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Meet the author: Laura Barnett - Greatest Hits

Greatest Hits book cover

Laura Barnett's first novel The Versions of Us was a literary sensation. Her latest book tells the captivating and unique story of a life through songs – find out more about it, and about Laura below.

About the book

One day, sixteen songs, the soundtrack of a lifetime…

Cass Wheeler is spending the day in her recording studio at home in Kent, listening to her old records. Throughout the 70s and 80s she enjoyed enormous success as one of the world's most acclaimed singer-songwriters, but a decade ago she withdrew abruptly from public life following a terrible personal tragedy.

During the last ten years, Cass, whose world was once filled with music, has lived in silence. She has been unable to listen to any of her own recordings or bring herself to write a new song. But now she has agreed to do a Greatest Hits compilation and is choosing its sixteen tracks.

Each chapter of Greatest Hits opens with a song and tells the story of Cass’s life when it was written: her parents’ troubled marriage, her mother's betrayal, her discovery of music and her own gifts, her rise to fame, her difficult relationship with the man she loved and her beloved daughter.

Greatest Hits is the story of a woman who, despite an extraordinary life and remarkable gifts, has been unable to protect herself from heartbreak and loss, but who will somehow find the path back to happiness.

Versions of Us book cover

Praise for Laura Barnett

“Like Kate Atkinson's Life After Life or the film Sliding Doors, The Versions of Us is a fine debut by Laura Barnett, offering multiple 'what ifs'.” – Sunday Times

“A clever debut… Barnett tells three outcomes of the same affair, a simple, effective metaphor for the paths love itself can take you on, before winding up smartly in the present.” – Grazia

“For fans of Laura Barnett's debut novel, The Versions of Us, her next novel Greatest Hits is no disappointment. Barnett proves once again that she can master the art of storytelling and weave a complex, enticing plot into 400 pages.” – The Independent

About the author

Laura Barnett

Laura Barnett was born in 1982 in South London, where she now lives with her husband. She studied Spanish and Italian at Cambridge University, and newspaper journalism at City University, London.

Her bestselling debut novel, The Versions of Us was translated into 25 languages and the TV rights have been optioned by Trademark Films. As a freelance arts journalist, features writer and theatre critic, Laura has worked for the Guardian, the Observer, the Daily Telegraph and other national newspapers and magazines. She has also written a non-fiction book, Advice From The Players – a compendium of advice for actors. You can find her on her website or on Twitter @laura_jbarnett

Laura is working with acclaimed singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams on a very exciting collaboration for Greatest Hits. Kathryn, whose recent studio album Hypoxia was based on Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, began her career in 1999 and has been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and has recorded twelve studio albums. Laura and Kathryn will embark on a tour of events to promote both book and album.

Meet Laura Barnett

What are you reading now?

The Republic of Love by Carol Shields. I went through a big Shields phase as a teenager – I remember adoring her novel Larry's Party – but it's a while since I've read her, and this novel has me thoroughly entranced. Two lonely people in Winnipeg, Canada, are gradually brought together to begin a high-octane, life-changing love affair. I'm not sure I know another novelist who writes more astutely about love – its joys and its challenges – without ever straying close to cliché.

What is the last book you bought someone as a gift?

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. I bought it for my mum last Christmas. In part, I was seduced by the beautiful cover – Waterstones, where I bought it, did a sumptuous special edition, and I'm a sucker for a gorgeous jacket. In fact, I couldn't resist getting a copy for myself, too.

Is research a big part of your writing process?

Yes. As a former journalist – I spent twelve years as a features writer and arts journalist – who writes realist fiction, it's extremely important to me to root my writing in the real world, and for that, research is essential. I also tend to write a lot about eras of which I have no personal experience – the 1950s, 60s and 70s – and that requires a good deal of specific research, too.

I read novels, newspapers and magazines of the period, watch films, listen to music, examine photographs and postcards – anything to immerse myself in a particular time. And I like to visit the places I'm writing about – or, if that isn't possible, at least pore over photos, articles and maps online. The internet really is an amazing resource for writers – as long as we're careful about sources.

Do you have any peculiar writing rituals or habits?

Not really. I'm a bit of a neat freak – I really hate writing in a messy room – so my study is pretty ordered and tidy. And I do drink far too much coffee while I'm writing. But really, the most important writing habit is just sitting at that desk, day after day.

Readers know when a writer's excitement about and enthusiasm for a story is genuine.

What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?

Ask yourself what you, and only you, really want to write about. Don’t write what you think others want to read; find a theme, character, place, subject, era – anything that gets you excited – that matters to you in a profound, gut-instinct way, and stick with it. Readers know when a writer's excitement about and enthusiasm for a story is genuine. And why would they want to spend time with a novel that wasn't?

Describe the room that you write in

It's a small attic room at the top of our house in south-east London. It's painted grey – I did it myself, so best not to examine the paintwork too closely! – and has a little green rug called a 'bothy mat' that I bought on the Isle of Mull, a place that's very special to my family, and which we visit every year. The window looks out over quince and apple trees– lovely when the blossom's out in spring – and I write at a small, wooden bureau inherited from my grandfather. Generally, the room is very peaceful, despite being in London. I find it difficult to write anywhere else.

Can you tell us about your book?

With pleasure. Greatest Hits, my second novel, tells the life story of a fictional singer-songwriter called Cass Wheeler. We follow her over the course of a single day in spring 2015 when she's selecting sixteen songs for a very personal Greatest Hits record. Each song she plays becomes a chapter about how and when that song was written – so we follow the arc of her life, from birth to troubled adolescence, marriage, fame, and the tragedy that caused her to flee from it – through her work. It's about the difficulties and joys of the creative life, and about the ways that music captures our experiences, and resonates with our memories.

And, very excitingly, I've collaborated with a real-life singer-songwriter, Kathryn Williams, to create an album of the songs in the book, which Kathryn will release through her record label, One Little Indian. Together we've written the lyrics – which are also reproduced in the book – and Kathryn has written the music. It is, to the best of our knowledge, the first such collaboration of its kind; it has been an absolutely incredible experience for me, and one that I hope will really expand readers' experience of the novel and its characters beyond the page.

Greatest Hits book cover and CD

Book giveaway

We ask all winners to share their thoughts about the book on the discussion thread. Everyone who gives detailed feedback on Greatest Hits by midday, Monday 31 July will be entered into a prize draw to win a £100 Love2shop voucher.

This giveaway is sponsored by Orion