Posts Tagged music

The Undercover Soundtrack – Natalie Buske Thomas

for logo‘Music to grieve by’

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 painter, singer-songwriter, humorist, mystery/suspense and time travel novelist Natalie Buske Thomas @writernbt

Soundtrack by Enya

Grandpa Smiles is an oil painting picture book about how Grandpa watches over a boy throughout his life, though he can be with him only in spirit. My father lost his battle to cancer when he was 37 years old. I told my son that my dad was a cardinal in the tree, watching him laugh and play. Grandpa Smiles is a sweet timeless story: family is forever, love lives on. But how could I communicate the beauty of loss in so few words when my heart had so much to say?

Author Headshot High Res croppedMy Undercover Soundtrack for the writing and painting of this project was Enya, and only Enya. Nothing else would do! As you can probably imagine, it’s hard for me not to get pulled into the music when I paint. My paintbrush tends to ‘dance’ to the beat, so there were a few Enya songs that I couldn’t listen to because the music was too distracting. But if I didn’t play the songs that made it into my ‘loop’ I froze!

Music to grieve by

One illustration combines two oil paintings onto one page. The boy (a painting created for the book) looks at a picture of his grandpa (a painting created previously). The picture of Grandpa is an oil painting of my parents’ wedding day. Dad is wearing his military dress uniform, he was leaving soon for the Vietnam War. The painting was featured in a gallery exhibit called ‘Touched by War’. My dad has been gone a long time now, over 25 years. My mom is gone now too. I didn’t realise how overwhelming it would be to paint a portrait of their young selves in their wedding clothes. I was doing fine until I painted their eyes, that was when I lost myself in Enya’s It’s in the Rain.

Beauty in pain

Sometimes the art came to me first and other times the words did. I needed a seasonal picture, so I looked through my son’s photo box for inspiration. I found a picture of my son jumping in a pile of leaves on our old hobby farm. The property was a beautiful five-acre parcel that my husband and I built into a home for our young family of five, but we had to sell it seven years later, when layoffs and pay cuts hit my husband’s company hard. Around this same time, my mother had passed. It was time to move on. We left behind the land where our children played. As I painted the image of my son playing in the leaves, my heart was breaking. My little boy was now a young man. Where had the time gone? (Only Time, says Enya.) But through the color of my paints, he is forever that child who laughed in the leaves. No matter where he goes, his moment of joy in the leaves lives forever. (On my Way Home)

Love lives on 

One of my favorite pictures in the book says ‘The child leaps’, followed by ‘Grandpa helps’ on the next page. I painted an image of my son in his Superman costume with his arm outstretched, his fist pumped, and his eyes sparkling. Grandpa is portrayed as the face in the wind that lifts his cape so that my son can fly. (Hope has a Place.)

Grandpa Smiles paperback coverLetting go

Grandpa Smiles was meant to be a heartwarming story, nothing more. My career as an oil painter was exhausting. I didn’t want to do gallery exhibits anymore. I already had a career as a novelist, why was I running myself ragged? What if I combined my art with my writing? It was meant to be that simple. But watching my son’s face when he saw the book for the first time was like witnessing him receiving a message from heaven. Later, I brought a few copies with me at the Doctor Who convention in Minneapolis. I expected to sign my time travel fiction, but people were more interested in Grandpa Smiles. Strangers flipped through the book in front of me and became emotional – I had no idea that my book could touch people like this. Besides strangers, my dad’s family was moved to tears. My aunt asked me to send a gift copy to a family friend I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. This family friend sent me a handwritten thank-you note. In the note she mentioned that the painting of my parents was very recognisable. I didn’t realize how important it was that I capture my parents’ likeness until I read her words. A project that had a simple concept, simple words, and simple pictures turned out to be anything but simple.

