Posts Tagged Led Zeppelin

The Undercover Soundtrack – Davina Blake

for logo‘Music is the undertow to what I am writing’

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 wartime romance author Davina Blake (who also writes as Deborah Swift @swiftstory)

Soundtrack by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lena Horne, Kate Bush, George Gershwin, Larry Adler, Alison Moyet, Purcell, Led Zeppelin, Rachmaninoff, Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler

Music has always been the mirror of my moods, how I am feeling is externalized by the music I play, so it is fortunate that I have eclectic tastes. When writing I prefer silence, but as I type I am aware of the echo of the music from moments before; it still hums inside me, the undertow to what I am writing.

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The edge of longing

I need to be able to access certain states in order to write well, and music helps me do this. What I was trying to capture in Past Encounters was a kind of longing – a longing that borders on nostalgia, but is not that sentimental. It is at the edge of things. We have no English word for it, but the German word is sehnsucht. For this novel I was looking for transparency and intimacy, to keep the words simple so you could almost see through them.

I remembered Mary Chapin Carpenter’s John Doe #24 , which does just this, with its simple tune and narrative arc, telling the story of a blind, deaf and dumb man stripped of identity, the ultimate loss, yet still the character haunts us. In Past Encounters Peter becomes a prisoner of war, just a number, so I went back to the track and listened again. In the song, sensory detail becomes enormously important, his toes feeling the streetcar rails underfoot, the scent of jasmine.

Conjuring the past

In the novel both protagonists, Rhoda and her fiancé Peter, mourn the loss of their familiar life to the outbreak of war. I found myself listening to old recordings to conjure the atmosphere of the past. My mother used to love Lena Horne’s The Man I Love (1941), and the crackling of the LP, the sudden silence when it ends, with just the needle bumping round on the record, seemed to say almost as much as the actual music. When I am working I use Youtube to plug myself into the mood of what I am writing, searching out tracks of the era I am working on. Kate Bush’s recording of the same song with Larry Adler on harmonica really spoke to me. The wailing quality of the harmonica seemed to embody Rhoda’s search for the man she loves, which is both Peter, who is missing, and the longing which is somehow not attached to any one man in particular. It is the same longing that makes me want to write, the stretching out towards a feeling I can’t name.

The story is set in WWII, but it is not about heroes. Rhoda’s fiancé Peter spends the whole war in a prisoner of war camp. But what drives the book is his intense friendships with the other men, and the fact that and he and Rhoda survive on memories of each other. Death stalks the captive prisoners and the music I listened to a lot during this phase of writing consisted of elegies to the dead. Alison Moyet’s great natural voice singing Dido’s Lament by Purcell strips away the artifice of opera to make us think nakedly about memory and how we will be remembered.

Gallows humour

Writing historical fiction is an awkward relationship between honouring and dishonouring our relationship with the past. Gallows humour is an essential part of survival, both for Peter in the book, and for me as a writer, and I loved the recycling of an old English folk tune in Gallows Pole by Led Zeppelin, especially the ultimate twist, when the hangman (death itself) is hanged on the gallows pole.

I like listening to the layers in music, and Gallows Pole is one piece that repays that sort of listening. That sudden mandolin! I like to pick out individual layers and will often listen over and over to the same piece, following different musical parts. I do this in the novel too; write following different narrative threads. In Past Encounters it is just two, Rhoda and Peter, in my other novels it has been more. When I edit, I do this too, follow different lines of the narrative.

02_Past-Encounters-682x1024Strangely, although Rhoda’s story is set during the filming of Brief Encounter, I found the Rachmaninoff score too strident and brash for the subtle feeling I needed. The Rachmaninoff score is heavy on the piano. As Nick Cave says, ‘The guitar is something you kind of embrace, and the piano is something you kind of – when you play it, you sort of push it away. It feels very different.’

So the intimacy and loss I was after is there in the guitar of Blind Willie McTell by Bob Dylan. It is a track that was never completed from his album Infidels, and is therefore more poignant because it was almost lost. It is raw and unproduced – you can almost hear a coat button scratching on the top of the guitar as he sings of the loss of not just one blues singer, but of the loss of a whole era of blues singers. Of course really it is Mark Knopfler on guitar, not Dylan, but the impression of one man and a guitar remains. Music is like writing, a world of mirrors and illusion.

Davina Blake also writes seventeenth century novels as Deborah Swift. She lives in the North of England in a small village close to the mountains and the sea, a fact which encourages her to go out and get the fresh air that every writer needs. Past Encounters is her fifth novel, but the first published as an independent author. Tweet her as @swiftstory. Find her on Facebook.

GIVEAWAY Davina is excited to be giving away three ebook copies of Past Encounters to commenters here. Extra entries if you share the post on Twitter, G+, Linked In, Tumblr, Facebook, Ello or anywhere else you frequent. Breathe on a bus window and write it inside a love-heart. Just remember to say in your comment here that you’ve done it!

