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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.
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.
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.
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.
Animotion, authors, Christina Aguilera, contemporary fiction, debut thriller, Desert Island Discs, drama, Eddy Grant, entertainment, Gotye, Honduras, Katrina and the Waves, Kenny Rogers, male writers, Midnight Oil, Moulin Rouge, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Paul Sean Grieve, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Poison: A Novel, reggae, rock, Roz Morris, The Police, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, Toronto, toxicology, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, writing to music
My 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.
authors, contemporary fiction, debut thriller, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Paul Sean Grieve, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Poison: A Novel, reggae, rock, Roz Morris, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, toxicology, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, writing to music
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 percussionist Pete Lockett @petelockett
Soundtrack by Pete Lockett with Björk, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dido, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Ustad Zakir Hussain, The Verve, Texas, Trans-Global Underground, Nelly Furtado, Lee Scratch Perry, Primal Scream, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, Jarvis Cocker, Craig Armstrong, Nicko McBrain, Iron Maiden, U Shrinivas, Ronan Keating, Vanessa-Mae, Errol Brown, Rory Gallagher, Pet Shop Boys, Hari Haran, Kodo, Amy Winehouse, Mel C, A R Rahman, Sinead O’Connor
This music is just incredible; I’ve never heard anything like it before.”
I doubt if anyone outside of this community ever has. This is what you get when Brahms and Bach have been living next door to one another for hundreds of years.They don’t even use notation any more.They’ve just devised a way to conduct the whole group with nods, looks and head shakes.Look, can you see them there at either side? Bach is doing all the spiky staccato stuff and Brahms is doing the smooth legato.It’s all totally improvised and will never happen again. Every rendition is completely different.They both claim that it is the highest level of composition one can reach.Instantaneous composition, conducting and performance.”
When Ed Trew wakes up with a killer hangover, little does he realise that it is the beginning of a mind-boggling journey of revelations and surprises that completely reshapes his view of the world. In the midst of chaos and confusion he becomes completely seduced by music.
It’s no surprise that music and the arts so often act as a liberating influence, giving some lucky individuals the chance a world of creativity and hope. I am grateful to fate to have been propelled out of an ordinary, functional and less than satisfying existence. Music came and lifted me away and showed me a path towards self fulfilment where my mind could become a canvas for fresh ideas. Everything about music fascinated me and as I grew, I slowly started absorbing influences from every corner of the globe, from India to Africa and Nepal to New York – the systems and techniques, sounds, colours and moods. It also led me to a much deeper understanding of people, their motivations, formalities and habits. The way people make music reveals a lot about the culture from which they have flourished.
This ‘open plan’ consumption and integration of varied influences naturally became a cornerstone of my writing when I finally got around to penning a novel. Having had a great degree of freedom in my interpretation and mixing of musical styles, it was natural that this approach got carried over into ideas and stories.
When I sit down and compose music, I start with nothing. That moment of making the first sound or writing the first note is always special, all the more so because I have no idea where it is going to lead. This influenced me directly to try the same thing with words, to take a simple starting point and embark on a journey, not knowing where or how I would get between the various points along the way.
I knew I wanted to have the same freedom that I find in music, able to bring together seemingly disparate concepts and make a new sense out of it all. To be unbound by all that is ‘normal’ but convincing enough to create a dialogue that stands up under scrutiny. As I wrote more and more, I was amazed about how similar the creative buzz was between both of them. I never thought I would find anything that gave me the spiritual lift that music making did but was convinced otherwise during the writing of A Survivor’s Guide to Eternity.
Just as I would embark on so many journeys with my work as a musician, so the character in my book is thrown headlong into an incredible journey, except his is through life, death, reincarnation and the afterlife. Little does he realise that it’s the beginning of a mind-boggling journey of revelations and surprises that completely reshapes his view of the world.
