Posts Tagged Jessica Bell

The Undercover Soundtrack – Jessica Bell

for logo‘Five characters, five musical identities’

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 my guest is contemporary fiction author, poet, editor and singer-songwriter Jessica Bell @MsBessieBell

Soundtrack by Judy Garland, Magic Dirt, Hole, Lene Lovich, I Killed the Prom Queen, Metallica

White Lady is written from the perspective of five different characters, each in first person, so, in addition to my usual character-defining tactics, I decided to give three of them specific music tastes. These music tastes also really helped to mould the personalities of these characters, and made it easier for me to write in their different voices.

black and white_Jessica BellThe musical soundtrack fan: Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland

Sonia Shâd, an Australian/Turkish high school mathematics teacher and wife of Melbourne’s leading drug lord, is addicted to slicing people’s throats and admiring the blood cascade down her victims’ chests.

Now the clichéd thing to do would have been to make her a fan of heavy metal. I didn’t want to go the typical route. Instead, I thought it would be a little more creepy having a song associated with innocence and finding true bliss linked to Sonia finding her true bliss—the pleasure of a kill.

I’ve also used the rainbow as a metaphor for Sonia’s passion for numbers:

It is seven a.m. and everyone’s mailboxes are decorated with dew. When I was a child, I liked to think the dew meant fairies had been out to play during the night. Especially when the sun shone through dispersive prisms of condensation, creating a field of colour across my front lawn. It was the rainbow that first got me interested in mathematics and physics, and its ever-elusive pot of gold. It didn’t take long for me to rationalize that the pot of gold was simply the bait to enrich my knowledge.

As an extra quirk, Sonia’s doorbell plays this song when it’s pressed.

The female rock goddess fan: Dirty Jeans by Magic Dirt; Skinny Little Bitch by Hole; Bird Song by Lene Lovich

Mia Weston is an insecure overweight high school student, who turns to drugs to lose weight, and experiments with her sexuality to manipulate her drug dealer. She falls for Sonia’s son, Mick, and gets caught up in his family’s criminal activities. She enjoys every minute of it, because it makes her feel beautiful. She experiences a tug of war with her conscience — good girl (who is insecure about her looks, and wants to be a good daughter for her single father) versus bad girl (a beauty queen in Mick’s eyes, and bold and confident when engaging in illegal activities).

Mia is also an aspiring songwriter and turns to these female rock goddesses for inspiration.

I don’t, however, just use these songs to represent Mia’s personality. I make sure the songs appear in the story when the lyrics actually mean something to the scene.

For example, she turns Dirty Jeans up full blast when she realizes she might be falling for Mick. The first line of the song is about being attracted to an ordinary boy. Mick is far from an ordinary boy. Mia listening to this song is almost trying to convince herself that there is nothing to worry about, that Mick may be different than most, but deep down he is normal and she will be safe with him. At the same time, it also gives her a false
sense of self-esteem when she imagines the lyrics, about being beautiful, are being sung to her directly.

On the opposite end of the scale, when Mia is feeling guilty about her actions, she listens to Skinny Little Bitch, glorifying that fact that she is acting like one herself. Of course, she’s still romanticising about being skinny. It’s easier for her to be a ‘skinny bitch’ than an overweight one.

The Metal Head: Never Never Land by I Killed the Prom Queen; Creeping Death by Metallica

On the surface, Mick Shâd (Sonia’s son) is an absolute thug. He’s foul mouthed, exhibits violent and crude behaviour, and shows no respect to anyone whatsoever. Yet, deep down, he is a gentle sweetheart with a poetic soul, which readers witness through his scenes with Mia.

All his life he has been exposed to the illegal activities of his parents. The biggest thing that haunts him to this day is the blood stain on the back porch, along with the memory of Sonia tucking him in one night without having properly washed the streaks of blood off her skin.

Mick listens to hardcore music to escape his hardcore reality. It’s a way for him to shut the world out when he needs to be alone. Readers also get the hint that he prays to Allah on his seccade (a Muslim Prayer mat in Turkish), when he’s alone in his room too. He clearly has a conscience.

The songs I’ve mentioned above are not actually cited in the novel. Only the bands. This is because Mick isn’t the type of guy to describe what he’s listening to. He just turns his stereo on full blast — full stop. We also experience the loud music coming from his bedroom through Sonia’s perspective, in which she recognises the bands, but can only make out the sound of roar roar roar.

Despite readers never knowing what songs Mick listens to, these are the songs I had in mind when writing the scenes these bands are mentioned in. If you look up the lyrics to these songs, you will glean a lot of meaning from them and how they relate to the story. Though I would have loved to explain all these details in the book, they just didn’t fit. So I had to resolve myself to the fact that they would remain hidden (a true Undercover Soundtrack!”)

perf5.250x8.000.inddMusic is food

If you ever decide to use music for writing inspiration, have a think about how you can create symbolic branches to your music of choice in your story. Not only does it provide a fabulously diverse platter of character food, but it’s also nutrition for your plot. I don’t think I have ever written a book which didn’t incorporate music in one form or another. And now I don’t think I could ever write without it.

