Posts Tagged Jon and Vangelis

The Undercover Soundtrack – TJ Cooke

for logo‘Searching for truth’

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 crime novelist TJ Cooke @Timscribe

Soundtrack by The Who, Talking Heads, Captain Beefheart, Jon and Vangelis, Joni Mitchell, Deep Forest, Marta Sebestyen, Squeeze, Louis Armstrong, John Lennon

There is rarely a day when I don’t listen to music. Occasionally I listen whilst actually writing, but rarely, as I find it too distracting. However I will often be listening to something just before a stint at the PC or laptop.

Sometimes I choose a piece which tends to inspire creativity, to help develop a specific character, scene or location. On other occasions it works in reverse. I will actually be working on something and it will remind me of a specific piece of music. Either way music has always helped the creative juices flow.

Here are some examples from my novels Defending Elton and Kiss and Tell.

TJ CookeDefending Elton

Lead character Jim Harwood, who narrates, has a passionate but all too brief liaison with the seductive Sarena. Her sudden disappearance from his life is something he finds hard to come to terms with. This powerful song evokes both loss and desire. Not only does it resonate with his feelings, but also with a key location in the story, Beachy Head cliffs.  It is synonymous with the film Quadrophenia, being from the album of the same name, but conjures up far more.  I remember driving along the clifftop coast road with Love Reign O’er Me by The Who playing loudly… thinking about Sarena’s demise, and how Jim had lost his fleeting but passionate love.

I couldn’t write this without devoting a song to Elton. In a way he’s the star of the show and was based on a character I knew way back when. Elton doesn’t fit neatly into any box. He has serious mental health issues which manifest themselves into bizarre ‘episodes’. Sometime he will appear quite ‘normal, only to morph seconds later into a caricature who spouts random words, song lyrics and general ‘nonsense’. Lack of proper funding for the mentally ill means there are way too many Eltons trapped in the criminal justice system. Talking Heads often tackled challenging issues. I often listened to Once in a Lifetime before writing some of Elton’s more obscure dialogue.

I’m pretty sure that unorthodox lawyer Jim Harwood would be a Captain Beefheart fan, probably on the quiet. It fits in with his flippant and sometimes chaotic character, which grates against the rigid structures of the law. Jim’s own demons mean that he invariably seeks a place to escape from it all, his Clear Spot.

Jon Anderson’s unique voice, probably the antithesis of other ‘rock’ leads, has an earthy connectivity. There’s a section in the book where Jim is driving back from the south coast having just done something quite despicable. Traumatised by events, he starts to hallucinate as visions of Sarena’s dead body etch themselves onto his car windscreen. I’ll Find My Way Home would be playing on his CD, as his path to redemption kicks in.

What a voice Joni Mitchell has, and in The Pirate of Penzance she uses it skilfully to create a truly atmospheric piece of music. I recall listening to this song before penning some of the darker narrative in Defending Elton. It isn’t indicative of a specific moment, more of general mood. I always find it haunting.

 Kiss and Tell

Marta’s Song by Deep Forest and sung by Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen helped me to picture the character of Bella in Kiss and Tell. She is a Hungarian national who lost both parents in a car crash before coming to Britain with her brother. Her brother then abused her by forcing her to work for his drug smuggling ring. This piece of music is evocative of a lost soul.

elton-frontMany of my characters’ songs follow a particular journey in life. When I was trying to imagine what the character of Jimmy was like when younger,Squeeze’s Cool for Cats sprang to mind. Like many of their songs it has sharp urban lyrics. Jimmy was hiding his criminal exploits from Jill. His ‘Jack the lad’ image was just a front, but it had devastating consequences.

Louis Armstrong has a beautiful and distinctive voice. When we pick up Jill Shadow’s story 12 years on, with her ex Jimmy now released from prison, she is unsure how to deal with feelings reawakened. I listened to We Have All The Time In The World, which helped me to empathise with Jill. It conjures up the immense hope that is offered by young love. When we’re young we have little understanding of the realities of time or growing old, or of the frailty of our ‘first love’.

There are various themes of ‘truth’ throughout both Kiss and Tell and Defending Elton. It’s a theme I struggled with myself when younger. I had been denied truth by my adoptive parents, and could never understand why my adoption was treated as taboo. Some years later I worked in the criminal justice system, where I discovered that truth was often a football kicked about by both sides in an adversarial game. I became wary of accepting ‘truth’ at face value, and it’s no surprise that it features as a theme in my writing… Cue John Lennon and Gimme Some Truth.

