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The Undercover Soundtrack – Susan Price

‘Beautiful swaying voices took me to vast forests’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is multi-award-winning children’s fantasy author Susan Price @priceclan

Soundtrack by Pavel Chesnokov, the Cantus Sacred Music Ensemble, The Orthodox Singers’ Male Choir, June Tabor, Steeleye Span, Orlando Gibbons, the King’s Singers, Pierrot Lunaire, Jan Garbarek, Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, Tim Wong, Benjamin Britten

Music doesn’t help me understand my characters, or set the mood for a particular scene. I don’t need, for instance, martial music to write a martial scene. Instead, for me, the music seems to set the atmosphere, or time-frame, of the whole book. I can’t write a scene set in the past to poppy dance-music, because the music insistently reminds me of my own time and drags me back to it. I find it equally hard to write contemporary scenes while listening to music from the past. If Mozart is playing, my characters shrug off their jeans and trainers and slip into knee-britches and powdered wigs.

Czarist Russia

My Ghost World sequence (Ghost Drum, Ghost Song and Ghost Dance) is set in a fantasy Czarist Russia. I wanted these books to be fantastical, frightening and beautiful, with the brilliant jewel colours of Russian folk-art set against intense darkness and cold. While writing them I surrounded myself with postcards of Russian art, and played chants like this one on repeat.

The beautiful swaying voices, with their deep, dark bass notes took me into the vast, dark pine forests of Russian folk-tale, to Northern darkness and cold.  Listening again, as I write this blog, I feel the visceral thrill and shiver this music always gives me.

The music and art served the same purpose: bringing together and concentrating all my disparate imaginings. Looking at a Bilibin forest, listening to an Orthodox chant, I was there, in my imagination’s world.  This piece, with the Basso Profundo, sounds like the Russian Bear singing

Past, present and Borders

It is always time and place with me. My Sterkarm novels have scenes set both in the past and in the 21st Century, but the heart of the novels, for me, were the scenes in the 16th century Scottish borders. I read about the reivers and their way of life, I visited the Borders, but to bring it all together and put me there, I played Border Ballads, which I’ve loved since a teenager.  Here’s the wonderful June Tabor with her thrilling Clerk Sanders. The final, long-drawn note always raises my hair. It rings like a glass. It’s all there – love, hatred, jealousy, horror, revenge.

I listened to Steeleye Span a lot too. Even though they used electric instruments, I always felt they captured the spirit of many of these old songs better than many who tried too hard to be strictly traditional. Here’s their Wife of Usher’s Well, a tale of life, death, ghosts and maternal love. 

Hits of the 16th

I wrote Christopher Uptake, set in the 16th century, to the smash hits of Christopher’s day, such as The Silver Swan, sung here by the King’s Singers. (And its closing couplet, ‘More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise,’ seems appropriate for Christopher too.)

Poor old Keats reviewed plays in order to get a free pass to theatres so he could hear the playing of professional musicians.  We’re spoiled today – we can hear excellent musicians any time we casually turn on the radio. Not only musicians of our own day either, but those long dead, and music played in the style of centuries past.

The far future

But what to play when writing something set in the far future, such as my Odin’s Voice trilogy? I found myself seeking out music that, to me, sounded strange and futuristic, and helped me expand my ideas to include all the weird and wonderful possibilities of nano-technology and space-elevators. More musically educated people might find my choices rather old-fashioned, but they worked for me.

First is Moonstruck Pieirrot, or Pierrot Lunaire. ‘What the hell did I just listen to?’ asks a YouTube commentator. I can’t say that I love it, but it’s extraordinary. I remember first hearing it. I was vacuuming during the early hours, while half-listening to the Open University’s educational programmes. This began, and I switched off the vacumn to hear it. I remained on one leg, spellbound, throughout. Didn’t like it, exactly, but couldn’t stop listening.

I am fonder of this by Jan Gabarek and the Hilliard Ensemble. I find it chill, eerie, beautiful and strange – but instead of evoking deep, dark forests, it evokes, for me, the vast dark emptiness of space and the future, where who knows what might be possible? Oberon’s song from Britten’s Midsummer’s Night Dream has the same effect on me. It may have been written in the 20th century, as Britten’s response to Shakespeare’s 16th century play, but its eerie otherworldliness, for me, suggests space – perhaps the music of the spheres?

