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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 supernatural historical thriller writer Gwendolyn Womack @Gwen_Womack
Soundtrack by Phil Thornton, Gerald Jay Markoe, Dead Can Dance, Lana Ross, Caryl James Thompson, Mikael Sapin, Nigel Stanford, James Hood
Music is a wonderful companion while writing. I’ve often found writing to the right song can help deepen a scene, kick start the solution to a problem, or spawn a new idea. Sometimes before I sit down to write, I’ll search for over an hour sampling songs on iTunes, YouTube and the internet to find what I’m looking for. I don’t even know what that is until I’ve heard it. All I know is it has to be the perfect song to evoke the emotional state I’m trying to capture. Does it conjure a specific time or place? create a doorway to a culture? help foster the emotions I want my character to be feeling? —or me to feel as I write? The reason for the song constantly changes.
Once I find the perfect song, sometimes I’ll loop it for days while I’m writing. Looping helps to create a flow so there is no interruption in my train of thought. I’ve also found in general the music needs to be instrumental, otherwise the lyrics become a distraction.
Knowing I would want to share my playlist for my second novel, I kept close track of the songs. The Fortune Teller is a romantic thriller that revolves around an ancient manuscript and the world’s first Tarot cards. The novel alternates between present day and the manuscript’s story, which is both a memoir and a prophecy spanning 2000 years. Because the memoir journeys to different lands and lifetimes as it moves forward in time, the music I chose to listen to changed dramatically as well. When I finished the novel the entire playlist was quite extensive, but I’d like to highlight the songs and albums that were a driving force while I wrote.
For the memoir, which begins in Alexandria, Egypt, I listened to the album Pharaoh by Phil Thornton, which evoked the perfect setting. As I wrote scenes taking place in the secret vaults of the great Library of Alexandria I looped this song: Meditation Music of Ancient Egypt by Gerald Jay Markoe. The song felt like a time machine taking me to those underground chambers.
During the memoir chapters I also wrote a lot to Dead Can Dance, one of my favorite groups. The memoir was written by an ancient seer and she conjures her own magic and mystery as she tells her story. I found Dead Can Dance perfectly tapped into that world. I listened to the album Toward The Within and favored tracks #2 – Persian Love Song, #4 Yulunga, #5 Piece for Solo Flute, and #14 Sanvean for weeks as I wrote her memoir on seeing the future.
I’ve also found film soundtracks can be a wonderful resource to find the perfect instrumental song. A prime example is in the memoir when the story reached Milan in the 1400s, I listened to specific tracks from the soundtrack to Dangerous Beauty. Although the film takes place in 16th-century Venice, the music still helped strike the setting in my mind for that chapter.
When the memoir moved to the Russian Revolution and then onto World War II, I was playing Lana Ross nonstop. Lana Ross was a lucky find on one of my internet hunts. She is a guitar soloist who has an album of Jewish folk music that is exquisite. I also listened to this theme song repeatedly from the documentary The Lady In Number 6, played by Caryl James Thompson. The poignancy of this song just swept me away and captured an essence I was looking for while trying to write about the war. I highly recommend watching the documentary too. It follows the story of the world’s oldest pianist and Holocaust survivor.
For the present day storyline of Semele Cavnow, who is attempting to unravel the mystery behind the ancient manuscript, there were three key albums I listened to: Far Away by Mikael Sapin, Solar Echoes by Nigel Stanford, and Pure Ceremony by James Wood.
Far Away is some of the most heartrending piano music I’ve ever heard and I remember looping it on a long plane ride I took and writing several scenes for Semele. After that I just kept going back to the music for her. There was an emotional aspect that it captured—a sadness, a longing.
For Solar Echoes, I remember my favorite track being Dark Sun, though I am a super fan of Nigel’s and all his songs. But Dark Sun captured the energy of Semele’s quest. The story is ultimately a thriller and Semele is on a journey to find answers, and this song has a driving quality. I listened to it a lot as I wrote the last chapters with Semele traveling across Europe.
And the third album, Pure Ceremony by James Hood, is phenomenal singing drum music. My favorite track was Timebomb which I looped too many times to count as the story’s supernatural elements came to the fore. There is some bending of time in the novel and Timebomb was the song I wrote the majority of those scenes to. (I also thought the title of the song could not have been more appropriate.)
Those are the main pieces to the musical puzzle that helped shaped The Fortune Teller. It’s quite wonderful to look back on the playlist and remember what I wrote to the songs. If I could send each artist a Book Valentine I would.
