The Best of Adam Sharp

THE BEST OF ADAM SHARP

Graeme Simsion

Two decades ago, Adam Sharp’s piano playing led him into a passionate relationship with Angelina Brown, an intelligent and strong-willed actress. They had a chance at something more—but Adam didn’t take it.

Now, on the cusp of turning fifty, Adam likes his life. He’s happy with his partner Claire, he excels in music trivia at quiz night at the local pub, he looks after his mother, and he does the occasional consulting job in IT. But he can never quite shake off his nostalgia for what might have been.

And then, out of nowhere, from the other side of the world,

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Two decades ago, Adam Sharp’s piano playing led him into a passionate relationship with Angelina Brown, an intelligent and strong-willed actress. They had a chance at something more—but Adam didn’t take it.

Now, on the cusp of turning fifty, Adam likes his life. He’s happy with his partner Claire, he excels in music trivia at quiz night at the local pub, he looks after his mother, and he does the occasional consulting job in IT. But he can never quite shake off his nostalgia for what might have been.

And then, out of nowhere, from the other side of the world, Angelina gets in touch. What does she want? Does Adam dare to live dangerously?

Set to the soundtrack of our lives, The Best of Adam Sharp follows along with emotion and humor as one man looks back on his past and decides if having a second chance is worth the risk.

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  • St. Martin's
  • Paperback
  • September 2018
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781250130419

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About Graeme Simsion

Graeme SimsionGraeme Simsion is a former IT consultant and the author of two nonfiction books on database design who decided, at the age of fifty, to turn his hand to fiction. His first novel, The Rosie Project, was published in 2013 and translation rights have been sold in over thirty-five languages. Graeme lives in Australia with his wife, Anne, and their two children.

Author Website

Praise

One of Glamour Magazine’s “Most Anticipated Books of 2017”

“This dazzling story about a former pianist who has a second chance in midlife with his former actress flame will do some major heart-warming this Spring — and readers will never foresee the incredible ending.”POPSUGAR

“It’s a fun sweet ride.”The Washington Post

“An extraordinary literary treat that reminds readers the best things in life have nothing to do with plans.”20 Must-Read Books for Spring 2017, Redbook.com

Discussion Questions

1. In the prologue to the novel, Adam makes a comment about his life experiences, saying, “These days I was taking more from my bank of memories than I was putting in.” What exactly do you think he means by this? Have you ever felt similarly? Did you do anything about it?

2. How does the prologue set the tone for the rest of the novel? Do you think you would have a different perspective on the prologue if you went back and reread it after finishing the book? How so? The writer Elmore Leonard says, avoid prologues—do you think the author should have followed his advice?

3. Throughout The Best of Adam Sharp, Adam refers to Angelina as his Great Lost Love. What do you think of the idea of having a Great Lost Love? Do you only get one? Does everyone have a Great Lost Love?

4. What did you think Angelina’s motive was when she first contacted Adam? Do you think, after the events that unfolded after she reached out, that it was ultimately a good thing or a bad thing

5. On page 97, Angelina tells Adam, “You’d be a fantastic dad.” Do you agree with her? What do you make of the way that Adam, Angelina, and their respective partners navigate the difficult choice surrounding whether or not to have children?

6. When Adam returns to Claire, she tells him she doesn’t want to know about what happened and compares the situation to friends Randall and Mandy, who split up. Is it sometimes better not to know? Claire, Charlie, and Angelina all ultimately forgive their partners for cheating. Should they have done so?

7. Adam often uses music as a touchstone to help him remember and reflect on different parts of his life. Are there moments in your own life that are deeply connected to a certain song or artist? If you were putting together a soundtrack of your life, similar to the one included at the end of the book, what songs would be on it?

8. One of the themes throughout The Best of Adam Sharp is the influence parents can have on their children, as we see in Adam’s reflection on his own complicated relationship with his father. How do you see the impact of his father on the choices Adam makes? What about Angelina and her parents? And Claire?