Structure and suspense
Once I really started to get into it, the writing and music began to feed one another even more in quite an inspiring way. A good gig would send me straight back to the hotel with my laptop to get writing and vice versa. I began to think through certain pieces of music and see how the suspense built up over a set time frame, keeping the listener engaged and waiting for the next development. Indian classical music is perfect for that, especially over long periods of time. I began to experiment to see how I could mirror that in my storytelling, sowing seeds and planting suggestions, but all the while keeping the reader impatient for the detail of the next development. As I thought about it, more and more parallels became apparent between literature and music.
Before I knew it I was unconsciously taking on board the broad shapes of pieces of music, flowing like a river around bends and over rocks, sometimes calm and sometimes ferocious. It gave me a great insight into how to approach the timeline within the novel, sometimes going slowly and patiently before propelling it through rapids and over rocks down towards a calming resolution.
There’s so much in common between the two disciplines. One tells a story with words and the other with sound. We need to keep the listener/reader interested with suggestions but not in a way that paints an obvious picture. We need to create suspense, excitement, anticipation and resolution. I never thought they would be quite so interlinked.
Pete Lockett has recorded and/or performed with Björk, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dido, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Ustad Zakir Hussain, The Verve, Texas, Trans-Global Underground, Nelly Furtado, Lee Scratch Perry, Primal Scream, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, Jarvis Cocker, Craig Armstrong, Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), U Shrinivas, Ronan Keating, Vanessa-Mae, Errol Brown, Rory Gallagher, Pet Shop Boys, Hari Haran, Kodo, Amy Winehouse, Mel C, A R Rahman, Sinead O’Connor and many more. He arranged and recorded ethnic percussion for five Bond films and other Hollywood blockbusters and has taught and lectured worldwide, including The Royal College, Berklee School of Music Boston, and The Royal Academy of Music in London. He is the author of Indian Rhythms for the Drum Set (Hudson). A Survivor’s Guide To Eternity is his first novel. Here he is on a mountain with percussionist Benny Greb. Find him on Twitter @PeteLockett
A R Rahman, A Survivor's Guide to Eternity, Amy Winehouse, authors, Bill Bruford, Bjork, Craig Armstrong, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Desert Island Discs, Dido, drama, entertainment, Errol Brown, fantasy, Hari Haran, Iron Maiden, Jarvis Cocker, Jeff Beck, Kodo, Lee Scratch Perry, male writers, Mel C, music, music for writers, music for writing, musicians, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nelly Furtado, Nicko McBrain, outside of this community, percussionist, Pet Shop Boys, Pete Lockett, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Primal Scream, reincarnation, Robert Plant, Ronan Keating, Rory Gallagher, Roz Morris, Sinead O'Connor, Survivor, Texas, The Undercover Soundtrack, The Verve, Thomas Lang, Trans-Global Underground, U Shrinivas, undercover soundtrack, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Vanessa-Mae, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week is a percussionist who has worked with an astonishing list of world-class musicians – Bjork, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Dido, Bill Bruford, Jeff Beck, Ustad Zakir Hussain, The Verve, Texas, Trans-Global Underground, Nelly Furtado, Lee Scratch Perry, Primal Scream, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, Thomas Lang, Jarvis Cocker, Craig Armstrong – and more. He found that his music fuelled a desire to write a novel, and after a good gig he would rush back to his hotel room, eager to pour out the next chapter. He says he wanted to take a simple starting point and construct an epic journey that ventured outside the normal – bringing together birth, death, the afterlife, reincarnation and immortality into new coherence, and echoing the journey he takes when working with musicians. The result is A Survivor’s Guide to Eternity; he is Pete Lockett and he’ll be here with his Undercover Soundtrack on Wednesday.
