Here’s some of the music I listened to while writing Boy, Snow, Bird: ‘E Ajnabi’, from the 1998 Hindi film Dil Se, a film about a love (and a revolution) that’s constantly on the brink of beginning. The film’s atmosphere is filled with an agonizing tension – hope dies and is repeatedly forced back to life. ‘E Ajnabi’ plays in full during a scene free of dialogue, and this sad song soars from chime to feather-light chime. The refrain, sung by Udit Narayan, goes: E ajnabi, tu bhi khabhi, aawaaz de kahin se / Oh, stranger, you call me sometime from somewhere. I found myself applying similar sentiments to every character in my book, which refused to get started until somewhere around the nineteenth or twentieth repeat of ‘E Ajnabi.’

The two songs most heard when work was really coming along: ‘I Only Want You’ (1961 by Cathy Jean and the Roommates), and  ‘Once Upon a Dream’ (1959, sung by Bill Shirley and Mary Costa). There are two versions of ‘I Only Want You’ in my iTunes library, the Cathy Jean and the Roommates song and a 1960 recording by the doo-wop group The Passions. It was important to boycott the version by the poor Passions – so eager to sing – for the duration of this phase. Not to dismiss The Passions’ highly polished vocal harmonies – not at all – it’s just that their version’s a little too smooth to be my anthem to single-mindedness. I had to have Cathy Jean’s shaky, high-pitched oh we-eh-eh-eh-ell and the rhythm, which I imagine is similar to the sound of a heart staggering around inside a lonesome chest. ‘Once Upon a Dream’ is an unabashed Disney love of mine, but it sounds different played quietly, on loop at 5 or 6 a.m., over and under the sound of rapid typing and equally rapid deletion on a computer keyboard. La la, la la, la la la, try it, if you haven’t already . . .

Finally, some editing music: Josef Suk’s ‘Fantastic Scherzo’ (1904) played by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and Keri Hilson’s ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ (2010). The scherzo made me sway. Besides, delving into the infrastructure of something you’ve built is much less daunting when another part of your mind has been invited to an art-nouveau ballroom populated by all manner of storybook creatures. ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ meets the confidence issue head-on. My name is Keri / I’m so very / fly, oh my, it’s a little bit scary. The band Parachute have covered this song wonderfully, without changing any of the lyrics, and that got played just as many times, if not more.


Still from ‘Pretty Girl Rock’ © Keri Hilson

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