Natalie Buske Thomas is an oil painter, singer/songwriter, humorist and the author of over a dozen books. She is currently working on her first album Painting my Songs that will combine her music, writing, and art into one project. Watch Natalie paint, try one of her Serena Wilcox books for free, or learn the secrets to her success in her new book Nice Authors Finish Last. Find her on Twitter @writernbt

 

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‘Music to grieve by’ – Natalie Buske Thomas

for logoMy guest this week is writing about a very personal project – a book of oil paintings that contain a story where a young boy is watched by his grandfather. She was inspired by her memories of her father who died tragically young, and she struggled to do him justice in a medium that allowed her so few words. Her guide was the music of Enya, and certain signature tracks carried the emotions she was looking for as she painted and wrote – love, loss, the swift march of time, letting go and still loving. She is Natalie Buske Thomas and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

for logo‘Music, grief and sibling rivalry’

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 award-winning author Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

Soundtrack by Beethoven, Dolly Parton

Music is at the heart of my most recent novel – as you might expect from its title The Piano Player’s Son and the image of a piano on the front cover! Music is often a force for unity, as in the songs of the First World War or the Last Night of the Proms, but in The Piano Player’s Son, it soon emerges as also a divisive, destructive force. The piece which gave me inspiration for the complexities of the relationships in the novel is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

DSCF0038 copyMoonlight

I love this piece, especially the first movement, but the more I listened to it while I was writing, the more I was pulled in different emotional directions: romantic and compelling, on the one hand, haunting and dark on the other. The piece seems to have the capacity to inspire thoughts of love and beauty, leading the German critic, Ludwig Rellstab, to identify it with moonlight flickering across Lake Lucerne, hence its popular title. But its eerie, unsettling quality also means it is sometimes chosen as the soundtrack in horror movies. In the film Immortal Beloved with Gary Oldman as Beethoven, it is used to powerful but painful effect in relationship to the composer’s deafness. And this emotional dichotomy is exactly what I wanted to capture in the novel.

The book explores family dynamics in the wake of a death. Each of the four grown-up children deals with their father, Henry’s, death in a different way. Isabel and George share their father’s love of music, particularly the piano and appear to have been closest to him. The day after Henry’s death, Isabel listens to George playing the Moonlight Sonata:

It was one of their father’s favourites and the music filled her head. She held a tea cloth to her face, forcing the thick towelling material against her lips. Why couldn’t her fingers tempt such sounds of exquisite melancholy as George’s?

Despite their shared love of the piece, and grief at their father’s death, sibling rivalry underlies Isabel’s response.

The other brother and sister, Rick and Grace, are excluded from this musical bond. Rick blames the emotional distance he’s always felt from his father on his inability to master the piano:

It was ridiculous that he’d spent so much time craving his father’s attention when all it would have taken was a few plinkety plonks on the piano.

After Henry’s death, Rick vows to learn. All his problems will disappear if only ‘he could learn to play the Moonlight fucking Sonata’. The choice of language is deliberate with Rick – even at the moment of vowing to learn, and therefore becoming closer to Henry – denigrating his father’s favourite piece.

Inheritance

The Piano Player’s Son is also about inheritance and I chose Henry’s piano as the focus for the enduring war between Rick and George. Both brothers claim it as theirs, Rick as the eldest son, George as the one who shared his father’s passion for music. I didn’t want the dispute to relate to money, but to be about something of personal and emotional significance – in this case, each brother seems to be claiming their worth in their father’s eyes. I chose a piano because, like books, it is a thing of beauty which furnishes a room, but which also has the power within it to feed the mind and soul.

While he is waiting for his father’s piano to arrive, Rick buys a second-hand one and starts having lessons, but his progress is painfully slow. When he tells his teacher that he wants to play the Moonlight Sonata, she informs him he’s nowhere near ready for that.

Rick thought of his father’s stubby fingers. ‘I shouldn’t have been a piano player,’ he used to say, ‘not with these fingers.’ And yet, here Rick was, a piano player’s son, and he’d never master the instrument.

The piano and the Moonlight sonata encapsulate all that was wrong with his relationship with his father.

References to classical music enhance the novel – Beethoven, Debussy, Mozart, Bach, all play a part. But when Rick chooses a piece of music that sums up his relationship with his darling American wife, Deanna, he turns his back on his father’s beloved classical pieces and instead it’s Dolly Parton’s Islands in the Stream that sums up the closeness and joy of their relationship. I love Dolly Parton – there is something inspirational in her continuing love of singing and her passion for music.

the pian player's son v.8 flatBut I have to finish with the key piece for my novel, the Moonlight sonata. Although I’ve concentrated on the first movement, the three movements together convey something of the story structure, building towards the final, furious movement. The Moonlight Sonata helped me explore the emotional complexity of the novel to such an extent that I had to include it at my launch. I managed to persuade my husband to play the first movement, and you could feel the emotion in the room as he played.

