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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 romance mystery novelist Anne Allen @AnneAllen21
Thanks, Roz, for allowing me to air my thoughts on the music that influences me while I write. Your series has shown how varied the music is that writers listen to in their search for creativity. My own selection is quite limited in comparison but it did inspire me while writing my first novel.
I do love music but there are also times when it seems to get in the way; I find myself so drawn into the music, particularly vocal, that I literally lose the plot! Music helps to create the mood, spark the creativity but then must either be less noticeable or pertinent to what I’m writing at that time. My normal listening taste is quite eclectic; Michael Jackson, Adele, Nina Simone, Pavarotti, 1812 Overture, Chris Rea… And I love the more meditative New Age music which always formed a backdrop to my sessions when I practised as a hypnotherapist.
While writing my first novel Dangerous Waters I started off by playing New World Collection Relaxation II, a compilation of different artists playing hauntingly beautiful music which fed my soul while I stepped into the unknown as a writer. The first track, Wisdom by Philip Chapman, is played on a piano but with strings in the background and always calms me. My central character, Jeanne Le Page, is a young woman returning to her island home of Guernsey for the first time in 15 years, after fleeing to England as a girl of 16. She had lost her family in a tragic accident and now returns after the death of her grandmother, while also mourning the end of a long-term relationship. Tragedy and loss are the cornerstones to the story but as time goes on, hope of a fresh start and new love appear and the mood changes. My favourite track on this album, Soldier of Love by Denis Quinn, is in harmony with this change and provided the ideal background for the latter part of the writing process.
Jeanne experiences so many conflicting emotions through the story and music helped me to identify with them. I cried at times too, the words and music encouraging me to release my own grief as I wrote. I had lost two people I had loved and writing Dangerous Waters proved a catharsis. Another favourite of mine is the Pachelbel Canon which I found inspirational as I grappled with difficult chapters. Bearing in mind that this was the first time I’d written anything more substantial than a 500-word true-life story, I was in a constant state of insecurity; totally untutored. Entering the heads of other characters was also challenging, but I could empathise with some more than others. Molly, a character in the book, was based on a family friend. She was also a hypnotherapist who played a part in helping Jeanne to recover the memory lost after the accident and I played tracks such as Dream by Medwyn Goodall and Wings of the Morning by Terry Oldfield during the hypnosis sessions in the story to evoke the right ambience. At least there I was on known territory!
As Jeanne began to blossom and a new man- actually men! – appeared on the scene, I felt the need for different inspiration and listened to a Rod Stewart album. I know, I know! A bit off piste, perhaps, but it was fun and sexy and that’s what I, or rather Jeanne, needed. The album was If We Fall In Love Tonight. The title says it all, but there were particular tracks that, ahem, helped with certain scenes, such as Tonight’s the Night and Sometimes When We Touch. Rod’s gravelly voice provided, I have to say, both a distracting but complementary background to the writing.
We all respond to music in one way or another. Memories, both good and bad, are triggered by hearing even just a few bars of a tune that resonated with us at one time. Perhaps we take it for granted that it’s there, in the background of our lives, not always listening. But I’m convinced we would miss it if it was no longer there in our world and we have the composers, lyricists and artists to thank for offering us such a rich choice for our inspiration and comfort. Like books, music enriches our lives and I wouldn’t be without it.
Anne Allen lives by the sea in Devon, UK, having finally settled down; perhaps. She spent many years working as a psychotherapist but knew the ‘creative’ in her had to escape one day. In the past two years she has published two novels, Dangerous Waters and Finding Mother; her third book, Guernsey Retreat, is due out later in 2014. Her genre is romance/mystery and romance/family drama and Dangerous Waters won Silver in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2012. Her website is www.anneallen.co.uk and she can be found on Twitter as @AnneAllen21.
Adele, Anne Allen, authors, Chris Rea, contemporary fiction, Dangerous Waters, Denis Quinn, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, family drama, Finding Mother, grief, Guernsey, Guernsey Retreat, hypnosis, hypnotherapy, Johann Pachelbel, loss, Medwyn Goodall, Michael Jackson, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Mystery, Nail Your Novel, Nina Simone, Philip Chapman, playlist for writers, Rod Stewart, romance, romantic mystery, Roz Morris, Terry Oldfield, The Undercover Soundtrack, tragedy, undercover soundtrack, Wings of the Morning, Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2012, Women Writers, Women's fiction, writers, writing, writing from grief, writing from loss, writing to music
One of the special pleasures of hosting The Undercover Soundtrack is the honesty of the writing. My guests are ready to delve into their innermost creative spaces and share the bare, exacting process of turning memories, experiences and feelings into stories. My guest this week is one of those writers who drew on raw times to create the novel she shares with us. Music helped her examine two tragic losses, with their conflicting emotions and struggling hours. The soundtrack is haunting and melancholic, but is also rakish and fun – Rod Stewart makes a welcome appearance as life recovers and warms up again. The author is romantic mystery novelist Anne Allen and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
Anne Allen, authors, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, grief, loss, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Mystery, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Rod Stewart, romance, romantic mystery, Roz Morris, The Undercover Soundtrack, tragedy, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, Women's fiction, writers, writing, writing from grief, writing from loss, writing to music
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by debut author Barry Walsh @BJWalsh
Soundtrack by Neil Young, Handel, Beniamino Gigli, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Marvellettes, Rod Stewart, Adele, Flanagan & Allen, Mozart, JS Bach, Hildegard von Bingen, Beethoven, Dexy’s Midnight Runners
The Pimlico Kid is about first-love, which can quarry a hollow in one’s life that is hard to fill. It’s also about kids scrabbling past puberty and slamming into emotional or physical barriers set by adults.