In 1973, Susan Price‘s father signed a contract with Faber for her first book, The Devil’s Piper. She was under-age, at 16, and couldn’t legally sign it herself. She has earned her living by writing and lecturing ever since. Her best known books are The Ghost Drum, which won the Carnegie Medal, and is available as an e-book, and The Sterkarm Handshake, which won the Guardian prize. She has a blog and is also a founder member of the group Do Authors Dream of Electric Books (aka Authors Electric), and she tweets as @priceclan.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Linda Gillard

‘As I listened, I felt Philip Glass had written the novel for me’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is award-winning author Linda Gillard

Soundtrack by Philip Glass

When I ground to a halt writing my fifth novel, Untying the Knot, the second movement of Philip Glass’s first Violin Concerto showed me a way forward. I wanted to tell the story of a man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, an ex-soldier, ex-bomb squad, whose career had been ended by an explosion. I wanted to write about his marriage (which had ended in divorce) and about the loyal wife who’d stood by him through many years of active service, then years of rehabilitation and then walked away.

Structure

I had a story, but I didn’t know how to tell it. I knew the emotional trajectory of my characters, but I hadn’t a clue how to structure my novel. I’d called it Untying the Knot because it was a love story about a divorced couple, but the title was ironical. Divorced, my characters discover they’re bound together indissolubly, not only by continuing love for each other, but by their traumatic history.

The book was to be about both of them, not just the attention-grabbing hero, Magnus. I wanted to show his wife, Fay, quietly getting on with her life, quietly cracking up while no one noticed. But Magnus had taken over. My work-in-progress was about a hero, his sacrifice and terrible suffering. I couldn’t see how to bring his wife into the foreground and make her story – and her sacrifice – as poignant and moving as his. I was close to abandoning the novel as unbalanced and too complicated to work.

I always use music to support and enrich my writing and I usually have a playlist for each novel. I’d been looking for a piece of music to represent what’s known as ‘the long walk’ – the bomb technician’s lonely approach to an explosive device he’s about to disarm. I remembered the Glass Violin Concerto, with its descending ground bass pattern that repeats for the whole of the second movement. It sounded like someone walking, but it also had an edgy, disturbing quality, created by oscillating broken chords. This wasn’t just a slow walk, this was a walk towards something ominous, even dangerous.

In the music

As I ‘auditioned’ the Glass, it triggered an almost overwhelming cascade of ideas and I suddenly saw – almost completely – how I could structure my novel by emulating the structure of this eight-minute piece of music.

As I listened, I could hear two voices, male and female, engaged in a kind of dialogue. The male voice was the low, see-sawing strings and woodwind that create the walking ground bass. Over the top, I heard a female voice – a solo violin, calm and lyrical at first, a woman pleading with the man to give up his dangerous job, perhaps asking for his help. As the violin solo is repeated again and again against the implacable ground bass, her voice becomes desperate (anguished arpeggiated figures), yet the man never stops walking. It’s as if he can’t hear her and is walking away. Towards the end of the movement, the violin produces high, sustained notes. I found them heart-rending. The woman has finally lost it, given up and gone under.

The music showed me how I could weave my two narrative threads together. The long-suffering wife could move into the spotlight for a while, then retreat while her husband’s horrific back story took over. The couple could keep changing places until, at the dramatic climax of the novel, their two stories would collide and combine, allowing the reader to discover exactly why the marriage had foundered, why the wife had walked away. What had appeared to be his story would be revealed as her story.

As I listened, I felt Glass had written my novel for me, in miniature. I just needed to expand what he’d done, then translate it into a fictional form. There was an added musical bonus. The movement ends abruptly and is quite unresolved. I believe that unsettled feeling gave me the impetus and energy to get on with writing the book. Much as I admired the music that had inspired me, I thought, ‘In Untying The Knot, all this is going to be resolved.’ And it was.

Linda Gillard lives in the Scottish Highlands and has been an actress, journalist and teacher. She’s the author of six novels, including Star Gazing, shortlisted in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and House of Silence, which became a Kindle bestseller, selected by Amazon as one of their Top 10 ‘Best of 2011’ in the indie author category. Her website is here and you can find her on Facebook.