9. On page 112, Adam says that music was Claire’s “way of opening up emotionally.” How do you think the ways that Claire and Adam use and react to music differently affected their relationship? Do you think there’s a difference in the way men and women respond to popular music? Do you use music like this in your own life?

10. What do you think of the last words in the novel—“It was going to be all right.” Do you think it will be all right? Is there a message in the final song that Adam plays, “The Pretender”? What kind of feeling does the novel, and those ending words in particular, leave you with?

Excerpt

1

 

I was back home in Norwich, reading up on Pete Best, the Beatles’ forgotten first drummer, when the e-mail popped up in the bottom corner of my screen.

From: angelina.brown@tpg.com.au

Hi

That was it. Hi. After twenty-two years, twenty without any contact at all, out of the blue, Angelina Brown, my Great Lost Love, decides to change the world and writes Hi.

There was a song to mark the moment. “My Sentimental Friend,” a hit for Herman’s Hermits in 1969, was, thanks to the physics of headphones, playing in the middle of my skull. It would now have a place in the jukebox musical of my life, with the line about the girl he once knew who left him broken in two. Not quite Wordsworth, but sufficiently resonant that, when the message arrived, I was thinking about its sender.

Was this the first time she had thought about me, letting her mind drift to a time when “Like a Prayer” was top of the charts, wondering what happened to that guy she met in a Melbourne bar and fell in love with? Just a browse of her contacts list and a casual Wonder what he’s doing now?

Click on Adam Sharp, type two letters, Send.

There had to be more to it. For a start, I would not have been in her contacts list. We had not been in touch since e-mail was invented.

The address suggested that she was still in Australia. I checked the World Clock Web site: 1:15 P.M. in Norwich was a quarter after midnight in Melbourne. Was she drunk? Had she left Charlie? Had he left her? Maybe they had split up fifteen years ago.

She was still using her maiden name. No surprise there. She hadn’t changed it the first time around.

I knew barely anything about Charlie—not even his surname. In my mind it was the same as hers. Charlie Brown. The little bald cartoon character in his baseball mitt: It’s a high fly ball, Charlie Brown. Don’t miss it, Charlie Brown.In real life, I was the one who had missed it.

One night, after a few pints, I had Googled her. I got nowhere. Angelina shared a name with an equal opportunity commissioner and a newspaper columnist, and finding her among the litigation and opinions had been too much for my beer-addled brain. Unless I searched images. I stopped myself. Angelina was—had been—an addiction, and the only way to deal with an addiction is abstinence.

Maybe. Time passes. Every alcoholic wants to prove they’re cured. Surely, after twenty years in a committed relationship, I could exchange an e-mail or two with my ex-lover, who had, as the Americans say, reached out.

She might have a terminal illness and want to tie up the loose ends. I could blame the breakfast conversation with my mother for that thought. Perhaps she and Charlie just wanted advice on holiday options in Northern England: Looking for somewhere cold and miserable to get away from this interminable sunshine. What would it say about my relationship with Claire if I felt too vulnerable to respond to an innocuous query?

* * *

I let Angelina’s e-mail sit until the evening. I was still weighing my options when Claire arrived home. Our conversation was shouted between my room and the bottom of the stairs, but I could picture her in her important-meeting gray suit with the green scarf and the chunky-heeled boots that brought her up to a neat five foot four.

“Sorry. Meeting went a bit over. Dinner smells good.”

“Jamie Oliver. Chicken casserole. I’ve had mine.”

“Do you want a glass of wine?”

“Ta—bottle open in the fridge.”

“How’s your mum?”

“Haven’t got the results yet. I think she’s a bit scared.”

“Did you give her my love?”

“Forgot.”

“Adam … better not have. Have you fed Elvis?”

“You’d know if I hadn’t.”