If you’d like to listen to another version of the Moonlight sonata, here’s Daniel Barenboim.

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn is a novelist and short story writer. Her novel Unravelling, published in 2010, has won three awards, and her second novel The Piano Player’s Son,. Her website is here and you can also connect with her on Facebook.

GIVEAWAY Lindsay is giving away one paperback copy of The Piano Player’s Son. To enter the draw, comment here and share the post. Extra entries if you share on multiple platforms – and don’t forget to note here where you shared them so we know to count you!

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‘Music, grief and sibling rivalry’ – Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

for logoMy guest this week used the Moonlight Sonata to guide her through her latest novel. A central character was a pianist, and the story explores the emotions and reckonings that emerge in the wake of his death. She says the Moonlight pulled her in surprising directions, peeling off the layers of a family’s bonds and rifts, and illuminating a complex web of relationships and resentments. The piece became so significant that when she launched the novel, she persuaded her husband to give a performance of the first movement. She is award-winning author Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Paul Sean Grieve

for logo‘Plundered people and rotten exploitation’

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 debut thriller writer Paul Sean Grieve @PaulSeanGrieve

Soundtrack by Midnight Oil, Eddy Grant, Peter Gabriel, Christina Aguilera, The Police, Kenny Rogers, Animotion, Katrina and the Waves, Gotye

Before Roz asked me to contribute to The Undercover Soundtrack, I’d never consciously thought  about how deeply Poison, my debut thriller, had been shaped and inspired by music.  In retrospect, this is almost unbelievable, because every time I think of a scene in the book, the music from which I drew inspiration reverberates so loudly in my head I wonder how anyone can read it without hearing it too.

5607416_origToxic

Set primarily in Toronto and Honduras, Poison tells the story of Drew Freeman, an idealistic young toxicology student who uncovers a research file so explosive it could shatter the globe-spanning empire of a massive agricultural conglomerate.

If there is one song I feel captures the ethos of the story from the protagonist’s perspective, it is Beds are Burning by Midnight Oil.  This is the song that inspired the ideas which eventually coalesced into the story and it’s the tune I played on Youtube when I needed to get myself into Drew’s head. It’s a very political song interpreted to be about the plight of aboriginal peoples and the long-ago theft of their lands, but I’ve always taken it to be about the plundering of earth’s resources and the exploitation of its less fortunate people.  What made the song resonate for me as the ‘anthem’ for this novel and its main character is its undercurrent of anger at gross injustice and its explicit call to action. Until Drew exposes the truth, his bed may as well be burning.

Transitions

His ex-girlfriend Claire, on the other hand, is a somewhat more complex character, one we learn has gone through a gut-wrenching transition in her life.  Formerly a muckraking firebrand of a freelance journalist, Claire was driven by disillusionment and the increasing prospect of life-long poverty to earn an MBA in pursuit of a new career in business. As my ideas about Claire gradually developed, three songs helped me to understand her headspace in three key segments of the narrative respectively.

The song of her back story was Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue, an angry but upbeat protest song that echoes a hopeful ‘we’re not going to take it any more’ sentiment.  I can’t listen to this song without wanting to start a (peaceful) revolution, and it’s the song that played in my mind when I peppered the book with subtle hints about what sort of person Claire used to be years before we meet her.

