Posts Tagged Elvis Costello

The Undercover Soundtrack – Meg Carter

for logoThe 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 Women In Journalism advocate and debut novelist Meg Carter @MegCarter

Soundtrack by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phil Collins, Elvis Costello, REM, Madonna, The Pretenders, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Patti Smith

I grew up in a house full of music – classical music. An only child, I was discouraged from playing pop music at home by my parents who were a little older and a bit more conservative than others.

Instead, I spent countless rainy weekend afternoons lying on the sofa in my father’s study imagining film visualisations of LP tracks from Walton’s Façade or Holst’s The Planets. With eyes tightly shut, music shaped my characters, plot and place.

The Undercover Soundtrack Meg Carter 1Until with the arrival of teenage-dom, a pair of headphones, and some new friends, the role of music in my life changed.

Suddenly, music was social currency. Almost overnight, which band you liked or disliked and which non-chart acts you rated (the more obscure, the better) mattered. It defined who was ‘in’ or ‘out’ and also who we wanted to be: lover, survivor, rebel.

How earnestly we’d make each other audio tapes, too. I found one just a few years back in a drawer when we last moved house: a home recording of Freaky Styley (an early Red Hot Chili Peppers album: pre-mainstream success, of course) gifted to me by a classmate’s older brother.

And I kept thinking of this as I began work on my first novel.

The Lies We Tell is a psychological thriller about former school friends Kat and Jude. Set in the present and the late 1980s, past sequences build towards the last time the two girls saw each other: on a school trip when Jude was attacked by a stranger and Kat ran away.

This basic idea is one I’d had for some time. But for a while that was all – no who, where, when or why? Yet I knew the relationship between them would would define what happened next. Hungry for inspiration, for a creative spark, I began to replay old LPs that I’d not listened to in years.

Inside the sleeve of one I found a clutch of A4 sheets on which an old school friend had written out for me every lyric from Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces album… in long hand. She and I were once close then drifted apart. Yet I was intrigued by the fact I still felt deeply touched by her gesture, and grateful. I decided then that Kat and Jude had to be drawn together and – to begin with, at least – be defined by music. It just felt right.

Past and present

How best to interweave and differentiate the now and then stories in The Lies We Tell was an immediate challenge.

The Undercover Soundtrack Meg Carter 2

The musical references helped me establish time and place. But as important was its role in understanding context and mindset; music also provided me with a short cut to excavate the tangled web of teenage friendship. For example, Kat would rather listen to Elvis Costello or some early REM rather than chart hits like Phil Collins’s Groovy Kind of Love – as she proudly tells Jude on their first meeting. And when she visits Kat’s home, Jude greets her collection of early Pretenders, Bowie, and Lou Reed with a nod of approval. Musical taste is a badge of honour, a powerful means of self-differentiation and a declaration of independence, too.

As important as the role of music in the girls’ teenage years is its lack of importance in Kat’s present.

On inveigling her way way into her one-time friend’s home more than two decades later, Jude notes much of the music collection belongs not to Kat but her partner, Michael – with the exception being a collection of Now That’s What I Call Music compilations.

Without hesitation, she selects Madonna’s Like A Prayer – a track she closely associates with a buried secret that once unearthed would change both girls’ lives, forever.

lies_we_tell_final_cropShadow of the past

The dulling of Kat’s musical interest is a reflection of the shadow cast by her past. But it is a pattern played out widely in real life too. Like many, I’ve found as careers and family move centre stage, the joy of discovering new music has been replaced by something else – a nostalgia and a craving to rediscover old favourites that transport us back to a younger, simpler life.

Kat, then, would rather not look back. Jude, however, cannot stop as for years she has navigated life’s challenges with a grim determination fuelled by an acid sense of injustice.

The intensity of Jude’s grievance is encapsulated by her misquoting of Patti Smith’s Babelogue – the spoken poem off the 1978 album Easter, which reverberates with biblical reference and death and resurrection imagery. Jude’s mis-appropriation of Smith’s meaning demonstrates the extent to which her life has become derailed.

I didn’t hear Babelogue until I was at university in the early 1980s at which point, having only encountered Smith through her UK chart hit Because the Night, I found it as shocking as it is haunting. It’s still an inspiration today.

