Posts Tagged Etta James

The Undercover Soundtrack – Tanya Landman

for logo‘A horse, a hat and a fight for freedom’

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 Carnegie Medal nominee Tanya Landman

Soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein, Ennio Morricone, Max Steiner, Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, Nina Simone, Etta James, Paul Robeson, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, Billie Holiday

I don’t listen to music while I’m writing – I need total silence to concentrate – and I rarely play music in the house. It’s only when I’m driving that I stick on a CD (yes, I’m that old fashioned), and even then I often prefer silence. So why am I writing this blog? Because, when I was invited to, I realised how much music had contributed to the making of Buffalo Soldier.

Some books have a very long evolution. Strands of music, images and ideas that have been knocking around in your head for years eventually come together and form something new. Buffalo Soldier started with the Westerns that were constantly on TV and in the cinema when I was a child. I grew up wanting to be a cowboy. There were two particularly memorable movie themes that made me long for a horse, a hat, and the wide open range – Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven, and Ennio Morricone’s The Good the Bad and the Ugly. 2012pidred-j.peg (1)

Gone girl

Then there was Gone With the Wind. I was taken to see it for the first time when I was about 11 or 12 and was captivated by its epic scale and sweep. It was the first time I’d seen a heroine take charge of her own fate. I still find Tara’s theme by Max Steiner stirring, particularly when Scarlett vows never to be hungry again.

When I was growing up, the Wild West and the Deep South seemed worlds apart. I had no idea how closely connected they were until I was doing background reading for my book Apache and came across references to black soldiers. It was after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation – who were these guys and what were they doing in the west?

Further research led me to the buffalo soldiers. The Bob Marley song suddenly made sense. That lyric took on fresh importance.

Bitter irony

Many of the men of the 9th and 10th US Cavalry were freed slaves in a world that had been turned on its head. They signed up and were sent to fight the Indian Wars. Freed men, fighting Native Americans? I was struck by the bitter irony of the situation and started reading everything I could get my hands on about slavery and the aftermath of the Civil War. In the car I started listening Nina Simone and Etta James, Paul Robeson and Louis Armstrong. Gospel music. Spirituals. And then I went back to Gone With the Wind. Gone With the Wind is a hugely problematic film, depicting a wildly romantic Old South where slavery is a benign institution, where field hands contentedly pick cotton and sing from pure happiness.

When I re-read the novel, the scene in which Big Sam starts singing Go Down Moses as he’s sent off to help fortify Atlanta against the advancing Yankee army snagged in my head. He’s clearly meant to be a faintly comic character and Scarlett fondly watches him go. Now, Margaret Mitchell was a gifted writer and she knew her Civil War history inside out yet she appears to have no idea about the significance of that particular song. A spiritual about the enslavement of God’s Chosen People. Didn’t she ever listen to the lyrics? Go Down Moses is linked to Nat Turner – organiser of one of the bloodiest slave revolts in US history. It was used as a rallying cry by Denmark Vesey when slaves rebelled in Charleston. Harriet Tubman used it as a code song when helping fellow slaves escape along the Underground Railroad. How could Margaret Mitchell not know this? Go Down Moses gave me an insight into a very blinkered view of history in which whites chose not to see what was happening under their noses. It also gave me a burning desire to tell the story of the Civil War from the other side.

Swing Low Sweet Chariot (sung here by Paul Robeson) was another song I listened to repeatedly and in fact it features in the book – the longing for a better place, to be taken from a world of misery and suffering and carried ‘home’ speaks volumes. It stirred my emotions and helped create mood and atmosphere. The Undercover Soundtrack Buffalo Soldier by Tanya LandmanWay back in school when I was in the sixth form I was in a play, which featured I Shall Be Released (sung here by Nina Simone) and Change Gonna Come (Sam Cooke’s version here). The yearning, the terrible weariness you can feel in both songs, informed various characters’ emotional development and fed my writing. There’s one particular scene in Buffalo Soldier in which Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit was in my mind. So quiet, so passionate, so powerful – I can’t listen to it without feeling a chilling sense of horror. It makes me weep.

