Undercover Soundtrack

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 .





8 thoughts on “The Undercover Soundtrack – Vivienne Tuffnell

  1. Hi Vivienne,

    Identity stories are my favorite, and I like that Verity seems to be on the edge of many alternate senses of being. Carolyn Hillyer is a great channeling singer who fits with the Celtic women I listen to when deep energy needs to be drawn on. Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun is everything you say it is. You might find interesting the Art of Noise (with John Hurt) production of the ‘Seduction of Claude Debussy.” Not all tracks work, but it made me reflect on his life and Baudelaire.

    As for New Age, check out the bright sonic world of Ishq, ‘The invisible landscape’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qx4oKRTiLhE. At any rate, I like that poetry is a trigger, especially TS Eliot. Medieval French troubadours are mine. Well, good luck and put me down for one Mayan Heart Retrieval.

    With every best wish, Mark

    1. Hi Mark,
      I shall keep an eye out for those; very interesting.
      For work some years ago, I ended up in Poitiers the same day there were modern troubadours playing old instruments in the town square; very, very strange experience (you can read a bit about it here: https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/stepping-into-the-past-the-painted-church-in-poitiers/)
      Thank you for such a fun response; I own a Mayan chiming heart but alas, I don’t do the retrievals…

      1. Viv, nice to hear back. I absolutely loved reading your lively blog account of being in Poitiers square. The photos of the Norte Dame of Poitiers are beautiful. This color chalk church dates back to the 11th century when stained glass did not exist, and it was called Sainte Maria. When I visited, there was so much mold in the air; Joanna hurried out. She told me, “I am afraid I am allergic to history.” It is just 500 yards from Eleanor’s “marble” tower, so she visited the church often. Here is a reconstruction of a troubadour in her time around 1145, singing a magnificent poem in her tongue – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAuD9gByYwE

        1. That was lovely. I also loved the film of the waters bubbling from the earth (a spring, I assume) at the early part. I have an affinity with springs, even wrote a novel about one.

    1. Always a pleasure to hear what your authors have to say. Underground Soundtracks is such an excellent place to discover new music, and look at writing from an unexpected, creative point of view. Thanks for creating it, Roz.

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