That was a fair snapshot of the relationship that Angelina’s e-mail might test. We were a functioning household. We didn’t fight; we enjoyed meals together on the weekends; we looked out for each other. Good friends. Nobody writes songs about those things, but there is a lot to be said for them. We had done better than my pub-quiz teammate Sheilagh and her husband, Chad, who cared for everyone except each other. Or our friends Randall and Mandy, whose battle for custody of their IVF twins had left casualties from San Jose to Liverpool. Or my parents, for that matter.

But the last few years had seen a fading of what was left of the romance. Two months earlier, I had purchased a single bed for my study, ostensibly because of my snoring and Claire needing her sleep because she had a lot going on with the prospective sale of her software company. Our sex life had followed me out of the bedroom and I didn’t miss it as much as I thought I would. I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing.

Our situation was probably not so different from that of many couples our age. It would be a stretch to blame any shortcomings on a relationship that had ended twenty-two years earlier. I didn’t think about Angelina when I was deep in a database-tuning problem, or trying to recall the name of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s lead singer, or giving Claire a kiss on the forehead as she left for work. It was only when I was listening to music or on the rare occasion I played a song on the piano. For those few minutes or hours, I would be back in 1989.

* * *

I was playing in a bar—not a pub, a bar—in Melbourne, up a staircase off Victoria Parade in the inner-city suburb of Fitzroy. It was one of the few places that stayed open late, drawing a mix of yuppies and baby boomers. In those days, a baby boomer was a person born shortly after the war, not someone like me who came along almost twenty years later.

Most nights the boomers outnumbered the yuppies, and my sixties and seventies repertoire got a good workout. There was a steady trickle of customers early in the evening, but it only got busy with the after-dinner crowd and the stragglers from the pubs shaking out their umbrellas, piling their winter coats and woolen hats on the stand, and ordering an ice-cold lager. It was early July, midwinter, and Australia had yet to deliver on its promise of sunshine.

The place would not have won any prizes for interior decoration. There was a bar that seated eight or ten on stools, a dozen small tables, a couple of leather sofas, and old movie posters on the walls. No meals—just bar snacks. But once a crowd built up, with more patrons standing than sitting, the noise and smoke provided enough atmosphere to compensate.

I had been in Australia three weeks. A local insurance company was implementing a new-generation database and I had landed a fifteen-month consulting assignment that would give me a tour of its branches around the world. I was twenty-six, barely five years out of a computer science degree, riding a wave of technology that the old-timers in their thirties had failed to catch. Computing was my passport out of my lower-middle-class, comprehensive-school origins—after I had abandoned the more obvious option of becoming a rock star.

In my first week in Melbourne, I tagged along to the bar with a few workmates to celebrate one of them becoming a father and ended up playing a couple of songs on the piano. I remember doing “Walk Away Renée” in homage to the new arrival, who had been given that name. The barman, a knockabout bloke named Shanksy, gave me a half pint—a pot—of lager. I thanked him for letting me use the piano and he said, “Anytime, mate.”

I took up his offer and the bar became my social life. Shanksy looked after my drinks and I put a tip jar on the piano. I did all right with it, but money was not the motivation. My day job paid well and included an accommodation allowance, which covered a warehouse apartment above a vegetarian restaurant in Brunswick Street, a fifteen-minute tram ride from work and a ten-minute stagger from the bar.

I got to know the piano well. It was a locally made Beale, old, but with a nice sound, and there was even a microphone and a small amplifier. I would drop in on the way to work or after my morning jog and entertain the cleaners with my scales.

In the evenings, it made all the difference. Without it I would have been a loner paying for my own drinks, with no reason to talk to anyone and no reason for anyone to talk to me. And too much time to think about the hole in my life.

* * *

I didn’t see her walk in. I saw her when she came over to the piano. In a town that dressed in black, she was wearing a white woolen dress and high boots. Mid-twenties, shoulder-length dark brown hair against light skin, maybe five foot seven with the heels.

