Posts Tagged Mychael Danna

The Undercover Soundtrack – Rebecca Mascull

for logo‘The atmosphere to express the inexpressible’

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 guest is Edinburgh Festival Award nominee Rebecca Mascull @RebeccaMascull

Soundtrack by Chopin, the Raconteurs, Mychael Danna

I’ve always had a soundtrack in my writing life. I’m a classically trained pianist and often think in notation, often find my fingers running up and down the table in old scales and moments from piano pieces, often find I’ve had Chopin running through my head all afternoon. It’s just the way my brain works. Having said that, the funny thing is, I cannot listen to music when I’m writing. I just can’t do it. I don’t know, but I wonder if it’s because I’m a musician, that listening to music becomes an active rather than a passive pastime, and mascull006means that if trying to actively engaged in something creative, like writing a first draft, my brain can’t split itself in two and live the music and create the prose at the same time. I often think of music as architecture – the notation itself looking like rows of bricks on the page building into a structure in a particular style – classical, romantic, or whatever. And writing is like that too – the words the bricks, the sentences and paragraphs the walls building up into the mansion or the castle – the novel.

So, I don’t listen to music while I’m working. But curiously enough each of my two published novels has had a particular piece of music that has influenced them, become a catalyst for them and become a kind of ‘undercover soundtrack’ for each, as your series so cleverly names it.

Firstly, The Visitors, my debut novel. The song I will always associate with this book is Old Enough by the Raconteurs, the version featuring Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe.

The novel is about a deaf-blind girl living in late Victorian England on her father’s hop farm in Kent, who is released from the prison of having no form of communication by meeting a hop-picker who teaches her the manual alphabet. So, I hear you cry, what on earth could this song possibly have to do with this novel??

Well, before I started the first draft, while it was still just an idea percolating in my head, I thought I might set this novel in the aftermath of the American Civil War. I thought the teacher who opens up the world to my deaf-blind girl might be an English woman come over to America. There was going to be a romance for the girl. Then I heard the song Old Enough, or more precisely, I saw it. My partner showed it to me on TV and I was transfixed. I loved the video set in the studio, with all these great musicians just strumming around then coming together to create this great song. I had also just started to learn the violin around that time, so loved watching the fiddle player do his stuff too. And there was something about the lyrics, this idea of a young woman thinking she’s old enough to do things, and this older, wiser voice slowing her down. It even says that she never speaks, which of course was so apt for my deaf-blind girl who is mute.

But the real hook for me and why it spoke to me about this book was that the song encapsulated for me the central romance of the book, between my deaf-blind heroine and her teacher’s brother. Without giving too much away, that song I imagined playing in my head during every scene they had together, and of course, I discovered, he too played the violin and taught her about sound by holding the instrument and feelings its vibrations.

Later I had a change of heart. I felt that the war must come later, as I wanted the teacher’s brother to go to war and so we were back to England, late Victorian/early Edwardian and the Boer War. We were in Kent now, but the song stayed with me.

In my second novel, a similar thing happened i.e. a soundtrack came to me that ostensibly had nothing to do with the setting or time of the novel. Song of the Sea Maid begins in 1730s London, and then travels to Portugal and Menorca in the 1750s. I bought a CD of C18th Portuguese ballads, which was lovely, and listened to a few Portuguese fado songs, but found out they were developed a bit too late for my setting. Around that time, I saw Life of Pi at the cinema. Wow. What an experience. Such a stunning film. Yet what stayed with me as much as the gorgeous visuals was the lush and beautiful music. I ordered the CD and listened to it in the car with my (at the time) seven-year-old daughter Poppy. Though I knew she was too young to watch the film (she’d find it too sad), she loved the music (by Mychael Danna) and so did I. I became quite obsessed with this particular track, Skinny Vegetarian Boy.

SongOfTheSea_HB_finalhiresThe story of Pi of course is dominated by the sea. At the cinema, the ocean fills the screen for much of the action and being in the dark surrounded by water as far as the eye could see filled my mind whenever I thought of Pi. The story of Sea Maid takes my heroine across the ocean with a certain young argumentative and reactionary sea captain to deal with. She studies islands and develops theories about ocean-going ancient cultures. The sea filled this story too. And every time I sat down to write, whenever I was with her paddling in the Mediterranean or gazing across the Atlantic at distant storms, I had the Life of Pi running through my head, and always first, that one track, its soaring Indian flute completely out of place for my eighteenth-century heroine yet somehow it went deeper than that and expressed something out of range, just beyond your reach.

It’s that atmosphere I need when I’m writing, trying to express the inexpressible. And that’s why Walter Pater said: ‘All art aspires to the condition of music.’ It’s that abstract beauty I’m trying to reach. I’m doing my best in my own small way. And music helps me get there.

Rebecca Mascull is the author of two novels published by Hodder & Stoughton. Her first, The Visitors, was nominated for the Edinburgh Festival First Book Award. Song of the Sea Maid is her latest release. Rebecca lives by the sea in the east of England with her partner Simon, their daughter Poppy and cat Tink. She has worked in education and has a Masters in Writing. Find her on Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter @RebeccaMascull.

