Posts Tagged Gregorian chant

The Undercover Soundtrack – Barry Walsh

for logo‘Love starts with a face’

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 debut author Barry Walsh @BJWalsh

Soundtrack by Neil Young, Handel, Beniamino Gigli, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Marvellettes, Rod Stewart, Adele, Flanagan & Allen, Mozart, JS Bach, Hildegard von Bingen, Beethoven, Dexy’s Midnight Runners

The Pimlico Kid is about first-love, which can quarry a hollow in one’s life that is hard to fill. It’s also about kids scrabbling past puberty and slamming into emotional or physical barriers set by adults.

… the most we might have expected to deal with was a first kiss or a dying grandparent, we were undone by love itself, and violence – and that adults betrayed us.

BJ Walsh (Medium)-1The lyrics of Neil Young’s songs were ever-present in my head while writing the book. For years I had piled up notes from which to make The Pimlico Kid a novel but it was the beautiful reference to childhood friendship and secrets being revealed in Philadelphia that turned intention into action.

Happy families

The narrator, Billy, unlike some of his friends stands on the solid ground of happy family life. His easy-going father is a hard man and his volatile brother, John, will become one. However, Billy’s father is comfortable revealing his softer side and expresses it in his fine singing. And, when his sons were small, he kidded them he knew Italian and sang his favourite Beniamino Gigli songs, such as Handel’s Ombra mai fu, in beautiful gibberish.

This contrasts with Bob Dylan’s less mellifluous The times they are a changin’ (played loudly enough to shake the house) that defines the rebellious younger brother John, who is yet to discover his softer side:

 When he’s asked or told to do something, he has this stiff, chinny look that makes it clear he doesn’t have to comply, but that he will, only on this occasion.

The exhilaration of first attraction is almost always about a face. And it is nailed by the Beatles’s I’ve Just Seen a Face. When Billy falls for Sarah, he worries that his more mature friends will disapprove because she is still flat chested. However, he’s prepared to wait for breasts:

 I know that whatever Rooksy says about fabulous flesh, love starts with a face.

A host of songs evoke the summer of 1963 but none more vividly than the Beatles’s She Loves You. Billy and his friends stand transfixed outside a pub from which it is blasting out, again and again. This is the song that vanquishes the old pop music order  – along with Brylcreem. When an Elvis song starts up, they leave.

Never-ending summer

During one of those never-ending summer days of childhood, the loves of four friends – Billy, his best mate, Rooksy, Sarah and Josie collide and magic is conjured up by declarations of love and secrets revealed.  The Marvelettes’ When You’re Young and in Love kept popping into my head as I tried to pin down the excitement of new love. The lyrics may be simple but if you are young and in love, they couldn’t be more true.

At a critical moment Billy’s behaves like an idiot in front of Sarah. Burning with shame, he’s surprised to find that it doesn’t affect how she feels for him. This reflects my experience of how often weak and flawed people, usually men, are lucky enough to find someone who loves them anyway. Neil Young ‘gets’ it in Hangin’ on a  Limb, in which a man wobbles at the edge of an emotional precipice and a girl teaches him how to dance.

As their relationship grows, the four friends come to learn that love breeds compassion and diminishes judgement of those it’s easy to ridicule, whether it’s because of a birthmark or sexual orientation. In the early sixties there were few openly gay teenagers and a great deal of unthinking homophobia. A decade later, Rod Stewart’s The killing of Georgie helped to change things a little and it came to mind constantly while I struggled to get this issue onto the page.

Adele’s Someone Like You wasn’t a creative influence but, on a more exalted level, it provided creative confirmation of the universal theme that I was trying to make personal. During my fourth re-write, the song was playing every day and everywhere and its reference to glory days of summer goes to the heart of The Pimlico Kid, in which …

love can endure but … promises are hard to keep.

TPK Large cover picFinally, the streets of London are the main stage for The Pimlico Kid. Maybe it’s Because I’m a Londoner  anchors Billy – and me – ­to the greatest of cities.

The writing

I write to classical music, which provides welcome harmony to counter the dissonance in my head. I start most days with Mozart’s String Quintet No 1 because it lifts my default mood of pessimism about finding the right words. Each day features Bach, lots of Gregorian chant and the liturgical songs of Hildegard von Bingen. I regularly work my way through Beethoven’s quartets but stop when I reach No 15, which triggers Wordsworthian ‘thoughts that lie too deep for tears’.