But this former Claire is not the same woman who ascends in the the glass elevator to meet the CEO of the Fortune 500 company she desperately wants to work for.  As she undertakes the walk on eggshells she hope will lead to her dream job, Eddy Grant is nowhere to be heard. Now, it’s Peter Gabriel’s Big Time, a song which to me suggests powerful ambition and lust for material success. Its unapologetic, in-your-face brashness helped remind me how revved Claire was about the new job that was her ticket out of desperation and how reluctant she therefore was to heed Drew’s dire warnings. But Big Time only took me so far.  As Claire reluctantly comes to realise that, in spite of her new glamorous job, she is nothing more than a shill for an evil corporate empire, I sensed the energetic confidence of Peter Gabriel’s song start to ring hollow and gradually fade out, to be replaced with the theme song from the film Moulin Rouge, Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?  As I wrote the speeches Claire delivers in support of the corporate propaganda machine, I imagined this song about soulless prostitution forcing itself on her like one of the unwelcome hecklers in the audiences she addresses.

poisonFemme fatale

In fairness to Claire, she is not the only one engaged in prostitution. Desperate for money, Drew tutors a maths-challenged female student for a chemistry credit she desperately needs. Unable to afford the number of hours she requires just to gain a fingernail grasp the basics, Scarlett (the student) resorts to the only resource she can count on – her feminine wiles. Unfortunately for Drew, who, lonely and frustrated, still secretly pines for Claire, this sultry femme-fatale proves irresistible.  Imagining Drew’s obsessive longing for Claire brought to mind the melancholy classic Every Breath You Take by the Police, which, while to reminding me of the character’s painful isolation and emotional desperation, helped me intuit how a such an ideological man would be so keen take solace in Scarlett’s brand of comfort. (As an aside, the name Scarlett came from Kenny Rogers’ song about an exotic dancer titled Scarlett Fever, one of my favourites when I was a kid). In spite of a few minor ethical qualms,  he almost forgets his longing for Claire as this ‘forbidden fruit’ hangs ever lower on the branch.  As I crafted  the story of Drew’s burgeoning attraction toward his beguiling student, I couldn’t help but hear the fiery passion of Animotion’s 1980’s synth-pop hit Obsession, and when he finally gives himself over to her, knowing full well it meant the end of his desperately needed stream of income, I imagined him none the less on cloud nine, strutting down the street to the tune of Katrina and the Waves’s Walking on Sunshine.

But, alas for poor Drew, when the relationship sours in a way that slams back into the conspiracy plot and Drew is left wondering what went wrong, I can just hear Gotye’s super-awesome Somebody I Used to Know blasting from the loudspeakers in his tortured mind. It played (delightfully) in an endless loop in my own mind every time I worked on the scenes post-Scarlett, particularly the cathartic and highly significant confrontation with her on the street (the outcome of which provides Drew with a vital clue).

Paul Sean Grieve has written and directed short stories, but prefers the medium of the novel as it is a more complete work. Poison: A Novel is his debut. It is free for a limited time at Smashwords, B&N and the iBook store (or $0.99 from Amazon).  Or he says you can email him for a free digital copy as he loves to hear from readers. His website is here, and you can connect with him on Twitter @PaulSeanGrieve.

 

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‘Plundered people and rotten exploitation’ – Paul Sean Grieve

for logoMy guest this week had talismanic pieces of music in his mind while he wrote his debut thriller. Indeed he says the music was such a guiding force that he cannot imagine how anyone reading the book could not hear it too. He chose anthems to embody his characters, their state of mind, their dilemmas and the way they change in the story’s events. They are protest songs, wry looks at characters who are abandoning their principles and songs of obsession and downfall. I’m also delighted to report that he includes Peter Gabriel – one of my long-time favourite musicians. He is Paul Sean Grieve and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Amanya Maloba

for logo‘Thoughts circulating in a lyric or a line’

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 fashion writer, stylist and author Amanya Maloba @Amanya_M

Soundtrack by Erykah Badu, Tyler The Creator, Peter Tosh, Outkast, Shabazz Palaces, Q-Tip, Florence + the Machine

I’m a notorious lone wolf — I spend most of the day alone. I’m also an avid people-watcher and work best surrounded by movement and chaos. How do I reconcile these traits? People repellents, also known as large headphones, large sunglasses, and an unwavering jawline. These allow me the ability to situate myself in bustling environments and maintain my inner solitude and concentration, without the distractions of small talk. This also means that most of my day is characterized by a continuous flow of music, affecting my disposition and writing. Most of the vignettes in my collection, Harvest, were written as direct results of the combination of the thoughts circulating in my mind with a lyric or mood from one of the many songs I listen to. Though Harvest emerged as a unified collection, the music that inspired it is far from cohesive.

