The Songs of Us – Emma Cooper
- Format: Paperback – 432 pages
- Published: 20th September 2018
- Publisher: Headline Review
If Melody hadn’t run out of de-icer that day, she would never have slipped and banged her head. She wouldn’t be left with a condition that makes her sing when she’s nervous. And she definitely wouldn’t have belted out the Arctic Monkeys’ ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ in assembly at her son’s school.
If Dev hadn’t taken the kids to the zoo that day, then the accident wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have left Flynn and Rose without a dad. Or shattered the love of his life’s heart.
But if they hadn’t seen the missing person report that day, they might never have taken the trip to Cornwall. And, in the last place they expected, discovered what it really means to be ‘Us’.
As part of my newly established website and blog, I plan to write a monthly “Book of the Month” post to showcase one of the books I have read this month.
For January I have chosen the debut novel “The Songs of Us” by Emma Cooper. This is a book that has been recommended by a great many people in a bookclub I am a member of on Facebook – The Fiction Café – Book Club. I took to it knowing upfront that it was deemed both incredibly funny and heartbreakingly sad. It’s been a few days since I finished reading it and I have to admit, I needed the time to recover! This book really was a roller coaster ride. My goodness!!! I loved every page and don’t think I have laughed so hard or cried so many silent tears when reading a book – ever! It well and truly hooked me and I have been recommending “The Songs of Us” to everyone I come across! In execution, the book has a cast of characters you can’t help but fall in love with, a playlist worthy enough to play at full volume in your car and a story that keeps you reading passed a sensible bedtime and at every other opportunity, right up until the last page.
I was telling my 9 year old son about the book the other morning and why it had made me cry. He was teary eyed himself, listening to my short summary of the story! At the end he asked me why I would want to read such as sad book? I told him that even though it was very sad – it was also incredibly beautiful and touching to read how loved a person can be. How reading something so evocative, can help you appreciate what happens in your own life more. And how our lives are better when we feel all the emotions – not just happiness. He seemed to accept that – with a very sage nod!
I contacted Emma and told her how much I loved her book and asked if she wouldn’t mind answering a few questions. I know she’s busy working on her next novel, “The First Time I Saw You”, but she was more than happy to oblige and I’m truly thankful she took the time to answer my questions and is allowing me to post them here for you all to read! As I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, I decided to stick to questions about the writing process rather than aspects of the story…. so here goes!
Firstly, let me just say a huge Thank you for writing such an amazing book and for answering my questions!
It’s my pleasure, thank you for having me! I always get a real thrill when I hear how readers have been so affected by The Songs of Us and always, always love it when I hear that it is being talked about and recommended to friends. That was how I often came across some of my favourite books so it’s wonderful that my book is being included.
Whilst I was reading I found myself wondering about your process when writing with so many references to popular songs. I had a distinct “chicken or the egg” feeling – what came first? Did you have a great song and then wrote the scene to match or did you have the plot and then found the perfect song to fit the scene?
A bit of both really. There were certain songs that I always wanted to include for specific scenes – “This Woman’s Work” being one of them, but often, I would be writing a scene and a song would just pop into my head. “Agadoo” was one of those and I burst out laughing when it did. I had literally typed ‘Aaaaaahhh!’ and ‘doo, doo, doo, push pineapple shake a tree’ followed without any conscious thought from me.
The images your book creates are so rich and clear, I felt like I was watching it all happen right in front of me! How do you go about writing something so alive and not get bogged down just describing what you see in your head?
That’s a really difficult question to answer … I’m a pantser by nature, and without sounding like a pillock, my books do tend to just write themselves. That being said, I learnt a great deal about writing techniques and features when I worked in Year six for several years. I use a lot of pathetic fallacy, which is where you give a human feeling to an inanimate object, especially when using it to describe weather; it can give a whole different feel to a scene without too much mundane description, for example:
“As I step outside, I breathe in the dewy grass, tilting my head to the night sky which has already thrown off its dark blanket and now stretches and unpeels, revealing blood orange.”
