August 19, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Frances Macken's novel You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here is a funny, dark, and vividly told debut about friendship.
The Irish Times wrote of the book:
"You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here vividly captures life in a close-knit community, while examining the intricacies and anxieties of female friendship… Katie is a vibrant creation, whose insights are often fresh and startling… The ups-and-downs of going places is ultimately what makes the narrative come to life."
Music Sounds Better With You by Stardust
“Music Sounds Better With You” still sounds just as fresh as when it was released in 1998, and I had some good times back then. Music mattered more, or at the very least, I felt it more. It sounded better too, but I guess that’s just me showing my age.
My book You Have to You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here tells the tale of two precocious girls, Katie and Evelyn, growing up in the nineties in small town Ireland. They have dreams of becoming filmmakers and artists, but an all-consuming rivalry overshadows their friendship. We spin around with our arms in the air, dappled by colored lights, the music sustaining us and leading us about the floor. It feels as though everyone’s watching us admiringly. Music makes the friends feel free, and alive, and full of possibilities, like this track used to make me feel, and sort of still does. It reminds me that music is happiness. It’s dancing and parties. It’s color, it’s fashion, it’s celebration. And it absolutely sounds better in good company.
Mm Mm Mm Mm by the Crash Test Dummies
People love to hate this iconic nineties track, but I say, get over it. It’s amazing. It’s like a sort of hymn for unfortunate kids standing out for all the wrong reasons. There’s something rather melancholy and lovely about the whole thing. I especially love the little vignettes: the kid who got into an accident and whose hair turned bright white, the girl with the birth marks all over her body, the kid who had to go to church right after school and whose parents, “lurched all over the church floor.” Yikes.
One of the characters in my book, Maeve, has a hard time growing up because of her peculiar appearance and naïve personality. She has a mysterious bald spot behind her left ear; as it turns out, she suffered a lice infestation as a neglected child, and her hair never grew back in that one place. The reader response to Maeve has been one of sympathy, but I think that she’s capable of doing surprising, and even bad things. There’s something off-putting about her, and it was really interesting to explore that. She’s creepy. Still, there’s no denying that she suffers greatly during her adolescence, and so this one’s for you, Maeve.
Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann
Straight out of 1999, it’s “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” from Baz Luhrmann, the guy who brought Romeo and Juliet to movie screens in 1996, sending teenage girls the world over into a tailspin of lust and romantic fantasy. Luhrmann spotted something special in the words of a column written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune and turned them into a generational anthem of sorts. The evergreen advice it had to offer was comforting at a time when a lot of people were feeling worked up and apprehensive about the turn of the new millennium. The words remind us to take the long view, to not get caught up in petty disturbances, and to value our relationships.
As a former nineties teenager myself, the happy-sad harmonica sound always sends me to a place of reflection and nostalgia, harking back to summer-tinged days spent hanging out with school friends for the last time, or packing up to leave home.
You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here is set in the years just before and after the millennium, and addresses how we move forward and make progress as young people. Small town friends Katie and Evelyn are fueled by ferocious ambition, and they’re eager to get places and become the filmmakers and artists they’ve always dreamt of becoming. A rejection from the art school she applied to deters Evelyn from taking further chances, and she ends up working at the local pharmaceuticals company. By contrast, Katie’s work as a hotel cleaner only strengthens her desire to become a filmmaker, and as the story progresses, she edges ever closer to self-actualizing. She hasn’t made it yet, but she’s making it, and it’s looking as though character is destiny.
Somehow, the song causes us to consider the expanse of our lives, and how it’s all going to play out. You expect it’s going to be hard, and it’s usually harder than that, but you just get on with it. It says, get the fundamentals right, and things will probably turn out just fine.
We Used to be Friends by The Dandy Warhols
Say you’ve got this friend, and the friendship is hanging on by a thread, but you’re afraid to end it because how do you even end a friendship, and you think it’s probably better to wait until there’s a fight or something concrete to end the friendship over. And then you realize that you just can’t stand it anymore, and you’ve got to be free of this terrible person, and how did you never see how awful they were before now? But the thing is that you’re going to see each other around, and it’s going to be incredibly awkward, and they’ve played such an important role in your life, and been there from the very beginning, and now you’re more confused than ever.
What’s a person to do? It’s uncomfortable as hell. And completely delicious to write about.
Katie returns to her hometown of Glenbruff having failed in her attempt to launch a filmmaking career only to find that her old friend Evelyn’s been making things happen for herself when Katie’s back was turned. The rivalry between them finally comes to a boiling point, and there’s an epic confrontation. This tasty little track perfectly captures that disdainful who-cares-about-them-anyway attitude we can sometimes have about friendships from a past life.
City of Stars by Justin Hurwitz
I really like the sentiment behind “City of Stars.” It’s a simple tune full of yearning. Is there room for me? Can I get a break? So many young people flock to cities with hope in their hearts, certain they’ve got something to offer. It might be their art or their voice, their talent or their music, and any day now, someone’s going to take notice and hand them the opportunity they’ve longed for. But you know, that day doesn’t come around for everyone.
My character Katie in You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here suffers the anguish of her unrealized dreams. She desperately wants to become a filmmaker, but can’t seem to make it happen. When her friend Evelyn begins to outdo her, making strides in her own creative career, Katie feels all the more foolish, and all the more resentful. Maybe she’s not as good as she thought she was. Maybe she’s nothing special after all.
