Posts Tagged family drama

The Undercover Soundtrack – SD Mayes

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 SD Mayes @authormayes

Soundtrack by John Mayer, Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Mozart, Liszt

Letters to the Pianist, a story set amidst the bloodshed of WWII, is a parallel dance between that most powerful and complex of bonds: father and daughter.  Joe, a Jewish greengrocer and his eldest daughter, Ruth – my two protagonists – narrate their own stories and in many ways sing their own deeply felt songs, as their paths take radically different directions, with at times, devastating consequences. Their story is about choices, the secrets we carry, overcoming challenges, and most of all, the importance of family.

We always hope we have an angel to watch over us, but we don’t realise how our parents are the true guardian angels, for the good times and bad.

Often I would lie in bed and play music, to find that special song, or a melody that could help me express their relationship journey. John Mayer’s song Daughters really helped me connect with Ruth’s complex bond with her parents – and her father’s absence in her life which mirrored mine (my parents split when I was only three) and that contrary emotion you can have with a parent. Fathers are, after all, the subconscious blueprint for a daughter’s future loves.

Let’s travel into the blitz of 1941: a red-brick terraced house in London’s East End has been bombed in the early hours. And Ruth Goldberg, a Jewish teenager, escapes into a fantasy world to avoid the horrific reality of wartime life; the song Dream a little Dream of Me sung by Doris Day really helped me to tap into the dreamy, illusionary state she would sometimes drift into.

One night, Ruth awakens in the pitch dark, still groggy from sleep, and buried up to her neck in bricks. Unable to move, she frantically screams for help, wondering if her parents and two younger siblings are dead.  But this introductory scene is no work of fiction; the narrator is based on my mother, Ruth, who as a young girl, awoke to find herself orphaned and alone in this exact scenario.

Dreams and wishes and fairy tales were like icing on a mouldy cake—they can’t hide the truth—because when you take a proper bite, you choke.’

In the creation of a wartime world, a song tapped straight into this atmosphere of ‘rubble-strewn streets and a swamping sadness that hung in the air like the reek of burning flesh’ – along with that desperate sense of hope that Ruth needs to hold onto as she and her two younger siblings are parcelled out to relatives – Smile sung by Nat King Cole, which I played repeatedly until it seeped into every cell in my body and I was almost breathing it.

Ruth, like my mother’s real life experience, believes that she is the ugly duckling, black sheep of the Goldberg family compared with her beautiful siblings – overweight, and spotty, she wonders if she perhaps deserves all this heartbreak, abandonment and loss. And yet there is hope for an internal transformation: My Funny Valentine sung by Frank Sinatra, really connected me to Ruth’s illusionary story of her own unworthiness, along with my mother’s that doesn’t reflect the reality, as she will learn to discover.

Meanwhile, her enigmatic father, Joe, regains consciousness in hospital and soon discovers he can play the piano as good as the great maestros – and this becomes his saving grace, along with his good looks and charm as he marries into a sinister aristocratic family, and achieves fame as a concert pianist with a new identity – Edward Chopard.

Although I had piano lessons from an eccentric French teacher in a housecoat when I was eight years old, I needed to impart that wild energy Edward feels when he plays, as he is moved from a deep space within, which he doesn’t fully understand, being sparked by savant syndrome.

‘He played Mozart’s Overture from The Marriage of Figaro with such ferocious passion, his body twisted and turned, his face contorted and his eyes rolled wildly…

The Mozart symbolises his passionate side and empowers him as he revels in his good fortune, and yet, is it all as it seems?

Edward has many faces that he reveals to survive this complex family drama in which he finds himself, and Liszt’s Dreams of Love evokes Edward’s loneliness, seeking truth and real connection, as the fragments of his lost family still haunt him.

Joe/Edward is a lost soul, in search of who he really is: ‘Who am I?’ is a recurring question for him, and yet often our true selves are reflected back in the people we love. You Made Me Love You sung by Nat King Cole is a song that threads through the story and stirs old memories, and underpins the unfolding of his real identity.

Halfway through the story, fragments of Edward’s memories begin to return. This is triggered when he receives letters from his supposed long lost daughter, Ruth, after she sees a photo of a pianist who reminds her of her dead father in the newspaper, stating that he will be performing at the Proms.

It Was a Very Good Year sung by Frank Sinatra really sums that up Edward’s mixed feelings. He knows things aren’t right – the family he has married into have dark affiliations to Hitler – but he often sees events with pink tinted vision – out of fear of seeing the truth, until he has to face reality.