IMG_4778Past, present, future

Harvest follows a young girl, Sukari, as she navigates through different spaces and times, learning about herself through her past, present, and future worlds. I wrote many of the pieces while living abroad in London and traveling throughout Europe, so this sense of transience is one that I’m intimate with. Traveling has always brought me comfort knowing that I get to escape from one place and step into the unknown adventures of a new place. Conversely, constant movement generates a certain sense of anxiety, between wondering if my physical self will be safe in the new place, if my soul will be over or under stimulated, and, of course, the dread that arises when your heart longs for someone thousands of miles away and wondering if they feel the same about you. Window Seat by Erykah Badu conveys the simultaneous comfort and anxiety that comes from wanting to escape, and begs the question whether the constant movement comes from a place of bravery or cowardice. I like to think it’s a bit of both, and like Badu’s voice, the prospect of leaving is at once haunting and mystical.

One of my favorite pieces in Harvest, Dinner is Served (Karibu), is also the most honest and unapologetic. My intention was to write it in such a way that, depending on how much you identify with the protagonist, you’ll either feel like someone is preaching your truth or feel uncomfortable in recognising your role as the perpetrator.

I will kill you with every bite you take, but you will continue to eat because I am the finest cuisine you’ve ever had. I will be your last meal. Dinner is served.

Yonkers by Tyler The Creator echoes the same unapologetic declaration of self between the minimalism of the beat and the (arguably) shocking lyrics. Though I don’t co-sign all of the lyrics, the idea of making people who so desperately want to consume you, your aesthetic, and your culture uncomfortable is one that I do support. The beat of Yonkers along with Tyler’s vocal delivery make you want to nod your head and enjoy the song, however this is nearly impossible if you’re actually listening to the lyrics. This is something that I wanted to achieve with Dinner is Served (Karibu), and to some extent, Harvest as a whole. As a writer I feel no obligation to entertain — I’m not here to make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. My job is convey the truth to the best of my ability regardless of whether the reader feels hurt in facing it.

Heaven

Another one of my favorite vignettes is Complaints from Five Guests of Heaven. The piece is comprised of five different complaints from guests staying at the mythical hotel. Each of room numbers corresponds to the assassination dates of radical thinkers and activists that I admire. I chose to have these people issue complaints that are in keeping with the manner in which they were killed or their beliefs to show that though many people admire them posthumously, their theories and legacies are largely still being disrespected, making it impossible for them to rest in peace. Mystic Man by Peter Tosh is a song not only referenced in the piece, but is also applicable to the nature of any truly great person. The notion of being rooted at once in the past, present, and future expresses the fluidity of time and also the power of thinking beyond the constricting notions of time. Even though these people were physically murdered (directly or indirectly) for their philosophies, their words and power are still present, confirming Tosh’s conviction that he’s a man of the future.

Young love

Another theme that runs throughout Harvest is encountering and navigating young love. I’ve never been a fan of corny ballads or depressing love songs, movies, or books — I don’t find the two lovers coming together in the rain cathartic or applicable to any type of love I’ve ever known or witnessed. Prototype by OutKast and A treatease dedicated to The Avian Airess from North East Nubis (1000 questions, 1 answer) by Shabazz Palaces are two love songs that I can fully get behind. Both speak to the nuances of love rather than some grand notion and both manage to be sensual and sexual without falling into the trap of misogyny. Life is Better by my favorite MC, Q-Tip, manages Harvest-final-cover_frontto beautifully blend romantic and artistic love through the lyrics and blur the distinction between musical styles through its production and composition. The way one type of love illuminates another is true in my own experience and is evident in pieces such as Beignets and Trumpets (I): Visitor, where food, music, and romance are all swirled together with the same sensuality.

Originally the title for Harvest was going to be What the Harvest Gave Me, a nod to one of my favorite Frida Kahlo paintings, What the Water Gave Me. Florence + The Machine has a song by the same name, which is also in part inspired by Virginia Woolf’s suicide. The idea of killing off one version of oneself, in Virginia Woolf’s case wading into water with stones in her pockets, and stepping into another confirms the power of reinvention that Sukari finds with each place she steps into.