She had a pink cocktail in her hand. We were in what was technically a cocktail bar, but this was Australia and most people drank beer, wine, and simple mixed drinks unless they got into downing shots—B52s and Flaming Lamborghinis. The collection of liqueurs behind the bar was more for show and Shanksy’s cocktail repertoire was limited. But tonight he had produced a pink one. With a cherry and an umbrella.

I was playing Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and she stood to one side of the piano, close enough to let me know she was there, sipping her cocktail.

When I had finished, she clapped, walked up, and asked: “Do you know ‘Because the Night’?”

I had a chance to look at her more closely and was struck by her eyes: big and brown, and, under the right one, a streak of mascara tracking halfway down her cheek.

I don’t usually notice perfume unless it has just been applied. Perhaps hers had been, because it was strong and distinct. For the record, it was Obsession by Calvin Klein. Ever since, I have been able to detect it at twenty paces. A woman steps onto the bus and I pick it up, along with all the memories attached to it. Proust’s madeleines.

“It’s by Patti Smith,” she said, while I was wondering if I should say something about her mascara.

“And Bruce Springsteen.”

“Say that again,” she said, and laughed.

“Bruce Springsteen. They wrote it together. Springsteen never did a studio recording, but it’s on his live album.”

“Root i’ togevver, eh? Loovely.”

Her impression of my accent would have placed me closer to Glasgow than Manchester but it was accompanied by a light-up-the-room smile.

I gave her a look of mock offense.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to be rude. I just love your accent.”

I decided to take the risk of being rude myself and drew my finger down my left cheek.

We had an exchange of touching our faces, nodding and laughing as she got the message, wet her finger, rubbed the wrong cheek, then managed to turn the streak into a smear on the right one.

“Hold on,” I said, and walked to the bar, where there was a pile of paper napkins. On the way back, I realized that the place had gone quiet, and not just because the piano player had taken a break. Everyone—from Shanksy behind the bar to the couple standing in the doorway still wearing their coats—was watching me. Watching us. I had no desire to play out in public what I had begun to imagine as a tender moment, nor to draw attention to the fact that she might have been crying.

I blew my nose on the napkin, stuffed it in my pocket, and sat back at the piano.

“So, ‘Because the Night,’ was it?”

She wiped her cheek with the back of her hand, then looked around the room.

“It’s okay,” I said. “You got most of it.”

“Would you mind if I sang?”

In general, the answer to “Can I sing with the band?” is a polite “No,” a response based on experience and the advice of my dad. He used to have—he said—a firm rule that nobody, but nobody, got to sing or play with whatever band he was in.

“If Eric Clapton comes in and wants to play, I’ll tell him he can bugger off. Because if the owner decides he likes Clapton better than us, then he’s got our gig and we don’t eat.”

He delivered his lesson in job security so many times that, despite the improbability of Mr. Clapton deciding to settle for the audience and financial rewards of the King’s Head in Manchester, it became family history as an actual event.

“You know,” my mother would say, “your dad once told Eric Clapton to bugger off—’scuse the French, but that’s what he said—so he could get on with earning a living. There’s a lesson there.”

My dad may or may not have said “bugger off” to God, but I would be prepared to bet that his response to the young woman with the big brown eyes would have been the same as mine, even without the pressure of a bar full of people waiting for something to happen.

“What key?”

She was not bad, and the crowd loved her. I mean, they loved her. She was in tune and giving it all she had, but it was a sexy song and she was more Olivia Newton-John than Debbie Harry—or Patti Smith, for that matter.

Who was I to judge? She got a standing ovation and calls for more. After one five-minute performance she owned the place, and I was a part of it. I had no idea what was going on.

“Would you like to do something else?” I asked.

“‘Daydream Believer’?” She laughed. “That’s your accent, isn’t it? Davy Jones.”

She had a good ear. And a commendable familiarity with popular music from before her time.

