‘Very French; weighed down by heat and melancholy’
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 debut novelist Claire King @ckingwriter
Soundtrack by Erik Satie, Cat Power, Counting Crows, Francis Cabrel
As an author whose days are pulled and split between parenting, work, chores and all the other usual distractions, when it’s time to write I find it really helpful to use sensory prompts to pull me quickly out of my own world and into the story. Visual prompts like photographs help, as do smells, tastes and definitely music.
The Night Rainbow, my debut novel, is set in southern France in the heat of August. It is narrated by five-year-old Pea, and plays out in a very limited environment – her house and the surrounding meadows and hills – but which of course seems much bigger to a child of that age. It also takes place over a surprisingly short span of time. But again, to a child a week can seem like forever. Because of this, I had a relatively small selection of music that I played when I was writing The Night Rainbow that would bring me back to the place, the time and the characters. I always listened to it on headphones, which emphasised the feeling of immersion.
Margot and Pea
The one album that I played over and over was Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, by Alexandre Tharaud. Of these pieces, Gnossienne 1 for me really captured the feel of the novel. I found this piano music perfectly evocative of the environment I was trying to create – it’s very French, and it seems weighed down by heat and melancholy, yet the delicate notes of the piano evoke the lightness of childish movement. As Pea and Margot made their daily forays down through the peach orchard, over the fence and down past the donkeys to the stream, they were accompanied by this music.
Claude and Pea
Pea’s mother has been struck by tragedy twice in quick succession, having recently lost a baby and her husband. Burdened by grief and isolated from the village, she has retreated into herself. So, left to their own devices, Pea and her little sister run wild in the meadows. This is where they meet Claude, who Pea believes is at least a friend, and possibly a potential new papa. The relationship that develops between them is a cornerstone of the novel. On the one hand it’s an unusual relationship, which from an adult point of view can look rather sinister. But on the other hand, Claude is giving Pea what we, as readers, want to give her – company, food, shelter and kindness. The song that pulled me back to this relationship again and again is Cat Power’s cover of I Found a Reason.
There is something magical and ethereal about this simple song. I hooked onto the sense of being believed in, of hope and of being saved by someone. What struck me when I saw the cover for The Night Rainbow that Bloomsbury had designed was that they had somehow picked up on this image I had of Pea running, running, running. (See also the book trailer for another representation of this) and the piano music they chose (independently) to represent the book. A perfect synergy with my intention for the novel.
As Pea busies herself trying to take on the role of the adult in her family, her mother is sinking deeper and deeper into desperation. Heavily pregnant, apparently alienated somehow from her own parents and in danger of losing her farmhouse home now that her French husband is dead, Maman is struggling badly. I had to be so careful when writing this character because I wanted readers not to condemn her for being neglectful, but to sympathise with her plight. Her song was Amy Hit the Atmosphere by Counting Crows. I found her desperation in this song, but also a great evocation of that powerful need we have for our mothers, for someone to care for us.
Pea is reminded, towards the end of her story, of a moment between her mother and father dancing. The song they dance to is Je t’aimais, je t’aime et je t’aimerai by Francis Cabrel.
This song is in French, and I’ve not found a translation of the lyrics on the web that I’m completely happy with, but here’s one example.
This song was important to me because in amongst its many beautiful images, it captures the naivety of childhood, the messiness and the regrets of adulthood and amongst all that the essence of enduring, abiding love, that I wanted for my characters. Ultimately isn’t it what we all want for our children and for ourselves?
Claire King works and writes in southern France – where she lives in a shabby stone house in the middle of nowhere with her husband and their two young daughters. Her first novel – The Night Rainbow – is now out from Bloomsbury. Find her at her website and on Twitter @ckingwriter
GIVEAWAY Claire is excited to give away a print copy of The Night Rainbow to a commenter here. Bonus entries if you share on Facebook, Twitter, Google + and elsewhere (one entry per medium). Don’t forget to come here and tell me in the comments where you’ve shared it as I might not know!