Posts Tagged Nick Cave

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.

Ending
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

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Ruby Barnes

‘Music to depict lunatics in love’

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’s guest is Ruby Barnes @Ruby_Barnes

Soundtrack by Melody Gardot, Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue

I listen to music for its mood-influencing properties. Being partially deaf, it’s sometimes difficult to hear lyrics clearly but the cadence and key modify my state of mind and the tone of my writing. In the case of The Baptist, a psychological thriller, it was a mixture of the sublime (Melody Gardot’s My One and Only Thrill ) and the ridiculous (Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads)  that led me through the plotting maze of dual serial killers.

Red halo

John Baptist is motivated by his religious mania. He recognises the devil’s emissaries by their red halo and his method of murder involves drowning. His partner in crime, both in the asylum and later on the loose in rural Ireland, is Mary and her alter-ego Alice. Mary / Alice is just plain bonkers. Being a pantser when it comes to plotting and planning, I had a general storyline in my mind but was struggling with two aspects of the story; how could I differentiate this latter day Bonnie and Clyde from each other, and how best to depict lunatics in love?

My writer’s office was the train, three hours a day in a crowded carriage. I used ear buds to cut out the ambient disturbance and listen to mood music. I could even decipher the lyrics by programming the graphic equaliser on my Walkman. Where the Wild Roses Grow was my mental image for John’s style of murder; he drowns his brother in a bathtub within the first chapter. It’s a cheesy video with tiny Kylie Minogue and the astoundingly ugly Nick Cave, but a caring and thoughtful murder, if you will. Everything makes sense to John as he cleanses a path for the second coming.

Two sides

The Murder Ballads album had long been a favourite and I began to realise there were two distinct styles of song on the album; controlled and sinister versus frenzied. The former were murderers still on the loose and the latter were doomed to capture. So it came to me that John would survive to serve his higher purpose and Mary / Alice would display all the self-destructive craziness of Lottie in The Curse of Millhaven.  The juvenile serial killer of that song was firmly in my mind as Alice despatched Charles with a sword, the herd of sheep with an axe and attacked a family with her antique dagger. She was the female embodiment of Stagger Lee In contrast, John moved on from his first drowning (for which he was committed to the asylum) to more controlled and undetectable murders. Richard Slade from The Kindness of Strangers was the type of subtly persuasive and calculating killer John became.

But what of love? At times on the train the Murder Ballads became too much, especially if I was mumbling along to the parental advisory lyrics of Stagger Lee and getting dagger looks from the other passengers. I needed to chill, to zone out, and so did John and Alice. Melody Gardot’s My One and Only Thrill was the perfect panacea. Then, one evening at home, the title track was playing just before the kids’ bedtime and my five-year-old came into the room to complain that those minor strings wrapped around the sweet lyrics were ‘scary music’ and gave him nightmares. It was a perfect analogy for loony Alice’s passionate and obsessive love for John.

My One and Only Thrill became the mainstay for The Baptist from then on. Our Love is Easy was the anthem for their sojourn out west. There were breakthroughs of Nick Cave again as the couple’s undulating madness coincided and peaked; they pushed the obnoxious fat tourists off the Cliffs of Moher while I listened to the mammoth O’Malley’s Bar.

Dangerous games

Back in their manor house stacked with victims’ bodies, Alice’s attack on John with a sword while high on drugs made him realise it was always only just a little game to her (Melody Gardot’s Baby I’m a Fool).  John started to disengage from their relationship and the novel moved towards its climax.

Some authors prefer a silent environment for creativity. Me, I’m researching just what sort of musical craziness I need to guide me safely through the sequel to The Baptist.

Ruby Barnes has lived in the Shires, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Swiss Alps. He writes about misfits, rogues and psychopaths in novels called Peril, The Baptist, The Crucible and other works. His writing is dedicated to the memory of his late grandfather Robert ‘Ruby’ Barnes.  Find him on Twitter @Ruby_Barnes and on his blog.

GIVEAWAY! Ruby is excited to give away one ebook copy of The Baptist to a commenter on this post. Scribble him a note for a chance to win.

 

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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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