Friday, 22 January 2016

The Chimes Blog Tour - Anna Smaill Author Contribution

Today we're delighted to be part of the blog tour for the paperback publication of The Chimes by Anna Smaill. I'm always intrigued about what sparks an author's imagination, particularly when their creation is a complete new world, so, having the chance to ask, that was what I wanted to know....
I've seen a lot of people talking recently about how the constant chatter of social media dulls us to the surrounding world, even the friends or family we're actually sitting next to,  and the Chimes themselves seemed to me a more organised, centrally-controlled but similar form of brain-washing.
I don't know if these thoughts have any relevance at all but they left me intrigued about how Anna stumbled upon the original idea for The Chimes. .....

The Chimes is really an exploration of two different human drives – the one towards purity and the one towards mess – and how sometimes art seems to encourage us to view these as existing in a sort of irreconcilable binary.

It will surprise no one that this preoccupation behind the book can be traced to my own experience with music. I started playing the violin at quite a young age, seven years old to be exact, and I was far from a natural musician. I loved it, but the sounds I produced were always quite different from the ones I imagined in my head. My experience with music gave rise to a sort of painful dualism. By which I mean, it often felt like my body was a kind of hindrance to what was going on inside, and the things I wanted to express. I felt exhausted by all that was uncontrollable about playing an instrument – those erratic nerves and wayward physical habits. I also felt befuddled by the fact that, even if I played something perfectly and soulfully, a person listening could fail to be swept up in this, could, in fact, just walk past unmoved.

This kind of overthinking wasn’t exactly compatible with a performance degree; I stopped playing the violin in my second year. However, I’ve remained really interested in the way some art seems to inhabit and draw on these frustrations and impulses. It’s not a strange leap that poets like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were drawn to fascist politics – the impulse is in the work, in the straining toward a sort of pure, unimpeachable form of expression, and in the setting up of a quasi-religious aesthetic hierarchy.

The idea that we can ever attain some kind of pure expression is a nonsense, of course. Any two-way communication is always fraught – each party brings their own experiences to the exchange. Mess and impurity is where language and art thrives, evolves and adapts. Discrepancies and clashes of perspective allow memory to modulate into story. Yet my own experience with music is why I didn’t want the Order (the powerful musical elite of The Chimes) to appear in the book as a simple force of evil. I wanted to show the beauty in their extreme commitment and fervor. I wanted to suggest that that there is even something potentially admirable in their vision. I think it’s in all of us, that hunger for extremes.

Hopefully, possibly, some of this seething internal debate is clear in the world of The Chimes! But I should make it clear that I never saw the book as an ‘ideas novel’. I didn’t have an agenda to push or a specific target for critique. I’d hate the book to feel didactic or programmatic in any way. I should, however, probably end by saying that if we are ever in a situation where art is divided between the pure and the impure, I – to quote the wonderful NZ poet Bill Manhire – ‘want to go and stand in the corner with all of the impure people’.


  1. Great interview - I enjoyed understanding more about The Chimes from the author's perspective..

    1. Fascinating - especially as I had so many theories about it when reading the book. Going to be posting my review mentioning some of them later today.

  2. I love this novel and did a Q&A with Anna Smaill when it first came out last year. This post builds on that goes a little deeper into what music means to her – as a latecomer to music making who is so grateful to be allowed to sing in the choir, I find it really intriguing.