The burning desire to express herself and to lead a productive and successful creative life is all consuming, and this song does a really nice job of capturing the sadness and tumult of unfulfilled creative ambition.
Sunday Night 1987 by M83
I’m not sure quite what it is, but listening to M83 helps me to visualize the stories I’m trying to tell. The music feels vibrant and colorful and evocative, and it stimulates my imagination, helping me to see the narrative taking place in my mind’s eye. I can see the characters, the locations and scenery, the interactions, and even the facial expressions.
I studied screenwriting in college, and I’m heavily influenced by the visual, and there’s a lot of imagery in my work. I want to share scenes with people, and fiction is my medium. I often wonder if people are seeing what I’m seeing. I wonder what their interpretation of the words looks like in their own imaginations. That would be really fun to know.
Halcyon by Orbital
I had a writing day when I was really on a roll. This was when I was closing in on writing the final chapters of the book, and I was on that writer’s high. I was feeling triumphant, like a conduit for exciting, vibrant language. I was gripped. And the words kept arriving. The ideas. My brain was buzzing and my fingers were barely keeping up. I recall thinking, “I’m almost there. I’ve almost completed my book. This is happening.” This ethereal, otherworldly sounding track makes me feel like I’m soaring, reminding me of that day of writerly bliss. Truly, there is nothing quite like it.
Boys of Summer by Don Henley
There can be something destructive about young love at a time when a person could be making strides in their self-development. It can be pretty stalling. In You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here, two brothers, Peadar and Aidan, serve as love interests for Evelyn and Katie. Evelyn lands the cool and indifferent Peadar, while Katie sets her sights on his brother Aidan. Katie’s romantic hopes never come to fruition with Aidan, but it’s a blessing in disguise, as this might have interfered with her prospects and prevented her from looking beyond Glenbruff for fulfilment.
A couple of years pass by, and summer rolls around again, and Katie returns to Glenbruff after her disappointing stint in Dublin. It seems like the right thing to do to pick up the romantic relationship she and Aidan had put on hold, but by this time, it feels long past its sell-by-date.
“Boys of Summer” is playing on the radio in Aidan’s car as he takes Katie for a spin to a burned-out nightclub. The song reminds me of the kind of guy that Aidan is. He has a chip on his shoulder and takes himself a little too seriously. “Boys of Summer” is the sort of song that captures his intensity just right. Subconsciously, Katie knows that her dalliance with Aidan isn’t going to last, and she can see beyond him. He’s just a boy for summer.
Goodbye Stranger by Supertramp
What an incredibly joyful exit song. In order to thrive, we often have to say goodbye to certain people, places and situations. We’ve usually evolved beyond them and life is nudging us along the track. There might be some tidying up to do first, like cutting ties and burning bridges, but then it’s time to go.
Katie has to process the conclusion of her rivalrous friendship with Evelyn, and she comes to recognize that she doesn’t need Evelyn anymore. Katie’s strong enough on her own, and maybe she always was.
The song is about moving on with confidence. No regrets, and no looking back, because the future is so much more enticing than anything that’s gone before.
People Are Strange by The Doors
One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing fiction is building characters out of nothing. I love to collect and assimilate all the little details that make up a fictional person, from their appearance to their personality to their backstory. It’s all so much fun to piece together, and it’s incredible to think of a reader believing in that person for the length of time it takes them to read the book - and even beyond.
I don’t have to look very far for inspiration; practically everyone I meet has a quirk, or some strange element to hone in on, and I remember those details and store them away, like some people keep spare buttons and scraps of fabric. I find it amazing when a person shares something of themselves that seems to be the key to understanding everything about who they are. In an alternate universe, I’d be a Jungian analyst, as I am heavily interested in the narratives people generate about themselves, and the dreams and symbols that are meaningful to them.
It was a pleasure to create offbeat characters for You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here. Take Johnny Grealish for example, a down-and-out living in Glenbruff. There are a hundred-and-one rumors about him, and Evelyn says he shares a bed with his mother, and that he baits badgers and eats them. He’s a disturbing figure, and most unpleasant to look at, but he has a compelling backstory that adds so much depth to his character. In addition to losing his two brothers in a nightclub fire many years before, Johnny’s own hand and ear were burned away in the incident.
It was important to me that the primary characters in the novel felt tangible and authentic, and the most effective way for me to do that was to have them come across as being strange, because all of us are strange.
Woodbrook by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin
Ireland is a mood, and You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here is inherently Irish. It’s about Irish people, the way they speak, the way they live their lives, their philosophies, hometowns, and psyches. The story weaves in strands of the supernatural, folktales, and superstition too.
The story is set in Glenbruff, a fictional Irish town. There are several notable locations in Glenbruff: the quarry, the abandoned cottage, the burned-out nightclub, the handball alley, and the expanse of mysterious bogland. There’s a supernatural undercurrent to the town, a pervasive mood of peculiarity. It’s decaying and desolate, but nonetheless intriguing. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface and the characters living there embody the weirdness of the place.
Writers are shaped by what we see and hear. We’re shaped by our surroundings. As an Irish person, I find Ireland to be inspiring, and so much of it has inspired the writing of my book. This moving composition from Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin fills me with a sense of gladness and appreciation for my home country, evoking its wonder and beauty.
Frances Macken is from Claremorris, Co. Mayo. She completed a BA in Film and Television Production at the National Film School, Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford and is the author of several short stories. You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here is her debut work of literary fiction.