The Undercover Soundtrack – Vivienne Tuffnell

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 I’m proud to welcome back an author who last posted here in 2012 – Vivenne Tuffnell @guineapig66

Soundtrack by Debussy, Carolyn Hillyer, Medwyn Goodall

It’s been something of a blast from the past, trying to remember the music behind Little Gidding Girl. The novel was written during a period of unprecedented (and sadly, so far unrepeated) creativity probably triggered by hypergraphia (a beneficial by-product of my then-undiagnosed bipolar disorder – I wrote seven in a little less than three years).

Little Gidding Girl was the product of a series of intense, mystical dreams, an obsession with TS Eliot’s Four Quartets and a variety of music that teased and prodded my unconscious mind into both the dreams and the conscious working out of a story that delved deeply into old memories and experiences, of lost love and of all-but-forgotten hopes and ambitions. Like many writers, I’m not a planner; I’m very much someone who furtles around in the unconscious, gives it a jolly good stir and waits to see what rises to the surface. Music helps with this furtling and stirring process.

Little Gidding Girl is the story of Verity, who at 17 lost the future she’d craved when Nick, her enigmatic and troubled poet boyfriend, drowned at sea. At 35, in a safe, humdrum and uninspired life, she finds that snatches of the life she didn’t have begin to force their way into her real life. This begins to gather a terrible momentum as she starts to understand that her un-lived life was not the poetic dream she had imagined it might be.

The first piece of music is a classical piece that is probably so familiar as to be almost a cliché. L’après-midi d’un faune  has a dream-like feel to it, soft and sweet and yet with an edge that’s easy to miss. You can float along on the melody, swaying and day-dreaming as if you were in a hammock strung between trees. Giving myself over to this piece induced a near-trance state that calmed and centred me back into the right mental space for writing, after walking the dog, seeing clients or performing household tasks. It holds that dreamy, unfocused state that the heroine of Little Gidding Girl  slips into quite often, just before reality shifts and she finds herself living an alternative time-line.

One of my favourite musicians is Carolyn Hillyer (and her partner Nigel Shaw). Her work includes some powerful, raw chants and is used in a lot of women’s workshops, and she runs her own on Dartmoor. I’ve never had the courage to attend any but I have long loved every piece of music, art and creative writing that emerges from their partnership. Nigel’s flute music mixed with natural sound recordings from Dartmoor are often the backdrop to my writing now, but it was a couple of albums that fed into the powerful soup that created Little Gidding Girl. Old Silverhead (samples available from their website but for various reasons little of their music is on You Tube) is a journey of life, through rites of passage from babyhood to old age and into death. One song really got under my skin. It’s called Meet the Mirror.  (I blogged on this song here.)

The other album by Carolyn was also very much a part of that creation. Cave of Elders is a haunting, sometimes a little frightening journey into the soul. Shamanic and powerful, I listened to this a great deal, both before the writing and during. Like the Debussy, it induces a trance-like state that allows the images and words to flow.

My final choice is one that links to the novel in several ways. During those years of intense writing, I also worked as a complementary therapist, largely doing reflexology but with occasional forays into other therapies. I had a small but loyal client base but I was often quite uncomfortable about the world of alternative and complimentary therapies, and especially about the extreme levels of what’s best described as woo-woo. Too often people seem to abandon all rationality and education and it’s a shame because my experience is that many therapies are beneficial but that too many claims are made about how they work and how well they work. I was good at what I did and clients really benefited from it but I still have reservations about almost all such therapies.

In Little Gidding Girl, the main character Verity works in a new-age shop and her boss offers a variety of wacky and way-out therapies as well as the more well-known ones. The wacky ones I made up for the purposes of the book include Egyptian Rejuvenation, Japanese Forest Bathing, and Mayan Heart Retrieval. Many of them seem to have been invented for real in some form since then. For my own practice I used a lot of different new age music, and I had to like it enough to keep using it. I also tended to get bored and need a change. One I used both for writing the book and for reflexology was Medwyn Goodall’s Return to Atlantis, especially if I didn’t want the client to fall asleep, as this one has a faster tempo than many. Listening to it was a good way into the scenes set in Juliet’s shop and therapy rooms, reminding me of the more commercial aspects of the new age industry, as Goodall has produced a vast number of albums, both under that name and also the name Midori. His fans tend to buy everything but I have only a few, as there’s too little variation between them to merit buying many. It seems even now to epitomise the world that Verity stands on the edge of, with the mind-set, beliefs and expectations that her boss Juliet would impose on her.

