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 book blogger, prolific short story writer and Polari prize nominee Anne Goodwin @annecdotist
Soundtrack by Jack Strachey, Faure, Grieg, The Dubliners, Mendelssohn, Karl Jenkins, Leonard Cohen, Terry Jacks, Country Joe McDonald, Jim Reeves, Eddie & The Hot Rods
Sugar and Snails is a mid-life coming-of-age story about a woman who has kept her past identity secret for all her adult life. The contemporary strand is set in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2004 from which my protagonist, Diana, looks back on her childhood in the 1960s and 70s in a North Derbyshire mining town, with a few weeks in Cairo at the age of 15.
Despite giving Diana some aspects of my own biography, I found it challenging in places to evoke the emotional atmosphere of her childhood. I had my memories, and the internet, but music proved a powerful tool in enabling me to delve that bit deeper.
In an early scene, Diana remembers dancing alone, aged about three and perhaps the last time she was at ease in her body. As it’s a long time since I was three, I listened to the music she’d undoubtedly have heard on the radio at home with her mother: the theme tunes from Housewives’ Choice (In Party Mood composed by Jack Strachey) and Listen with Mother (The Berceuse from Faure’s Dolly Suite Op.56). It was also helpful to listen to the music I’ve been told I danced along to as a toddler: In the Hall of the Mountain King from Grieg’s Peer Gynt.
Although Working Man by The Dubliners isn’t about Derbyshire, it helped evoke the culture of the close-knit mining community in which Diana grew up. Ave Maria of Lourdes perfectly brought to mind her Catholic background; albeit slightly disappointingly since there’s so much better Christian choral music I’d have preferred to have in my head.
Diana’s difficulty navigating the physical and psychological changes of adolescence is central to the novel. I thought I remembered mine a little too well but, once again, music brought me closer to that amalgam of confusion, self-pity and nostalgia. Almost anything in a minor key would have served the purpose, but one I kept coming back to was Mendelssohn’s violin Concerto in E minor. At the time of writing my novel, I was also addicted to Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man (I’ve picked out the gorgeous Benedictus with the poignant cello solo), which not only put me in the right frame of mind, but served as a reminder that, for baby boomers like me and Diana, other people’s wars never seemed so far away. (As the piece also includes the Islamic call to prayer, it served a double purpose in conjuring up her auditory experience of Cairo.)
One of the key relationships in the novel is that between Diana and her father, Leonard. His character and his parenting decisions, such as they are, have been shaped by his own late adolescent experience as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. Like the biblical Abraham, brought to mind for me by Leonard Cohen singing The Story of Isaac, he sees his children more as offshoots of himself than as people in their own right.
While the Second World War impacted on her parents’ generation, Diana and her contemporaries watch in horror and fascination as, across the Atlantic, boys only a few years older are conscripted to fight in Vietnam. Country Joe McDonald’s Feel Like I’m Fixing To Die captures that period perfectly but I was surprised, watching the video, how young the hippies look to me now while, at the same time, they connect me to a younger girl to whom they appeared quite grown-up, and both exciting and terrifying in their rebellion. This fed into a scene in which Diana recalls her mother mistaking some long-haired boys for girls.
Aged 15 in 1974, Diana makes a life-changing decision. The early 70s hasn’t produced the best pop music, but no doubt she’d have had the transistor radio tuned to Radio One that summer. Morbidly inclined since early childhood (I suppose she might have been a Goth had she been born later), I had her listening to a song that leached nostalgia from that era, Seasons in The Sun by Terry Jacks.
