It starts off as if we're listening to a terrible storm (the rubbish heaps in the book move like an ocean and have tides and break in waves against the sides of Iremonger's massive dwelling). From the storm in the music you suddenly begin to understand what the theme of the composition is, nothing more or less than "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." The first time I heard it shifting from Wagnerian excess to a single piano playing the simple tune "Twinkle, Twinkle" I laughed in the sheer joy of it, as if he'd created a sort of Shakespearean tragedy of that nursery rhyme. Dohanyi has found a huge number of personalities in that simple tune we all know so well. This returning to childhood is something I think about a great deal in my writing.
Tom Waits, "The Briar and the Rose" from The Black Rider
Waits' lullabies are particularly moving and distressing. This one is full of the most heartbreaking lines, like, I tried to tear them both apart, I felt a bullet in my heart. His voice is so extraordinary, of course, and with the melancholy music in the background, the effect is devastating. I love Waits' writing, his rhyming, his use of language, his expressions of emotion. I think in some way the voice of my narrator is rather inspired by some of Waits' writing; he rhymes and half-rhymes all the time. This beautiful ballad is just one of many of Wait's songs that have inspired me. There are others in this album, including "November" – No prayers for November to linger longer. Sometimes I imagine my characters all trying to sing or howl on top of the very-chimneyed roof of Heap House.
Eliza Carter, "Accordion Song"
In my book the two young protagonists—Clod from upstairs, Lucy Pennant, an orphan servant, from downstairs, deep beneath ground—slowly come to know each other. It's a slow, rather awkward falling in love. This song is about falling in love and waiting for it to happen (or at least I think it is). It's about waiting to see what will happen, the thoughts before a couple actually manages to get together, wondering, anticipating. It's also far from twee; it's sort of laid back and no nonsense, and that's what Lucy is. So I like to think of this as her song. Eliza Carter's music was introduced to me by late brother. He loved her and because of him I love her music now. The book's dedicated to my brother and I can't help thinking of him when I hear Carter's astonishing folk music.
Michael Nyman, "Memorial"
This long, moving march—full of drive, repetition, and gaining, ever gaining in its energy—was (I think) written by Nyman originally in reaction to the Heysel Stadium Disaster when many football fans were crushed to death. It became the principal music to Peter Greenaway's film The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. It's such a dramatic piece of music, like soldiers on a field slowly coming together, waiting for the inevitable crash, or unhappy people marching around a vast mansion with echoing empty rooms. Whenever I listen to it I think of the rubbish heaps rising and rising, the vastness of all that rubbish, climbing higher, rising and falling, the majesty of so much abandoned stuff, alive now, swirling and moving. When the voice comes, shrieking out, in at the end it feels like my characters are beginning to drown.
Madness, "Our House"
I always had a great affection for Madness as a child growing up in England. Whenever I hear this song I think of a doll house split in two and you can see the cross section of everyone inside up to their little bits of life. There's a great feeling of family in this song, and it's funny, too. I think of this great mansion in the rubbish heaps, of seeing it in a cross section cutaway, and peeking at all the uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, all those human ants getting on with their lives. One of the great things about this Madness song is how wonderfully mundane it is.
Tiger Lillies, "Souvenirs"
This song from the album Circus Songs is all about a member of the circus troop who can explain his life by showing off the souvenirs on his body, from scars to tattoos to memories of where he caught gonorrhea. It's a rather melancholy description of a person and all his past traipsing around. He's very eager to show anyone his body and so his past, a bit like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner. My story is a about the objects people have in their lives, and all the objects left and abandoned, thrown away, orphaned, all of which Clod feels for and hears talking to him. This song with its jaunty accordion and its small display of bravery and boastfulness, sung out in Martin Jacques' inimitable falsetto, always gets me in the mood.
Johnny Cash, "Dark as a Dungeon"
There's rather a lot of darkness in the trilogy I'm writing—the characters exist in small half-light. The limited strength of a candle is a very precious thing. There's always a terror of being left completely in the dark. In the final volume of my trilogy there's a talented aunt of Clod's who is able to spew night out of her mouth, sending all of London into perpetual dark. Also in the book people exist under the ground, and even those above it are fearful of drowning in the rubbish heaps. Cash's song can never fail to move and inspire; so many lost souls call out through his voice.
Regina Carter, "Hiwumbe Awumba"
This for me is a bit of sometimes needed optimism. It's a very joyful instrumental piece that builds in movement, adding more and more sounds to it but all with the same determined rhythm. It's real get-up-and-keep-going music. I listen to it and try and see my characters coming out through the darkness, as they try to find each other (Clod and Lucy spend much of the second book searching for each other)—along the way there are even small moments of joy.
Edward Elgar, "Cello Concerto"
I cannot tell how many times I've listened to this concerto since I started writing the third volume of the trilogy. I listen to it to try and figure out what on earth I'm writing, how on earth I can ever sew all the bits together, and as I try to think it out listening to this playing in my ears, I think of my people lost amongst the filth of London, trying to find their ways. I try and work out what will happen to them in the end. Even now I cannot decide who will die and who will live. I edge towards that page by page, but this music helps me to try and make some sense . . . and also to remember England a bit.
Handel, Fireworks music
This, as with Elgar, is a very, very English thing. I live in Austin, Texas (which is not an English thing). I've never been able to write about the country I came from before but now, slowly, hesitatingly, I am. George Friedrich Handel's music written for George III is a bit of a cliché of English pomp, but it's also amazing tub thumping music, very dramatic, and I try to see the great vast empire of Britain in its height under Victoria and all the poor, crushed people caught in its cruel cogs. In his day Handel helped support the beginning of The Founding Hospital in London, rescuing so many children from terrible fates. In the Hospital a mother would sometimes leave a small object with her baby before saying goodbye. These objects—a thimble, a button, a label for a bottle of gin—were all that was left for the child of the parent that bore them, all their history, so these objects take on a quite incredible importance. Listening to Handel's drums and trumpets I try to think also of buttons and bathplugs, of watering cans and matchboxes, of toothpicks and rusted tea strainers left out in the cold.
Edward Carey and Heap House links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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