… the most we might have expected to deal with was a first kiss or a dying grandparent, we were undone by love itself, and violence – and that adults betrayed us.
The lyrics of Neil Young’s songs were ever-present in my head while writing the book. For years I had piled up notes from which to make The Pimlico Kid a novel but it was the beautiful reference to childhood friendship and secrets being revealed in Philadelphia that turned intention into action.
The narrator, Billy, unlike some of his friends stands on the solid ground of happy family life. His easy-going father is a hard man and his volatile brother, John, will become one. However, Billy’s father is comfortable revealing his softer side and expresses it in his fine singing. And, when his sons were small, he kidded them he knew Italian and sang his favourite Beniamino Gigli songs, such as Handel’s Ombra mai fu, in beautiful gibberish.
This contrasts with Bob Dylan’s less mellifluous The times they are a changin’ (played loudly enough to shake the house) that defines the rebellious younger brother John, who is yet to discover his softer side:
When he’s asked or told to do something, he has this stiff, chinny look that makes it clear he doesn’t have to comply, but that he will, only on this occasion.
The exhilaration of first attraction is almost always about a face. And it is nailed by the Beatles’s I’ve Just Seen a Face. When Billy falls for Sarah, he worries that his more mature friends will disapprove because she is still flat chested. However, he’s prepared to wait for breasts:
I know that whatever Rooksy says about fabulous flesh, love starts with a face.
A host of songs evoke the summer of 1963 but none more vividly than the Beatles’s She Loves You. Billy and his friends stand transfixed outside a pub from which it is blasting out, again and again. This is the song that vanquishes the old pop music order – along with Brylcreem. When an Elvis song starts up, they leave.
During one of those never-ending summer days of childhood, the loves of four friends – Billy, his best mate, Rooksy, Sarah and Josie collide and magic is conjured up by declarations of love and secrets revealed. The Marvelettes’ When You’re Young and in Love kept popping into my head as I tried to pin down the excitement of new love. The lyrics may be simple but if you are young and in love, they couldn’t be more true.
At a critical moment Billy’s behaves like an idiot in front of Sarah. Burning with shame, he’s surprised to find that it doesn’t affect how she feels for him. This reflects my experience of how often weak and flawed people, usually men, are lucky enough to find someone who loves them anyway. Neil Young ‘gets’ it in Hangin’ on a Limb, in which a man wobbles at the edge of an emotional precipice and a girl teaches him how to dance.
As their relationship grows, the four friends come to learn that love breeds compassion and diminishes judgement of those it’s easy to ridicule, whether it’s because of a birthmark or sexual orientation. In the early sixties there were few openly gay teenagers and a great deal of unthinking homophobia. A decade later, Rod Stewart’s The killing of Georgie helped to change things a little and it came to mind constantly while I struggled to get this issue onto the page.
Adele’s Someone Like You wasn’t a creative influence but, on a more exalted level, it provided creative confirmation of the universal theme that I was trying to make personal. During my fourth re-write, the song was playing every day and everywhere and its reference to glory days of summer goes to the heart of The Pimlico Kid, in which …
love can endure but … promises are hard to keep.
Finally, the streets of London are the main stage for The Pimlico Kid. Maybe it’s Because I’m a Londoner anchors Billy – and me – to the greatest of cities.
I write to classical music, which provides welcome harmony to counter the dissonance in my head. I start most days with Mozart’s String Quintet No 1 because it lifts my default mood of pessimism about finding the right words. Each day features Bach, lots of Gregorian chant and the liturgical songs of Hildegard von Bingen. I regularly work my way through Beethoven’s quartets but stop when I reach No 15, which triggers Wordsworthian ‘thoughts that lie too deep for tears’.
When the writing has gone really well, I celebrate with the Kyrie from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, which isn’t at all ‘solemn’. And, when there’s no one else in the house, I turn to Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Come on Eileen and jig around like mad Ben Gunn on the beach.
Barry Walsh grew up in the heart of London during the 60s and thought belatedly that there might be a story in it. The result is The Pimlico Kid, published by Harper, a story of first love. He is now writing his second novel. When not at the keyboard, Barry enjoys cycling (he once rode non-stop to the top of Mont Ventoux), holidays in France, watching Arsenal, listening to Neil Young and gazing at Audrey Hepburn’s face. He is a proud trustee of the world’s oldest youth club – St Andrew’s, Westminster – and believes that London might just be the centre of the universe. He is married with two daughters. Find him on his website and Twitter @bjwalsh
GIVEAWAY Barry is offering a signed print copy of The Pimlico Kid. For a chance to win, leave a comment here or share this post on Twitter, Facebook, G+ or anywhere else (and don’t forget to leave a note here saying where you shared it).