 

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. She also writes short stories and one novella and has a collection of essays on mental health as well as a book of meditations using fragrance. Little Gidding Girl is her fifth published novel. Her Amazon page is here, her Facebook aura is here and you can tweet her as @guineapig66 .

 

 

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‘Intense, mystical dreams, an obsession with TS Eliot, and music’ – Vivienne Tuffnell

My guest this week has been here before, in the relatively young days of the blog. And it seems appropriate to introduce her with that slightly mystical flavour because her novel is about a woman who sees an alternate life. She wrote it in a creative blast, fuelled by dreams, TS Eliot’s Four Quartets and haunting Shamanic music. But this book’s world also includes a hefty dose of humour, with a zany set of invented complementary therapies such as Japanese Forest Bathing. She is Vivienne Tuffnell and she’ll be here tomorrow with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Caroline Leavitt

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 NYT bestselling author Caroline Leavitt @leavittnovelist

Soundtrack by the Smiths, the Beatles, Crowded House, Amy Winehouse, Tom Jones

My novel Cruel Beautiful World was written over a period of four years, with lots of tears, struggles, millions of pages, and I know for a fact, millions of songs. I admit that I listened to the same music over and over to get the emotional tone right. And I never could have silence when I wrote because the music both relaxed and inspired me.

You might think that because the novel is set in 1969 and 1970 that I listened to the period’s rock and roll back then—kind of dippy hits like Scott McKenzie’s  If You’re Going to San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair), but actually, I didn’t. Hey, I grew up in the 70s and I didn’t want my own experiences leaking too much into my narrative. I wanted my characters to claim their own lives and their own music. And I wanted to create their world for them.

Every day when I sat down to write, I would listen to The Smiths’ There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.  To me, the lyrics are so very ‘cruel beautiful world-ish’ on their own. The song is narrated by a man in pain. He knows that yes, there is this hope, this light, even as he’s thinking about what a privilege it would be if a truck ran over him and the person he loves – death by Mack Truck. It always got me in just the right mood.

Some days, writing snags and I need a beat to propel me through it.  Usually those songs have nothing to do with what I am writing, I just feel as if my heart is beating along with the musical beat. When I was writing the tortured, tangled relationships in the books, I listened to The Beatles Rubber Soul , that bright shiny sound, the beat that kept propelling me forward. I didn’t listen to the lyrics (if I had, I would have been derailed) but the music acted as a pulse.

When I had to write the most wrenching scene of my novel, where a death occurs, something I had put off for months, I had to be really tender with myself, but I also had to brace myself so I would go deep, so I wouldn’t pull back from what was important. That was when I listened to Those You’ve Known .  What makes this song more meaningful and heartbreaking for me was my actor son was in a production of Spring Awakening, and he sang that song as Moritz. I wept listening to that song when I saw him onstage, and I wept while I was writing, but I got the scene done exactly as I wanted it to be.

Better Be Home Soon by Crowded House captures the feeling, the longing my characters have for one another–and my own internal longing which never seems to ebb. Listening to this song is like taking a vitamin for my writing. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse does the same thing for me because of its bluesy, smoky sound.

While I was thinking of my work as a whole, trying to categorize this unwieldy novel, my son was sprawled on a chair in the living room, avidly listening to this gorgeous song and I said, ‘What’s that? Who’s that?’ He looked up at me. ‘Group Love,’ he said. ‘Cruel and Beautiful World.’  I knew immediately that without the ‘and’ it would be the perfect title because it’s sort of my world view. Yes, things fall apart, hearts rip open, but there is love, too, and beauty and art and fresh Insomnia cookies.

