Posts Tagged Smoke Fairies

The Undercover Soundtrack – Alison Layland

for logoInto the warzone

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 writer and translator Alison Layland @AlisonLayland

Soundtrack by Steven R Smith, Aiko Shimada, PJ Harvey, Colin Stetson, Laurie Anderson, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dark Patrick, Darko Rundek, Smoke Fairies, Beth Orton

Music is an essential part of my writing process. I pick up on atmospheres, and fragments of lyrics that suggest an idea, character or situation (not always in the way the artist intended!), and build up a playlist for almost everything I write. I rarely listen to music when actually writing, but my playlist influences my work, and a copy to play in the car or while working keeps me in the zone.

smlDSC_3422A great inspiration, and music I definitely can and do play while writing, comes from Steven R. Smith. His music, mainly instrumental, captures my imagination, and the range of atmospheres he creates match so many of my moods. He records under various names/personas, and when working on Someone Else’s Conflict I found his Hala Strana records particularly appropriate as the Eastern and Central European influences helped me to tap into the Croatian backstory to the novel. I was also delighted when he agreed to let me use an extract from one of the Hala Strana tunes, Wedding of the Blind, for my book trailer.

Stories from a dark place

In Someone Else’s Conflict, Jay is an itinerant storyteller and busker, leading a self-imposed nomadic lifestyle and using his stories as a way of escaping from his memories and past. Stories by Aiko Shimada is that world of escapism through stories. What Jay is concealing is involvement in the Croatian conflict of the early 1990s, and the guilt that still haunts him. Scenes from the war are shown in flashbacks and, as I’m fortunate not to have experienced any kind of war zone first-hand, I used music as the vehicle to take myself there. PJ Harvey’s album Let England Shake told me it was possible and throughout the time I was writing the novel I had the first line of The Words That Maketh Murder going round in my head, as similar thoughts must have plagued Jay.

Saxophonist Colin Stetson’s amazing album New History Warfare Vol. 2 immersed me in all kinds of dark places and provided the perfect atmosphere both for the war scenes and the effects they had on the characters, in particular The Stars in his Head with its menacing driving pulse and swirling loops, and the chaos and displacement of A Dream of Water with guest vocals from Laurie Anderson. My fictional war zone was further intensified by the beauty and terror of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Mladic.

The haunting Ivases Lament by Dark Patrick not only suggested to me the feel of loss, tragedy and anger, but also had personal associations with my characters though a loose connection with its title – Ivan was Jay’s friend who was killed in the Croatian war and his son, Vinko, now a teenager and immigrant searching for identity, is central to the novel. The song brought out all the edginess of their relationship.

As I’m a linguist, it was more or less inevitable that, during my research into the Balkan conflicts, I would be moved to learn the language, especially as a personal way of gaining an insight into the feel and culture of the region. Music also features in my language-learning process, and I made some wonderful discoveries from that part of the world. My favourite so far has been Darko Rundek, in the context of writing the novel especially since a number of his songs deal with the conflict and its aftermath. When I first heard Ista Slika (The Same Picture) – before I saw the video, worked out the lyrics and fully appreciated the tragedy of what the song is about – I simply thought it was a lovely song. When I looked into it more deeply and discovered that it was about the war and that the refrain, roughly translated, means ‘whatever your way in the world in your crazy head you see the same picture’ it became a kind of theme tune for the novel. My own reaction epitomised the way Jay hides his own dark side from the world.

SEC A LaylandLove and redemption

The novel is certainly not all darkness, and my playlist helped me keep me grounded in this, too. An essential thread is the developing friendship and love between Jay and Marilyn, the artist he meets who helps him come to terms with his past and has to decide whether to stand by him as things start to go wrong. Several songs from the Smoke Fairies’ Low Light and Trees album became part of their relationship in my mind, especially Summer Fades with its strong feel of the other person’s past. For a long time, Marilyn is understandably not sure of Jay; she is finding her feet after a difficult previous relationship and is unsure how much to trust him, despite his charismatic and outwardly friendly nature. In one of those serendipitous moments of musical discovery, I was initially drawn to Beth Orton’s Magpie because it reflects the imagery of one of Jay’s stories, and soon found it gave me a real feel for Marilyn’s inner strength.

The ending of the novel evolved as I approached it, but I always knew it would have a positive feel – though just how positive, I wasn’t sure. And so we return to the music of Steven R. Smith. The title and soaring atmosphere of To Rise and Move On says it all.