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

1 Comment

The Undercover Soundtrack – Kathryn Guare

for logo‘Intensity, wildness and urban mayhem’

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 debut suspense author Kathryn Guare @KGuare

Soundtrack by Great Courses audio seminars, sound of rain, sound of thunder, Secret Garden, Solas, Arbaaz Khan, Rory Gallagher, Mychael Danna, Luka Bloom, Samuel Barber

When I first began writing what would eventually become my debut suspense novel, Deceptive Cadence, I started it at the end.  I just didn’t realize it.

The book tells the story of Conor McBride, an Irish musician turned reluctant undercover operative. The beginning details his recruitment for a very personal mission to India to find and capture his own brother, but the first scene that came to me ended up as the beginning of its final chapter.  At the time I knew little about the protagonist. He didn’t even have a name. I knew he was Irish, and was emerging from a traumatic, life-changing ordeal. He was physically depleted, emotionally raw, and frightened. Why? I didn’t know. To find out, I kept writing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile random scenes and bits of dialogue were popping into my head, I was commuting two hours a day to my job—and going through my local library’s inventory of audio books at a rapid rate—when I happened upon a Great Courses audio seminar called How to Listen to and Understand Great Music.  To say it had an influence on my writing life would be a vast understatement. Not only did it influence the title of the book (explained here), it also inspired one of the central features of its hero—he’s a virtuoso violinist. Once I had that aspect of his character nailed down, Conor McBride’s personality and all his complexity began to come alive. Many readers of Deceptive Cadence tell me Conor is quite a departure from the typical, stock heroes of suspense/thrillers. He’s a complicated character that they want to know better. I owe that to the Great Courses, and the moment I decided he needed to be a gifted musician.


I’m easily distracted by music. The only thing I can have playing in the background while I’m writing are those ‘sounds of nature’ tracks—rain water, thunder, bells tolling, monks chanting—but when looking for inspiration I go walking with my ipod, my music choices driven by whatever theme I’m concentrating on in a given scene.

Into chaos

One theme of the book is the paradox of an honorable man forced by circumstance to reinvent himself into something less so. Conor disappears into an assumed identity and enters a world of cold-blooded deception and violence. And finds he is good at it. The internal chaos this creates is mirrored by the literal chaos of his external surroundings. India is a kettle perpetually at full boil, vibrant and desperate, cunning and guileless, its teeming humanity contributing to an overwhelming sensory experience of sights, sounds and smells.

Secret Garden’s atmospheric piece Moving captured that internal and external tumult for me, almost a theme song for Conor’s entire journey, so that I ended up including it in my book trailer. It begins with an ominous drumbeat underlying a melody of violin and soaring flutes, evoking the Irish sea coast, but the intensity grows, creating a cascading sense of wildness, perfectly symbolizing the physical and psychic movement from idyllic country setting to exotic, urban mayhem.

The Irish-American group Solas does a cover of Jesse Colin Young’s moody Darkness Darkness that inspired me as I watched Conor falling farther from himself. After committing an act of violence that revolts him, he wanders the dark streets of Mumbai, wrestling with guilt, and I thought of this song as I wrote that scene.

For the Indian side of the equation, Munni Badnam by Arbaaz Khaan from the 2010 Bollywood blockbuster Dabaang, is a song with a driving urban beat that conjures the modern, kaleidoscopic frenzy of Mumbai’s crowded streets and throbbing nightlife. At the 1:06 mark, you even get a taste of something like a mash-up of a Hindi-Irish reel!

I’ve also belatedly discovered the legendary Irish rocker Rory Gallagher, and for some pure, tongue-in-cheek fun, his Philby is perfect for epitomising some of Conor’s disdain for the world of secret intelligence and the testy relationship with his American control officer. Ironically, Rory offers some fierce, sitar-like plucking at the song’s mid-point.

Touching the mystical

Another important theme of the book is Conor’s connection to the mystical, and the special relationship he feels with some of the people in his life – his near-psychic mother, and the tiny Indian mafia wife and guru who becomes a spiritual anchor for him. Turning again to Indian cinema, Love and Marigolds from Monsoon Wedding instantly puts me in the right space for this theme, as does Luka Bloom’s Sanctuary, and Secret Garden’s Hymn to Hope.

Back to classical

dfw-kg-dc-cover-midFor the most emotional and climactic scenes of the book, I went back to the classical realm and the second movement of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op. 14. I never make it through this without crying, almost from the opening notes of its poignant clarinet solo. The entire movement, with a discordant violin gradually resolving into gorgeous melody, seems like an ode to sorrowful loss that is somehow balanced against a staggering, awe-struck wonder. I won’t reveal details, but suffice it to say this is Conor experiencing a powerful moment of grace even as he is shaken by the reality of grief.

I would like to say I’m a connoisseur of music, but that would be giving myself too much credit. I am more like a committed dilettante. I’m a curious listener and lover of diverse forms, which I experience with emotional enthusiasm rather than any depth of expertise, but at least I can say that the Great Courses seminar worked. I now can listen to and understand great music, and it fuels every creative effort I undertake.

Kathryn Guare is back in the town of Montpelier, VT where she grew up after many years of globetrotting. She spent 10 years as an executive with a global health membership organization, worked as a travel agency tour coordinator, and her extensive travels inspire her writing. Deceptive Cadence is her first novel, available now at Amazon and other online retailers, and distributed through Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. Visit her website for more pictures, music and fun facts about the book, and connect with her online on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 12,652 other followers