Five Books, Five Songs: Hester’s Request

A couple of weeks ago, Genevieve asked me a good question about the FitzOsbornes’ tastes in music, which got me thinking about all the musical references in my books. Here’s the result – five blog posts, each featuring a book I’ve written (or am writing) and a song connected with that book.

Today, I’m going to talk about the most music-filled book I’ve written, The Rage of Sheep, which features dozens of references to 1980s pop music. How can I possibly choose just one song from that book?

Well, at first I thought it would have to be Sheep Go To Heaven by Cake, because two lines from that song appeared as an epigraph in the novel’s initial draft. However, my editors pointed out that quoting lyrics from songs was not a good idea because a) it usually takes ages to track down a song’s copyright holder, which is usually a music publishing company, and b) they usually refuse permission to quote their lyrics unless you agree to pay them thousands of dollars. As I didn’t have the time, energy or money for any of that, I confined my epigraph to a quote from a long-dead writer whose work was out of copyright1. Sheep Go To Heaven is a great song, but it’s not actually in the finished novel.

That’s why I decided on one of the songs that appears in the final chapter of The Rage of Sheep. You know how lots of YA books with a high school setting end with a school dance, and the dorky heroine turns up looking unexpectedly beautiful in a new dress, and the popular guy suddenly realises she’s his One True Love (or else, the heroine suddenly realises her best friend has been her One True Love all along) and all the popular girls realise how mean they’ve been and embrace the heroine, and she forgives them, and the scene ends with them all linking hands and dancing in a big, happy circle? Well, none of that happens at the end of The Rage of Sheep, except it does involve a school dance2. And the DJ does play Hester’s favourite song, which is also (by a remarkable coincidence!) one of my own favourite songs. It’s pretty hard to dance to it, but the lyrics are a wonderful mix of gloom and joy, hope and cynicism, sheer nonsense and deep meaning. It’s by XTC and it’s called Senses Working Overtime.

More in Five Books, Five Songs:

1. The Rage of Sheep – Hester’s Request
2. A Brief History of MontmarayThe Sea Is Writhing Now
3. The FitzOsbornes in ExileDoing The Lambeth Walk
4. The FitzOsbornes at WarWe’ll Meet Again
5. The Work-in-Progress – Through The Large Four-Chambered Heart

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  1. It was James Whistler. If you want to know what he said, you’ll have to read The Rage of Sheep.
  2. By the way, the most memorable scene in a YA novel involving a school dance? The climax of Dreamrider, by Barry Jonsberg.

The Search for Enlightenment

I possess many of the personality traits of a nerd, but few of the technological skills, which is why it’s only now, three years after I set up my author website, that I’ve discovered my own website statistics. Web statistics tell you how many people have visited your website, which pages they prefer, what they’re looking for, how they found you in the first place and lots of other interesting bits of information. My favourite set of data is the list of key words that my website visitors type into Google and other internet search engines.

Not surprisingly, the most common search words are various spellings of my name and the titles of my books. Most people are looking for information about my second novel, A Brief History of Montmaray, although I was tickled to find several people searching for ‘the island of Montmaray’, ‘Montmaray island’ and ‘Montmaray near the Atlantic Ocean’. (I like to think they’re planning a holiday in the Bay of Biscay and are hoping to drop in at Montmaray.)

There are also quite a few visitors wanting information about my first novel, The Rage of Sheep. Judging by the number of requests for ‘chapter summaries’, ‘quotes’ and ‘spark notes’, I’m guessing these visitors are high school students who are being forced to study the book in class. (My heart went out to one who plaintively asked, ‘What is the rage of the sheep about?’) I’d really like to help, but I think teachers would get suspicious if thirty of their students handed in identical character analyses and chapter summaries, all copied from my website. (However, if you think there is some other information that would be useful to include on my website, please leave a comment or send me an e-mail, and I’ll do my best.) There are also lots of teenage writers searching for writing competitions and writing workshops, and fortunately, I do have some relevant links for them.

Then the list of key words gets more entertaining. There are people with an extremely vague interest in history, who search for ‘historical people’, ‘famous history people’ and ‘historical people with a picture’. Some are more specific, looking for ‘historical people who were known for their gratitude’, ‘lying historical figures who failed’ and ‘historical person whose son left and died and had a secret wife’. Sadly, these searchers are unlikely to find enlightenment at my website, although sometimes I come very, very close to providing an answer. I can only imagine the frustration of the person searching for ‘the handwriting of Anne Boleyn’, only to discover my website provides a link to a handwriting sample from not Anne, but her daughter, Elizabeth. Happily, I was able to help those who were interested in ‘the Duchess of Kent’s popularity as fashion leader in the 1930s’, wanted to see ‘pictures of Princess Elizabeth and Margaret as children’, and wondered about ‘fascism in British aristocracy’. However, the person looking for information on ‘sheep hormonal rage’ was doomed to disappointment.

Finally, there are those who ask the really big, important questions. ‘What would Jesus do in the schoolyard?’ ‘Was Boy George sexy in the 80s?’ And then, the most difficult of all to answer: ‘When does Book 3 of the Montmaray Journals come out?’