July 1, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Anna Barker's collection Rain Hare is filled with stories that deftly examine relationships between people and the natural world.
Benjamin Myers wrote of the book:
"Anna Barker is one of the very best writers around. Rain Hare is an emotive collection deeply-rooted in time and place, each story a powerful reminder of our complicated relationships with the natural world – and each other. Beneath it all are prescient ecological themes that will resonate down the ages. It’s utterly gripping."
It took me a while to realise all the stories in Rain Hare are saying something about connection – with nature, with each other, and with ourselves. There are characters in this book who become disconnected from their own minds through grief; Alzheimers; and trauma; and there are stories about reconnecting with those we once loved who have become lost, or changed. In ‘channelling’ the book through music I found myself listening to a huge variety of songs from across genres and generations.
Time - Pink Floyd
Something about the intro of this song – like so much of Dark Side of the Moon album – felt trippy, other worldly. I found this was great for getting in the mood for writing the opening story to the collection, On the Flood, where a woman manifests the fourteen-year-old version of herself. As an adult the character is drifting in her own life when she comes back to her hometown to bury her father. The lyrics, ‘ticking away the moments that make up a dull day/Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way/Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown/Waiting for someone or something to show you the way”, put me in the right mindset for imagining what it might be like to talk to a younger version of myself and, in a sense, having that younger version, ‘show the way’.
Maybe I’m Amazed – Paul McCartney
I’m not a writer who writes ‘sentimental’ very well but that’s not to say there isn’t love in this collection. How Do I Feel About Lentils is an actual piece of dialogue I overheard an elderly man say to his wife in a restaurant (authors are terrible eavesdroppers!). I thought, my God, that’s love, asking your beloved how you feel about a food because you can’t remember! In the story the male character is suffering from Alzheimer’s and becomes ‘separated’ from his life so McCartney’s lyrics struck a chord: ‘Maybe I'm a man, maybe I'm a lonely man/Who's in the middle of something/That he doesn't really understand/Maybe I'm a man and maybe you're the only woman/Who could ever help me.’
If I Die – Jade Bird
I’m sure if a psychologist read my stories they’d probably say I was working through grief – there are at least three examples in the collection of stories that depict grief in all its weird and complex manifestations. There has to be Spring is a story about a woman coming to terms with the death of her husband. I say ‘coming to terms’ but that implies recovery and I don’t think that’s what happens when we lose someone. What I really mean is the character finds a way to carry her grief. Jade Bird writes: ‘Put me in words, not hallelujahs/They come from the heart and they ring true.’ I wanted to say something about grief that ‘rings true.’
Blackbird – The Beatles
It’s never as simple as saying connection or reconnection is good and disconnection is bad, is it? There are connections that bind us we would rather be free of and in my collection there are characters that wish to escape ties such as grief, expectations, family members, traumatic memory. My characters sometimes make their bid for freedom by manifesting an alternate reality, one that allows them to escape or that enables empowerment, even if only temporarily. In the title story, Rain Hare, a woman changes into a hare to escape her reality; in another story, a woman with anorexia imagines the sea can change her shape. The manifestations ultimately represent hope. McCartney once said Blackbird was intended to be a message of hope for those experiencing the racial strife in the American South in the early sixties.
I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li
In an interview about this song Lykke Li said it was about infatuation. My novels both play with the idea of infatuation. It’s a theme that follows me around, I guess. Infatuation is something very different from love, it's a craving and it's very animalistic. It doesn't care what you crave, or whether it is bad for you, it’s like a river, once you jump in the river has you. I listen to this song frequently – most often when I’m walking in the landscapes that inspire my writing. I find it serves as a kind of reminder to live life with a sprinkling of infatuation. I don’t mean to imply I’m looking for ways to self-destruct; it’s more of a prompt to listen to the soft animal of my heart and what it tells me. I think, as a writer, I’m constantly striving to get to the heart – or the truth - of whatever experience or emotion I’m connecting with in my work.
Anna Barker is an acclaimed novelist and short story writer. Writing as Anna Ralph, her first novel The Floating Island (Arrow, 2008) won a Betty Trask best debut award from the Society of Authors. It was inspired by the real floating island on Derwentwater in the Lake District and tells the story of Matt, a 15-year-old boy, who rows out to the island with his younger brother to plant a flag with disastrous consequences. Her second novel, Before I Knew Him (Arrow, 2009), was shortlisted for a Good Housekeeping Good Read award and tells the story of unlikely friends, David and Leo, who are bound by a shared summer – and secret – they had sworn to forget. It draws on themes Anna had begun to explore in her first novel, namely: love, sexuality, memory, trauma, obsession and betrayal. She lives in Durham and is currently working on a debut collection of poetry.