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Wendy Storer

for logo‘Drumming is my heartbeat’

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 Mslexia award-winning YA novelist Wendy Storer @WendyStorer

Soundtrack by Metallica, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Avenged Sevenfold, Rush, Green Day, Razorlight, The Killers, Blink 182, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Who, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Sugarcult, Rise Against, Arvo Part, Willie Nelson, Seafood

Bring Me Sunshine is the story of a young musician, Daisy, a wannabe rock drummer thwarted in her ambition by her dad’s resistance to noise. She’s 15 when she realises his bizarre behaviour and increasing number of memory lapses might be due to more than a quirky personality, and as the story unfolds the impact of Dad’s dementia on Daisy’s life is uncovered.

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Hope, direction and power

I couldn’t have written this story without immersing myself in the sort of music Daisy loved and aspired to play.

Drumming is my heartbeat…

she says; it gives her hope, direction and power. When she can no longer play, she is lost.

I listened to hours, days, weeks’ worth of music in order to put myself in Daisy’s shoes. I found myself thinking ‘Daisy would LOVE this’, or ‘this isn’t Daisy at all’. I discovered bands like Linkin Park, Papa Roach, Avenged Sevenfold and Rush, and made myself a playlist of their music. Other bands on the list were Green Day, Razorlight, The Killers, Blink 182, as well as the rock gods of my own teen years: Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Who, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica…

Daisy’s playlist took me back in time to the memory of what it was like to be a teenager, (messing up at school, falling in love for the first time, wanting something so terribly badly that just didn’t seem possible) and helped me connect to her life now.

Bring Me Sunshine is a sad story, but it’s also a story of hope, of living in the moment and how that sets Daisy free, so the music I chose to listen to was often tinged with sadness, always powerful and at times liberating.

This song for example – Nothing Else Matters by Metallica – never failed to put me in touch with Daisy. I imagined her wrestling with her fears, afraid of the consequences of both truth and lies, then hearing Metallica’s power ballad about the need to trust in ourselves and be true to who we really are, before coming down on the side of truth.

Songs for resonance

Each chapter is a song title, and every single song was chosen deliberately for its emotional resonance. Daisy listens to: Numb by Linkin Park when she first starts to realise something is wrong with Dad; I Miss You by Blink 182 when she’s remembering her mum; Memory by Sugarcult when Dad remembers his brother Ziggy; No Prayer for the Dying by Iron Maiden when Daisy and little brother Sam go out into the stormy night to search for their lost dad. These are all powerful pieces of music with a touch of melancholy, and mean something in the context of Daisy’s experiences in the book. This is Letting Go by Rise Against has a more hopeful vibe and it’s what Daisy (and I) listen to when Daisy finally faces up to her problems and tells someone what’s going on at home.

And so my playlist, my undercover soundtrack, is also Daisy’s. Apart from this one piece of music – Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka by Arvo Pärt. I would often listen to this while out on Kendal Castle with my dogs. It’s a piano solo, which begins with a simple melody and builds into something more complete and rounded. There was something about the quiet minimalism of this tune which always helped me get back to the story. There’s still that hint of melancholy in the beginning, but as the tune builds, the deliberateness and focus somehow takes over. On reflection there is something about this tune which mirrors Daisy’s journey. I did not know until I wrote this post that the title means Variations for the Healing of Arinushka. I couldn’t find anything about the history if this piece but I completely ‘get’ how the healing quality of this piece has always led me back to Daisy’s story.

New Bring Me Sunshine-KindleThe referenced title track of Bring Me Sunshine is an acoustic version of the song by Willie Nelson.  Sunshine (both literally and metaphorically) is what Daisy needs in her life.

If I had to choose one song from Daisy’s playlist to represent the story, I would choose this one – This Is Not An Exit, by Seafood with Caroline Banks on drums. It comes near the end of the story, when Daisy has started to play the drums again and is able to listen to tracks with female drummers once more. This song captures the mood of the book for me. There’s something about the quality of the sound, the chord dynamics and the lyrics also, which resonates with the Daisy in me, in a way that the other songs don’t quite. When I hear this, I can feel Daisy fighting back, finding herself and knowing that whatever has happened in the past, and whatever else happens in the future, she will find a way to be happy.

Wendy Storer is the author of YA stories Bring Me Sunshine and Where Bluebirds Fly. Bring Me Sunshine was a finalist in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition 2012. She is interested in stories which tug at the heart strings and the amazing resilience of people who battle through desperate situations to come out the other side, happier. Originally from Essex, Wendy now lives in Cumbria where she teaches creative writing to adults and children, and offers editorial help to writers through Magic Beans literary service. When not writing, Wendy likes to walk her dogs, spend time with her family, and find new and exciting food combinations involving peanut butter. Find her on her website, blog, and on Twitter as @WendyStorer

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