The day I finished my novel and sent it off to my agent, I cried. And then I put on Tom Jones’s Country album, because that was the one I played every day when I was pregnant with my son Max. I sang along to it, feeling soothed. I used to put my headphones on my belly so my son could listen in, too.

I knew I was birthing something.

Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times Bestselling Author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow and the critically acclaimed Cruel Beautiful World, which launched in paperback on 8 August. She reviews books for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe and People, and she teaches writing online at Stanford and UCLA Extension Writers Program, as well as private clients. She was a finalist in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. She lives with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, in NYC’s unofficial sixth borough, Hoboken, near their actor son, who lives in Brooklyn. Right now, she’s listening to lots of Benny King. You can find her on her website, Twitter (@leavittnovelist), Facebook, Instagram (carolineleavitt) and Litsy (Carolineleavitt)

 

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‘Things fall apart, hearts rip open’ – Caroline Leavitt

My guest this week has earned plenty of praise for her first two novels and I’m thrilled to have her here as she launches her third. Her post is a thoughtful, intense journey through the backstage emotions of creating a book. The novel is set in 1969 and 1970, but interestingly she didn’t listen to the hits of the time. Instead she chose tracks that let the characters tell her what experiences they were living – a rich mix of The Smiths, The Beatles, Crowded House and Amy Winehouse. The book’s title – Cruel Beautiful World – dropped out of a lyric one day. She is NYT bestselling author Caroline Leavitt and she’ll be on the Undercover Soundtrack on Wednesday.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Leonora Meriel

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 Leonora Meriel @leonora_meriel

Soundtrack by JS Bach, Debussy, Sofia Rotaru, Rodnya Ensemble, Ukrainian Folk Choir, Emil Krupnik

The Woman Behind the Waterfall is the story of three generations of women in a Ukrainian village. The mother, Lyuda, cannot escape the belief that she has got everything wrong in her life, and yet her seven-year-old daughter Angela challenges that belief every day. The novel covers choices and mistakes and consequences and childhood, set against the background of a Ukrainian springtime.

The writing of the novel happened in several different ways. Some I wrote as pure emotion. Some came from images I held of the Ukrainian countryside, and I wrote as a painter, working to describe the landscape with all the sensory elements, just as I had experienced it at the time. Other parts I wrote with mental purpose, seeking a way to portray an aspect of Ukrainian life in a scene that carried the story forward.

These internal and external methods of writing demanded their own music, and I developed a set of pieces that would take me to the places where I could create what was demanding to be written.

The piece of music which was listened to the most is the well known and loved Cantata 147 by Bach: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben. I am not a musician, and yet this music seems to me utterly perfect. The notes and melody are so contained and precise. They hold their beauty and passion with such poise that for me, it amplifies the love and grief and heartbreak that I hear in them, and that guided me to write the character of Lyuda, who struggles to lift herself out of her sadness for the sake of her daughter, and is constantly drawn back into her guilt and self-blame.

In my second novel, The Unity Game, a speculative sci-fi tale set in Manhattan, a distant planet and the afterlife, I tried to express this idea, when one of the characters finds himself in a garden, shortly after his death:

It was as if he were listening to the most exquisite piece of music which had never been written, but was being played, somehow, because the notes, in their creation, had contained the possibility of that music within them.’

My other classical muse was Debussy. The Ukraine I set out to portray in The Woman Behind the Waterfall was the rich countryside of western Ukraine in the regions of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Bukovyna and the pre-Carpathians. These areas are breathtakingly beautiful and lush. They are wild and untameable and terrifyingly fertile. They are more green than you could imagine was possible and in spring, everything is growing around you from the famous ‘chorniy zemlya’ – black earth. I found that Debussy’s passionate, wild yet dream-like music reflected these scenes for me. They are sensual and surreal and beautiful, just like the spring countryside, where every sense is filled and filled – intense smells, animal and village sounds all around, colour everywhere, the heat on skin.