1960s, 1960s London, Adele, adolescence, authors, Barry Walsh, Beethoven, Beniamino Gigli, Bob Dylan, Desert Island Discs, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, drama, entertainment, first love, Flanagan & Allen, Gregorian chant, Handel, Harper, Hildegard von Bingen, JS Bach, literary novels, London, male writers, Marvellettes, Mozart, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Neil Young, Pimlico, playlist for writers, puberty, Rod Stewart, romance, Roz Morris, The Beatles, The Pimlico Kid, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, writing to music, young 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 my guest is award-winning commercial novelist and reborn indie Reb MacRath @Rebmacrath
Soundtrack by Rod Stewart
It’s a drag, without doubt, but we all must admit: We’re not allowed to have our cake and toss our cookies too. Still, I found myself starting to do that in a book called Southern Scotch. And if I hadn’t been saved by Rod Stewart, I’d never have finished the novel or gone on to write the sequel.
Damned before the music
I ‘d begun with Pete McGregor, a drunken Scottish lout who’s mistaken for somebody else in the South and beaten half to death. Five years later he returns as Boss MacTavin: rich, thin, brutal and hell-bent on revenge. Now, I saw a strong hook there and liked it. But a big problem came with it: Advance readers hated both Fat Loser Pete and the Mike Hammerish Boss. The character had to be far more sympathetic in both incarnations because dark waters lay ahead: the porn trade in Atlanta. I tried every trick, but failed…
Enter the wee mighty Rodster reborn
The Great American Songbooks volumes 1-5. Rod’s soulful takes on the classics contained the qualities required: sweetness and light … streetsmart sophistication … tenderness, toughness and heart. If these qualities suffused the book, we might be spared tossed cookies.
And the singer also called to me. The Rodster had been written off as a commercial sell-out — two or three great albums followed by slush. Now here he was, singing old songs that he loved while he plotted his greatest rock album.*
And here I was, a writer who’d once had the whole world before him — four novels with two big houses … an international award and film option — scrambling in the ebook jungle. Writing the sort of book I love to read. And hoping, like Rod, that my best lay ahead.
And, hooray now, here came my changed hero: no longer a fat, drunken slob at the start — a man who’d known greatness and crashed but still dreamed … a man who returned as a bit of a thug — but also a complex and admirable soul.
Well, yes, all right. That’s well and good. But, Reb baby, please — some specifics?
I immersed myself in the five albums. For the most part, I felt more concerned with absorbing the qualities mentioned than with providing a soundtrack. As I absorbed these qualities, I began to grow more skillful at infusing my character with them as well. But a few songs had added importance for me. In these I heard the rocker’s growth through mastery of the classics. Blue Moon by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. That Old Black Magic by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Beyond the Sea by Charles Trenet and Jack Lawrence.
The Very Soul songs
Pete’s dream girl, Tina, dies in a plane crash. Boss needed to be haunted still by the aching sense of loss I heard in We’ll Be Together Again by Carl T. Fischer. I played it repeatedly, allowing it to dictate what I said and left unsaid. The song is present on each page, though it’s mentioned by name only once.
For an epic brawl with six bikers, I wanted a far different mood. Again one song inspired me: I Get a Kick Out of You by Cole Porter.
Rod’s a consonantal singer, not a voweler like Sinatra. With Rod it’s not ‘Iiiiii get a kiiiiick’, but ‘I gggggettttt a kkkkkickkkkk’. And his version of this tune packs an exceptional wallop, one I hoped to channel. I wanted bounce in Boss’s step, sass and pow in every punch. I wanted a Yeah, Baby feeling without even mentioning the song.
How the Rodster helped me build my bridge
The sequel, The Alcatraz Correction, takes place three years later. And Boss is a changed man, who’s fallen in love. Still, we need consistency in a series character. So I always had one of the Songbooks playing in the background so I’d run into the old Boss in unfamiliar places.
*Rod may have the last laugh on Rolling Stone and the old fans who’ve trashed him. Coming later this year: a CD of hard blues and rock. Go, Rod!
Reb MacRath published four horror novels under the name Kelley Wilde, with Tor Books and Dell. His first book, The Suiting, won a Stoker Award for Best First Novel and was optioned for film. After the fourth book, he retired from horror and went to the desert to learn how to write the sort of books he loved to read: high-octane blends of style, humor, romance and suspense. In 2012 Reb returned to publish the four ebooks listed on his blog. Four more will be published in 2013. Contact him on Twitter @Rebmacrath
authors, Cole Porter, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, humour, Kelley Wilde, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Reb MacRath, Rod Stewart, Rodgers and Hart, romance, Roz Morris, Southern Scotch, Stoker Award, suspense, The Alcatraz Correction, The Suiting, The Undercover Soundtrack, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, writing to music
- 'Constant murmur of pouring rain, piano chords and a stormy sea'
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Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
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Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
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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'