Meg Carter worked as a journalist for 20 years before turning her hand to fiction. Her features have appeared in many newspapers, magazines and online with contributions to titles including You magazine, Independent, Guardian, Financial Times, and Radio Times. She is on the advisory committee of Women in Journalism. Meg recently relocated from west London to Bath, where she now lives with her husband and teenage son. The Lies We Tell is her first novel and is published by Canelo. You can find out more about her at  http://www.megcarter.com and on Twitter @MegCarter.

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‘Shadows of the past’ – Meg Carter

for logoMy guest this week has written a psychological thriller in which two former school friends confront a life-changing event from their past. To create their teenage years in the 1980s, the author delved into her own archives, discovering old mixtapes and an Elvis Costello LP whose sleeve contained a lyric sheet written out by a close friend. She was struck by the way music became less significant over the years. What had once been such a fierce marker of personal identity was now an emblem of a simpler time – though not necessarily for the characters in her novel. She is Women In Journalism advocate Meg Carter and she’ll be here on Wednesday with the Undercover Soundtrack for The Lies We Tell.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Kim Wright

‘Things are not what they seem – and I seek songs where melody and lyrics don’t quite match’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by  Kim Wright, author of Love In Mid Air

Soundtrack by Nick Lowe, 3 Doors Down, Amy Winehouse, Elvis Costello, Chris Isaak, Van Morrison, Diana Krall

For some reason, I’ve always had a penchant for songs that sound upbeat on the surface but that have, when you stop to listen, dark or menacing lyrics. When I was writing Love in Mid Air, I listened to Nick Lowe’s Cruel to Be Kind and I also liked Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down. It makes sense, because the novel is about a woman who seems to have the perfect life, but who has this sarcastic, discontent, wounded inner voice.

Manic energy and heartbreak

I read somewhere that there’s only one theme in literature, which is ‘Things are not what they seem’.  Maybe it’s not the only theme in literature, but it’s a good one, which might be why I like songs where the melody and the lyrics don’t quite match. Lately I’ve fallen in love with Valerie by Amy Winehouse, especially the live version. It’s the epitome of using manic energy to cover up heartbreak and it punches me smack in the gut every time I hear it.

In my head, my heroine Elyse had a theme song, which was The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes by Elvis Costello. It seemed to speak to Elyse’s obsession with turning 40 and her sense that time was running out – and the fact she’s so determined to seize life that she’s almost prepared to make a pact with the devil.  The reference never made it into the book, but I’m working on the sequel now, which is told from the point of view of Elyse’s best friend Kelly, and there’s a scene where Kelly comes downstairs one morning and finds Elyse in the kitchen frying eggs and singing the Costello song.

For the wicked scenes

Sex scenes require something really different. Usually I write them in public spaces, like a Starbucks or sushi bar, and I have absolutely no theory on that one.  Having a crowd around me seems to break down my inhibitions, although I worry sometimes that I’ll leave my laptop to go to the bathroom and come back to find I’ve been arrested on some sort of morals charge.  When I’m home I play either Wicked Game by Chris Isaak –  who I met one time and, incidentally, he’s  just as hot as his song  –  or, if the scene calls for something more domestic or tender, Warm Love by Van Morrison.  Van Morrison might be a patron saint for writers in general. His lyrics are terrific.

When I was doing a lot of magazine writing, we always worked way ahead of schedule – I was writing articles about the dangers of sunburns in December and tips for New Year’s entertaining in July. Music was a way for me to trick myself into the seasonal switch. In Love in Mid Air, Elyse throws a big Christmas party and I was working on that scene down at my mom’s beach house in the dead of summer. I specifically remember listening to Diana Krall singing Sleigh Ride one afternoon while I was walking my dog on the beach and it was like 100 degrees.

Headspace and rituals

It’s funny how often writers use these weird little tricks to get themselves into a certain headspace- to reset their thoughts to another place or time or mood.  Developing rituals around your writing seems to be a key part of the job and I’ve often thought that the writers who claim they never get blocked are those who have created very specific signals to their subconscious that say ‘Sit down and shut up, because it’s now time to write’.  Music can be a big part of this; it’s like a shortcut between certain parts of the brain.

Kim Wright is the author of the novel Love in Mid Air (Grand Cental) and the writing guide Your Path to Publication (Press 53) .  She lives in Charlotte, NC and her hobbies include travel and ballroom dancing. Find her on Twitter at @Kim_Wright_W


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