May 15, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Laline Paull's The Bees, the only debut novel shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize, is an ambitious, imaginative, and well-crafted book that has earned comparisons to Watership Down and Animal Farm.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"It's rare to come across a book as mind-blowingly imaginative as Laline Paull's The Bees. It’s even more rare for such works to be successful, well-written, gripping stories...The Bees is an utterly memorable wonder of a novel."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I work in my shed at the very bottom of my garden, not overlooked – though it could certainly be quieter at times. I don't play music when I'm writing, but a lot of the significant parts of writing happen away from the desk – the cutting of a Gordian plot knot whilst out walking, or the trigger for a scene, just by all the non-verbal dynamics between two people ion a street corner. And music is perhaps the most powerful trigger of all, so it was a great pleasure to compile this playlist. It's not what I imagined as a score for the book, or used in a conscious way whilst writing it; more about the feelings I needed to access, to write with maximum conviction.
"Babylon's Burning" – The Ruts
This is to get the blood up if there's a difficult writing moment. Those racing punk drums remind me of when I was a stroppy fearless teenager and wanted to change the world. Marginally less stroppy now (debatable), know about fear (sod that, spent far too long worrying about everything) and still want to make the world a better place, and what is writing a book, if not trying to give something of value, to other people? Has this brilliant track ever been used in a thriller? Because I'm practically in a violent car-chase at my kitchen table as I blast it out right now.
"Bailero," from Chansons d'Auvergne – arranged by Marie Joseph Canteloube de Malaret, performed by Netania Davrath
So many versions of the exquisite collection of folk songs of the Auvergne, and so many beautiful interpretations (I felt disloyal not going with Madeleine Grey, because I heard and loved hers first) but now I lean towards Netania Davrath's voice. If The Bees is ever filmed, I will beg the director to use this, for the seduction by the flowers.
"Flight of the Bumblebee" – Rimsky-Korsakov (but x800 slower)
The original was used for my US book trailer, giving it a dynamic upbeat feel. But I listened to this version, eight hundred times slowed down, to get me into the psychological zone of the Hive – a place with the comfort and pull of home, but also a dark and menacing city-state, full of secrets. I really enjoy the fact that tempo can hide true nature – like a really vivacious person with a vial of poison in her handbag.
I didn't listen to this next one when writing The Bees because it wasn't yet released, but I have listened to it so much since, that just to link the speed-warping from Rimsky-Korsakov, I'm including "Bus-Talk" – Paolo Nutini, from Caustic Love for the spooky-witty way the voices morph from helium-high, to so low, from cartoon feminine to cartoon butch. He's clearly got a bold intelligence as well as That Voice. And the sampling of Charlie Chaplin from The Great Dictator in the track "Iron Sky," is just genius.
Symphony No.9 in E Minor, aka The New World Symphony - Dvorak
I like to discuss with my composer friend Elizabeth Norden, the parallels between writing a novel and writing a symphony. She is highly trained, talented, and articulate on the subject, and our discussions have enhanced my appreciation of the form (although I'm still that ignoramus amidst the cognoscenti of the classical auditorium, who bursts out clapping in the pause between movements).
I grew up listening to this particular symphony in our tiny kitchen, because although we didn't have money we had a record player and both my parents were (very different) music-lovers. From the first, I felt stories unfolding to this music – and then I saw Disney's Fantasia. Though I really enjoyed it, I also felt a sense of resistance at having someone else's interpretation of my inner landscape. Now I seek the theme and pattern and psychological narrative of symphonies, hoping that if I listen to enough fine music, it will raise my game as a writer.
The Goldberg Variations – JS Bach (played by Glenn Gould, 1955)
I love Bach for the deep satisfaction of his structure, and the sense I have whilst listening, that just that act of openness, allows me to intuit some divine order and harmony in the universe. Bach calms me, Bach inspires me, and at the early stage of writing The Bees, as a way of managing my anxiety I made a lot of bread whilst listening to him. Why making bread whilst listening to Bach should work for writing a novel I do not know but it did – though it is a very fattening way to go about things if the results are good – and they were.
The Goldberg Variations played by Glenn Gould is astonishing – I've only just discovered that Gould was twenty-two years old when he played it as his recording debut. Apparently he was advised to try something a little more modest, but as he had a contract with Columbia records giving him artistic freedom, he insisted. Being a fan of films like Shine and Amadeus and most recently Whiplash, of course I love finding out details like that Gould soaked his hands and arms in very hot water in the studio before performing, and wore heavy winter clothes whatever the weather. And I also like what he says himself about the music: "… which observes neither end nor beginning, music with neither real climax nor real resolution, music which, like Baudelaire's lovers, 'rests lightly on the wings of the unchecked wind.' It has, then, unity through intuitive perception, unity born of craft and scrutiny, mellowed by mastery achieved, and revealed to us here, as so rarely in art, in the vision of subconscious design exulting upon a pinnacle of potency."
If I'm honest, I'm not sure exactly what he means. And it doesn't even matter.
"Many Rivers To Cross" – Jimmy Cliff
This is what the human spirit can create. This is where the bar is, this high, this close. For every book I ever write, I will always need this song to tune me in, to what is possible. Thank you Jimmy Cliff. And in fact, I'm going to put in the whole of The Harder They Come soundtrack, for ageless beauty and funk.
"Feeling Good" - Nina Simone
Nina reigns supreme, and this song has particular potency that I channelled whilst writing The Bees, to find Flora's courage. I'd held onto it once before, in the midst of the worst time of my life. I was driving down the glory of London's Embankment in spring, the city had never looked so grand and beautiful but I was in shock, juggling rehearsals of my first play, the rubble of divorce, and the logistics of becoming a single mother with a baby. But Nina was with me, there in the car. And is there anything sexier and more life affirming, than the sound of that brass section swanking in and clearing all suffering before it? No there is not.
"Fly Me To The Moon" – Julie London & Greg Porter
Strictly speaking, I didn't use this whilst writing The Bees, but for a recent bookstore event. I decided to dramatise Chapter 3 and use two wonderful actresses I'd worked with before, as Sister Sage and Sister Teasel, whilst I read Flora/Narrator. My plan was to use the slowed-down "Flight of the Bumblebee" as underscore – but I forgot that on the night I wouldn't just be directing, I'd be a performer too – and I got so nervous I forgot to do it. But I did remember "Fly Me To The Moon" for the book-signing bit, which was great – so uplifting and joyful, and in tune with the feeling at the end of the book, I hope.
Laline Paull and The Bees links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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