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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 Vivienne Tuffnell @guineapig66
Music is such a powerful influencer that I’d rather have silence than the wrong music. I’m not someone who’s constantly plugged into an ipod. I can’t have music as background. When a piece of music grabs me, evokes emotions or images or a roaring rush of words, I listen till I cannot bear it any more. Then I write it. This is probably why I don’t like live music (that, and a year of roadie work).
The opening scenes of The Bet came from a vivid, disturbing dream, but that first chapter was written to Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The main character has taken his newborn son away from hospital without permission and is making his way home through the snowy countryside. His mental and emotional state veers wildly from severe anxiety, back to numbness, frozen to slowness, and his movement reflects this. Breaking into a frantic run, then standing staring blankly at the falling snow, heart and mind racing. He’s done something terrible, shocking even, but the reader does not yet know how shocking. The music steered this jolting narrative from one change of tempo to another. Writing it, knowing what had really happened, the music kept my focus on building and exploring the internal turmoil without revealing the truth until almost the end of the chapter.
The next music that influenced me in writing this novel is from Tanita Tikaram. The song Preyed Upon is like hearing overheard snippets of dialogue between myself as author/creator and the main character Antony Ashurst, and between him and other characters. It was that phrase ‘preyed upon’ that haunted me. People who get preyed upon. Why? What makes them so vulnerable? Ashurst ‘s father says to him on one occasion, ‘Boys like you get preyed upon’, and the phrase haunts him too, and makes him question what is going on in his relationship with Jenny.
There’s a second song by Tanita Tikaram that powerfully influenced the novel: I Love You. The Bet is not a love story or a romance. But obsessive love (which is not the same as love at all) is a theme that underlies the whole novel both in terms of the main plot and the subplots too. It twists everything; it twists the two main characters into a tangle neither can extricate themselves from. Valentine Heart is another song that felt like I was overhearing the words Jenny and Antony didn’t say to each other. In the penultimate chapter, Antony does say to Jenny, ‘I was too young, too damaged and far too innocent to have seen you coming’, but it’s far too late by then for it to make any difference.
The final song I’d like to share is Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes. It’s such an evocative piece of music that influenced the writing of the final few chapters, especially the lyrics about disintegration of self, the loss of connection to self-hood that Ashurst experiences during the novel, and his need to find himself again after all the pain. At the end of the penultimate chapter he says to Jenny ‘Anyway, I need to let you go, now, so I have a chance to find myself again, out of all that pain. I won’t miss you any more; but I do miss myself.’ The chanting at the end of Little Earthquakes is very much the emotions I was running with as I wrote the final words of the novel. It ends with a cliffhanger; literally, as it ends in a high place, but also metaphorically with a symbolic act that leaves the reader in no doubt as to Ashurst’s intent but perturbed about whether he could ultimately carry through that intention.
Vivienne Tuffnell is a writer who seeks to explore the hidden side of human existence, delving into both mysticism, the paranormal and deep psychology in her stories. She writes character-driven fiction, soul-filled poetry and blogs about soul growth at Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. Her two previous novels Strangers & Pilgrims and Away With The Fairies have been regularly in the top 100 for their categories in the Amazon Kindle UK charts. Find her on Twitter @guineapig66
authors, Away With The Fairies, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, internal turmoil, literary fiction, literary novels, literature, love, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, mysterious place, mysticism, Nail Your Novel, newborn son, obsessive love, paranormal, parapsychology, piece of music, poets, psychology, Roz Morris, severe anxiety, Strangers and Pilgrims, Tanita Tikaram, The Bet, The Undercover Soundtrack, Tori Amos, undercover soundtrack, Vivaldi, Vivienne Tuffnell, Vivienne Tufnell, writers, writing, writing to music
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 post is by debut novelist Lydia Netzer @lostcheerio, author of Shine, Shine Shine
Shine, Shine, Shine
My novel’s title was inspired by a song by Carbon Leaf, and the title of the song is Shine. Listening to this song caused my fist to involuntarily pump at times during the chorus: ‘It’s time to shine shine shine!’ and my teeth would grind together with determination. It became, in my mind, an anthem for the book’s housewives, who were furiously sublimating their authentic selves into perfect, acceptable automatons. It also became an anthem for me to write and finish the book, as in, ‘Get your head out of the diaper pail, girl. Bang the drum. Fee fi fo fum. Enough silence and subordination and blending in with the wallpaper.’
