Laura Barnett and Kathryn Williams. Photo by Chris Donovan
Laura Barnett and Kathryn Williams. Photo by Chris Donovan

Greatest Hits: how a novel by Laura Barnett was brought to life by an accompanying soundtrack



Sci-fi and fantasy writers aside, perhaps, one quality much-prized by novelists is believability; that verisimilitude of plot, dialogue and circumstance that can give characters real substance. Laura Barnett’s lengthy new novel about fictional English singer-songwriter Cass Wheeler rings wholly true – no mean feat considering the rather besmirched reputation of the “rock novel” genre.

"Initially, there was a lot of fear in me," says Barnett of Greatest Hits, the follow-up to her bestselling 2015 debut, The Versions of Us. "There is this idea that you can't write a good novel about rock music, but in the end I approached this book the way that I would any other novel. I knew that if I had a secure foundation of music industry research I could concentrate on the characters and hopefully create something with broad appeal."

The ingenious structure of Barnett’s second novel has its own momentum. When it opens, Cass Wheeler (“I kind of imagined her as the English Joni Mitchell”, says Barnett) is in her sixties looking back on her life. Having been out of the limelight for many years, she has been tasked with compiling a greatest hits album to accompany a new LP she has made, and so we follow her over the course of one day as she ruminates upon her selections ahead of a listening party taking place at her country pile that evening.

What’s really clever, though, is that the autobiographical lyrics of each of the 16 songs Cass chooses for her greatest hits set intermittently preface different sections of the book. This device gives Barnett a natural jumping-off point for backstory, each subsequent chapter revealing the significance of its proceeding lyrics, and more often than not packing real emotional punch.

As the author unwraps Cass’s life layer by masterful layer, Wheeler becomes real; a woman whom we really care about, and whose motivations and life-decisions we fully understand.

All of this would have been impressive enough, but it was while driving on the M6 motorway to Scotland, Barnett says, that she hit upon an idea that would give Greatest Hits another dimension. "I suddenly thought, 'Wouldn't it be amazing if this novel had a soundtrack?'," she says.

To that end, Barnett got in touch with English singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams, asking her if she might be willing to attempt the near-impossible, namely to bring the 16 fictional hits Cass Wheeler had written over the course of four or five decades into the real world.

"Laura had heard me talking about my Sylvia Plath Hypoxia project, where I wrote songs inspired by Plath's The Bell Jar," says Williams, "so she knew I had some kind of relevant experience. Hypoxia was really hard and I'd only just recovered from it, but Laura was so lovely that I could hear my voice saying 'Yes'. It was probably only when I driving to her house in London at midnight after a gig to meet her for the first time that I realised what I'd agreed to was kind of terrifying."

All the same, Barnett and Williams sat down with the lyric of Common Ground in front of them the next morning. This early Cass Wheeler song, the reader of Greatest Hits comes to understand, was written about Cass's rather dysfunctional mother Margaret walking out on Cass and her vicar father Francis for another man, when Cass was still a child.

“So I picked up my guitar and that first song came out”, says Williams. “It was so nerve-wracking. After I finished singing I looked up and Laura had tears in her eyes and then I had tears in my eyes. She said it was like a character that had lived in her head for so long coming to life in front of her.”

Williams went on to write or co-write the music for the other 15 Cass Wheeler songs outlined in Barnett's novel. Working with Romeo and Michele Stodart of The Magic Numbers, among others, she recorded and mixed Greatest Hits the album at a gallop, finishing it in two weeks.

When she and Romeo Stodart came up with a piano arrangement for Edge of the World, another key song from the book, Barnett liked it so much that she went back to amend the latest draft of her novel accordingly, as it had Cass Wheeler writing the song on her Martin acoustic guitar.

Touchingly, the book also has a small homage to Williams which Barnett added at the 11th hour. On page 293, Cass Wheeler’s late-period record producer Callum mentions seeing Williams perform at The Union Chapel in Islington, London, and wonders if they might get her and Cass Wheeler on the same bill.

Barnett is a former freelance arts journalist, but she was sure to augment her good working-knowledge of rock music and the music industry with plenty of good old-fashioned research.

“I spent about five months reading biographies of everyone from Joni Mitchell to Sandy Denny to Chrissie Hynde,” she says, “and I also spoke with PR Andy Prevezer (chief UK press representative of Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, etc) to ask what a big rock band tour looks like from the inside.”

Such diligence ensures that every character in Greatest Hits is beautifully-drawn. Among them are Ivor, the guitarist who becomes Cass's co-writer and husband, but can't handle living in her shadow, and Larry, the handsome and well-intentioned sculptor whom Cass meets late in life, when she's battling the trust issues engendered by all that has happened to her.

Cass Wheeler certainly emerges as a unique and compelling character, but is she also partly a composite of real-life musicians, I ask Barnett? Isn’t there something of the Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham about Cass and Ivor’s dysfunctional relationship, for example?

