The characters in this novel have strong voices of their own. In some ways, I envisioned this book like a play or even an opera. So there are choruses of cats in a smelly sanctuary, of villainous Ravageurs in their bloodstained dining room, and of Witches and Righteous Wraiths in the courtroom that hovers above the Rialto Bridge.
The individual characters also have their thought-music, of course. Here are the notes and words I can imagine playing in their heads.
Talina Molin is the heroine of this story. Wild dark-gold hair springs from her head like a curtain of tangled corn husks. After many escapades, she has come to be known as the most impudent girl in Venice, though also as one of the cleverest. She longs to be a writer, and has a passion for cookbooks and magic. When her parents disappear, she is forced to go to live with her cold-hearted Guardian in his twittering tower on the edge of the city. After a mishap over a recipe and a spell, she finds her human shape can no longer be taken for granted. Unless fiery Talina keeps her temper, she’s in danger of becoming the very thing she most despises. So her song would be ‘The Girl Can't Help It’ by Bobby Troup.
Ambrogio Gasperin is the son of a prosperous bookseller. He’s an indefatigable arguer – all training as he wants to be a barrister. He’s always had something of a crush on Talina, his classmate, and he’s soon drawn into her adventures. Ambrogio will get his longed-for day in court, but not in front of an ordinary human judge and jury. His song would be ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by The Beatles. (‘You say yes, I say no; you say stop, and I say go, go, go / You say goodbye, and I say hello.’)
Signorina Tiozzo is the most hospitable cat-lady in Venice. She homes and feeds dozens of strays in a smelly refuge called the Ostello delle Gattemiagole. Her track is obvious: ‘Quarantaquattro Gatti’, an Italian song about forty-four cats without a home. (A cartoon video of the song can be seen on YouTube.)
Bestard-Belou is one of the bully-boy cats in Signorina Tiozzo’s refuge. He’s a big grey cat with orange eyes. His catchphrases include ‘Dog-bite-my-ear!’ and ‘Is you stoopid or something?’ So I can imagine Bestard-Belou singing along to Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap Your Face’. He’d also like Tom Lehrer’s ‘Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’, especially the bit about taking home a squirrel to experiment on. His fellow bully-boy, the ginger cat Albicocco, would like Cab Calloway’s ‘We the Cats Shall Hep Ya’.
The Contessa is an aristocratic pure-white cat who is the queen of the bully-boys. For all her elegance and superiority, she is slightly questionable in the morals department, but she’s also a very loving mother. So her song is ‘That's Why the Lady is a Tramp’ by Rodgers and Hart. Or ‘Killer Queen’ by Queen.
Brolo is a sympathetic black-and-white cat who also lives in the cat refuge. He’s an eternal optimist, and therefore the recipient of frequent bad surprises. His catchphrase is ‘What a down-in-the-dumper!’ I based his character on the eternal optimist played by Eric Idle in the crucifixion scene at the end of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. So obviously his song is ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.
The Ravageurs are mysterious hyena-like creatures – invisible to adults – who haunt Venice by night. They speak with exaggerated and incompetent French accents and devour rich, complicated French food. And they think that they have a right to everything and everyone in Venice. Their history, however, is murkier than they claim. And their ambitions seem to be too monstrous to be countenanced …I suppose the obvious song for them is ‘Hound Dog’. Or perhaps the Mafia anthem ‘Non Su Lupu’ (‘I am Not a Wolf’).
Altopone is an argumentative rat – a gruff individualist and one of the very few of his species who is not totally intimidated by the Ravageurs. His name is a pun on that of the famous American gangster Al Capone, whose family was Italian. I think Altopone would like Frank Sinatra singing ‘I Did It My Way’.
Professor Marìn is an old friend of my readers as he also appears in The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium as a wise expert in all things magical. Here, in Talina in the Tower, we meet the professor as a young, fresh-faced man, with some rather romantic tendencies. The white hair of earlier books is here red and curly – but the brain underneath it is just as wise. I think he’d enjoy ‘Love Potion No. 9’ by Leiber and Stoller.
Mademoiselle Emilie Chouette is the French mistress who teaches Talina and Ambrogio. To the pupils at her school, she has always seemed a ferocious martinet – ‘a fire-breathing dragon’, as Ambrogio calls her – but Professor Marìn has a magical way of bringing out a softer side of her nature. She’d obviously need a French chanson: 'Choux Pastry Heart' by Corrine Bailey Rae. Or even the classic ‘Chanson d’Amour’ by Manhattan Transfer.
Uberto Flangini, Talina’s Guardian, lives in a crumbling bell-tower that twitters with thousands of sparrows who have nested in its crevices. He is a famous author of so-called ‘cautionary tales’ – books in which naughty children meet terrible ends. Talina’s Guardian seems remote and forbidding, even cruel – he’s also a confirmed cat-hater. But in fact he nurses a tragic secret that will be revealed at the end of the book. I think he would like Respighi’s The Birds, as it would make him feel at home. But he would also enjoy the soundtrack for Shock-headed Peter, by the Tiger Lillies, a haunting, horrifying, hilarious take Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter. As he lives up so high, he’d probably choose ‘Flying Robert’, about a boy who drifts up into the air and is never seen again.
Giuseppe Tassini, the famous Venetian historian, is a real character from history. His book Curiosità Veneziane explains all the streets and palaces in Venice. The real Tassini was very fond of fine dining as well as history, so he’d enjoy a song that combines strong flavours with the past: his song is ‘Pastime With Good Company’, thought to have been written by Henry VIII. It’s soothing and melodic, and would make an excellent accompaniment to a good meal. (I do, however, find it quite impossible to visualize Tassini wearing ipod ear-buds at the Marciana Library or in the Archives.)
(With thanks to Jane Stemp. Moira Butterfield and John Doherty for their suggestions.)
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