Alison Layland is a writer and translator, originally from Bradford and now living in the beautiful Welsh mountains with her family. Her debut novel, Someone Else’s Conflict, originally inspired by her passion for storytelling, tells of trust, love and the need to belong, moving from the peaceful Yorkshire Dales to the horrors of the Croatian conflict of the 1990s and its aftermath. It is published by Honno and was a Debut of the Month in January 2015. Alison can be found at her website. She tweets as @AlisonLayland and is a member of The Prime Writers @ThePrimeWriters


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‘Into the warzone’ – Alison Layland

for logoMy guest this week is tackling the Croatian conflict of the early 1990s, and she used music to suggest fragments, atmospheres and moments of memory. When she sent me her post, she remarked that she found the process of writing it had been even more challenging than the novel, as she had never before admitted anyone to her personal space of creativity. This is one of the reasons I’m continually refreshed by this series – no matter what genre the book is, or what type of music they choose, the heart of each post is this real contact with a writer delving for the truth. Anyway, here you’ll find some haunting and unusual pieces by PJ Harvey, Smoke Fairies, Steven R Smith and Laurie Anderson, all in the Undercover Soundtrack of Alison Layland – airing here on Wednesday.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Andy Harrod

for logo‘Love is the key to these stories’

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 Andy Harrod @decodingstatic

Soundtrack by Ólafur Arnalds, HATR Project, Smoke Fairies, Joy Division, Soap & Skin, Lanterns on the Lake, Eels, Polly Scattergood, The National, Sigur Ros

I constantly surround myself with music and that is where my words come from. Music allows me to connect with and un-censor myself, to release and to be. Which is exactly how Living Room Stories and tearing at thoughts came to be.

AndyHarrodLiving Room Stories was an experiment, to write to music, namely Ólafur Arnalds’s Living Room Songs. I plugged into the sparse piano of Frysta and sketched a moment of waiting. From then on I danced with Ólafur’s music, which I feel is very emotive; there is a beautiful simplicity to it. Love is key to these stories; without love I fear we are nothing. Ólafur’s songs connect to my heart and on this occasion I decided to dive in, listening to each song for a few hours and with this immersion a life in seven moments was formed. One of the reasons I buy music on vinyl is that I see the packaging, the art, as an extension of the music. Living Room Stories is housed in a 7inch record sleeve, each story on its own card with accompanying image, with a transparent print for the cover. It invites the reader to play with these moments, to invent their own story.


I think of tearing at thoughts as an album. Each piece works separately, but together they layer and resonate the unspoken and the lost. This collection leaves me feeling exposed, in part due to how it was written as separate pieces. Each piece came about from entering a space, where I would immerse myself in my thoughts and feelings, whilst accompanied by music. In that space I was still, and the pieces came out uncensored and are a particular truth. Drawing together the pieces are a set of sentences, the first two were inspired by Coda by HATR Project from Heartbeat Against The Reason. A dark and gorgeous instrumental album that draws me into a place that hisses with noise.

That place of noise is lonely, where fear circles and strangles. Living with Ghosts by Smoke Fairies sums up this place (Strangled by Fear, Twilight), the echoing of slide guitar and plucked strings, the rich haunting voices of youth. Then there is the waking at four-fifty in the morning, sweating as the visuals fades, but the images plague. Dreamscapes interspace (I dreamt, Repeat till Fade) and develop through tearing at thoughts and their reconstruction occurs whilst listening to bands such as Joy Division, the hypnotism of 24 hours seals together scattered images and feelings.

There are pieces where I placed the needle on vinyl and kept repeating. Truth was formed by listening to Soap & Skin’s Lovetune for Vacuum over and over, especially Thanatos, a circling in on words to describe what is lost inside. Mist and Trees required less repeating of the music, it was instead the repeating of a lyric from I’ve Been Unkind by Lanterns on the Lake. When this lyric met a scene of trees in mist, the image of a frightened women was conjured.

EPSON scanner ImageEmpty Embrace and Rust I are those moments on an album, where I delve deep through screaming guitars, battered dreams and vibrating piano strings echoing, echoing, echoing, until I’ve spat out my disgust at the betrayals. The words at first muffled, trapped behind layers of educational, political and social shadows, till the chorus scream, and we are left alone in a pub cradling our empty drinks, the last to go home as there is still something to say. Think Eels, Polly Scattergood and The National’s High Violet and my favourite Bloodbuzz Ohio as sound-tracking that scene.

tearing at thoughts is infused with the places we tend not to explore and lingers with sadness, in the hope that by entering we may come to change ways of relating, become more authentic and less fearful; and the ending is one of hope and happiness. Where ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós is the only song that can capture the joy of choices available in a loving relationship, but even there our choices may not be fulfilled and as such the ending is also a call to not forget myself, ourselves in our lives.

Andy Harrod is a writer, not out of a desire to tell stories, but a need to understand, to find meaning and connect with self and life. Outside of writing Andy is a trainee person-centred therapist and runs the streets of Lancaster, one day soon the fells of the Lake District. Living Room Stories was Andy’s first release; handmade and Kindle editions are available. tearing at thoughts, a collection of writing, art and photography, is to be published by 79 rat press as part of its NOTHING TO SAY exhibition, available from June 2013. Andy posts stories, photos, art and thoughts at Decoding Static. Say hello to him on Twitter @DecodingStatic.

GIVEAWAY Andy is giving away 1 handmade copy of Living Room Stories and a print of two from tearing at thoughts. To enter leave a comment or tweet the song that represents love for you. Andy will pick his favourite. If you take the tweet option, include the link to the post and the hashtag #undersound. Good luck!

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