Hi guys! Today I am very excited to welcome author Alexis Hall to Joyfully Jay. Alexis is here to talk about his new release Glitterland (which I reviewed earlier this week and totally adored). He is sharing his soundtrack for the book and how the songs work with the different characters (I love that kind of stuff!). Alexis also has a great prize he is sharing (you need to email him to enter). So please join me in giving Alexis a big welcome!
Hello, and welcome to my first ever blog tour, celebrating Riptide Publishing’s release of my first ever novel, GLITTERLAND. Yay! Thank you so much to Joyfully Jay for hosting me. And, to you, dear reader, for stopping by. If you’d like to come with me and keep me company on my virtual wanderings, you can find a full listing of when and where I am here.
There’s also some kind of contest type thing happening. The truth is – and already I reveal the rather limited scope of my imagination – quite a lot of the incidental things in GLITTERLAND have a little bit too much reality to them. In the sense that they’re, cough, in my house. Occasionally about my person. One of the things that absolutely isn’t about my person, and has always been solely decorative, is the peacock feather Venetian mask Ash has in his bedroom. I, too, rather admire the beauty of artificial things. If you’d like to win this slightly random souvenir, answer the three questions below (answers in the book) and drop me an email. I’ll announce the winner a handful of days after the end of the tour on the 3rd of September.
- What other peacock feather themed item does Ash own?
- What does Darian have tattooed on his hip?
- What is the name of Chloe’s boutique?
Music & Lyrics
I’ve always worked to music, and it turns out writing is no exception. I have a playlist for every book I write, usually about 20-50 songs long, depending on the length of the book. They’re not necessarily good songs, or even songs I personally like, but they’re the songs that feel right for the story or the characters or inspire a certain mood in me, and I literally only to listen to them when I’m writing that particular book. Of course, only when I’m writing a particular book means, in practice, every day for several months. It drives my partner absolutely batshit. Apparently it’s like a particularly sadistic form of Pavlovian conditioning. While I was writing GLITTERLAND, H was playing Xcom and now feels a terrible desire to shoot aliens every time Comfortably Numb comes on. Now I stop to think about it, I suppose it’s possible I’m Pavlovianly conditioning myself to write particular things when I hear particular songs. Which I suppose isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The playlist for GLITTERLAND turned out to be a bit of an odd one because Ash and Darian are such very different characters and I wanted the music to represent them both. Initially, I intended to alternate between an Ash song and a Darian song but, because Ash needed serious misery music and Darian was obviously all about the joyful cheese, I nearly gave myself a meltdown. I was basically spending three minutes weeping on the floor, then the next three minutes getting down with my bad self, and then back on the floor again until I got emotional whiplash.
So now the first half of the playlist is Ash songs, and the second half is Darian’s music, and it pivots around Bliss by Muse in the middle. That transitions me, with most of my sanity intact, from woe to elation, and I think it’s a good song for the way Ash feels about Darian:
Everything about you is how I wanna be
Your freedom comes naturally
Everything about you resonates happiness
Now I won’t settle for less
Also, the music video is adorably early 2000s and seems to involve Matt Bellamy throwing himself into a hole in the universe.
Obviously I won’t go on about every song on the list, but I’ll pick out a couple of my favourites. From Ash’s segment, I think one of the most devastating songs on there is The Letter by Kristin Hersh. I actually find it hard to listen to when I don’t have something else to concentrate on because it’s so utterly raw, lyrically and musically, stripped down to a breaking voice and a single acoustic guitar. It makes me a little bit breathless and a little bit weepy with, y’know, feeling stuff.
There are actually three versions of this song, and this one, from her debut solo album, Hips and Makers, is my favourite. Kristin Hersh is herself a bipolar depressive, and an incomparable artist and, although a lot of her early music touches upon her illness, I think The Letter is perhaps the most explicit exploration of it. Addressed to herself, and to her depression, it’s a desperate, haunting stream of consciousness, a paradoxical acceptance of the contradictions of her illness and a prayer for sanity she can’t believe will ever be answered:
Don’t kill the god of sadness
Just don’t let her get you down
See the man inside this book I read can’t handle his own head
So what the hell am I supposed to do ?
Gather me up because I’m lost
Or I’m back where I started from
I’m crawling on the floor rolling on the ground
I’m gonna cry you look for me
The other song that really stands out for me is After All by Dar Williams. I find Dar Williams pretty variable in general. She either leaves me completely cold or completely shattered (When I was a Boy, though, is … just … perfect) and After All, which, for me, is the standout track of her album The Green World, is one of the latter. It’s another song that directly explores the artist’s experience with depression but whereas The Letter is about despair, I think After All is about hope, however fragile. Williams delicately traces her journey from contemplating suicide to, well, not doing that.
But, what really works for me about this, is that Williams articulates a middle step not often addressed, which is that choosing not to die is not the same as choosing to live, and that actually the journey between suicide and life is (or can be) a journey of many subtle stages, none of which can feel particularly triumphant:
And when I chose to live
There was no joy
It’s just a line I crossed
I wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost
So I was not lost or found
As GLITTERLAND opens, this is where I feel Ash is, just on the edge of that thin grey line. There’s a failed suicide attempt in his semi-recent past, which has left him in a strange non-space of having chosen to die and failed, but he hasn’t really chosen to live either. His relationship with Darian is part of what leads him towards life again. And that moment of finding meaning and beauty in the world again Williams articulates absolutely perfectly, the rush of forgotten feeling that is at once unbearably painful and unbelievably joyful:
Well the sun rose
So many colors, it nearly broke my heart
It worked me over like a work of art
And I was part of all that.
If you want, you can check out the whole playlist here.
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.
Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.
But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?
You can read an excerpt and, y’know, cough, buy the book, if you want, at Riptide Publishing.