“What number is this, Jim?” I said, mimicking Davy Jones.

That smile again: “Seven A.” A very commendable familiarity.

“Do you know ‘Both Sides Now’?” she said.

“Never heard of it.”

I played the intro. This was not going to be as stimulating as having her standing three feet away hoarsely asking someone to touch her now. But the Joni Mitchell song was probably closer to what her singing teacher would have recommended, and she did it nicely.

She had looked at clouds and love and had begun looking at life when a short, sharp guy in a blue pinstripe suit with red braces and gelled hair came up on her other side and stood there, radiating impatience. He was about thirty-five and studiedly good-looking in a Michael Douglas sort of way. Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.

I did an extra reprise of the final chorus, which he responded to with a glare and pursed lips in case his folded arms were not sending the message. As soon as she had sung the last line, he dropped a coin in the tip jar. I wound the song up and thought that would be the end of it. Gordon Gekko began to walk away, but my singer stayed where she was, right beside me.

“Do you know ‘Angel of the Morning’?” she said.

I hit an A chord and raised my eyebrows to see that she was happy with the key, which I guessed would test her upper range. She responded by singing the first line a cappella.

I automatically brought my heel down to begin counting the beat. If you tap your toe, the rhythm stays in your foot; tap your heel and you feel it through your body. I felt more than that. She put her hand on my shoulder and pressed gently in time with me. It was an extraordinarily intimate gesture, given that we were not just in front of, but surrounded by, an audience: I don’t care if anyone’s watching—let’s do this, just you and me, and thank you for being here and on my side.

The loud cough and dirty look from her minder said: Play another chord and I’ll break your arms.

I played an E. I was in a bar in Melbourne, not the South Side of Chicago, and the pretty guy in a suit was no Leroy Brown.

He looked at me. My singer looked at me. They looked at each other. Then they walked toward the door. She still had a faint black mark on her cheek.

I should have just let them go. They were customers, and had done nothing to provoke me beyond the insulting tip.

It was, in part, a reaction to him pushing her around, and to her acquiescing, only a few minutes after having the courage to take on a challenging song in front of a bar crowd.

It had also been a bad day at work. I’d been dubbed Seagull, after a joke that consultants fly in, do a lot of flapping and squawking, shit all over everybody, and fly out. I had probably earned it, trying too hard to make an impression that justified being paid three times what the permanent employees were getting. I was technically up to the task, but still green at the consulting game.

And there was the tip. Gordon Gekko had no way of knowing about my well-paid day job. I may have been channeling my late father when I gave him a Lennon–McCartney send-off.

“You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.”

They both turned around. It was too dark to read their expressions. I had to finish the song, to maintain the pretense that the choice was coincidental. It took me further than I had intended. They were both stopped in the doorway, listening as I sang about making a point of taking her away from him, yeah.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. In the end it was me who lost the girl.

* * *

Hi, said the computer screen.

Meow, said Elvis, rubbing against my leg.

Mum, said my phone, switched to silent.

One thing at a time.

“I’ve got the results,” said my mother. “I’m afraid it’s bad news.”

I knew her better than to respond with anything more than a neutral “It’s late in the day to be getting results.” It was after ten P.M.

“I’ve had them for hours. I didn’t want to spoil your dinner.”

“Oh.”

“They couldn’t find anything. So we still don’t know what it is.”

An outpouring of relief that my mother did not have cancer would only have prompted a homily on misplaced optimism, likely illustrated with a story from my childhood that I had chosen to forget.

Hi was still looking at me. A link to my past and a chance for a reality check. Nothing more than that. She was ten thousand miles away. One little drink couldn’t hurt.

I filled the cat’s water bowl and walked back to the computer. Claire had gone to bed.

Reply to Sender.

Hi. As my finger hovered over the mouse, I saw her again, standing by the piano, tear track down her cheek, trying to hide her nerves. Enlisting me as her ally: “I just love your accent.”