Is your story lacking the nutrients it needs? Perhaps some music will help!

Jessica Bell, a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, is the Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. Connect with Jessica online at her website, retreat & workshop, blog, the Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Facebook and Twitter

GIVEAWAY To celebrate the release of White Lady, Jessica is giving away an e-copy (mobi, ePub, or PDF) to a random commenter of this post.

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Five characters, five musical identities – Jessica Bell

for logoMy guest this week is an old hand at The Undercover Soundtrack. She made her first appearance here in 2012 with a soundtrack she had composed, sung and recorded herself – which earned my undying envy (in a good way). She’s a singer-songwriter as well as a poet and novelist, so music is a natural way for her to understand her characters. In her latest novel, she writes from the perspective of five people, and used music to help her create their different voices and mentalities. Join me here on Wednesday to meet Jessica Bell (once again) and the Undercover Soundtrack to White Lady.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jessica Bell

for logo‘How differently a child perceives the world’

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by contemporary fiction author, poet, editor and singer-songwriter Jessica Bell @MsBessieBell,

Soundtrack by R.E.M., Talking Heads, Eurythmics

I can’t cope with music playing in the background when I write. It’s distracting. Why? Because I am also a musician, and every time I hear music, it’s hard to fight the urge to sing, or pick up the guitar. That said, it would also be very rare for any piece of writing of mine to not include music in some way. Writing is my ability to breathe, and music is my oxygen. Neither one can exist without the other.

Jessica BellFive years old

When I had the idea to write The Book, I knew immediately that music would have a place in the story. Though it’s not a feature, it’s important to my main character’s arc. About 60% of The Book, set in the early 1980s, is written from the perspective of a five-year-old girl named Bonnie. I hint, through the journal entries of her mother, Penny, and the transcripts of Bonnie and Dr Wright, her therapist, that due to her premature birth, she has trouble learning, and significant behavioural problems and eccentricities. However, I try to juxtapose this through Bonnie’s matter-of-fact point of view. The reader is then able to see how differently she perceives the world compared to the adults in her life.

This is where my soundtrack comes in.

Wrong words

When I was a kid, I remember getting song lyrics wrong all the time. The worst misunderstanding I can remember is from REM’s Losing My Religion where the first line of the chorus became ‘let’s pee in the corner’. This gave me the idea to show the reader some quirks in Bonnie’s personality through the way in which she misunderstood lyrics.  However, in the end, this is not what I focused on. Because I wanted to emphasise Bonnie’s overly logical perception of the world, I made her comprehend the lyrics perfectly, and comment on how they didn’t make sense.

Bonnie doesn’t grasp the fact that lyrics can be metaphorical and/or symbolic, she only hears what the lyrics mean literally. Through this, I was able to show that despite the adults around her being conditioned to believe she had a learning disability, she is actually quite skilled at vertical thinking, and might very well have the qualities of a genius hiding behind her over-emotional demeanor.

Burning

For example, I used Talking Heads’ lyrics from Burning Down the House to illustrate this. Bonnie confidently explains that you can’t put fire out with fire, and that fire isn’t wet, so why would you need a raincoat? After her mother tries to explain that the lyrics are like art and don’t have to make sense, she shrugs and decides to accept the fact that despite the song not ‘making logic’, at least it is great to dance to. This not only shows that she can make sense of language, but also shows that despite not agreeing with something, she is willing to overlook it, and embrace its value. A pretty strong trait to have as a five-year-old, yes? It’s also something that young, stressed, ill-informed parents of the 80s would boil down to her being just a quirky five-year-old girl, and not notice how smart she is.

Bonnie also questions the deeper meaning of lyrics. After hearing Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams, she says:

I rooly rooly like that man that sings the sweet dreams are made of weeds song. I askted Mummy if all bodies are looking for sumfing, and she said they are. And I askted what she was looking for, and she said that she was looking for love, but she already founded it, so she’s not looking anymore. I askted her to show it to me. But she said that love isn’t tangible. I don’t know what tangible means, but I would still like her to show me the love she found.

The excerpt above also draws attention to Bonnie’s misunderstood wisdom by showing how capable she is of rational thought. Annie Lennox must be a man because she has short hair and wears a suit and tie in the video just like Bonnie’s father does; and the fact that logically, if you find something, you should be able to hold that something in your hand.

The Book_by Jessica BellWhat we know

Trying to understand music through the eyes of a child was an amazing and eye-opening experience. It really made me realize how much of what we ‘know’ is almost like a stamp. We learn something, and assume it is correct, because that’s what we’re conditioned to believe. But Bonnie questions a lot of basic things in life that we take for granted, and it made me realise how much adults can learn from children. Children tell the truth. Children’s opinions aren’t blurred by a lifetime of experience. Their opinions are pure and simple. And sometimes pure and simple is a smarter way to live than the tainted and complicated lives us adults lead. Don’t you think?