If I had just described the scene as dawn breaking, and talked about the colours of the sky, you wouldn’t get that punch. This isn’t something I’m really aware of as I write though … it just sort of happens!
After my many attempts at reading some of the passages from your book to my husband, and failing miserably because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe – I wondered what it was like for you to write some of the most hilarious scenes, and equally the saddest ones?
I love that you were reading parts out to your hubby! I do this too!
Often, I found myself laughing when I was writing, especially when Melody took me by surprise. The “Dontcha” scene came from nowhere as did the “Birdy Song”. Equally, there were times when I had to stop writing because I was crying so much. I have to say that I didn’t cry at the ‘big’ scene at the end of the novel though, but I think that was because I knew it was coming all the way through. There were two scenes that really made me cry, the “Perfect Day” scene was another of those that came from nowhere. I had the song playing while I wrote it and it was a real gut-wrencher for me. The other was when Flynn sees his mum asleep, I wrote that when I was covering a class and had to pull myself together quickly!
What did it feel like to reach the big writing milestones – writing the final words, finding out your book would be published, seeing the cover design, reaching publication day and hearing the audiobook version?
After writing the last words to The Songs of Us, I remember playing Melody’s final song really loud and having a bit of a dance around my lounge! That euphoria was short lived though once I started getting the gazillions of rejections through. Funnily enough, I think getting my agent was my biggest milestone. That email, next to meeting Russell and having my children, is the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. Having a literary agent telling you that you’re an incredible writer and that they want to help you find the right publisher is like no other feeling I have ever experienced!
Seeing my cover (and oh what a beauty it is!) was very surreal. I had an image in my mind of the tree that Tom sculpts, so I was expecting something similar to Rowan Coleman’s “The Memory Book” (which I love). Seeing this bright red balloon took me by surprise, but as I’m sure you can guess, I was over the moon with it. I have a slight hint from my editor about the brief for “The First Time I Saw You”‘s cover and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the designers go with it. More on this soon!!
As to the audiobook, that was quite a nerve-wracking experience, hearing actors speaking your words is just … incredible. I’m so very lucky that I had two actors too, as this isn’t always the case in multiple viewpoints. I think they did an exceptional job, they made your husband cry so I’ll take that as a massive win! P.S let him know he’s not on his own, Russ has cried at “The Songs of Us” more times than I can count … he had to actually leave the room when he read the ending for the first time. He’s cried at “The First Time I Saw You” several times too!
E-book publication day I spent drinking prosecco and sitting outside my caravan obsessively checking my ranking on Amazon. Paperback publication day, I went into an independent Book shop in Oswestry called Booka Bookshop and signed some copies … that was a very special feeling, seeing it there in the wild was just wonderful. It’s a gorgeous book shop if you are ever close by, and they host some incredible author evenings … Jodi Picoult was there a few months ago!
And finally the universal question – what is the best advice you can offer a new author?
Never give up. I almost did. It’s hard to keep believing in yourself when you’re getting email after email from agents and publishers telling you that, for whatever their reason, you’re not quite good enough. It chips away at your self-belief day after day until you start to believe that they’re right. I was so very close to giving up. No matter how good, deep down, I knew The Songs of Us was, it’s hard to keep believing in yourself.
There is a phrase that you will receive when you get rejections: subjective. This business is so subjective. I had publisher and agents saying that readers just wouldn’t like the singing parts, and of course for some readers that’s true, but there are other readers and publishers, all around the world who, like yourself, absolutely loved it. I dread to think how different my life would be if I had have given up.
Thank you so much for being willing to answer my questions and letting me post them on here! I really hope “The Songs of Us” continues to attract new readers and gives them as great a reading experience as it gave me!
Thank you for having me and taking the time to ask such great questions!
So, my dear readers… I’m giving this book 5 out of 5 stars! If you’re reading this and curious about it – give it a go! I can guarantee “The Songs of Us” will have you in tears – happy and sad ones – and you won’t mind one bit!