Gwendolyn Womack writes romantic thrillers that explore a spectrum of metaphysical subjects. Her debut novel, The Memory Painter, published by Macmillan/ Picador, was an RWA Prism Award winner and Indie Next Pick. Her second novel is The Fortune Teller. Gwendolyn lives in LA and paints as a hobby. Find out more at her website and watch The Fortune Teller and The Memory Painter book trailers on YouTube. Tweet her as @Gwen_Womack
ancient Egypt, Caryl James Thompson, Dead Can Dance, dual timeline, Gerald Jay Markoe, Gwendolyn Womack, James Hood, Lana Ross, metaphysical fiction, Mikael Sapin, Nigel Stanford, Phil Thornton, romantic thriller, supernatural thriller, Tarot, The Fortune Teller, thriller, undercover soundtrack, writers and music, writing with music
My guest this week is another returner to the series. When she posted about her first novel, her preoccupations included memory and time, and they return again in this new work – a romantic thriller based around the twined stories of an ancient memoir and the world’s first Tarot cards. Music was key to creating these different lands and lives and her mental soundscape includes a tour through ancient Egypt, Milan in the 1400s and the modern seers Dead Can Dance. She is Gwendolyn Womack and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
ancient Egypt, Dead Can Dance, dual timelines, Gwendolyn Womack, historical fiction, literary fiction, Memory, Milan, music for writing, romantic thriller, Tarot, Tarot cards, The Fortune Teller, time, undercover soundtrack
Once a week 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 magical realist author Rohan Quine @RohanQuine
Soundtrack by Sinead O’Connor, Dead Can Dance, Suede, Lana Del Rey, Kim Wilde, Soft Cell, This Mortal Coil, Roxy Music, Madonna, The Orb, The KLF, Ministry, Genesis, Marc and the Mambas, Marc Almond, Kode9 and the Spaceape, Bronski Beat, Donna Summer, Erasure, Bauhaus, Bryan Ferry
Since women are a bit cooler than men, I’ll start with the women in the following cast of principal characters – a cast loosely spread across all five published tales (The Imagination Thief and four novellas – The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong). Aptly here, Alaia Danielle is a singer. She’s morally upright and somewhat high-tension, with cool good taste and a large, cerebral compassion. Her dignity and the humanity beneath her seriousness were partly conjured up by the majesty with which Troy by Sinéad O’Connor builds up, from controlled quietness into a world-bestriding anger that’s just as controlled. Performing, Alaia emits a wordless song with the viscerality of Diamanda Galás and the ethereality of the Cocteau Twins; but the best single suggestion of her was the sublime The Host of Seraphim by Dead Can Dance.
Pippa Vail is a sweet, depressive dreamer who sits on her high-rise tower-block balcony in silence, while her rich inner life seeps out across the town spread below her; her prominent green eyes look wet and hurt, as if she’s been crying, though there are no tear-stains. Evoking the swell of silent beauty she hears in the sky, from within the unending loneliness of her high-rise balcony-grave, many early tracks by Suede influenced my creation of her. Two amazing examples are Still Life and – appropriate for her high-rise location – High Rising.
Evelyn Carmello is sunny, tough, sassy and social, looming large in her small home-town of Asbury Park, near New York. Lana Del Rey’s 2012 album fed into her, but Evelyn is lighter. Starcrazy by Suede was useful as a very Evelyn example of another kind of Suede heroine: joyously functional in the real world, she’s a dirty-sexy streetwise party-girl, although that scene is mostly now in her recent past. I can also hear in Evelyn an echo or two of that cool-eyed, dirty-city classic Kids in America by Kim Wilde.
Ravens in the tower
Constant in the Chocolate Raven is a yearning for the everyday external world to transcend its qualities of dullness and flatness, to attain the colours and lights living in her mind. The music that helped create her, therefore (especially when she’s on that Dubai skyscraper terrace, creating the tower in the mountains from convulsive blasts of energy she fires across the night-time desert), was music that radiates a transcendent beauty undercut by regret that such beauty will always be up against such a deadweight. Salient examples were Song to the Siren by This Mortal Coil and To Turn You On by Roxy Music. The Chocolate Raven’s creation of the Platinum Raven is in itself a song to the siren.
In that nightclub tower where the Platinum Raven presides, events of the brightest darkness, decadence and beauty occur. The dance-floor is a cat-walk where every night those anorexic models float past us, beautifully drugged-out and weak and untouchable, forever down the runways of their airport lanes, expressionless in damage through the night-lit clouds with their make-up flashing soft in the lights, like perfection, clad in shreds of lightest silk that conceal the needle-marks. The album Erotica by Madonna was in the mix here, being steeped in this heightened feeling of darkness beneath legendary nightclub fabulousness; yet this album’s world-class attitude and sass are permeated by a simple, universal sense of the sadness and longing that enrich even the wildest pleasures and highest achievements we’re capable of while alive. The title track Erotica is a fine example – as is the track Deeper and Deeper, beneath whose easy hedonistic surface lies a perfect evocation of the natural evanescence of your every past joy and your every future joy.
The Platinum Raven’s conspirator in that tower is a DJ named Amber, whose infernal nature and allure reflect the fact that he happens to be the continuation of Rutger Hauer’s psychopathic character in the film The Hitcher. Soundtrack-wise, however, he’s evoked by what he might spin: late in the main room, Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb; then later still in the VIP room, something from the legendary album Chill Out by The KLF, such as the track 3am Somewhere Out of Beaumont.