“Ha! You’re very perceptive,” says the author. “Cass and Ivor were not inspired by those people directly, but when you are trying to create a story with veracity, you’re partly considering real events that have happened to real people. There are shades of Stevie and Lindsey in that relationship, but there are also shades of any creative partnership where two people are jostling for oxygen inside the echo-chamber of fame.”

There is also a point in the book where Cass's childhood friend Irene meets up with her again in later life. After Cass has confessed all, Irene says she had imagined Cass's life being happier and more glamorous than it actually is. So is Greatest Hits partly a debunking of stardom?

"Yes, it absolutely is," says Barnett. "When I was freelance arts journalists I used to do a weekly column in The Guardian called Portrait of the Artist. I spoke to some really big names, and it was remarkable how candid many of them were about life inside the bubble.

“The women artists especially were often struggling with their relationships, partly because they were not expected to be out there being high-earners. I’d say, ‘What have you sacrificed for your art?’, and they’d say: ‘Friendships. Relationships. Not having a family. Everything.’ Fame was a huge burden for them as well as a joy, and I definitely wanted to get that across in the novel through Cass.”

Greatest Hits, the novel by Laura Barnett, is published by Weidenfield & Nicolson.

James McNair writes for Mojo magazine and The Independent.

UK record temperature

38.7C (101.7F) set in Cambridge in 2019

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

RESULTS

Bantamweight:
Zia Mashwani (PAK) bt Chris Corton (PHI)

Super lightweight:
Flavio Serafin (BRA) bt Mohammad Al Khatib (JOR)

Super lightweight:
Dwight Brooks (USA) bt Alex Nacfur (BRA)

Bantamweight:
Tariq Ismail (CAN) bt Jalal Al Daaja (JOR)

Featherweight:
Abdullatip Magomedov (RUS) bt Sulaiman Al Modhyan (KUW)

Middleweight:
Mohammad Fakhreddine (LEB) bt Christofer Silva (BRA)

Middleweight:
Rustam Chsiev (RUS) bt Tarek Suleiman (SYR)

Welterweight:
Khamzat Chimaev (SWE) bt Mzwandile Hlongwa (RSA)

Lightweight:
Alex Martinez (CAN) bt Anas Siraj Mounir (MAR)

Welterweight:
Jarrah Al Selawi (JOR) bt Abdoul Abdouraguimov (FRA)

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

EMERGENCY PHONE NUMBERS

Estijaba – 8001717 –  number to call to request coronavirus testing

Ministry of Health and Prevention – 80011111

Dubai Health Authority – 800342 – The number to book a free video or voice consultation with a doctor or connect to a local health centre

Emirates airline – 600555555

Etihad Airways – 600555666

Ambulance – 998

Knowledge and Human Development Authority – 8005432 ext. 4 for Covid-19 queries

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

The specs

Engine: Single front-axle electric motor
Power: 218hp
Torque: 330Nm
Transmission: Single-speed automatic
Max touring range: 402km (claimed)
Price: From Dh215,000 (estimate)
On sale: September

Company profile

Date started: January, 2014

Founders: Mike Dawson, Varuna Singh, and Benita Rowe

Based: Dubai

Sector: Education technology

Size: Five employees

Investment: $100,000 from the ExpoLive Innovation Grant programme in 2018 and an initial $30,000 pre-seed investment from the Turn8 Accelerator in 2014. Most of the projects are government funded.

Partners/incubators: Turn8 Accelerator; In5 Innovation Centre; Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme; Dubai Future Accelerators; FHI 360; VSO and Consult and Coach for a Cause (C3)

UFC in Abu Dhabi


UFC 112: Invincible (April 10, 2010)

UFC Fight Night: Nogueira v Nelson (April 11, 2014)

UFC 242: Khabib v Poirier (September 7, 2019)


Fight Island 1

UFC 251: Usman v Masvidal (July 12, 2020)

UFC on ESPN: Kattar v Ige (July 16, 2020)

UFC Fight Night: Figueiredo v Benavidez 2 (July 19, 2020)

UFC on ESPN: Whittaker v Till (July 26, 2020)


Fight Island 2

UFC 253: Adesanya v Costa (September 27, 2020)

UFC on ESPN: Holm v Aldana (October 4, 2020)

UFC Fight Night: Moraes v Sandhagen (October 11, 2020)

UFC Fight Night: Ortega v Korean Zombie (October 18, 2020)

UFC 254: Khabib v Gaethje (October 24, 2020)



Fight Island 3

UFC on ABC:
Holloway v Kattar (January 16, 2021)

UFC on ESPN: Chiesa v Magny (January 20, 2021)

UFC 257: Poirier v McGregor 2 (January 24, 2021)



UFC 267: Blachowicz v Teixeira (October 30, 2021)

UFC 280: Oliveira v Makhachev (October 22, 2022)

Tomb Raider I–III Remastered

Developer: Aspyr
Publisher: Aspyr
Console: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4&5, PC and Xbox series X/S
Rating: 3/5