A Survivor's Guide to Eternity, authors, Bill Bruford, birth, Bjork, Craig Armstrong, Damien Rice, Dave Weckl, death, Desert Island Discs, Dido, drama, drummer, entertainment, immortality, Jarvis Cocker, Jeff Beck, Lee Scratch Perry, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, musicians, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nelly Furtado, percussionist, Pete Lockett, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Primal Scream, reincarnation, Robert Plant, Roz Morris, speculative fiction, Survivor, Texas, the afterlife, The Undercover Soundtrack, The Verve, Thomas Lang, Trans-Global Underground, undercover soundtrack, Ustad Zakir Hussain, world-class musicians, writers, writing, writing to music
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 it’s my turn on the decks – with the Undercover Soundtrack for Lifeform Three
Lifeform Three is a fable in the tradition of Ray Bradbury, set in the near future, where global warming has shrunk the landmass and the countryside has been sacrificed for buildings and roads. One valley remains, of woods, trees and meadows, and is now kept as a theme park – The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall. My main character, Paftoo, is a groundsman there. He’s the odd one out; the only soul who’s uneasy in a world that everyone else accepts. You could say he lives in a utopia – but to him it’s a dystopia.
I knew the emotional beats of Lifeform Three before I knew the story. They came to me as pieces of music, a chain of albums and tracks that suggested the landmarks of the novel. I would load them into my MP3 player and take them running, puzzling over them as I pounded out the miles.
Paftoo is a bod – an artificial human who’s programmed to do menial tasks. To keep him efficient, his memory is regularly wiped, but he has inklings of other memories. We meet him after such an event (known as a ‘sharing’). My first beat was that state of newness, a world shining and fresh where you go out and do your tasks, content with simple instructions. In the beginning, Paftoo doesn’t even know his own name until he realises the sole of his boot has a number – 2 (his name is an alphanumeric, short for Park Asset Field Redo Bod 2).
Boards of Canada’s album Music Has The Right To Children told me the innocence of new, eager eyes, especially this track, An Eagle In Your Mind.
The novelty doesn’t last long. There’s a wildness in Paftoo and by the end of his first day, he’s made the others wary of him. He’s also frustrated. But worse is to come when night falls. While his companions go dormant and lifeless, Paftoo starts to dream.
Again, the idea came as a feeling from music – Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ suggested a tingling in the nerves, a meaning that must be grasped.
First he hears sounds; urgent and deep, like a heartbeat in the ground
The dream sequence was choreographed to that album. It starts with a sense of unease, then that beat gallops in like the thing you knew was coming.
Horses, flashing across the green hills in glorious gallop. Necks reaching, tails streaming. Riders on their backs, urging them faster.
Paftoo opens his eyes, shocked. He knows he’s not supposed to dream. He also knows that nobody rides horses now. They’re untamed animals in the fields (and known as Lifeform Three). But at the same time it makes perfect sense in his restless soul. From that moment, Paftoo has a mission. Every night, he goes looking for clues that might explain why he has these dreams and what happened to him before his mind was wiped. By day, he struggles to hide his true nature in case he’s wiped again.
In a small way the story is autobiographical. In winter 1995 I acquired a horse, which had been an ambition since I was a kid. Like the horse Paftoo later befriends, my horse was enormous, black and alarmingly excited to be alive – especially with the frost nipping his clipped skin. I was laughably incompetent on his back, especially when trying to stop him. While sceptical (and wise) folk waited for me to give up and sell him, I was determined to persevere. If I couldn’t handle my dream, what did that make me? That first winter, Enya’s Anywhere Is was in the charts. I wasn’t a fan of her music, but when I came to write Paftoo’s attempts to tame a horse I listened to Enya to capture that time. For some reason Caribbean Blue with its waltz rhythm brought back the sense of a wondrous adventure, the tentative courtship of a wild creature and the sense of being alone on a dumb-headed quest for something inexplicable and ideal.
A song called Caribbean Blue that takes me back to an English winter, riding horses? Like dreams, Undercover Soundtracks have a logic of their own. Or I take no notice of lyrics.
