‘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 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.
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