It was Debussy’s Rêverie, Valse romantique, Clair de Lune, La Fille Aux Cheveux de Lin and Arabesque that sang to me in these places.

For my ‘mental purpose’ writing, I listened to Ukrainian folk music to write about the three generations of women, and about life in the Ukrainian village. The joy and fun of the music and focus on nature reminded me of how Ukrainians love to party – to drink, dance, laugh, sing – and this is significant in my novel as Lyuda, the mother, has trapped herself in a private world of depression away from all this happiness.

The song Chervona Ruta, sung here by Sofia Rotaru, refers to a legend which is featured in The Woman Behind the Waterfall – the night of Ivan Kupala. On this midsummer celebration, unmarried girls go through rituals to predict and attract their future husbands, including leaping over village fires and plaiting their hair in special ways. According to legend, the ‘ruta’ or rue flower, which is usually yellow, turns red for a short time on the night of Ivan Kupala, and any girl who finds the red flower will be happy in her love.

Other Ukrainian songs I listened to were Sofia Rotaru’s Odna Kalyna (One Hawthorn), the Rodnya Ensemble’s Dunayu, Dunayu and the Ukrainian Folk Choir Yikhav Kozak do Dunai – A Kozak rode to Dunai.

‘Shanson’ music helped me to tap into the male characters in the novel, especially when I had to write about their choices and how they would approach a situation. Shanson can be described as Soviet prison music, and usually involves one or two men growling into a microphone with a guitar, accordion and sometimes drums to accompany them. Every taxi driver in Ukraine listens to Shanson UA and it goes perfectly with driving in a country where life is hard and unpredictable. It is angry and heart-breaking and rough and cruel. Here is an example of a Ukrainian artist Emil Krupnik singing Murka.

Ukraine has an incredibly interesting culture. If any readers have been tempted by this piece, I would urge them to go and visit this wonderful and always surprising country. If time and money are limited, you could read about the western part in The Woman Behind the Waterfall.

Leonora Meriel grew up in London and studied literature at the University of Edinburgh and Queen’s University, Ontario. She worked at the United Nations in New York, and then for a law firm. In 2003 she moved to Kyiv, where she founded Ukraine’s largest internet company. She learned to speak Ukrainian and Russian, witnessed two revolutions and got to know an extraordinary country at a key period of its development. In 2008, she returned to her dream of being a writer, and completed The Woman Behind the Waterfall, set in a village in western Ukraine, published in 2016. Her second book, The Unity Game was released in May 2017. Find her on her website, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter as @leonora_meriel

 

 

 

 

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‘Choices, mistakes, consequences and childhood’ – Leonora Meriel

When I invited this week’s guest to the Undercover Soundtrack, she told me we’d met before, IRL. At a writing conference, she’d asked my advice about working with editors. A few years on and she has a novel with a very respectable endorsement from Esther Freud and Kirkus reviews, so it seems everything went well. The novel is the story of three generations of women in a village in the Ukraine, and she developed a playlist of music that would create the rich landscape of place and emotion she hoped to put on the page. Some of the music also gave her a mindset – the patience and purpose to refine every word, which was probably where she was when we met at the writing conference. I’m so chuffed to see her persistence paid off and to introduce her properly here. She is Leonora Meriel and you can read her Undercover Soundtrack on Wednesday.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Andrew Lowe

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 a return visit by author, editor, journalist and musician Andrew Lowe @andylowe99

Soundtrack by Blanck Mass, Glass Animals, Johan Johansson, Kris Kristofferson, Leodoris, Mark Pritchard, Mogwai, UNKLE, YouTube tropical island ambience

Kris Kristofferson came first. At the end. A slow pull-back, with Nobody Wins playing over the scrolling credits.

I’d had the Savages story pinballing around my brain for a while, but hearing Nobody Wins gave me that final scene. It underscored the logic of the story, seeped into the characters and themes. It unspooled the narrative backwards, giving me the focus to go forward.

