The Cliff House. 1986. The music...


The Cliff House is set in 1986. I was thirteen going on fourteen. I was starting to get into music. I’d graduated from the first single I’d proudly bought from Woolworths (Five Star) to listening to mix tapes crudely recorded from the radio then shared between school friends, which included The Cure, Billy Idol, R.E.M, The Housemartins, Crowded House, The Stone Roses, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Depeche Mode, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Smiths… The second half of the 80s was all about musical discovery. I wasn’t one of the those very cool and knowledgeable kids (people I was always envious of and, if I’m honest, still am today) who read the NME cover to cover during first break, who shopped in proper record shops, who had incredible vinyl collections, but I did love to bounce around to chart topping tracks with my mates or lie on my bed with joss sticks burning and disappear into an angsty stupor. My parents were very liberal. They were firm but not strict. Responsible but loved a party. Our childhood house was filled with ABBA, Simon and Garfunkel, Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen. And I loved it. It was hard to rebel in that environment. There wasn’t much to rebel against. I had no need to and for the most part I was happy with that. But I will never forget the day I excitedly played my mum Killing An Arab by The Cure and watched her face waiting for her smile. The smile didn’t come. Instead she looked confused and mildly horrified. ‘But that’s not music?’ she said. And at that moment I knew I’d something for myself. I fell in love with Robert Smith. I fell in love with Billy Idol. I fell in love with Debbie Harry and Wendy James (and wore the same ice pink lipstick she did). I fell in love with the way their music was able to get inside me. Closing my bedroom door, putting my music on, and dancing on my own is something I remember so vividly. I still put The Cure on when I’m at home alone now. Housework seems to be so much less arduous when done to Boys Don’t Cry!

As I do with each of my books, while I was writing The Cliff House, I made a playlist. I would listen to it regularly whilst drafting and then rewriting. Some of the tracks evoke a specific character, for example Radiohead’s Creep is Jago Tresize personified. As soon as it plays I can see him and feel him. Hosier’s Take Me To Church helped me write those moment where characters are railing against those trying to restrict them. It brings to mind a desire to escape, to seek out a different reality, to break free from those imposing their will. 

There are tracks and bands scattered throughout the book. Killing An Arab gets a nod. As does Jimi Hendrix. Edie creates a mix tape for Tamsyn, which includes many of the bands I loved. Writing about a mix tape gave me a tremendous sense of nostalgia, recalling the care we put into making these works of art. If only I knew now how important they’d be to me now I might not have thrown them out! There’s a scene with the two girls which is set to Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration and an extravagant, hedonistic party that the adults throw, (based loosely on the parties I used to observe my own parents having though not as outrageous, sadly!) where they dance to ABBA. Writing a book set in the period I grew up was a wonderfully nostalgic, almost indulgent, thing to do. The emotions are still so vivid and reliving them became consuming, remembering all The Firsts was glorious. The first drink. The first kiss. The first sex. The first moment we realise there’s a whole world out there - bright and unknown - to explore. Without doubt, part of this enjoyment came from revisiting the music I loved back then. It was like a glorious holiday back to my youth. And it was lovely.

Amanda Jennings