At some point in your life, you’ve done it. You’ve read a book and playing in the back of your mind, is the soundtrack to the action unfolding on the page, in fact, I’m willing to bet that for most of you, it happens more often than not. But no matter how many times it happens, that music, the songs that accompany the prose always remains locked in your head, a figment of your imagination that never makes the journey into the real world. At least, it didn’t until now. It’s finally happened.
In the immediate run-up to the third part of her Dekaydence Chronicles, ‘Red Ice’, MM caught up with author Susie Cornfield and Francis Rossi (I’m pretty sure that you know who he is), one of the musicians responsible for the songs that accompany the books, to talk about ‘Red Ice’, ‘The Dekaydence Chronicles’, the music and what it’s like to be turned into a cartoon…
Interview by Tim Mass Movement
MM: Susie would you like to bring us up to speed with the “Chronicles of Dekaydence” and where the inspiration for the original books came from?
Susie: Although they are chronicles, each is a stand-alone book. Each has a beginning that tells exactly where we are, and everything you need to know before the story starts, so that if you haven’t read books one and two, you can just pick up three and there’s a page telling you where we’re up to. I suppose it’s a story about good and evil – no surprise there perhaps – but maybe because I was a journalist for many years before this, it’s dark, yes but there is a lot of humour in it. I believe that you can’t really do really dark unless you have some bright sparkling humour in it. Also there is so much going wrong in the world today that I put twelve plus chapters in each book that are like breaking news – they are about social issues in the world today, like animal cruelty, bullying, honour killings and stuff like that. They are little things as a backdrop. Each is two pages, they are designed in a different way, as design to me is just as important as the content of the book. All the characters have strange names but they sort of go with the characters. Some characters develop over time, and others come fully formed and just land on your head. I think the stories are quite whacky too. I think the people who would read it would have to have a very odd sense of humour. There are three main youngsters, for instance in the book, all about the same age. In the first book they don’t know each other, and then over time they gradually get to know each other. They all have their own ambitions and their own problems, but they come to realise that the main issue in their life is that the planet is going to go down in whatever way. They will not be able to have a life, they will not be able to fulfil those ambitions, or sort out the problems that they have; so there are normal(ish) everyday things, mixed in with strange and serious stuff really.
MM: So how did your paths, you and Francis that is, cross?
Susie: We met because he very kindly did an interview for me about loving and losing an animal. I was writing a book called “Farewell My Lovely”, as I’d lost a cat; and Francis had lost a dog so we got talking and we both have the same sort of mad sense of humour. Right from the beginning, from the very first book, Francis had said that this just had to be a film, which is actually what JK Rowling’s agent said when he called me out of the blue for an interview with the Managing Director, saying “This Has Got To Be A Film.. And a computer game!”. I had to turn round to him and admit that I didn’t know anything about computer games. But Francis felt exactly the same and wanted to see all the things that could be done with these books.
MM: The music for the Chronicles is sort of talked about as a soundtrack but it’s more like an accompaniment to the stories. Are the books and the music meant to co-exist rather than just provide a backdrop for each other…?
Susie: I originally started writing lyrics in the books because I knew that music was another character in the books. Also, with some of the other characters who are musicians and sing and whatever. This is how Francis and I work together, as he is the person who can write music, but I’m the one who writes the lyrics. I have to do this, as the words have to reflect to something that is happening in the books. And of course you know we’ve done it as an animation now.
MM: So how do you see the musical element Francis?
Francis: I read the book as I’d got to know Susie; I’m not a very big reader – particularly of fiction – but then I came across one of the characters, who was called Edwina Gardningfork – in brackets: this is pronounced “spade” – and the humour got me straight away. Then I started reading about the Tartan Guard, and there was something about the vision of the Tartan Guard, and it came to me that it had a real feeling of that Saturday night TV after the football, where Doctor Who might go. It had the feeling to me of one of those things that could run and capture the imagination of younger people, which led me to the idea that it should be a movie. Every element of what Susie has done with these books just jumps out at you as being really visual. I’m the kind of person who likes to sit in front of a bloody screen and I’m not the only one on the planet; so I just thought we should do this. It was fucking whacky. We just went into the studio and did it.
MM: I have to ask you about the animation Francis. What is it like seeing yourself as an animated character?
Francis: I had no problem with it at all, I think my entire life has been like this in some way. It happens to us all I suppose when you grow up in one world, and think you’ve figured out how it all works; then you turn around and realise you don’t recognise the world anymore. So it feels like my whole life is a cartoon. I could have had more hair and a slightly smaller nose….
