Original Soundtrack

The Beetles with M.G. Leonard

Reading fiction is a peculiar experience. For people who struggle with books, encountering row upon row of characters, laid out in neatly justified lines, running on for page after page, can be scarily forbidding. But if you allow yourself to jump into a story and get caught in the current of letters, words and paragraphs it can become all consuming, to the extent that everything outside simply disappears.

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At other times external stimuli, like a smell or the place you are reading seep into the book. As a compulsive listener of music, songs and stories have long been happy companions. Long after I’ve put a book to one side, a tune can pop up on the radio and I’ll be transported back into the world of the story. A lovely, unexpected bonus.

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Some books go one further. As you read they suggest their very own soundtrack – see my previous posts on Philip Reeve’s Railhead and There May Be a Castle by Piers Torday. Very much in this category are the Beetle Boy stories by M.G. Leonard.

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It helps that beetle and insect themed songs are so numerous they practically constitute their own genre. Acts like Massive Attack, Elvis Costello and Primal Scream have called on them to provide a dark, creeping atmosphere. They all appear on this Spotify playlist of beetle inspired music that I’ve put together with M.G. Leonard to accompany her excellent books.

As well as being exciting, occasionally disgusting and frequently funny, Leonard’s tales show beetles as fascinating, complex and joyous creatures. This is reflected in the soundtrack through music that captures something of their true nature – from Aphex Twin’s skittering ‘Beetles’ to Tom Waits’ gruesomely instructive ‘Army Ants.’

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M.G. Leonard has a background in the music business, having managed the band The Divine Comedy in the ’90s and she draws directly on music in her stories. Marvin Gaye’s ‘I heard it Through the Grapevine’ appears prominently in both books – complete with dung ball rhythm section in Beetle Queen. Antagonist Lucretia Cutter’s apocalyptic speechifying meanwhile is perfectly soundtracked by Lorde’s doom laden cover of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World.’

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As a trained actor and digital producer for theatre, Leonard has a knack for creating impressively staged set pieces, and also great physical comedy. Hapless villains Humphrey and Pickering, a homicidal Laurel and Hardy, are according to Maya, ‘always accompanied by Elvis Presley because when I did my acting training, I discovered that Elvis is the perfect soundtrack to clowning! It makes everything you do, extra funny.’

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The first ten tracks on the playlist were ones Maya listened to when writing specific scenes in ‘Beetle Queen’. She’s set me the challenge of guessing which belong where – something I thought you might be able to help me with below the line?

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Beetle Queen and Beetle Boy are published by Chicken House. Illustrations are by Julia Sarda, Karl James Mountford and Laura Trinder.

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