I began to write Sugar and Snails in 2008, only four years later than when the contemporary strand of the novel is set. So, while music wasn’t necessary to transport me back to 2004, some of my casual listening did have a bearing on my decisions about the plot. The romance storyline, in early drafts dispatched in a rather disastrous one night stand, loomed larger in the final version, partly thanks to my penchant for the kind of sentimental songs Diana’s mother might have listened to, such as I Love You Because sung by Jim Reeves. But, although I was clear Sugar and Snails wouldn’t be a novel in which the woman is saved by the man, I wasn’t sure how far I was going to take her along the road to self-acceptance. You’ll have to read the novel to find out to what extent she’s able to overcome her demons, but I did enjoy listening to Eddie and The Hot Rods sing Do anything you wanna do while I thought it through. Given the long journey to publication, it’s an anthem to motivate any writer to follow her dreams.
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel Sugar and Snails was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill and longlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, is scheduled for publication in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of over 60 published short stories. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist. In honour of its first birthday, Sugar and Snails is available in Kindle format at only £0.99 or equivalent until 31 July 2016.
My guest this week has a novel about a woman who has kept her past identity hidden. The novel is its reckoning, of course, and its author had a challenge in evoking the many colours of her protagonist’s progress from child to woman. So she built herself a soundtrack. It’s a mix of radio theme tunes from her own childhood (possibly the first appearance in the series of Listen With Mother), traditional songs that conjure a powerful sense of place and melancholy reminders of the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence. Drop in on Wednesday to meet Anne Goodwin and her Undercover Soundtrack.
Who changes in the course of a novel? We hope the characters do. Sometimes the author does too. My guest this week feels that writing her novel became an act of emotional honesty that left her in a new place. Music was a constant companion – a mix of Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd and Parisian-themed works too. She is novelist, short story writer and award-winning book blogger Isabel Costello and she’ll be here on Wednesday with the Undercover Soundtrack for Paris Mon Amour.
My guest this week says he is much concerned with reinvention. He’s spent his life setting himself challenges to embrace new careers, lifestyles, places to live – and the latest of those reinventions is being a novelist. His debut title is a story of 1970s Glasgow and required some daring imaginative reinventions – not least, writing in the voice and psyche of a 22-year-old woman. A soundtrack was essential – Tangerine Dream to soothe and order the brain; Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and David Bowie to restart the period – and provide other wisdom besides. He is Glyn Harper – writing as GD Harper – and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
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 Diana Stevan @DianaStevan
Soundtrack by Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Patsy Cline, Gordon Lightfoot, John Denver, Helen Reddy, Andy Williams, William Warfield, Cat Stevens, Johnny Nash
The Rubber Fence was inspired by my work on a psychiatric ward in 1972 and couldn’t have been written without the songs of that time playing in my head.
Inspired by workplace
I had just graduated with a Master of Social Work in 1972. Dedicated and ambitious, I found myself working on a psych. ward where shock treatment was still taking place. Years later, troubled by what I had seen, I wrote The Rubber Fence.
My novel is about a psychiatric intern, Dr Joanna Bereza, who finds herself up against a system as stuck as the people it treats. Assigned two patients, Joanna struggles to keep them from getting shock treatment by an arrogant shrink, who happens to be her supervisor. Complicating matters is Sam, one of her fellow interns, who looks like a rock star and is as loose as she is tight. She can’t help but be attracted to him, especially when her relationship with her husband, Michael, is on shaky ground.
Music that speaks of freedom
Because I wanted to immerse myself in the era and recall the emotions that served as the underpinnings of my story, I played 60s and 70s music with lyrics that spoke of freedom, broken ties, and love outside of marriage.
Music that encouraged breaking free served my writing of both the patients’ stories and Joanna’s. The patients in the story are not only trapped in their own misery but also in a system that doesn’t have time nor often the heart for them. Joanna is trapped in a different way. She’s in a crumbling marriage that she doesn’t know how to fix. And she’s working in a system where she has little control.
With Joanna’s unnerving attraction to Sam and the independence he represented, Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee came to mind.
The Beatles’ Hey Jude sparked my memory when I wrote a scene that takes place in a city park. It’s where Joanna and her husband see all the hippies on the move across country, having the freedom they both long for. Now, the lyrics of Hey Jude don’t connect directly to what is going on emotionally for Joanna, but it was the song I heard one of the hippies play when I went to that park in the 70s. It brought back the images of all those young people sitting on the grass.