TJ Cooke, otherwise known as Tim, was formerly a lawyer before becoming a legal adviser to television dramas in the UK . He went on to write many hours of broadcast drama himself, notching up writing credits for some of UK’s most popular series. He is the author of two crime fiction novels Kiss and Tell and Defending Elton, and has an inventive take on the genre. Tim currently lives in Devon, UK. For further details, and to follow his blog, visit his website or follow on Twitter as @timscribe.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Nick Green

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by children’s author Nick Green

Soundtrack by Jon and Vangelis

I wonder if, with the rise of ebooks, we’ll soon be enjoying novels with their own soundtracks. In the case of my first children’s novel, The Cat Kin (Strident Publishing), the soundtrack actually preceded it. In terms of the story, I was going for something like the TV dramas I used to love as a child, where each episode would push you nearer the edge of your seat, and your heart further into your mouth, before hitting you with the end titles and theme music. So I looked around for the kind of theme tune that my imaginary show might have, and heard an obscure track online which seemed to fit. (For the ultra-curious, the track was Barracuda by the computer demoscene composer Dr Awesome, aka Bjorn Lynne. Told you it was obscure.)

A year later, I set to writing the follow-up to The Cat Kin, Cat’s Paw. My first problem was the challenge of all sequels: what do my characters do now? For those who don’t know (and I believe that’s most of the population) The Cat Kin is about children who develop the powers of cats, by practising an Ancient Egyptian martial art called pashki. And inevitably, because this is a story, they meet some terrible villains against whom these new skills come in handy.

But I didn’t want to send my heroes on one adventure after another. They were never supposed to be ‘superheroes’ – their everyday lives were always more important to me. Nor was I interested in dishing up baddie after baddie just to fill pages. For me, each story has to spring from an emotional seed, or I’ll lose the will to write it. In the case of the first book, it was cruelty to animals that kept me suitably enraged. But when it came to the second story, I had no ideas at all – or rather I had no feelings, no single burning emotion to spark things off.

Then I heard an old song: I’ll Find My Way Home by Jon and Vangelis. I’ve long been a fan of Jon Anderson’s (his band, Yes, dominate my CD towers) but was only vaguely familiar with his Vangelis albums, which always sounded to me like the music you might hear in Atlantis, in the lifts. But I had to admit, I loved I’ll Find My Way Home – a simple, heart-wrenching melody, and a lyric that can resonate with anyone. Something clicked.

In The Cat Kin, I’d explored the drama of humans becoming like cats. But there was one celebrated feline power that I’d had no cause to use in that story. Cats are said to have a mysterious instinct that can guide them safely home if they get lost. As an idea it had possibilities, and more importantly the kind of emotive force I was looking for. Could I use it in Cat’s Paw?

My savvy 13-year-old heroes were unlikely to get lost in London – no homing instinct needed here. But the stories of cats’ abilities get more mysterious than that. There are also tales, some of them well founded, of cats tracking down former owners who move away, often across many miles. I don’t know whether this is really true or not, but this didn’t matter. Suddenly, I had the core element of my story. The children’s pashki teacher, Felicity Powell, disappears at the end of book 1, and Tiffany (one of the two main characters) desperately misses her. What if she managed to learn the feline trick of following her? Of course – of course she would.

With this feeling at last taking root, I had my story. Soon more elements fell into place. Ben, the other protagonist, comes from a broken home, and must now divide his time between his mum’s home and his dad’s. We encounter a sinister band of juvenile, homeless outcasts. There is a villain whose madness stems from being snatched from his home as a small child. That single idea, home, became the pillar of the whole book – all thanks to Jon and Vangelis and I’ll Find My Way Home. As a sort of credit, the song even finds its way into the story, though it’s not mentioned by name. Listen out for it.

As a child, Nick Green landed a tiny part in a TV drama series, and wondered about an acting career. Sadly, that was his acting career. He did not become a musician either, despite the best efforts of his musician father, and his doctor mother successfully persuaded him not to become a doctor. He took up writing fiction at university, as a cheaper alternative to going out. His published novels are The Cat Kin and its sequel Cat’s Paw, but several more are lurking in the wings.

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