My characters fell in love as children, really, though at the time it was more a bonding of two weirdos to face the world together. So their love song is very sweet and sort of ridiculous: Pure by The Lightning Seeds. You may remember this song from 1990 — it was sort of a last brave gasp of the 80s before grunge came to eat our faces off. This song helped me think about my characters Maxon and Sunny in their origins, as little kids playing in the woods, looking at the stars, and grounded me in that original innocence and acceptance, when Sunny’s attitude toward Maxon was pure love and gratitude, and she hadn’t thought to measure him yet against the world.
Like I said, my characters met as children and ended up married with children of their own. So they had to go through a transition between the pure, innocent love of childhood and a more complicated, ragged, sexual love as adults. The song Come Here Boy by Imogen Heap was what I turned to as I was writing about their awakening, and how Sunny transformed from a dreamy, disconnected child into sort of a sexual aggressor. In fact, at one point in the story, she actually says the words, ‘Come here, boy’. And that’s because I had this song on repeat while writing that scene.
There are several tragedies in the novel. Several deaths. The song Parasol by Tori Amos captured for me the paralysis of loss, the horror of getting that awful call, but also the way you can react with strength and move on. There’s almost a steeliness about the character in the song, and I needed my characters to behave with the same resolve, not get knuckled under by grief, protect themselves and keep living. This song probably has more plays on my iTunes than any other song – I kept it on repeat a lot while I was writing the later chapters of the book.
Maxon is on his way to the moon to colonise it with robots. In his world, robots can be as much like humans as he wants them to be — it’s just a matter of more circuits, more if/then statements, more programming. But Maxon sees love as an irrational preference, and while they can laugh, cry, and dream like humans, he hasn’t programmed his robots to love. While he recognises that he himself does it, he starts the book not really knowing why. By the end, he understands his humanity, and his robots, on a deeper level.
When I first heard Selfmachine from I Blame Coco I was in the passenger seat of a car, and we were driving in Rome. This song came on the radio and I was electrified. When it finished, I turned to Dan and said, ‘I need that song in my ears at all times immediately’. Of course although Coco is British and the song was in English, the DJ was speaking Italian and we couldn’t figure out the name of the band. When we got back to our place that night, Dan searched around via snatches of lyrics and found the song for me. A few days later he had bought me the CD, and that’s when my addiction to Selfmachine really took off, as my children can attest. Their attesting might sound like, ‘OH NO, NOT LONELY ROBOT! Anything but that!’ While I had already sold the book at this point, I still had developmental editing ahead of me, and line editing, and many changes and tweaks to make. Selfmachine became a celebratory song, but for me it also meant surrendering the story and characters to the world.
I wrote my own songs to go with this novel, and the two that are included on the audiobook are also about robots: Bad Machine and Robots. Here’s a music video for Robots which also works as book promotion for the novel.
Writing songs from my characters’ perspective, about my novel’s themes, was a lot of fun. As a happily married woman in comfortable circumstances, it’s hard for me to write rock and roll songs about angst, despair, mean men, and the fight against authority. So borrowing my characters’ angst and despair was really useful! And it also helped me open windows into their worlds that I might not have been able to really see through words alone. Here’s Bad Machine, which is about the feeling of loving someone who is robotic and unemotional, the way Maxon is in the book.
Lydia Netzer’s first novel is Shine Shine Shine, published by St Martin’s Press. It is a People’s Pick in People Magazine, a Spotlight Book of the Month on Amazon, and is a love story with a side of robots and maths. Lydia lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, and plays the electric guitar in a band called The Virginia Janes. You can find her on Twitter (@lostcheerio), Facebook, and on her web site.
GIVEAWAY! Lydia is offering a copy of the Shine Shine Shine audiobook to one random commenter. The audiobook is read by the NYT bestselling author and award-winning audiobook narrator Joshilyn Jackson, and includes Robots and Bad Machine by The Virginia Janes. Leave your calling card in the comments for a chance to win.
Amazon Spotlight Book of the Month, authors, Carbon Leaf, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, I Blame Coco, Imogen Heap, literature, Lydia Netzer, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, People Magazine, People's Pick, Roz Morris, Shine Shine Shine, The Lightning Seeds, The Undercover Soundtrack, Tori Amos, undercover soundtrack, writers, 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'