The girls were braless, the shape of their nipples pushing at the rayon fabric of their tie-dyed T-shirts. Peace sign necklaces, long beads, and broad leather wrist wraps signaled the deeper changes ahead.’
Same for music like Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (also known as Feelin Groovy). Hearing that song set the tone for the pub scene, where Joanna goes to relax with her fellow interns. It was also how she needed to feel after struggling with her patients’ progress.
A woman’s plight
And when Joanna worries about her husband Michael and his fidelity, songs Crazy by Patsy Cline, and If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot helped me find both the mood in those settings and Joanna’s internal monologue. It also helped me discover what Michael might’ve been feeling and from that, I could write his behavior and dialogue.
Torn by all that is happening, Joanna’s lost. The lyrics of Helen Reddy’s I Don’t Know How To Love Him speak to that confusion. Not surprisingly, Joanna wants to check out. I’m Leaving On A Jet Plane by John Denver was the perfect song to capture those exit plans and the emotions that drove the arguments leading up to them.
Writing about Joanna’s shattered hopes of a lasting love was also helped by the music from that tragic film Love Story. Where Do I Begin, so beautifully sung by Andy Williams.
And for one of Joanna’s patients, Theresa, a young woman, who stopped talking after the birth of her baby, the tune and lyrics of Old Man River, sung by William Warfield, popped into my head when I wrote a group therapy scene. In it, Sam plays the guitar and sings this old lament. Some of the patients join in, but Theresa doesn’t. The significance of the music’s lyrics finds its way into Joanna’s thoughts.
Had Sam consciously chosen this song—one that seemed to speak to Theresa’s condition—or was it one of those synchronous things that happens in life?”
Writing in hope
For the scenes where Joanna begins to see some possibility for change, I used Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens and I Can See Clearly Now The, The Rain Has Gone by Johnny Nash. These classic hits underlined for me Joanna’s hope for some kind of resolution, for a rainbow promising a better future.
Helen Reddy’s feminist anthem I Am Woman gave me the spark to write the scenes where Joanna takes on the head shrink and the medical establishment (all male) over its indiscriminate use of shock treatment.
As I write this, I’m struck by the power of music to soothe, stir up feelings and generate thought. Thank you, Roz, for suggesting I write this post. Music unleashes that inner world, not only of a writer’s characters, but of the writer herself. And what better way to touch a reader than to expose that underbelly.
Diana Stevan has worked as a clinical social worker, model, professional actress and writer-broadcaster for CBC Television’s Sports Journal in Vancouver, Canada. In later years, she wrote three screenplays, two novels—A Cry From The Deep, a romantic adventure, and The Rubber Fence, psychological fiction—a novelette, The Blue Nightgown—short stories, poetry, a stage play and some children’s books. She’s published articles in newspapers and poetry in a UK journal. She is currently working on her grandmother’s story, set in Russia during World War I. Diana lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia with her husband, Robert. Find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter @DianaStevan
My guest this week delved into personal experiences to write her novel. In the 1970s she was working on a psychiatric ward where electric shock treatment was taking place. Years later, troubled by what she had seen, she wrote a novel. She turned to music to reawaken her own memories of the time and to create a cast of characters who are lost in the midst of a broken system. She remarks that her Soundtrack is as much about her own inner world as her characters’ – a line that for me is the very essence of the Undercover Soundtrack series. She is Diana Stevan and she’ll be here on Wednesday.
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 cross-genre author Stephanie Carroll @CarrollBooks
Soundtrack by Dan Gibson, Helen Jane Long, Grimes, Lana Del Rey, Keane, Taylor Swift, The Paper Kites, Peter Gundry, Classical Moods
Mostly music inspires my creative spirit, but sometimes, I realize a song I’ve set on repeat happens to go with a character or part of my plot. I write historical fiction set in the Victorian and Gilded Age with a slightly Gothic edge and usually a magical twist. I listen to an eclectic mix of music while I write, but the songs that inspire me the most tend to reflect the darker side of my work.