Playing records of the top 10 in 2017

How many games the top 10 have undertaken in the 2017 ATP season

1. Rafael Nadal 58 (49-9)

2. Andy Murray 35 (25-10)

3. Roger Federer 38 (35-3)

4. Stan Wawrinka 37 (26-11)

5. Novak Djokovic 40 (32-8)

6. Alexander Zverev 60 (46-14)

7. Marin Cilic 43 (29-14)

8. Dominic Thiem 60 (41-19)

9. Grigor Dimitrov 48 (34-14)

10. Kei Nishikori 43 (30-13)

Barbie

Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Will Ferrell, America Ferrera
Rating: 4/5

MEDIEVIL (1998)

Developer: SCE Studio Cambridge
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation, PlayStation 4 and 5
Rating: 3.5/5

The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price: From Dh61,500
On sale: Now

We Weren’t Supposed to Survive But We Did

We weren’t supposed to survive but we did.      
We weren’t supposed to remember but we did.              
We weren’t supposed to write but we did.  
We weren’t supposed to fight but we did.              
We weren’t supposed to organise but we did.
We weren’t supposed to rap but we did.        
We weren’t supposed to find allies but we did.
We weren’t supposed to grow communities but we did.        
We weren’t supposed to return but WE ARE.
Amira Sakalla

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

EMIRATES'S REVISED A350 DEPLOYMENT SCHEDULE

Edinburgh: November 4 (unchanged)

Bahrain: November 15 (from September 15); second daily service from January 1

Kuwait: November 15 (from September 16)

Mumbai: January 1 (from October 27)

Ahmedabad: January 1 (from October 27)

Colombo: January 2 (from January 1)

Muscat: March 1 (from December 1)

Lyon: March 1 (from December 1)

Bologna: March 1 (from December 1)

Source: Emirates

SPEC SHEET: NOTHING PHONE (2a)

Display: 6.7” flexible Amoled, 2412 x 1080, 394ppi, 120Hz, Corning Gorilla Glass 5

Processor: MediaTek Dimensity 7200 Pro, 4nm, octa-core

Memory: 8/12GB

Capacity: 128/256GB

Platform: Android 14, Nothing OS 2.5

Main camera: Dual 50MP main, f/1.88 + 50MP ultra-wide, f/2.2; OIS, EIS, auto-focus, ultra XDR, night mode

Main camera video: 4K @ 30fps, full-HD @ 60fps; slo-mo full-HD at 120fps

Front camera: 32MP wide, f/2.2

Battery: 5000mAh; 50% in 30 mins w/ 45w charger

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Google Pay)

Biometrics: Fingerprint, face unlock

I/O: USB-C

Durability: IP54, limited protection from water/dust

Cards: Dual-nano SIM

Colours: Black, milk, white

In the box: Nothing Phone (2a), USB-C-to-USB-C cable, pre-applied screen protector, SIM tray ejector tool

Price (UAE): Dh1,199 (8GB/128GB) / Dh1,399 (12GB/256GB)

Best Foreign Language Film nominees

Capernaum (Lebanon)

Cold War (Poland)

Never Look Away (Germany)

Roma (Mexico)

Shoplifters (Japan)

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

yallacompare profile

Date of launch: 2014

Founder: Jon Richards, founder and chief executive; Samer Chebab, co-founder and chief operating officer, and Jonathan Rawlings, co-founder and chief financial officer

Based: Media City, Dubai 

Sector: Financial services

Size: 120 employees

Investors: 2014: $500,000 in a seed round led by Mulverhill Associates; 2015: $3m in Series A funding led by STC Ventures (managed by Iris Capital), Wamda and Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority; 2019: $8m in Series B funding with the same investors as Series A along with Precinct Partners, Saned and Argo Ventures (the VC arm of multinational insurer Argo Group)

Specs

Engine: 1.5-litre turbo 4-cylinder / 2.0 turbo 4-cylinder (S3)
Power: 148bhp / 328bhp (S3)
Torque: 250Nm / 420Nm (S3)
On sale: December
Price: TBA

SPECS

Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder turbo and 3.6-litre V6
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Power: 235hp and 310hp
Torque: 258Nm and 271Nm
Price: From Dh185,100

SECRET INVASION

Director: Ali Selim
Stars: Samuel L Jackson, Olivia Coleman, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Emilia Clarke
Rating: 3/5

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

Company profile

Name: Fruitful Day

Founders: Marie-Christine Luijckx, Lyla Dalal AlRawi, Lindsey Fournie

Based: Dubai, UAE

Founded: 2015

Number of employees: 30

Sector: F&B

Funding so far: Dh3 million

Future funding plans: None at present

Future markets: Saudi Arabia, potentially Kuwait and other GCC countries

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian
Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).


Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).


Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming
Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics
Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

The specs: 2018 Nissan 370Z Nismo

The specs: 2018 Nissan 370Z Nismo
Price, base / as tested: Dh182,178
Engine: 3.7-litre V6
Power: 350hp @ 7,400rpm
Torque: 374Nm @ 5,200rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
​​​​​​​Fuel consumption, combined: 10.5L / 100km

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2


Latest
Most Read
Top Videos