I’m thrilled to be part of the paperback launch celebrations for Natasha Solomons’ The Song Collector which was published by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder Books, on 24 March 2016, in paperback and ebook. It is also available in hardback. The Song Collector is available directly from the publisher, Waterstones, Amazon US, Amazon UK and from all good bookshops.
I’ve only just had time to begin reading The Song Collector, but I already love it. I’m also honoured to have a guest post below from Natasha all about the cinematic means of setting scenes in which you can get a glimpse of the beauty of her writing.
About The Song Collector
Fox, as the celebrated composer Harry Fox-Talbot is known, wants to be left in peace. His beloved wife has died, he’s unable to write a note of music, and no, he does not want to take up some blasted hobby.
Then one day he discovers that his troublesome four-year-old grandson is a piano prodigy. The music returns and Fox is compelled to re-engage with life – and, ultimately, to confront an old family rift. Decades earlier, Fox and his brothers return to Hartgrove Hall after the war, determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But on the last night of 1946, the arrival of beautiful wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, which leads to a shattering betrayal.
With poignancy, lyricism and humour, Natasha Solomons tells a captivating tale of passion and music, of roots, ancient songs and nostalgia for the old ways, of the ties that bind us to family and home and the ones we are prepared to sever. Here is the story of a man who discovers joy and creative renewal in the aftermath of grief and learns that it is never too late to seek forgiveness.
Praise for The Song Collector
‘A delightful, moving, utterly believable family saga.’ The Times
‘Takes you quietly by the hand and introduces you to such brilliantly portrayed characters, nuanced conversations and feelings, a true sense of place. Time and again I marvelled at the way Natasha Solomons unveils a quite complex plot with unerring confidence that makes it all click into place so logically.’ New Books & nudge
‘Packed with beautiful writing and marvellously conceived characters, The Song Collector moves effortlessly between the threadbare riches of England’s postwar country house society and the discordant ambitions of modern life, all bound together by a timeless love story that will break you and heal you.’
Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of A Hundred Summers
‘A tender, lyrical novel of family and fame.’ The Express
‘This novel is a profound story of love, loss and reconciliation. A captivating read that examines the power of music.’ Lady
Setting the Scene
A Guest post by Natasha Solomons
I don’t think I have a photographer’s eye – I have the dubious skill of missing out people’s heads whenever I take a snap – I think I’m probably more influenced by cinema. My first editor once commented on how I carefully light every scene. I do think in terms of scenes – I hear the characters speaking in my mind, and I see how they move – those tiny gestures that reveal emotion, the glance away, the irritable stirring of a teacup. Objects too can become infused with emotion. I’ve always loved the Philip Larkin poem ‘Home is so Sad’: ‘Home is so sad./ It stays as it was left,/Shaped to the comfort of the last to go/As if to win them back… You can see how it was: /Look at the pictures and the cutlery./ The music in the piano stool. That vase.’
I love the final line: ‘That vase’. It’s so simple, an unremarkable phrase and yet its specificity within the poem makes it oddly moving and also cinematic. I always picture ‘that vase’ left on the table in the empty house gathering dust – but as the camera in my mind lingers on it, I know that once ‘that vase’ meant something to someone. An entire narrative is implied in those two ordinary words. What was it? I imagine a different story each time I read the poem.
When I write a scene I know how much can be suggested by the inclusion of an object familiar to the reader. In ‘The Song Collector’ entire landscapes are suffused with significance for Fox: his creativity is bound up with his sense of home and the hills around Hartgrove. The description of landscape in the novel is never simple – it usually evokes Fox’s conflicting desire to write music and to care for the estate. It’s also a landscape that he lived in with Edie so that after her death the places themselves are imprinted with longing and loss: he sees his earlier shadow on the hills.
I’m fascinated by the connection between music and place. Will Hodgkinson writes that music has a regional accent and I love that idea. A folk song found in Dorset has a different feel to one sourced in Isla. Sibelius or Delius write music deliberately to evoke a specific place but in my novel the Wessex Ridgeway and the dark trees leach into Fox’s music unconsciously. Anteus like his strength comes from the earth of home. He struggles to write away from Hartgrove. He borrows the folk tunes he collects in a style similar to that of John Rutter or Vaughn Williams but the creative source of his internal music landscape is already a reflection of the Dorset landscape and hills that he’s loved through his life. This novel is about love: for a woman, for the songs of home and for the hills and copses of which they sing.
The Map of Songs from The Song Collector
The history of Britain isn’t just written in books or notched upon the landscape in Holloways or long barrows, it’s also contained in song.
Since writing this novel, Natasha Solomons has been enchanted by the idea of song collecting. Inspired by the tradition, she has set out to create a portrait of contemporary Britain in song. Every hillside, village and city street has a song, some ancient and others new. Natasha is beginning a communal project to map as many songs as possible, put them up online freely available so that people can both listen to the music of their town, and if they like, learn their own local songs.
‘It was a song about a blackbird that led me to write my new novel The Song Collector. I discovered that a song collector, alehouse keeper and mischief-maker lived in our cottage in the 1800s. The more I read about and listened to old songs from where I live in Dorset, I realised that I had to write a about a musician and song collector and his connection to the landscape – and woman — he loves.
As I wrote, I started to appreciate that songs are much like stories – one has to follow their rhythms and cadence. But, when I finished the book, I knew I wasn’t finished with song collecting. I’d been utterly caught. After all, there’s always one more song to find.
We now want to create a portrait of contemporary Britain in song. Every hillside, village and city street has a song, some ancient and others new. We want to start a communal project to map as many songs as possible, put them up online freely available so that people can both listen to the music of their town, and if they like, learn their own local songs. We’d love for you to get involved’
For more information on the Great British Song Map please contact Helene Frisby
About Natasha Solomons
Natasha Solomons is the author of the internationally bestselling Mr Rosenblum’s List, The Novel in the Viola, which was chosen for the Richard & Judy Book Club, and The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. Natasha lives in Dorset with her son and her husband with whom she also writes screenplays. Her novels have been translated into 17 languages.