Backspace.

Ay up lass, I typed.

Send.

 

Copyright © 2016 by Graeme Simsion

Interviews

A Conversation with Graeme Simsion

Could you tell us a little bit about your background, and when you decided that you wanted to lead a literary life?

I spent my early life (that is, up to the age of fifty) in science and technology: I studied physics; worked as a computer operator, programmer, and database specialist; established my own consulting company, which I grew to around seventy staff before selling it, then made a big decision—to do a PhD in database design. But along the way (see third question) I’d caught the screenwriting bug, and when I finished my PhD, I enrolled in a writing program. I think “literary life” is a bit grand—at that point I wanted to get a movie made (okay, that’s a pretty grand ambition, too). But my goal was to write something good rather than to “be a writer”; it wasn’t about lifestyle. I expected I’d be doing database work for a long time to pay the bills!

Is there a book that most influenced your life? Or inspired you to become a writer?

Yes, but maybe not one you’d expect. It was The Unkindest Cut by film critic Joe Queenan. The book describes Mr. Queenan’s experiences making an ultra- low-budget movie with virtually zero experience. I’m sure it was meant to entertain rather than inspire, but once you put a book out there . . . who knows what impact it will have? I had the same level of experience in filmmaking as Mr. Queenan, so I was all set. The ninety-minute movie I made was everything you’d expect from a first-time writer (I actually adapted an unpublished manuscript written by my wife), with friends playing all the roles and just a single professional on the crew— i.e., terrible. But I caught the screenwriting bug.

What was your journey to becoming a writer? When were you finally able to think of yourself as a “real” writer?

I’m a theory and techniques guy, so I enrolled in a part-time program in screenwriting at my local college in Melbourne, Australia. What they don’t tell you (or what you choose not to hear) is how hard it is to get an original script produced. Even if it’s great, why would a studio take the risk if they can adapt a bestselling novel that already has a million fans? So, having worked for five years on a screenplay, which of course changed hugely as I learned the craft, I decided to rewrite it as a novel. Of course, first I enrolled in the novel-writing program. . . .

I first thought of myself as a real writer on the day that my first novel, The Rosie Project, was short-listed for an unpublished manuscript award, which it eventually won. Someone thought I could write! But I didn’t call myself a writer publicly until I gave up my day job teaching database design and consulting skills. That was when I figured I had enough money in advances for The Rosie Project that I could see writing as my primary way of making a living, going forward.

What was the inspiration for this novel, and more specifically, why did you choose to focus on music and the soundtrack of Adam’s life?

There were two important inspirations. One was my wife reconnecting with a former boyfriend from Manchester. He and I hadn’t got on too well when we were love rivals, but twenty-five years later he was prepared to accept defeat and enjoy a drink with me. It got me thinking, “What if?” and also about the broader issues of how we deal with the past, which is a theme of the book.

The second inspiration was the emotional connection we have with music. I think most people relate to music, but for some (many!) men of my generation, it can be become an emotional language that partly compensates for emotional illiteracy elsewhere. There are men who would scoff at a love story, but tear up listening to Tom Waits singing the same words. I wanted not only to explore that, but also to write a book with a “soundtrack”: songs that readers might remember, or find and listen to, that would add another dimension to the story. The screenwriter in me coming out!

Can you tell us about what research, if any, you did before writing this novel? Did you base any of the characters or experiences on those from your own life? What is the most interesting or surprising thing you learned as you set out to tell this story?

Well, I don’t play piano—I’m not a musician at all. Adam’s piano playing is central to his life, so

I spent a lot of time talking to a buddy who’s played keyboards in rock bands forever and filling in the gaps between the stuff he’d already told me. I even got him to teach me a bit, and that inspired the bit where Adam’s father teaches him. I like to do my research with people—they’ll tell you stuff you hadn’t thought of asking about, and their stories are stronger than just general facts and principles.

