Toby Litt, Patience

Nick Drake, ‘Introduction’. Nick Drake is skulking lankily behind a lot of what I’ve written recently. He’s a kind of reassurance, for me, that there’s an English musical sensibility that doesn’t crinkle up into nothing when put next to Schubert or the blues. Drake is quietly visionary. Ian MacDonald’s essay ‘Exiled from Heaven: The Unheard Message of Nick Drake’ covers a lot of this. (It’s reprinted in The People’s Music.) MacDonald talks about the importance of ‘quality of consciousness’. When I was writing as Elliott, the narrator of Patience, that was what I felt he had. He saw beautifully, he listened wonderfully.

Lisa Hannigan, ‘Fall’. ‘Fall’ was a kind of theme song to Patience. It would often be the first thing I listened to, before I started writing; and sometimes the last thing on the playlist that had words I could understand. Also, a little bit of Lisa Hannigan snuck into the character of Lise – one of the children who sits close to Elliott in the Catholic Children’s home. I learned to play this and also the Richard and Linda Thompson song on guitar.

Richard and Linda Thompson, ‘A Heart Needs a Home’. I don’t know. There’s a mood to this song that I can’t find anywhere else. It’s a defiant song about faith, and it’s unbearably direct. ‘I know the way that I feel about you.’ I’ve written a whole short story just about the YouTube video of them performing it on The Old Grey Whistle Test. I think I imagined Elliott’s very absent mother as being a bit like Linda Thompson.

Abbess Hildegaard of Bingham, Anonymous 4, ‘Antiphon, O quam mirabilis est’. This is here to represent lots of albums of Abbess Hildegaard’s music that I listened to. It can stop time. Also, because the whole of the novel takes place within a very Catholic environment, and is dominated by the voices of Nuns, songs like this always seemed fitting. It showed what the Sisters looking after Elliott had as their spiritual ideal.

Pérotin, Tonus Peregrinus, ‘Beata Viscera’. At the start of this recording, you can hear huge rain falling outside (Notre Dame cathedral, I think). I’d listen to the whole of this album, to keep time stopped.

John Dunstable, Tonus Peregrinus, ‘Sanctus JD 6’. There’s a delicacy to Dunstable’s music that is unique. I hadn’t heard of him before I started looking for other recordings by Tonus Peregrinus.

Mono No Aware, Malibu, ‘Held’. The speech on this track always used to interrupt me, but in a useful way. I couldn’t always make out what was being said, but it seemed to have the quality of someone saying something really urgent to a friend – things they’ll have forgotten five minutes later.

The Beatles, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. In the novel, Elliott eventually – very slowly – does make friends with a boy called Jim. Elliott can’t speak, and can only move the fingers of one hand; Jim is blind, and doesn’t speak. The way they find to communicate with one another is through humming Beatles tunes. ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ isn’t mentioned, but I’m sure it’s Elliott’s favourite song.

Mahler 9, Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic; Mahler 10, Deryck Cooke, Simon Rattle, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. I know it’s wrong to use classical music as ambient or background music, but sometimes I do. Mahler’s the main composer Elliott connects with – through listening to the radio the Sisters leave on in the background. Radio 3 is where he gets a lot of his language from. He imagines himself living in a ‘soundworld’, which is a very Radio-3-presenter-introducing-Mahler kind of word.

Peter Gabriel, ‘Solsbury Hill’. This would make it onto the Patience playlist if only for the line, ‘“Son”, he said, “grab your things – I’ve come to take you home”.’ If you’ve read what I wrote about boarding school experience in Wrestliana, you’ll have some idea why. Elliott powerfully wants to be taken away from the Children’s Home by his mother and father. He wants to live with a family. That isn’t going to happen, so an unlikely escape is what he starts plotting.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. I didn’t listen to this at all whilst writing the book, but it’s a very important song to Elliott. He adores Christmas; myself, I’m more ambivalent. However, the line that goes ‘we see thee lie’ appealed to me even back in Primary School. I loved how drawn out the eee-eee-eee syllables were, and how they all rhymed. Elliott’s very alive to those kinds of car-crashes of verbal sound. He plays with them.

Kronos Quartet, ‘Tusen Tankar’. The title translates as ‘A Thousand Thoughts’. It’s a Swedish folk song. It slaughters me every time – like ‘Danny Boy’, but one you haven’t heard done to death. There’s a valedictory gratitude to it – which is what I felt as I was finishing Patience.

  • Read more about Toby’s new novel, Patience, here.

  • Listen to Toby’s playlist for his memoir, Wrestliana, here.