Posts Tagged Godspeed You! Black Emperor

The Undercover Soundtrack – Alison Layland

for logoInto the warzone

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by writer and translator Alison Layland @AlisonLayland

Soundtrack by Steven R Smith, Aiko Shimada, PJ Harvey, Colin Stetson, Laurie Anderson, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dark Patrick, Darko Rundek, Smoke Fairies, Beth Orton

Music is an essential part of my writing process. I pick up on atmospheres, and fragments of lyrics that suggest an idea, character or situation (not always in the way the artist intended!), and build up a playlist for almost everything I write. I rarely listen to music when actually writing, but my playlist influences my work, and a copy to play in the car or while working keeps me in the zone.

smlDSC_3422A great inspiration, and music I definitely can and do play while writing, comes from Steven R. Smith. His music, mainly instrumental, captures my imagination, and the range of atmospheres he creates match so many of my moods. He records under various names/personas, and when working on Someone Else’s Conflict I found his Hala Strana records particularly appropriate as the Eastern and Central European influences helped me to tap into the Croatian backstory to the novel. I was also delighted when he agreed to let me use an extract from one of the Hala Strana tunes, Wedding of the Blind, for my book trailer.

Stories from a dark place

In Someone Else’s Conflict, Jay is an itinerant storyteller and busker, leading a self-imposed nomadic lifestyle and using his stories as a way of escaping from his memories and past. Stories by Aiko Shimada is that world of escapism through stories. What Jay is concealing is involvement in the Croatian conflict of the early 1990s, and the guilt that still haunts him. Scenes from the war are shown in flashbacks and, as I’m fortunate not to have experienced any kind of war zone first-hand, I used music as the vehicle to take myself there. PJ Harvey’s album Let England Shake told me it was possible and throughout the time I was writing the novel I had the first line of The Words That Maketh Murder going round in my head, as similar thoughts must have plagued Jay.

Saxophonist Colin Stetson’s amazing album New History Warfare Vol. 2 immersed me in all kinds of dark places and provided the perfect atmosphere both for the war scenes and the effects they had on the characters, in particular The Stars in his Head with its menacing driving pulse and swirling loops, and the chaos and displacement of A Dream of Water with guest vocals from Laurie Anderson. My fictional war zone was further intensified by the beauty and terror of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Mladic.

The haunting Ivases Lament by Dark Patrick not only suggested to me the feel of loss, tragedy and anger, but also had personal associations with my characters though a loose connection with its title – Ivan was Jay’s friend who was killed in the Croatian war and his son, Vinko, now a teenager and immigrant searching for identity, is central to the novel. The song brought out all the edginess of their relationship.

As I’m a linguist, it was more or less inevitable that, during my research into the Balkan conflicts, I would be moved to learn the language, especially as a personal way of gaining an insight into the feel and culture of the region. Music also features in my language-learning process, and I made some wonderful discoveries from that part of the world. My favourite so far has been Darko Rundek, in the context of writing the novel especially since a number of his songs deal with the conflict and its aftermath. When I first heard Ista Slika (The Same Picture) – before I saw the video, worked out the lyrics and fully appreciated the tragedy of what the song is about – I simply thought it was a lovely song. When I looked into it more deeply and discovered that it was about the war and that the refrain, roughly translated, means ‘whatever your way in the world in your crazy head you see the same picture’ it became a kind of theme tune for the novel. My own reaction epitomised the way Jay hides his own dark side from the world.

SEC A LaylandLove and redemption

The novel is certainly not all darkness, and my playlist helped me keep me grounded in this, too. An essential thread is the developing friendship and love between Jay and Marilyn, the artist he meets who helps him come to terms with his past and has to decide whether to stand by him as things start to go wrong. Several songs from the Smoke Fairies’ Low Light and Trees album became part of their relationship in my mind, especially Summer Fades with its strong feel of the other person’s past. For a long time, Marilyn is understandably not sure of Jay; she is finding her feet after a difficult previous relationship and is unsure how much to trust him, despite his charismatic and outwardly friendly nature. In one of those serendipitous moments of musical discovery, I was initially drawn to Beth Orton’s Magpie because it reflects the imagery of one of Jay’s stories, and soon found it gave me a real feel for Marilyn’s inner strength.

The ending of the novel evolved as I approached it, but I always knew it would have a positive feel – though just how positive, I wasn’t sure. And so we return to the music of Steven R. Smith. The title and soaring atmosphere of To Rise and Move On says it all.

Alison Layland is a writer and translator, originally from Bradford and now living in the beautiful Welsh mountains with her family. Her debut novel, Someone Else’s Conflict, originally inspired by her passion for storytelling, tells of trust, love and the need to belong, moving from the peaceful Yorkshire Dales to the horrors of the Croatian conflict of the 1990s and its aftermath. It is published by Honno and was a Debut of the Month in January 2015. Alison can be found at her website. She tweets as @AlisonLayland and is a member of The Prime Writers @ThePrimeWriters


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The Undercover Soundtrack – Nigel Featherstone

for logo‘How could I make these characters living and lovable people?’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week my guest is award-winning novelist, short-story writer, creative journalist and online literary journal editor Nigel Featherstone

Soundtrack by Arvo Part, Jonsi, Phil RetroSpector, The Commodores, Turin Brakes, Nick Cave

What would the world be without music? I shudder to think. What would many fictional worlds be without music? Surely the only answer is this: not as rich, not as deep, not as engaging. At least that’s my answer, and it’s one I believe in – very much. No day goes by without music playing an almost unfathomably massive role in my life; it’s a rare 24-hour period when music doesn’t move me. And when I read I hope that I’ll be moved, and when I write I hope that I’ll move readers. What other aim should there be?