Damian West is a gangster whose gauntness of expression indicates much danger and paranoia. The sound of the inside of Damian’s head was well suggested by the colossal charisma of The Fall by Ministry. Another contribution was made by the claustrophobic immensity of that slick little slice of hell, Mama by Genesis.
Angel Deon (in some novellas called Scorpio) is an androgynous creature whose spiteful sleek depraved face radiates decadence and damage from its sharp beauty. He is shadowy, effete, both unhealthy and luminous; his head is a fantastically dark cavern of jagged riches, and musically he’s pure Marc and the Mambas, plus tons of the darker output of Soft Cell and of Marc Almond solo. To locate my creation of Angel, I’d pinpoint somewhere between two stunning Mambas tracks: The Animal in You; and My Former Self.
Lucan Abayomi is a charismatic gang-leader, drug-dealer and Angel’s boyfriend, whose smile spells trouble, violence, sex and danger. He was partly born from that dubby bass in lots of dubstep from around 2006, redolent of nocturnal high-rise housing estates, lonely concrete spaces and bass speakers booming out of car windows. We can hear part of his origins in two by Kode9 and the Spaceape: Nine Samurai; and Sine.
Shigem Adele is an effusive, flamboyant nightclub host, a lovable and neurotic survivor, whose warmth can illuminate a roomful of people. He was born somewhere between two classic electronic dance tracks: the haunting anguish and defiant beauty of Why? by Bronski Beat; and the iconic sensuality of I Feel Love by Donna Summer.
Kim Somerville is newly in love with Shigem, being quiet, observant and loyal, with a tinge of thoughtful pessimism:
In an absent way he sings along to the lyrics of the track playing quietly on the club’s sound system; and I am struck by his voice, which is clean, vanilla, supple, pure and filled with earnest beauty. It’s a voice of great wholesomeness, picturesquely sad and honest, redolent of goodness – and a little white lie, I think.
That was inspired by the voice of Erasure’s Andy Bell, always to be heard with Vince Clarke’s keyboards, as in the beauty of two representative Erasure tracks: the grandeur and exuberance of Run to the Sun; and the sombre grandeur of Crown of Thorns.
Finally, my narrator Jaymi Peek. Most of the time he’s subtle or elusive in nature, being a humorous clear lens and benign observer. In his broadcasts, though, he becomes a charismatic and empowered face who projects himself addictively into the imaginations of a global audience – the assaultive power of which is suggested in Double Dare by Bauhaus, whose message never dates. (I hereby stake a musical claim: the first 15 sentences of the long paragraph at the bottom of this page, narrated by Jaymi, constitute what must be the most precise verbal description ever written, by anyone silly enough to try it, of the exact sound of the first 40 seconds of Double Dare.) As with the Chocolate Raven’s projection of the Platinum Raven, one of Jaymi’s missions in his wildly varied projections is perhaps to help himself (and us) to transcend all that needs transcending. Echoing the Song to the Siren that I mentioned above for her, I shall therefore end here by returning to that song for Jaymi too – but this time it’s Song to the Siren by Bryan Ferry, from 2010. This is a sound so rarefied by its own expensive exquisiteness that its surface feels laminated and sterilised from all reality, residing forever in some elite suite of perfection above us, with nowhere higher left to go before the air would run out altogether…
Rohan’s novel The Imagination Thief and four novellas – The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong – aim to push imagination and language towards their extremes, to explore and illuminate the beauty, horror and mirth of this predicament called life, where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time. He’s on Twitter at @RohanQuine and has a website www.rohanquine.com
authors, Bauhaus, Bronski Beat, Bryan Ferry, Chocolate Raven, contemporary fiction, Dead Can Dance, Desert Island Discs, Donna Summer, drama, entertainment, Erasure, Genesis, horror, Kim Wilde, Kode9 and the Spaceape, Lana Del Rey, Madonna, magic realism, male writers, Marc Almond, Marc and the Mambas, Ministry, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Platinum Raven, playlist for writers, Rohan Quine, Roxy Music, Roz Morris, Sinead O'Connor, Soft Cell, Suede, The Imagination Thief, The KLF, The Orb, The Undercover Soundtrack, This Mortal Coil, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, urban fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week writes urban fiction imbued with magic realism and horror. His characters are drawn directly from soundtracks, from music that expressed their desperation, loneliness, fragility and streetwise sass – Sinead O’Connor to Madonna; Dead Can Dance to Suede and Soft Cell. He is Rohan Quine and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, contemporary fiction, Dead Can Dance, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, horror, Madonna, magic realism, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Rohan Quine, Roz Morris, Sinead O'Connor, Soft Cell, Suede, The Imagination Thief, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, urban fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2022. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'