SD Mayes worked as a journalist for nearly 20years before turning her hand to fiction. Inspired by her mother’s tragic memories of wartime Britain, along with the bizarre but factual events of Hitler’s obsession with the supernatural, Letters to the Pianist is her first WWII suspense novel. She lives in Berkshire, UK, with her teenage daughter and their voluptuous cat, Saphy. Find her on Twitter @authormayes, Facebook, Goodreads and her website.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Anne Allen

for logo‘Tragedy and loss are cornerstones of my story’

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 romance mystery novelist Anne Allen @AnneAllen21

Soundtrack by Philip Chapman, Denis Quinn, Medwyn Goodall, Terry Oldfield, Johann Pachelbel, Rod Stewart

Thanks, Roz, for allowing me to air my thoughts on the music that influences me while I write. Your series has shown how varied the music is that writers listen to in their search for creativity. My own selection is quite limited in comparison but it did inspire me while writing my first novel.

Iphoto for emailA meditative space

I do love music but there are also times when it seems to get in the way; I find myself so drawn into the music, particularly vocal, that I literally lose the plot! Music helps to create the mood, spark the creativity but then must either be less noticeable or pertinent to what I’m writing at that time. My normal listening taste is quite eclectic; Michael Jackson, Adele, Nina Simone, Pavarotti, 1812 Overture, Chris Rea… And I love the more meditative New Age music which always formed a backdrop to my sessions when I practised as a hypnotherapist.

While writing my first novel Dangerous Waters I started off by playing New World Collection Relaxation II, a compilation of different artists playing hauntingly beautiful music which fed my soul while I stepped into the unknown as a writer. The first track, Wisdom by Philip Chapman, is played on a piano but with strings in the background and always calms me. My central character, Jeanne Le Page, is a young woman returning to her island home of Guernsey for the first time in 15 years, after fleeing to England as a girl of 16. She had lost her family in a tragic accident and now returns after the death of her grandmother, while also mourning the end of a long-term relationship. Tragedy and loss are the cornerstones to the story but as time goes on, hope of a fresh start and new love appear and the mood changes. My favourite track on this album, Soldier of Love by Denis Quinn, is in harmony with this change and provided the ideal background for the latter part of the writing process.

Seeking catharsis

Jeanne experiences so many conflicting emotions through the story and music helped me to identify with them. I cried at times too, the words and music encouraging me to release my own grief as I wrote. I had lost two people I had loved and writing Dangerous Waters proved a catharsis. Another favourite of mine is the Pachelbel Canon which I found inspirational as I grappled with difficult chapters. Bearing in mind that this was the first time I’d written anything more substantial than a 500-word true-life story, I was in a constant state of insecurity; totally untutored. Entering the heads of other characters was also challenging, but I could empathise with some more than others. Molly, a character in the book, was based on a family friend. She was also a hypnotherapist who played a part in helping Jeanne to recover the memory lost after the accident and I played tracks such as Dream by Medwyn Goodall and Wings of the Morning by Terry Oldfield during the hypnosis sessions in the story to evoke the right ambience. At least there I was on known territory!

dangerouswaters_anneallenAs Jeanne began to blossom and a new man- actually men! – appeared on the scene, I felt the need for different inspiration and listened to a Rod Stewart album. I know, I know! A bit off piste, perhaps, but it was fun and sexy and that’s what I, or rather Jeanne, needed. The album was If We Fall In Love Tonight. The title says it all, but there were particular tracks that, ahem, helped with certain scenes, such as Tonight’s the Night and Sometimes When We Touch. Rod’s gravelly voice provided, I have to say, both a distracting but complementary background to the writing.

We all respond to music in one way or another. Memories, both good and bad, are triggered by hearing even just a few bars of a tune that resonated with us at one time. Perhaps we take it for granted that it’s there, in the background of our lives, not always listening. But I’m convinced we would miss it if it was no longer there in our world and we have the composers, lyricists and artists to thank for offering us such a rich choice for our inspiration and comfort. Like books, music enriches our lives and I wouldn’t be without it.

Anne Allen lives by the sea in Devon, UK, having finally settled down; perhaps. She spent many years working as a psychotherapist but knew the ‘creative’ in her had to escape one day. In the past two years she has published two novels, Dangerous Waters and Finding Mother; her third book, Guernsey Retreat, is due out later in 2014. Her genre is romance/mystery and romance/family drama and Dangerous Waters won Silver in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2012. Her website is www.anneallen.co.uk and she can be found on Twitter as @AnneAllen21.

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