A lot of times I’ll put on a classical station on Pandora and then a rain station on YouTube to create the perfect atmosphere. I grew up near the Mojave Desert in a town called Palmdale where it never rained, so I write in a dreary bliss when I feel like a storm is raging outside. Even some of the classical music I listen to incorporates storm sounds. In Spirit Wind, composer Dan Gibson weaved howling wind through a soft cello and piano melody. Otherwise, I enjoy a lot of modern piano like Porcelain by Helen Jane Long.
Sometimes, I’ll listen to a specific song just before I get started, kind of like a pump up routine. Such songs have varied over the years, but Oblivion by Grimes or Video Games by Lana Del Rey are good examples of the kind of haunting yet up-tempo pieces that get me going.
Gothic gilded age
My first novel, A White Room, is a Gothic Gilded Age story about a woman who clings to her sanity by secretly pursuing her dreams of nursing despite her new husband who prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. When I first started working on it, my pump up music included Keane’s Nothing in My Way and A Bad Dream. I found that the lyrics to Nothing in My Way kind of went with my main character Emeline who is trying to conform to a life she does not want and is conflicted by the desire to run away and the desire to honor her obligations.
My second novel, which I am currently prepping for submission, is tentatively titled The Binding of Saint Barbara and is the story of the first death by electrocution told through the eyes of the warden, his wife, and daughter, all of whom live in Auburn Prison during the year the condemned inmate awaits his death in 1890, New York. A major theme in this novel is forgiveness, something that I personally wrestled with during the years leading up to and during the creation of the book. At the height of that struggle, I listened to Innocent by Taylor Swift over and over because I wanted to accept not only my own innocence, but also that of those who had hurt me, a lesson that was subconsciously carried into the book.
In the rain
During the editing stages of The Binding of Saint Barbara, I listened to a lot of my rain-classical combo, but also a couple power songs including Willow Tree March by The Paper Kites and Vanessa by Grimes, which touch on common symbols and themes I use in the book. The lyrics to Vanessa just so happens to correspond to the warden’s daughter, Charlotte, who is maturing into a young woman and is desperate for love even if it comes from the wrong people.
A year or so ago, I wrote a short story called Forget Me Not that was featured in Legacy: An Anthology, and at the time I was really struggling with getting older and where I was in my career. You always imagine where you’ll be when you turn a specific age, and then when you get there, it’s like, ah man. So being the creepy little writer I am, I took that feeling and turned it into a piece about a woman named Lauraline who lives in historical Colma, California, a town of nothing but cemeteries. Lauraline knows she will die in three days without having accomplished anything significant in her life, so she sets out to do something memorable before time runs out. I really wanted to create an eerie and heartwarmingly tragic atmosphere, so I listened to some gloomy pieces like The Shadow’s Bride composed by Peter Gundry and Classical Moods’ Melancholy.
As a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Nevada Press Association. Her debut novel A White Room was featured as a Notable Page Turner in Shelf Unbound Magazine and named 2013’s Best Cross-Genre title by USA Book News. Her short story Forget Me Not was recently featured in Legacy: An Anthology, and she also writes a blog for military wives and girlfriends called Unhinged & Empowered. Find her at www.stephaniecarroll.net or @CarrollBooks on Twitter, also at Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, and Pinterest.
My guest this week grew up in the Mojave desert where rain was a rarity. So a key for her creative space is the sound of wild, wet weather. Sometimes it’s tracks that include storm noises, but she’ll just as easily tune into a rain station at the same time as a piece of music. The sounds go in tandem, whipping up just the right tumult for her writing. So it’s probably not surprising that her work has a Gothic element; she writes what she describes as Victorian and Gilded Age with a Gothic twist. It certainly went down well with USA Book News, who voted her first novel 2013’s best cross-genre title. She is Stephanie Carroll and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.