The Undercover Soundtrack – Vivienne Tuffnell

‘Obsessive love underlies the whole novel’

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

Soundtrack by Vivaldi, Tanita Tikaram, Tori Amos

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 dream

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.

Preyed upon

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

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  1. #1 by cydmadsen on October 17, 2012 - 10:39 am

    I’ll never cook dinner again or shop for clothes. The new law of this house because there are far too many good books coming to light through this blog. I have to read. Let the rest be.

    What a delicious description of the musical impact on this book. And the theme is one that begs more exploration. How lucky we are that you’ve shared the influence of music on your work, and how much more interesting it will make the reading experience.

    Off to Amazon now. Books to buy and all that. Again, thank you for the peek inside your process.

    • #2 by Viv on October 17, 2012 - 11:24 am

      I cook because I get hungry(as do the family) but I don’t shop for clothes because I’m a good cook and therefore I seldom fit into the clothes I think I ought to wear!
      Glad you enjoyed the description.
      And yes, too many books, not enough time. We need servants to do the chores and bring us coffee and more books!

      • #3 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on October 17, 2012 - 9:10 pm

        I wish I could read while I sleep. I have so many books stacked up and I keep buying more. Thanks, Viv, for a terrific post.

  2. #4 by Anne R. Allen on October 17, 2012 - 4:18 pm

    Sounds like another must read. I love the cover too. I don’t always comment, but I love these, Roz!

    • #5 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on October 17, 2012 - 9:11 pm

      Anne – great to see you here! That cover is terrific, isn’t it? I’m sure I recognise the typeface…. Viv, is that Copperplate Goth?

      • #6 by Viv on October 18, 2012 - 7:09 am

        I thought for a moment you were asking me if I were a Copperplate Goth! First thing in the morning, I’m none too sharp.
        I actually don’t know what it is, because Andrew Meek did my cover for me and we just messed around till we both said, THAT’S IT. I’m very lucky as Andrew is very good at picking up visual images from passages of prose and from me waffling around about themes. I sent him various bits and pieces and also this post about the house itself being a character: and he came up with the cover.

  3. #7 by Inion N. Mathair on October 17, 2012 - 6:17 pm

    Must read, need to find out what shocking thing he’s done. Love the idea of obsessive love rather than a normal romance, which can tend to be one dimensional, if not done properly. And, we’re huge fan’s of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. My mother and I have always been inspired by music. I’m a singer, and she plays the guitar, so we tend to listen to music when we write. She veers towards hard rock and punk, while I keep to classical or traditional Celtic music. Thanks for the post, Roz.

    • #8 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on October 17, 2012 - 9:12 pm

      Viv’s done a terrific job here, hasn’t she? Obsessive love could go anywhere – and I’m sure this book will surprise. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Inion!

      • #9 by Viv on October 18, 2012 - 7:11 am

        I must say also, this is very much not a romance of any description, conventional or otherwise. It may be about relationships but not romantic ones.

  4. #10 by alisonwells on October 21, 2012 - 7:36 am

    This book sounds fantastic Vivienne, I’m putting it on my list now and I’m not familiar with all of the songs so it will be really interesting to listen and see what the mood of each is. I don’t tend to listen to music as I write but I’m eager to at least find songs to inform and generate ideas within future projects.

    • #11 by Viv on October 21, 2012 - 4:20 pm

      Thanks Alison. When I was teaching English, I did a lesson on music with my more advanced students. One of those lessons where mostly what I did was sit and do not a lot, because each student had to present a piece of music, a song or whatever as if it were a NEW piece and say why they thought it ought to be a massive success. Their tastes were obviously that of teenagers but it wasn’t unusual for me to be struck by something I’d never come across before. GreenDay may well be a soundtrack to later novels… as a result of a lovely Chinese girl rejoicing in the name of Circle playing some as her choice. I do my best not to fossilise as I get older!

  5. #13 by Viv on October 21, 2012 - 7:32 pm

    It was indeed Circle. This year I also taught a Lala (named actually after a Teletubby). They get given or choose an English name. Some do not choose wisely.
    We had a boy a few years back who decided his name was to be Incredible. Seriously. he wasn’t….

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