When the writing has gone really well, I celebrate with the Kyrie from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, which isn’t at all ‘solemn’. And, when there’s no one else in the house, I turn to Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Come on Eileen and jig around like mad Ben Gunn on the beach.

 Barry Walsh grew up in the heart of London during the 60s and thought belatedly that there might be a story in it. The result is The Pimlico Kid, published by Harper, a story of first love. He is now writing his second novel.
 When not at the keyboard, Barry enjoys cycling (he once rode non-stop to the top of Mont Ventoux), holidays in France, watching Arsenal, listening to Neil Young and gazing at Audrey Hepburn’s face. He is a proud trustee of the world’s oldest youth club – St Andrew’s, Westminster – and believes that London might just be the centre of the universe. He is married with two daughters. Find him on his website and Twitter @bjwalsh

GIVEAWAY Barry is offering a signed print copy of The Pimlico Kid. For a chance to win, leave a comment here or share this post on Twitter, Facebook, G+ or anywhere else (and don’t forget to leave a note here saying where you shared it).

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The Undercover Soundtrack – MJ Rose

‘In that song I finally started to see the character who would introduce my story’

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 mystery romance author MJ Rose @MJRose

Soundtrack by Doug Scofield, Edith Piaf, Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St. Maurice and St. Maur, The Rolling Stones, Green Day

It’s not very often that an author has an in-house composer. But I’m very lucky. My husband, Doug Scofield, is a singer/songwriter. The song he wrote for The Book of Lost Fragrances became my way into the book, it became my anthem.

While I was studying the past and present perfume industry, Doug became almost as interested in fragrance as I did. He traveled to Grasse and Paris with me, meeting with manufactures and perfumers.  He visited department store counters and willingly sniffed endless tester strips. Without complaining, he traipsed through flea markets with me as I searched for the vintage, lost fragrances I’d become obsessed with.

Lost

When I was time for me to start to write, I was overwhelmed by all the information I’d amassed. And in my frustration, I couldn’t find a way into the book. I’d walk into my office, sit down at the computer and try to disappear into the story. But writing in another time isn’t always simple. Especially not with the phone and the internet and the world going on around you.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite find the right voice for this book. I had kept writing first chapters and throwing them all out.

And then one day, Doug gave me a CD. There was only one song on it – Together.

The music is ethereal, the word are prophetic. The spirit of the song captures the magic of time and connections between people that I was trying to capture in my novel.

I played the song over and over that first day and almost without knowing it, finally started to see the character who would introduce my story, the 19th century French perfumer whose love story is at the heart of the novel.

Timeslips

Once I had my mantra, I began to assemble a play list of different pieces. Writing in and out of so many time periods and tracking quite a few stories, it was helpful beyond measure to switch the music when I switched times. La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf’s version on Hallmark ) to center me in Paris at night walking by the Seine, to another of Doug’s songs, Hunt you Down when I was dealing with the Chinese mafia stalking my main character though the catacombs.

When we meet Marie-Genevieve Moreau first in Paris at the dawn of the 19th century, she is attending mass with her parents. From that innocent morning we follow her into the French Revolution where she travels through a Hieronymus Bosch kind of twisted, turned-inside-out hell. To find Marie-Genevieve and stay with her I played Gregorian chants. (My two top albums are Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos and  Slave Regina by the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St. Maurice and St. Maur. )

Music in a strange land

For another character, Xie Ping, a sensitive, secretive Chinese calligrapher with a curious past, I played popular rock music from the Rolling Stones (Let it Bleed and Beggars Banquet) to Greenday (International Superhits). Xie is on a journey during the novel – out of China to London and Paris. The music he hears is one of the few things he can relate to in these  strange lands. In China, the music tantalised him and made him dream. Now that he is outside his homeland, that same American and British rock gives him courage.

The Book of Lost Fragrances was a journey for me too… one that had music in the background every step of the way.

MJ Rose is the international bestselling author of 11 novel: Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, The Venus Fix,The Reincarnationist, The Memorist, The Hypnotist and The Book of Lost Fragrances. She is also the co-author with Angela Adair Hoy of How to Publish and Promote Online, and with Doug Clegg of Buzz Your Book. She is a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She runs two popular blogs; Buzz, Balls & Hype and Backstory. She lives in Connecticut.

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