If some kind director (Shane Meadows or Danny Boyle, please) makes a film of the book, I would insist they pack the soundtrack with the music I used to fuel the writing. Because, for me, music isn’t a lubricant or a catalyst. It’s central to the story of a novel’s creation; as crucial as the ramblings in my notebook app, the epiphanies in the supermarket queue, the drafts and redrafts.

I know some writers like silence or white noise or Brahms or Schubert or Eno, but I can’t make it happen like that. I need the mood of the music to match the tone of the scene, and, while I’m at it, I like to transpose the tunes into a fantasy soundtrack of the movie of the book. (Actually, let’s go for Ben Wheatley.) With Savages, that meant the wall-of-sound headrush of Blanck Mass for the final five chapters, Mark Pritchard’s ominous minimalism for the bad blood of the mid-section, and the cataclysmic crunch of Johan Johansson’s The Beast for a pivotal scene that I wanted to read like the slow and pitiless turning of a torture-rack wheel.

Savages is the story of Joel Pearce, a suburban GP who’s looking to shake up his routine. He receives an extravagant gift for his fortieth birthday: a ‘desert island survival experience’ and, despite being a creature of home comforts, he rises to the challenge. Together with four friends, he travels to a remote tropical island in the Philippines for three weeks of indulgence and self-discovery.

It doesn’t go well.

Savages is, I hope, a thriller that plunges the reader into deeper genre waters. I wanted to write something instant and high-concept and broad, but smuggle in plenty of literary layers and contemporary obsessions. (Self-improvement, male identity, ageing, post-hedonism, the blurring of the fake and the real.)

I read plenty of genre thrillers; mostly crime and psychological. When they’re good, they can be very, very good, but when they’re bad, they can feel like dressed-up research or algorithm-friendly templates, hacked out from the walls of the deepest data mines.

Over the last year or so, the most interesting books I’ve read have dabbled with fusion. The author has taken a little from this genre, a dash from that, and moulded their story into a lateral but nourishing whole. I’m thinking of Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays (sci-fi romance), Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither (one man and his dog and the human condition), Adrian J Walker’s The End of the World Running Club (post-apocalyptic existentialism).

With Savages, I wanted the fusion to come from a tweak to the three-act convention. Act One is character study; family and relationship drama. Act Two is a psychological thriller; mounting tension, known unknowns. Act Three is all-out action thriller, bordering on horror. And it’s all served up with a twist inside a twist which came from that Kris Kristofferson eureka! moment.

I don’t only use music as a writing backdrop; it always seeps into the story when I’m out and about, under headphones. With any writing project, I usually have a signature song that follows me around; something that seems to connect with the story’s ambience and conflict. For Savages, it was Toes by Glass Animals, with its furtive, feline slink and talk of “divine ape-swine”. (The song is a perfect fit for the setting, as it’s clearly inspired by HG Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau.) I also loved the brooding sensuality of Leodoris’s Run, those honking synth stabs hinting at whatever evil lurks deep in the febrile vegetation, and the way its title chimes with one of the book’s recurring ideas: progress, forward momentum, running, the urge to run when there’s nowhere to run to, the limbo between fight and flight. (UNKLE’s Panic Attack helped here, too, as did Mogwai’s Glasgow Mega-Snake, a glistening guitar meltdown that I used as pre-writing psyche-up.)

And when I had to glue myself to the writing chair in the middle of a dark and dismal winter, and cook up scenes of heat and light and powdery beaches, I turned to old YouTube, where some kind soul had stuck a static camera under a palm tree and captured an uninterrupted hour of the kind of desktop-background fantasy island described in the book. Outside my window, the North London streets glittered with frost, but in my writing cave, I was transported, tapping away to the sounds of chirping cicadas, rustling palm fronds, cresting waves. The soundtrack helped me to create an authentic bucket-list dreamworld, which I could take great pleasure reshaping into a nightmare.

