#BookReview When the Music Stops by Joe Heap @fictionpubteam

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for When the Music Stops by Joe Heap. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Harper Collins for my digital review copy via NetGalley. Do check out the post by my tour buddy for today, Jo at Over The Rainbow Book Blog. And, for a limited time, you can grab yourself a signed copy of When the Music Stops from Hewson Books.

Finally, a note from Joe:
I owe this book to my grandparents, John and Jean Sands, for sharing the stories that inspired it. In many ways their story is more remarkable than the one I have written.

At a summer season in Ramsgate, 1959, two ice skaters held a party. My grandfather, a Glaswegian saxophonist who would rather have gone to the pub, was convinced by a comedian on the same bill to come along. My grandmother, another one of the ice skaters, sat down next to him and spilt her drink in his lap. Though she has since denied it, her first words of note to him were ‘Oh no, not another Scot.’

Nobody could have guessed how much would spin off that moment, myself and this book included. Here are a few pictures of them.”


9780008293208About the Book

This is the story of Ella. And Robert. And of all the things they should have said, but never did.

What have you been up to?’
I shrug, ‘Just existing, I guess.’
‘Looks like more than just existing.’
Robert gestures at the baby, the lifeboat, the ocean.
‘All right, not existing. Surviving.’
He laughs, not unkindly. ‘Sounds grim.’
‘It wasn’t so bad, really. But I wish you’d been there.’

Through seven key moments and seven key people their journey intertwines. From the streets of Glasgow during WW2 to the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll of London in the 60s and beyond, this is a story of love and near misses. Of those who come in to our lives and leave it too soon. And of those who stay with you forever…

Format: Hardcover (384 pages)           Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication date: 29th October 2020 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance

Find When the Music Stops on Goodreads

Purchase links*
Amazon UK | Hive (supporting UK bookshops)
*link provided for convenience not as part of an affiliate programme

My Review

The book’s structure, revisiting seven key moments and people in Ella’s life, was, according to the author, inspired by the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. However, as Joe Heap also writes, “This is a book about music, inspired by music” so cleverly incorporated into the story are the seven modes that have been part of musical notation since ancient times.

In When the Music Stops, each of these modes is represented by a song in a music book Ella acquires when she first takes up the guitar. Although other elements of her memory have faded by the time we first meet her as an old woman – alone, in rather strange circumstances – the tunes are still at her fingertips, evoking memories of significant stages in her life – and the people who shared them with her. As she muses, “There are seven songs. I have to play all of them, though I don’t know what will come at the end. I just have to play them.”

The ability of music to evoke memories is just one of the fascinating concepts explored in the book, along with the nature of memory itself and how we experience the passing of time. I’ll leave others to explain Einstein’s theories on the latter but I liked the metaphor Robert, Ella’s friend since childhood, employs. He compares time to a long-playing record. While you’re listening to the second verse of a song, he explains, the first verse is still there but you’re just not listening to it anymore.

As the reader learns, Ella’s life has been punctuated by moments of loss, often signalled by that thing we’ve probably all come to dread – the unexpected early morning or late night telephone call. Robert’s earlier metaphor is applicable here too. As he confides to Ella about a person they both knew, “I don’t think she’s really gone… I just think we can’t see her anymore.”

Another key theme of the book is that of the missed opportunities in life, especially between people like Ella and Robert. ‘The Road Not Taken’ of Robert Frost’s poem, as it were. Their encounters over the years are populated by falsely reassuring thoughts such as “There will be other chances” and fateful hesitations, “The door of possibility stays open, waiting for her to walk through, but she stays put”.

I admired the way the author recreated the atmosphere of each stage on the journey through Ella’s life, referencing the clothing, the television programmes or even the food of the time: the school playground gift of tablet (a sweet similar to fudge for you non-Scots out there) or a corned beef and pickle sandwich prepared for a picnic.

The standout section for me, entitled ‘The Rebel’, was Ella’s experiences as a session musician in 1960s London, rubbing shoulders with many famous, or soon to be famous, bands of the period. (In his acknowledgements, Joe mentions Carol Kaye, “a trailblazing female musician” who played guitar and bass on many hit records and was the inspiration for Ella.) I also found the section entitled ‘The Matron’ particularly moving.

At one point in the book, a character mentions ‘fantastical thinking’ and I think that’s a great description of the premise of this clever but very touching novel. At the online book launch, Joe Heap mentioned fantasy as making up some of his own early reading – books by authors such as Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – and it’s easy to see that influence in elements of the book. However, more than anything, When the Music Stops is an emotional story of love, loss and the power of the human spirit. I think it would make a great book club choice.

With its gorgeous cover, this is one of those occasions when I feel I’ve slightly missed out by opting for a digital version of a book.  So I may just have to treat myself and help out an independent bookshop through Lockdown 2.0 in the process…

In three words: Imaginative, insightful, heartfelt

Try something similar: Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day

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Joe Heap Author PicAbout the Author

Joe Heap was born in 1986 and grew up in Bradford, the son of two teachers. His debut novel, The Rules of Seeing, won Best Debut at the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards in 2019 and was shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Reader Awards. Joe lives in London with his girlfriend, their two sons and a cat who wishes they would get out of the house more often.

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Buchan of the Month: Introducing… The Gap in the Curtain by John Buchan

Buchan of the Month Banner 2020.jpgMy Buchan of the Month for July is The Gap in the Curtain, John Buchan’s only full-length novel with a supernatural element. Written between March 1930 and February 1931, it was published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton on 7th July 1932 and in the US by The Riverside Press on 27th July 1932. The book is dedicated to his friends, Sybil and Lambert Middleton.

Featuring Sir Edward Leithen as narrator, the book is a series of interconnected stories in which a group of guests at a country house party are each given a glimpse of the future by way of an item in The Times dated a year hence. The guests, who include a politician and a financier, react in different ways to the foreknowledge they are granted.

Buchan scholar, David Daniell describes The Gap in the Curtain as a ‘satirical’ book in which Buchan takes aim at the world of international finance and politics. Ursula Buchan, the author’s granddaughter and his latest biographer, suggests the “brilliant, lengthy and disillusioned description of British politics at that time” reflects Buchan’s own experiences as a Member of Parliament.

Andrew Lownie feels that, although the idea of being able to look into the future was not new, Buchan was able to give it a new spin. He also finds it significant that the action of the book takes place at Easter citing its exploration of the redemptive power of love, the nature of Free Will and the concept of predestination.

The book received some warm reviews upon publication, notably from J.B. Priestley who praised Buchan’s “gallant versatility” and recommended it as a book that could be read “with excitement and profit”. Janet Adam Smith, Buchan’s first biographer, reports that The Gap in the Curtain had sold 78,000 copies up to 1960. Look out for my review of the book later this month.

Handheld Press will be publishing a new edition of The Gap in the Curtain in October 2021, available for pre-order now from their website. Pre-orders will be posted as soon as the book is received from the printer which is likely to be two to three months ahead of the publication date.


Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 [1965])
Ursula Buchan, Beyond The Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan (Bloomsbury, 2019)
David Daniell, The Interpreter’s House: A Critical Assessment of John Buchan (Nelson, 1975)
Kenneth Hillier and Michael Ross, The First Editions of John Buchan: A Collector’s Illustrated Biography (Avonworld, 2008)
Andrew Lownie, John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier (Constable, 1995)