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.
17 thoughts on “The Undercover Soundtrack – Anne Goodwin”
Thanks so much for the opportunity to share my undercover soundtrack. An honour to be here.
A pleasure to host you today, Anne. Thanks for such a personal post.
Hi Anne Goodwin, I enjoyed where this post took me.
‘Housewives Choice’ with Gabriel Faure – who would have guessed that worked so well.
Excellent version of Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor! Also, I love Benedictus – loved the singer too. For your listening pleasure here is a sobering version by 2Cellos – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcdEaaYKFjE.
The Story of Isaac – great pick. Along those lines is Cohen’s “Waiting for the Miracle to Come.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWI4A-koazI.
Died laughing that you selected Country Joe McDonald. It is truly the perfect protest song. ‘Seasons in The Sun’ a stab from the past like Rod McKuen’s poetry / gads ‘Listen to the Warm.’ And mother’s music – yep. There is no planet in the solar system I could listen to Jim Reeves.
I can tell by your music you have a fluid and humorous style. ‘Sugar and Snails’ sounds like a good story.
Best of luck wherever your writing takes you.
And Roz, thanks for letting another author’s examination of the muse.
Thanks for your feedback, Mark. I agree, that cello intro to Benedictus is so good it stands alone – thanks the sharing that version. And enjoyed listening to “Waiting for the Miracle” which also fits with my novel.
But, hey, I do have a sense of humour but I’m deadly serious about Jim Reeves! Great singalong music.
You are welcome, Anne. Enjoyed your playlist immensely.
So today I am writing, listening to the soundtrack to The Revenant – an amazing score by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Are you working on anything new? – mob
Somewhat bitty right now as coming to the end of my blog tour – wrote a 99-word flash fiction and started to feel normal again!
Can listen to music while I’m actually writing though. Will check out your UCST
Good to see you two getting acquainted!
Yes, great to connect, apologies for my tardiness!
What an interesting post. I had never given thought to the importance of music as an aid to writing. It would definitely help evoke the emotions and memories of the times being written about. I guess the music is an important part of creating mood in a movie, why not in a novel, even it’s it’s only part of the writer’s creative process? Thanks for sharing this unfamiliar part of the process.
Nice to meet you, Norah. As you’ll see if you poke through the archives, there are a lot of writers who harness the powers of music in their work. Hopefully you’ll find plenty here to amuse and inspire.
Thanks for the invitation, Roz. 🙂
Hi Norah! You may be as stunned as I was when I first discovered Roz’s Undercover Soundtrack – which I now consider a cultural resource.
There are a surprising number of different ideas about how authors think of, and the essays they have created about music in their work. Also you can pick up some pretty interesting tunes. One of the earliest authors of books in the west, Hildegard Von Bingen mixed her multimedia visions composing omnibus books of text, pictures, and music all intermixed.
As you hit the nail on the head – music is an important part of creating mood in movies – and you may find the right music highly influential in helping you to think cinematically when writing scenes.
Best of luck.
Mark Richard Beaulieu
Thank you for that additional information, Mark. It’s certainly provides food for thought, or maybe music to create to. I appreciate your comment. Best wishes. Norah
Mark – good to see you here – as always!
The undercover soundtrack is such a fabulous resource and I really enjoyed putting together my compilation – sometimes it’s hard pinning down the various experiences, large and small, that have influenced our writing, but music is definitely one.
It definitely adds another layer of complexity, and fits beautifully with Charli challenge this week. I’m wondering if you will go musical.
Ha, certainly good timing for that prompt!