Andrew Lowe is an author and editor who has written for The Guardian and Sunday Times, and contributed to numerous books and magazines on film, music, TV, sex, videogames and shin splints. He divides his time between various rooms of his home in London, where he writes and makes music (as half of electronic duo Redpoint). He gets out of the house by running, cycling and coaching youth football. Savages is out now in ebook and paperback. Audiobook coming soon. His website is here, his Facebook page is here and you can tweet him as @andylowe99

 

 

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‘Music is as crucial as the ramblings in my notebook app’ – Andrew Lowe

My guest this week says his entire novel was triggered by just one song – Nobody Wins by Kris Kristofferson. He’d had the idea rolling around in his head as a vague kind of fancy, but the Kristofferson song was a sudden technicolor epiphany, making sense of the half-formed ideas, giving him a final scene. And after a lot of thrashing, editing and a good deal of other music, he has a psychological thriller about a group of guys who decide to take a voyage of self-discovery to a deserted island. If you’ve followed this series for a while you’ll recognise his name as he’s been here before – he is Andrew Lowe, and he’ll be sharing the Undercover Soundtrack for his latest novel on Wednesday.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Claire Scobie

The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 journalist, travel memoirist, writing coach and novelist Claire Scobie @ClaireScobie

Soundtrack by Bangarra Dance Theatre, AH.FM trance radio, James Blunt, Adele, Govinda, Joi, Handel, various Indian temples

Dance gave me the rhythm of my novel 

A year into writing The Pagoda Tree I went to a performance by Bangarra, Australia’s leading Aboriginal contemporary dance company. Known for hard-hitting stories about dispossession and colonialism, spiritual resonance and mesmerising soundtracks, much of their music has been composed by David Page, one of Australia’s most brilliant and original Aboriginal composers.

And yet, my book is set in India. So why did Bangarra’s Earth & Sky soundtrack have such an impact?

When I first saw the performance in Sydney, where I live, I was just starting to navigate between the two different narratives of my novel: the Indian story largely told by Maya, a girl living in Tamil Nadu in the eighteenth-century and the story of the arrival of the British. Maya is a temple dancer and it is expected that she will become a royal courtesan for the prince himself. The year is 1765 and India is on the cusp of change.

On the day of her initiation into the temple, she sees a stranger ‘dressed all in black [wearing] an unusual triangular hat. He was a foreigner. His long hair was dishevelled, his pallid complexion ghostly.’

Maya fears this is a bad omen.

The man is Walter Sutcliffe, an English reverend, who has come to Thanjavur to be a moral guide to the rabble of the English army. Over the coming years their lives will intersect – ultimately with disastrous consequences for her.

From Bangarra to Bharatanatyam and back again

Still, I don’t want to get ahead of myself because I didn’t know all of this when I started.

What I did know, though, was that nine-year-old Maya was destined to be a great dancer. Dance is the pulsating rhythm of this book: it is dance that offers Maya an escape when family tragedy strikes, enabling her to flee to the steamy port city of Madras where she meets a young Englishman, Thomas Pearce. Maya dances for the gods as well as men and her dance – Bharatanatyam – is still performed around the world today.

But initially I couldn’t connect to the intricacies of her art form. I watched many dance performances in south India during my research and I bought a stack of Tollywood – the Tamil version of Bollywood – videos as a way to understand the moves. It didn’t chime, though, and I sat and stewed in front of the keyboard.

Then I saw Bangarra’s Earth & Sky. In particular I put Weaving Part 2 from the soundtrack on repeat because its simple, rhythmic beat that builds and falls seemed to tap into the young innocence of Maya – and the misguided kindness of my English missionary character, Walter.

Walter was actually the first character who ‘came to me’ when I was visiting Thanjavur. I could imagine him, a bit fusty, sitting in itchy breeches, in a monsoonal downpour.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Walter even if he was a man of his time. India works her magic on him, though, stripping away his moral Christian prejudices so he can face the demons of his past.

Broken Wing

In the Bangarra performance, there is a dance sequence about the harmful impact of Christian missions in Aboriginal communities, captured in Bible Man, Broken Wing and rising to a pinnacle in the piece Victim.

All helped when I was further into writing Maya’s character and she starts to understand what the arrival of the British is going to mean for her family, community and people. Thanks to Victim, I was able to write the final climactic sequence of the novel.