The music that influenced The Book wasn’t just a trigger for the muse.

It was a voice.

The voice of logic.

Jessica Bell is an Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter. She also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. She is the co-publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. The Book is available from Amazon USAmazon UK and Kobo. For the book trailer see here. Connect with Jessica at her website, blog, on Facebook or Twitter @msBessieBell    

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‘How differently a child perceives the world’ – Jessica Bell

for logoMy guest this week is another Undercover Soundtrack veteran. In fact, she deserves this title twice over, as she was the first of my guests who also wrote some of the music that helped her create the book (and she then made it available as an album). This time, she uses music in a different, but equally creative way. Her main character is a child who has behavioural problems and eccentricities, and struggles to understand the adults’ world. The metaphorical language of song lyrics, jumbled through a child’s mind, became a cornerstone for her to understand the character. She is Jessica Bell and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jessica Bell

‘I didn’t only want the words to describe the music; I wanted them to sound like music’

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by literary writer Jessica Bell @MsBessieBell, author of String Bridge

Soundtrack by Jessica Bell, Erika Bach/Hard Candy, PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Nightmares on Wax, Enigma

Today I’m not only going to talk about how music influenced the creation of my debut novel, String Bridge. I’m also going to talk about how String Bridge influenced the creation of its own soundtrack, Melody Hill: On the Other Side.

The Music

Melody, the main character in the novel, is a musician, who struggles to revive her passion to pursue a career in music after the role of mother and wife stunted its growth. The songs that appear in the book started off as poems. But then I thought, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to be song lyrics? And so, I converted the poems into lyrics. Then it occurred to me that I could create and produce an album conceptually written by Melody. Being a singer/songwriter/guitarist myself, and having written and recorded countless songs over the years, meant it was a task that I could definitely undertake. But I became even more convinced of the idea after listening to one of my mother’s songs on YouTube, which conveniently portrayed my main character’s mindset.

Now, I was more than inspired.

Push and pull

The lyrics of this song are about the push and pull a mother feels from her family to her desires, from her need to be a ‘good’ person, to the pit of guilt and depression that haunts and feeds the creative mind. ‘Do you really want to be this famous?’ is the last line of the song—a question I’m sure every potentially famous person asks themselves at some point or another. Is there anything in this world worth the sacrifice of one’s true identity?

I eventually rerecorded this song with my own voice for my book trailer. It’s also in the album. (Thank you to my mother, Erika Bach, once again, for allowing me to do this.)

Once I finished the final revisions to String Bridge, I sat down with my guitar and wrote music to the four songs that appear in the book by channelling Melody’s musical influences (PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Joni Mitchell, Nightmares on Wax, Enigma) and combining their styles of rock, pop, folk, and ambience to create an atmospheric grunge CD that is also a visceral lyrical story. Once those were done, I wrote five more songs in the same vein to complete the album, and had the album professionally recorded and produced. You can hear samples on iTunes.

The Writing

I’m often asked whether being a musician benefits my writing. And I have to say yes. For one, I think sound is a very difficult thing to describe. And even for me, it is not easy. I spent a long time trying to perfect the parts of the novel where music is illustrated. I didn’t only want the words to describe music; I wanted them to sound like music. Being a poet also, I adore playing around with different words and sounds and hearing how they roll off my tongue like a velvety tune. I thrive on constructing sentences with cadence. It’s like singing without a melody—writing to a tempo.

That being said, writing also benefits my songwriting. Over the past seven or so years, since actively writing novels, I’ve noticed a huge change in the way I approach writing lyrics. So I suppose both skills feed off each other. I can’t imagine my life without either of them.

And do you want to know something funny? I need silence when I write. If there is music playing, all I want to do is sing.

Jessica Bell is a literary women’s fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the ’80s and early ’90s. She spent much of her childhood travelling to and from Australia to Europe, experiencing two entirely different worlds, yet feeling equally at home in both environments. She currently lives in Athens, Greece, and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide and is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal. Jessica has published a book of poetry Twisted Velvet Chains, and a novel String Bridge, with Lucky Press, LLC. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website. From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus. Please visit the site to register. Find her on Facebook and Twitter @MsBessieBell

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‘I wanted the words to sound like music’ – Jessica Bell

My Undercover Soundtrack guest this week is Jessica Bell, a poet and songwriter as well as a wielder of words. The  central character of her novel, String Bridge, is a musician who faces some tough life choices, and as Jessica developed her characters and their world, she found herself developing the songs of the story too. The result? String Bridge has its very own original soundtrack on iTunes. Join me on Wednesday to hear more

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