Amanya Maloba is a fashion writer, stylist, and author. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. Her fashion writing and photography has appeared in numerous publications including the Huffington Post, Refinery29, and CollegeFashionista. Amanya has also participated in style campaigns with Finish Line and eBay. Harvest, published in July 2014 by Vine Leaves Press, is Amanya’s first collection of fiction. Amanya’s style and writing is influenced by her Kenyan heritage as well as her time living in London and miscellaneous travels. Find her on her website and on Twitter @Amanya_M

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‘Thoughts circulating with a lyric or a music line’ – Amanya Maloba

for logoMy guest this week admits she is antisocial. She likes to people-watch from behind wide sunglasses, and cocooned inside big headphones. She says her day is characterised by a constant flow of music, which has fed directly into the set of vignettes in the short fiction collection she has just published. I particularly have to thank her for introducing me to one of her special trigger tracks, by Florence + the Machine, as there’s something in it I might need for Ever Rest. And so the muse hops from mind to mind; I hope it will to yours too. She is Amanya Maloba and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Kathleen Jones

for logo‘The music of exile’

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 biographer, poet and award-winning short story writer Kathleen Jones @KathyFerber

Soundtrack by Istrian folk songs, Tuscan folk songs, Kathleen Jones, Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House band, Ben Webster

I don’t use music in the way many writers do. I have to write in silence because the rhythm affects the rhythm of the words. But music is very important to me and I listen to a lot of it while I’m researching a book and beginning to develop the story. I use music in my novels to establish atmosphere and also character. The music that they either like or hate expresses their personalities and sheds light on their backgrounds.

KathJonHRIn exile

In my new novel The Centauress, virtually all my characters are exiles – Zenobia, the central character, is an internationally famous artist, born in the Italian town of Trieste in 1924 when it was part of Istria, a region that once belonged to the Venetian Republic. After the second world war, Istria was split up, part of it going into Yugoslavia as Croatia and Slovenia, but the city of Trieste remained in Italy – the border is only minutes from Trieste city centre. Zenobia chose to live in Istria rather than Italy, buying a ruined hamlet in the hills to create an artistic community. At the Kaštela Visoko she has collected a group of people around her who have nothing in common but their loyalty to her. ‘We’re her family,’ one of the characters says, ‘her protection from a hostile world.’ Because Zenobia has been born ‘between genders’ at a time when such things were poorly understood, the world has been very hostile indeed and Zenobia’s life story is controversial. She has lived her life in a kind of exile, neither male nor female, neither Italian nor Croatian.

Lenka, who looks after guests at the Kaštela, is a Roma, and Martin, the handyman, is a refugee from his family in Canada. Toby, Zenobia’s assistant, is from Australia where his parents had cut him off when he revealed that he was gay. Freddi, Zenobia’s partner, is English – running away from the British upper class system. Ludo, an ageing sculptor and friend of Zenobia, is the only one truly at home in Istria, being a Croat and a communist – very anti the west, complaining that Britain, Russia and the USA divided Europe ‘like slicing a cake’ after the war.

Music

Music was always going to be a strong part of The Centauress. Zenobia’s mother had been an opera singer in Vienna just after the first world war and Puccini had been a visitor to her home. One of the male characters, the delectable Gianfranco, is a professional jazz musician, and Ludo, as well as being an artist, also plays Croatian folk music on the accordion. Martin is an enthusiastic amateur guitarist and Lenka sings in the Eastern European gypsy tradition. Folk and Jazz are two worlds I’m familiar with. Years ago I used to do a bit of folk singing, mainly Celtic, and I live with a jazz fanatic, who used to run a big jazz festival, so many of our friends are jazz musicians.

Although the action moves between Croatia, Venice and New York the novel is set in Istria, near the Adriatic fishing village of Rovinj, and I used the Istrian hill town of Groznjan as one of the models for the Kaštela Visoko. Both Rovinj and Groznjan have thriving folk music scenes and Groznjan also hosts a big jazz music festival there every year. I listened to a lot of European folk music when I was developing the story, including Bosnian and Albanian, as well as Italian because Istria has an Italian-based musical tradition. In the novel, Gianfranco, Ludo and Martin play together at Christmas and Ludo has been teaching them some local folk songs.