Victim is like a performance song that combines the eerie sound of footsteps, prison doors locking and unlocking, violent swearing and Aboriginal voices, intercut with the monotone recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Kingdom Come / Thy Will be Done…’

Just re-listening to it now makes my heart beat faster. When I was writing the novel, it helped bring my plot strands together. In fact the entire album of Earth & Sky encapsulates this element of brokenness which I explore.

Getting into the zone

In general when I write, I don’t like music with lyrics as they stop the words that I’m trying to find in my story. Instead I like AH.FM trance radio because there are no ads and the tunes are uplifting and often anthemic. Then, once I’m writing, I tend to switch the music off and work in silence. If I get stuck, the music comes back on again.

As my novel is set against a pretty dramatic backdrop of war, famine and natural disasters, I did enlist some big pop songs to help with writing some scenes. After I’d been working on the book for around two years, I realised I was avoiding writing a particular scene with Maya’s aunt, Sita. I know enough now that if I keep avoiding something, it’s the thing that MUST be written.

It would be a plot spoiler to say what happens to Sita but James Blunt’s No Bravery got me there. Blunt served in the army before turning to song writing and this tune is about how war degrades our humanity and makes monsters of men.

Similarly, Adele’s roaring Rolling in the Deep helped as I was limping towards the end of my novel. I’d seen the last scenes very clearly 18 months before I actually wrote them. Adele’s emotional, piano-thumping beats and feisty lyrics galvanised the words to reach that fever pitch I was looking for.

Daily life in India: my main soundtrack

And then of course, there’s all the Indian music I turned to when I was writing the book in Sydney or London: Govinda’s A Modern Mantra and Joi’s India became favourites. I didn’t need it when I wrote in India because real life there provides its own sound track: temple drums wake you at four o’clock in the morning, then there’s a call to prayer from the minaret, crows cawing, monkeys shrieking, a Bollywood soap opera from the woman’s television next door, political rallies blaring out slogans on loud speakers… and so it goes throughout the day.

Throughout the process, though, the impulse was the same: to find ways into my characters that would reveal their different worlds; to explore and evoke the East and the West.

Except my goal wasn’t to pit these worlds against each other, which is the well-worn narrative we read so often about Raj India. Instead it was seeing how the cultures interlink and where the crossovers are. The future of the British in India wasn’t written in the 1770s and there was still a possibility of exchange between people. And at its heart, that’s what the music helped me discover – that space in-between, in that liminal world of spirit and matter, between love and hate, fear and joy. In the space between the words.

Claire Scobie is an award-winning British journalist and author who has lived and worked in the UK, India and Australia. Her travel memoir, Last Seen in Lhasa, won the 2007 Dolman Best Travel Book Award. She has just indie published a new memoir, A Baboon in the Bedroom, co-authored with her mother Patricia Scobie. Claire runs writing courses in Australia, Asia and the UK, and mentors writers one-on-one. In 2013, she completed a Doctorate of Creative Arts at Western Sydney University. The Pagoda Tree is her first novel. Her website is here, this is her Facebook page, and you can tweet her as @clairescobie

 

 

 

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‘Dance gave me the rhythm of my novel’ – Claire Scobie

My guest this week might be familiar to you if you follow the Purple Blog. I  featured Claire Scobie a few months ago in a story about crowdfunding, when she was campaigning on Unbound to get her novel The Pagoda Tree published. I’m thrilled to say she hit her targets, and I went to the launch a few weeks ago in the very beautiful Daunt’s Bookshop in Marylebone. While her supporters chatted under its high glass roof, a violinist sat high up in the gallery and played sweeping, sultry traditional Indian music – the kind of music the novel’s protagonist would have heard as part of her daily life. Needless to say, it’s the kind of music Claire listened to as she wrote the story, about a temple dancer in Tamil Nadu in the 18th century. But Claire’s Undercover Soundtrack also includes some unexpected modern touches from James Blunt and Adele. Anyway, do drop by for her post on Wednesday.

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