During the writing, my soundtracks had to become a time machine. Those first days with my oversized horse were, as you can probably see, long ago. Reader, I kept him, and he was now reaping the arthritic rewards of a vigorous life. I was having ghastly conversations with the vet because if her treatments didn’t work it was time for the gun. I clung to those music tracks to help me give his glory days to Paftoo while the real situation seemed so hopeless. Thankfully, he rallied and we gallop on (on a good day).
The horse awakens Paftoo’s sense of the natural world, which humanity seems to have lost. Again, music already contained what I needed to say. Vangelis’s Pulsar was the thrill of galloping feet
‘gathering up the miles and throwing them out behind’.
Electromantic La Baletta No 2 - by the Hungarian composer Gabor Presser had feisty, fertile joy, like a primitive spring ritual. It smells of untamed hair and corduroy. And whoever said electronic music lacked a soul? Both these tracks are entirely electronic, made from circuits and wave generators, yet they bound and leap like wild animals.
But there’s a lot more to Paftoo’s quest than riding and nature. They are merely the beginning; the gateway to a profound discovery of his own past and the people and creatures he loves. Now I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but I can say that the more he recovers, the more he stands to lose and the more desperate his day life becomes. This impossibility was exquisitely insisted in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending.
The piece was written in 1914 and 1920, in an England changed forever by the first World War. That period would also be the heyday of Harkaway Hall, the mansion that used to stand at the heart of the Lost Lands, where Paftoo now struggles to keep his memories. The Lark Ascending seems to say that what will be lost is more than just the loves of a few souls in a little story; it speaks for the loss of time, grace, of fallen walls in overgrown woods, bumps under the turf in an empty field. That violin seems to be shrilling from the skies: it won’t last. We won’t last. And how can Paftoo save it?
Roz Morris is, of course, your host on The Undercover Soundtrack. Find out more here, connect on Twitter as @byRozMorris and on the writing advice blog Nail Your Novel. Her first novel was My Memories of a Future Life (Soundtrack here) and Lifeform Three is now available in all formats, including print.
authors, Boards of Canada, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, Downton Abbey, drama, electronic composers, electronic music, electronica, English mansions, entertainment, Enya, fantasy, Gabor Presser, horses, Life Form Three, Lifeform, Lifeform 3, Lifeform Three, literary fiction, literary novels, literature, Margaret Atwood, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Ray Bradbury, reincarnation, robots, Roz Morris, Roz Morris fiction, science fiction, soundtrack, speculative fiction, synth music, synthesisers, The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Vangelis, vanished houses, vanished mansions, vanished mansions in England, wild horses, Women Writers, women writing women, Women's fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
My new novel isn’t set in the world of music and none of the characters are musicians. It’s a quirky take on the future dystopia/utopia, with a smattering of Arcadia too – misty woods, abandoned towns, a forbidden life by night; the scent of bygone days; and an enigmatic door in a dream. Behind the scenes, though, music did all the early work for me. The first, rough outline came to me from favourite tracks by Boards of Canada, Peter Gabriel, Vangelis, Enya, Ralph Vaughan Williams and the Hungarian electronica composer Gabor Presser. As I built the story I listened to them repeatedly, and now each of them represents a landmark on my main character’s journey. Join me here on Wednesday, when I’ll explain the Undercover Soundtrack for Lifeform Three.
Arcadia, authors, Boards of Canada, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, fantasy, Gabor Presser, horses, Lifeform Three, literary fiction, literary novels, literature, Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall, misty woods, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, nature, Peter Gabriel, playlist for writers, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Roz Morris, Roz Morris fiction, sci-fi, science fiction, scifi, slipstream fiction, smattering, speculative fiction, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, vanished houses, wild horses, wild places, wildlife, Women Writers, Women's fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
- 'Constant murmur of pouring rain, piano chords and a stormy sea'
- 'A spellbindingly good yarn'
- 'Simple, beautiful - gripping'
- 'So original it's in a class of its own'
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
- Carol is a concert pianist until an injury threatens her career. Desperate for a cure she discovers her future incarnation - or is he a psychological figment? And can he help her recover?
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What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'