This is a typical evening in a café in Rovinj, local musicians playing Istrian folk songs, and it helped me to create the scene.

I had to write a folk song for the novel (to avoid copyright problems) and I based it in old Tuscan atonal melodies and rhythms. It begins

The maid in the olive groves so fine, the olives grew black and green, and I wished that she was mine.

I was fascinated by La Pastorella Mia – an old 14th century Tuscan folk melody which is the kind of elegiac thing that Lenka would sing, so I created a similar rhythm and simple, colloquial phrases.

Oh maiden fair, let down your hair, and let us pick the fruit together, for soon enough comes winter weather.

Like Oh maiden fair, La Pastorella is sung unaccompanied, though in this version, there’s a lute for the refrain. It expresses the yearning of a traveller for homeland and lover.

Homeland War

Lenka is what is called ‘Roma’ locally, a term used for ethnic Romanians or Albanians, one of the groups most persecuted in the ‘Homeland War’ that divided Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Lenka’s parents died in the conflict and she sings the music of exile – songs of lamentation – with great passion. When she sings at the Kaštela and again at Zenobia’s funeral, ‘all her heart is in her throat’. When I was developing Lenka’s character I listened to a lot of music beloved by exiled communities, and particularly the music of the Palestinian diaspora. There is a lament, Dal’ouna (On the Return) sung by Rheem Khalani, that always wrings my emotions. It is just how I imagine Lenka singing, an expression of her anger. I defy anyone to listen to it and not be moved. The CD is called Exile and it’s made by Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House band (a wonderfully inclusive fusion of Israeli and Palestinian music).

My other main character, the biographer Alex, who goes to the Kaštela to interview Zenobia, knows very little about music, though she enjoys listening to it. She falls reluctantly in love with Gianfranco, who uses music to woo her. I had to choose something that would convey the moment – he’s telling her he loves her, but without words. At the Village Vanguard jazz club in New York he plays a ballad composed by the great Billy Strayhorn, who wrote and arranged for Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

coverThe piano rippled, the drummer hushed on the cymbals and the warm clear notes of the ballad floated out across the room, stilling the audience, who put down their glasses and sat without speaking or moving. Alex was holding her breath, watching the concentration on Gianfranco’s face as phrase after perfect phrase breathed from the clarinet and melted away into the shadows at the back of the room. It felt personal, as though he was speaking directly to her.

When the last note died into silence, the audience erupted – stamping, clapping, shouting for more. Even the band were clapping. Gianfranco just bowed, keeping his head down towards the floor for a long time, acknowledging the applause. And as he straightened up and turned to put the clarinet away in its case, he looked directly at Alex and held her eyes just for a moment.

Gianfranco chooses to play it on the clarinet, but here, Chelsea Bridge is played by the great saxophonist Ben Webster.

Music has played a much bigger part in the writing of The Centauress than in any of my other books. I’m hoping that it helps to create a solid historical background to the story, as well as contributing to the mood of the prose and an understanding of the characters.

Kathleen Jones is a biographer and poet whose short stories have won several awards including a Cosmopolitan fiction prize and a Fay Weldon award. Kathleen’s biography of Catherine Cookson was in the top 10 bestseller racks in WH Smith for eight weeks.  The Centauress is her second novel.  Find her on Twitter @kathyferber

GIVEAWAY Kathleen is giving away three copies of the ebook (Mobi, PDF or epub). To enter the draw, comment here and share the post. Extra entries if you share on multiple platforms – and don’t forget to note here where you shared them so we know to count you!  The Centauress will be out in paperback at the end of August

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‘The music of exile’ – Kathleen Jones

for logoMy guest this week has written a novel of exiles – artists, sculptors and musicians displaced from their home countries by the border shifts after World War II. The central character is doubly exiled, born between genders at a time when such things were poorly understood. Music helped her create their personalities, guide her research and develop their histories. She drew on a rich heritage of opera, jazz and folk – and even composed her own folk song for the novel. She is Kathleen Jones and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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