Susie: I don’t know anything about writing music, I write the lyrics for the books; but Francis has been so brilliant with this. He has two t-shirts with Dekaydence on them which practically say “Buy Dekaydence or else”! But I don’t like to tell people too much about it before they read it because everyone reads it differently and makes it their own. It’s for that person to read it and get out of it what they get out of it. It quite surprised me actually that the back cover of Red Ice, the blurb is designed to appeal to all kinds of ages, especially women. The fan-base at the moment, well, isn’t 12 anymore, they were 12 when they started reading it (they are probably 97 by now, it’s taken me so long to finish Red Ice.) Anyway there’s a 90 year old guy and he’s read all my books by now and asked if book three could have a happy ending, and being probably an awkward woman, I said “Absolutely not”, then I realised that what I’ve done here – what you’ll find out and I hope you enjoy – is that having Russian blood that I’ve written a sort of War and Peace. There are lots and lots of people in it and I can’t just have them all jump off a cliff or something like that, so what I have is an epilogue, so there are some happy bits, and some not so happy bits.
MM: Why do you think music and literature are so intimately intertwined and why do they make such good bedfellows?
Francis: It seems to me that, since I said the movie thing, that we know the music will sell and stir people’s emotions. And with technology, it won’t be long before the book will carry music. It’s like you’ll have a 6 minute track to convey emotion and meaning in a movie, they’ll do the same in a book. When you get involved in things, it doesn’t always happen the way you imagine, but it seems with this, things slowly seem to be going somewhere. I think a lot of authors will be thinking about the music more as they write.
MM: But you can claim the lot as royalties Francis because you did it first…
Francis: I like you. You know what it’s about don’t you?
Susie: The ipad has got it. I think it can work out incredibly well between a writer and a musician…
MM: So you don’t think there is a common muse, or purpose?
Francis: I think there is with all of us: writers, musicians and even bass players like you! Musicians though are basically show offs. It’s like with me, I hate people staring at me and making a fuss, but if I’m there and people are ignoring that, it makes me really pissed off. You’ll know, we’re all like that really as musicians. Writers I think are basically different, they aren’t driven by that in the same way (of course I’m only saying this because she’s here). I like to think that writers have intellect and musicians are like: “Look mum look, look at me I’m on the stage”. Authors seem to have a bit more depth, to me at least, than rock and roll stars.
Susie: I’m very lucky in there are a lot of the young musicians living locally to me; and at the gym there’s a guy who used to go to Japan to write film music for libraries. Then I realised that this is basically what my dad did. My dad used to compose and leave a whole cassette for me to write lyrics to. I think it all depends on the character of the music. If you listen to music from my point of view it’s a question of whether the lyrics go better with that song or with that song etc.
Francis: What you do with lyrics is, you write a bunch of lyrics down (of course Susie’s a writer so she’s looking at the words, where you’ll know that as a muso you’re interested in the rhythm and the sound of the word, how the syllables are stretched and so on. For me, lyrics have always been about the sound of the word, so sometimes trying to crowbar a serious meaning into a track is something I find really difficult to do because I’m looking for the noise rather than the content. The other way round you find you have the music then the lyrics come separately and you have them in front of you and you think “How the fuck do I sing that?” because the sound of the word is all wrong so it has to be changed. If it sound’s good it will make you feel good when you hear it.
Susie: It was so lovely working with them though. They were so professional and patient. We had to do a lot of takes so they put me in this little box and had me do it all different ways, then on one take, just one, I shouted and they said “Oh yes, that’s what we want”. Then I’m also the voice of the Hagoid because it was cheaper not to pay me than to pay someone to do it. When the first book first came out, it was a different book because people kept saying “It’s for teenagers”, ”It’s about football”, “It’s for 12 year olds isn’t it?” and that’s an over simplistic view of this book, it’s like a many layered pastry with cream and jam and stuff like that..
Francis: That’s why I make the Doctor Who reference. Everybody watches and enjoys Doctor Who..
Susie: It’s like the 90 year old. I’m really proud of that. He was an accountant, and apparently used to know Melvyn Bragg. This is the guy who asked for a happy ending.
MM: You mentioned it being available on the ipad. Have you thought about producing it as an app to bring all the elements together?
Susie: An app? That’s a really nice idea thank-you.
To find out more about ‘The Dekaydence Chronicles’, read samples and listen to the music, pop along and visit www.dekaydence.com Go on, you know you want to!
Red Ice is available from all good book retailers NOW!