And finally – there’s one piece of music that runs all the way through Buffalo Soldier – Sam Hall. I was looking for something with a traditional feel and upbeat but also with a dark, violent undercurrent and a real sense of menace. Appropriately enough I heard the song first watching the 2011 Western Blackthorn with my children and tracked down the Johnny Cash version because the lyrics suited my purpose perfectly.

Tanya Landman is the award winning author of more than 30 books for children and young adults. Buffalo Soldier has been shortlisted for this year’s Carnegie Medal. Her website is here and you can find her on Facebook.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Glynis Smy

for logo‘I heard a song being played in an electrical store’

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’s post is by romantic novelist Glynis Smy @GlynisSmy

Soundtrack by Madonna, Roseanne Cash, Etta James, James Vincent McMorrow

Quite often a piece of music will transport me back to an emotional time in my life or a happy event and words flood into pea-brain. I don’t seek out music intentionally but often find inspiration within the lyrics or rhythm.

Music stimulates my creative juices. For my fourth novel The Penny Portrait, I tended to be more aware of music as a scene writing influence than in previous times.

10426557_10152287113790988_4736214646342535311_nI’ve been known to jot down notes in a supermarket when they are playing a piece of music that forms an image in my mind. This happened when I heard Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, being played inside a well-known electrical store during a visit to the UK. I sought out one of the assistants as I knew the original singer (Rose Royce) but didn’t recognise the version they played. It appeared the song was by Madonna. It triggered the base of a novel plot which eventually became The Penny Portrait. It is the emotional growth and survival of a sixteen-year-old Victorian girl abandoned by her parents. I could see Elle Buchanan, standing alone and forlorn and the rest is in the story.

When my father passed away I played one of his favourite pieces of music, Sea of Heartbreak by Roseanne Cash. I was living in Cyprus at the time and a dreadful wave of homesickness came over me. I altered the town where the novel was set. I took it back to my birth town, to where my father now rested by the sea. I had walked along a spot where we became trapped by a returning tide when I was a child and recalled how he carried me on his back to safety. This was where I eventually took my character. To the place my father had been my hero, to where I played with my best friend who passed away when we were 36 years old, and to the place where I walked with my boyfriend (now husband). A rugged pathway of emotions beside the sea – a sea of heartbreak and joy.

Return journey

The song triggered so much emotion in me that the decision was made for our return to the UK. In 2013 I walked along the path to the area I remembered and knew it was the right place to write my character’s journey through a difficult life. Elle Buchanan finds friendship here, she falls in love and also loses a friend in the area.

Browsing through Madonna’s video selection a few months later, I stumbled across, Frozen. Although I was writing an emotional scene at the time, another was triggered by the words at the start of the song. My characters Elle, and Matthew, took me on another journey and during that journey I created a project for Elle to pursue but couldn’t get her to grasp what I needed from her. She obviously prefers to listen to Etta James, as when I played Damn Your Eyes from Mother’s collection, Elle sent me images of what I needed to write so she could open up her artistic soul. A whole chapter and an ending came from a mix of inspirational words and visions they conjured up for me. Elle couldn’t express her feelings for Matthew during the creation of a painting and left only black eyes as windows for his soul. Her French friend despaired of her and basically told her she had frozen her soul to ignore the facts.

Kindle front ppWhile researching the railway service of our town I played my YouTube listing as I browsed endless snippets of information but all I gathered were dates. Useful but not the wow factor I required to inspire me that particular day. Around two hours into the project I tapped my foot to This Old Dark Machine by James Vincent McMorrow. Bam! The chapter of Elle and her mentor Angus, rose to the fore, although the words did not relate to what I’d been researching the title and rhythm of the song triggered a chapter about the first steam train ride for Elle.

Glynis Smy lives in the UK, in the seaside town of, Dovercourt, Harwich. She writes historical romance with a twist. The Victorian era fascinates her and she says the best part of writing a novel is often the research. She also writes poetry and short stories. Proud writing moments in her life include being shortlisted for the Festival of Romance Fiction 2014 New Talent Award –  and reaching the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2014. When she is not writing, she enjoys making greetings cards, cross stitch, fishing and the company of her granddaughter. Her blog is here, and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter @GlynisSmy.

 

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