Likewise, as an older guy, I have a bit of life experience to draw on. All of my characters are inspired by people I know, but not in a simple way that would get me sued: it’s a little bit of this person, a little bit of that, plus a dose of imagination. Adam has a bit of my wife’s ex, a bit of my piano-playing friend, a bit of a guy I once worked with, a bit of me (of course), plus a bunch of other people and the obligatory dose of imagination. I borrowed the A. Sharp musical name from a Canadian data guy whose name is not Adam.

Same with the incidents and stories. Many are inspired by personal experience, some by tales I’ve been told. And they’ve all been augmented and twisted out of shape. But if you think, “That wouldn’t happen” (and there’s one scene in part 2 that you may be thinking of), think again.

I had to hit the internet to make sure I got the music trivia right. Adam’s a “pub quiz” popular music expert, and I didn’t want the real ones writing letters of complaint. The most interesting thing I learned was how much some readers—and even publishers and critics— expect you to keep on writing the same kind of story. The Best of Adam Sharp is quite different from The Rosie Project: yes, it has a male protagonist; yes, there are some comedic moments (I hope); and yes, it’s about love and relationships. But it’s not a “falling in love and living happily ever after” romantic comedy. I learned that I needed to tell people: “This is different. Reset your expectations.”

Are you currently working on another book? And if so, can you tell us what it’s about?

Yes and yes. That’s the answer you’d get from Don Tillman, my protagonist in The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect. Luckily you’re asking me, not Don. The new book is the third (and last) in the Rosie series and it’s about the challenges of bringing up a child who may be on the autism spectrum. It’s also about identity, acceptance, and the decisions we make on behalf of others.

Essay

Ten Key Songs

The Best of Adam Sharp comes with a playlist of forty-seven songs, and a link to a website where they can be played through Spotify (https://www.textpublishing.com. au/books/the-best-of-adam-sharp).

I wanted readers to experience something akin to a soundtrack, at least as far as was possible from the printed page. The songs had to fit the story and it was no accident that I made Adam a pianist, so there would be plenty of room to include musical performances. But I also wanted them to be reasonably familiar, so there was a good chance readers would know at least some of them. My own taste came third, but there’s only one song in the book that I really don’t like (it’s “Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan, for reasons that are explained in the book!).

The actual number of musical pieces referenced is probably closer to a hundred than forty-seven and they include two classical pieces, plus a smattering of jazz, blues, operetta (Gilbert and Sullivan), and music hall, but the majority are from the “classic rock” era. Why? It’s the music that so many people know, either directly or because they can’t escape it in stores, restaurants, and their parents’ living rooms. On exchange in Belgium, my daughter went to a multinational sing-along. The song everyone knew: The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” That had a bit to do with Adam opening the story by comparing his life to the emotional arc of that song.

Here are ten other songs that play a role:

1. “Angelina” by Bob Dylan. Not to be confused with the better-known “Farewell Angelina.” This is the exception to me fitting the songs to the story: here the song came first and gave me a name for Adam’s lost love. It’s a rather obscure song in the Nobel laureate’s repertoire, and one he’s never performed publicly. But at one time I had a strong emotional reaction to it, and that was part of the motivation for writing a novel that explored our relationship with music. It’s also a reminder that the relationship with music is individual. I don’t expect every reader to respond the same way to the songs, but, then, I don’t expect them to respond the same way to the story, characters, and writing.

2. “Someone Like You” by Adele. A rare twenty- first-century inclusion (The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done” also made it in). I had to ask my kids, in the spirit of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity: “What’s your favorite breakup song?” This was it. Problem was, my partner, crime-fiction writer Anne Buist, whose heroine sings in a covers band, had grabbed it for her own story. I had to find another one for her before she let me use it.