Jonny's NF photo 2012 (landscape)Earlier on, years ago now, I would write to music: the Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Part was a favourite, as was Canadian post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor. These days, however, music is all around me but when it’s time for words to go down on the page – my first drafts are written by putting a blue Bic pen to paper – I need silence. Still, at the beginning of 2010, when I ventured out of my little house in regional New South Wales to spend a month as a writer-in-residence in Launceston, Tasmania, I made sure to have a small collection of CDs with me, otherwise I’d be lost, perilously lost.

The novella
I went down to Tasmania to work on short stories, but as is the way with these things I left that peaceful island state with the somewhat sketchy first drafts of three novellas. I’m Ready Now, published recently by Blemish Books, was the first of these novellas to come out onto the page. The story concerns Lynne Gleeson, a wealthy 50-year-old woman whose husband has suddenly died, and her son Gordon, who is coming to the end of his ‘Year of Living Ridiculously’ – both are at the most critical cross-road of their lives, but will they make the right decisions? More importantly to the writing of I’m Ready Now, how could I make these two characters appear is if they are living, loving and lovable people with whom we’d want to spend time?

Finding a mother
Two albums I took to Tasmania were Jonsi’s Go and Phil RetroSpector’s Intro/Version. The former, by the Sigur Ros lead singer, is soft and cute and bubbly and moody and sometimes dark and ominous, the latter, which isn’t available commercially but can be downloaded from RetroSpector’s website, mashes classic artists such as Johnny Cash, David Bowie and New Order with relative newcomers such as REM, Muse and Sia. Somewhere between Jonsi and RetroSpector was the mother in my story. Except I didn’t really find her until I came across Sail On by The Commodores. There she was! Among the bad hair, sequined body-suits and pained musician expressions!

I'm Ready Now (Nigel Featherstone, Blemish Books, 2012)The Hobart-based Lynne Gleeson is a tough cookie, smart, determined, independent, as well as a romantic and maybe even a little naïve, and when we meet her in I’m Ready Now she’s coming to terms with losing her husband Eddie of a heart-attack after a game of golf. Heavy stuff. But Lynne also likes to laugh and I could imagine her as a kid dancing around her bedroom to Sail On, hairbrush in hand as a mic; I could also imagine her now that she’s thoroughly adult dancing around her loungeroom, wine-glass in hand, knowing that there’s a future out there for her – if only she’s brave enough to claim it.

Finding a son
When we meet Gordon he’s recently turned 30, living in Sydney and scratching out a crust as a professional photographer, kind-of-sort-of-maybe partnered with his boyfriend Levi, but really his main occupation – preoccupation – is his Year of Living Ridiculously, which involves spending his weekends enjoying all that Sydney has to offer, illicit and more. I liked Gordon from the beginning, despite his faults – I admired his naked desire to live big no matter what. But as his writer I found it hard to get beneath his skin. Until, that is, in a secondhand record-store in Hobart (I’d been invited to spend a weekend giving a workshop), I found Turin Brakes’s The Optimist LP, which contains a killer track called Underdog (Save Me). Ah yes, that’s it! Gordon is an underdog, that’s exactly what he is: just before his first birthday he was abandoned by his father, Lynne’s enigmatic but ultimately adventure-hungry first love from her high-school days. And Gordon needs saving, but despite all that his mother and boyfriend and his bestfriend are trying to do for him, the person do to the saving really is himself.

While it would be inappropriate – and downright cruel – of me to reveal what happens to dear old Lynne and her wayward son Gordon, what I can share with you is that ending I’m Ready Now was difficult. Really difficult. Firstly, I didn’t want to leave these people alone, I didn’t want them to leave me. Secondly, I simply didn’t know how to do it – the story builds and builds and then…what should be done? Thankfully Nick Cave stepped in; actually, he jumped up on the page and said, Can I help? He sure could. The Ship Song. The ending of this novella, such that it is – the story is as much about what happens after the last page is turned as it is about what’s on the pages in the first place – was built around those words of Cave’s, because it links so beautifully to Lynne’s Sail On and Gordon’s Underdog (Save Me). Sail on, good people, and be saved.

If music wasn’t in my life, I’m Ready Now wouldn’t be out there in the world at this very moment, doing what it has to do.

Thank Christ for music.

(Author photo by Jonny Lewis)

Nigel Featherstone is an Australian writer of contemporary adult fiction and creative journalism. He is the author of the novellas I’m Ready Now (Blemish Books 2012) and Fall on Me (Blemish Books 2011), which won the 2012 ACT Writing and Publishing Award for Fiction. His novel Remnants (Pandanus Books 2005) was published to considerable acclaim, as was his short-story collection, Joy (Ginninderra Press 2000). Nigel is also the author of 40 short stories published in Australian literary journals, including Meanjin, Island, and Overland, as well as in the US. He is a regular contributor to The Canberra Times and has held numerous writing residencies. He is the founder and editor of online literary journal Verity La, for which he received a Canberra Critics Circle Award for 2012. Nigel lives in Goulburn, New South Wales. Find him at his website

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,319 other followers