3. “Lola” by The Kinks. References to retro music are not always cool, but no one’s called me uncool for including this song—notoriously banned in Australia (where I live) back in 1970 for the sexual references and by the BBC in Britain for the product placement (the reference to cherry cola was originally Coca-Cola). When I needed a 1970s song for Adam to be learning at age seven, it jumped out as the perfect choice. Last year, I was interviewed about The Best of Adam Sharp on radio and we finished up with this song. The newsreader insisted on letting it play right through before starting the news three minutes late.

4. “Summertime” by Janis Joplin. I needed a song of uninhibited passion, and, sitting in a theater watching the Janis Joplin doc Janis: Little Girl Blue, I decided it had to be one of hers. The famous Gershwin song might not seem the obvious choice—there’s some restraint, for a while, at least—but I saw the opportunity to contrast the Billie Holiday version as a metaphor for . . . well, you can read the book.

5. “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn/Cher. This is the song Adam plays at the end of a day’s hiking. I could have chosen any number of songs that featured walking, but this is the one my piano- playing friend Pete Walsh would have chosen. In the playlist, I nominate Cher’s recording as the version I had in mind, but I’ve heard Pete’s many times more: he just hasn’t recorded it. I don’t play piano myself (I’ve had to disappoint book-event organizers more than once) and Pete was my informant for all things musical. There’s a nod to him in the form of Pete the Project Manager, who plays at Adam’s work farewell.

6. “Early in the Morning” by The Mojos. Probably the most obscure track in the book, but the only one by someone I know personally (bestseller success has not given me a pass into rock ’n’ roll circles). Blues lady Fiona Boyes is a long-standing friend and was singing with The Mojos back in 1989 when Adam Sharp visited Melbourne. I chose the song because of Gina Woods’s driving piano.

7. “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits. This was, along with “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” a hit in the USA, but neither song was released as a single in the UK. Singer Peter Noone hammed up his Mancunian (Manchester) accent, and it went down better overseas than at home. I wanted a song that would give a taste of Adam’s accent, which so appeals to Angelina, and while there’s no shortage of great singers out of Manchester, I went for the unsubtle version. I figure Adam would’ve hammed it up too in the interests of impressing the foreigner. (Few people I know actually like the song, but most recognize it.)

8. “Angel of the Morning” (Chip Taylor) by Merilee Rush and the Turnabouts/Juice Newton. This much-covered song is central in the book and clearly has some nostalgia power: at a preview of Deadpool, Juice Newton’s version apparently had the audience clapping. It’s been covered by everyone from Olivia Newton-John to Nina Simone. At the Australian launch of Adam Sharp, local legend Deborah Conway sang what most of the guests thought was the best version they’d heard. I wanted to quote some lyrics, something that’s notoriously hard to get permission for, but I found the songwriter Chip Taylor (of “Wild Thing” fame) on Facebook and he eased the way. Mr. Taylor’s brother is also name-checked in the book (a bit of pub trivia there) and he has a niece named Angelina.

9. “Walk Away, Renée” by The Left Banke/ The Four Tops. From time to time, someone complains that The Best of Adam Sharp has given them an earworm. Most of the time, it’s this song. I needed a song with a contemporary name (for 1989) in it and there wasn’t a big selection. In the end I chose it ahead of “Daniel” (which happens to be my son’s name) because I didn’t want two Elton John songs.

10. “Farther On” by Jackson Browne. When I was twenty-one, a friend and I drove an old Kombi van around Australia. The soundtrack to our six- month journey included Jackson Browne’s first five albums—on cassette. In The Rosie Project, I subjected Don Tillman to Jackson Browne on repeat on his road trip to find Rosie’s father. Mr. Browne ended up contributing several songs to the Adam Sharp list: proof perhaps that the songs we hear in our teens and early twenties are the ones that stay with us. Adam plays “Farther On” as a result of what he calls “unconscious song selection”—his personal trick for accessing his subconscious mind. On the last page, he does it again, with another Jackson Browne song, and his choice should tell us something about his inner feelings as the story ends.