GIVEAWAY Linda is excited to give away one copy of the ebook to a commenter here – so if you drop by, be sure to say hello!

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World Book Night – and The Red Season is free

Originally, My Memories of a Future Life was released as four 25,000-word novellasThe Red Season, Rachmaninov and Ruin, Like Ruby and The Storm.  Tonight and tomorrow – or depending on your time zone perhaps a bit of both – I’m giving away Kindle copies of The Red Season to mark World Book Night.

If you’re in the UK, get it here. US customers, find it here. If you know anyone who might like it, spread the word. And happy World Book Night.

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0.99c launch offer ends on Sunday

If you’re reading My Memories of a Future Life episode by episode, here’s a friendly reminder: on Sunday the 0.99c launch offer ends and the price of each episode will be USD$2.99. They’ll always be available, but if you’re aiming to complete the set for under USD$4, grab them from the Kindle store now.

This week I told Jane Friedman‘s blog about the serialisation experiment, warts and all, and the piece was rebroadcasted by The Gatekeepers Post.

If faffing with episodes makes you see red, the novel is also available in a better-behaved, complete form on Kindle (US and UK) and also in print (and Amazon.com have knocked USD$4 off the price). If you’re my side of the Atlantic you can now get the print version from Amazon UK and not have to pay a bird to carry it from the US.

As I didn’t manage to post the link last time, here’s the quick route to Joanna Penn’s video/blog/podcast in which we compared notes on writing literary fiction versus genre and were complimented on the faces we pulled while in earnest discussion.  And new up yesterday, I guested on the rather fab For Books’ Sake, where I talked about how three fictional characters I studied at A level still feed into the stories I write today. Perhaps we’re all still 16 years old at heart.

As always, there are three ways you can sample the novel: on Bookbuzzr, on the Kindle’s free sample and on a free, atmospherically sound-effected audio.

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Coming on Saturday: video and podcast with Joanna Penn

This Saturday, October 1 if scheduling works according to plan, I’m guesting at The Creative Penn.  In glorious grainy Skype video, you’ll be able to see me scrunching my writerly brow as Joanna – a thriller writer – quizzes me about writing literary novels and developing a literary style. If TV on your monitor is too weird, the post will also be available as more portable text and audio.

I’ve also been out and about on other websites. You might have already seen some of these, but as this is the book’s official online home it seems incomplete not to mention them.

A Journey of Souls : Why Novels Tell The Deepest Truth – this post at Women Writers was inspired by your feedback while the book was releasing. For which – thank you.

My book is like a TARDIS – or bigger on the inside than the out. Or the impossible job of squashing 100,000 words into a few paragraphs for a blurb, as explained in my monthly column on Do Authors Dream of Electric Books.

The Making Of… Really meaty questions about the novel, its themes and the choices I made in the writing. As explained to uber-editor fiction vixen Victoria Mixon.

My Memories of a Future Life was also featured on this post by Matt Kelland, where he was very complimentary but ticked me off for chopping the book in four. Point taken,Matt; not everyone appreciated the episode format and the novel is now available in one handy shot on Kindle.

I have to thank Gary Swaby for honouring me with the first author interview ever to feature on his newly-minted blog. And finally, I have to thank my husband, the writer Dave Morris. Not because I’ve become Oscarishly soppy (although he does say some nice things in this post), but because he reveals how if I’d followed his advice and that of most editors who saw the book, My Memories of a Future Life would have been a genre potboiler.

The paperback is now on Amazon.com and they’ve even been nice enough to discount it. I don’t know how long this will last but you can get the 366-page paperback at USD$10.76, saving more than USD$4.

The price of the individual episodes will stay at the launch offer of 0.99c until 15 October, and will then go to their full price of USD$2.99. They’ll always be available, but if you want to complete your collection at the launch price, hie on over to your Amazon of choice (UK, DE, rest of world) now.

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Coming Monday… the last episode AND The Making Of…

The finale episode, The Storm, is out on Monday. To coincide with its release I’m being grilled by the inimitable, formidable and flamboyantly wondrous Victoria Mixon, writer and editor. Through a ghostly cross-Atlantic splice she stuck me in the interview chair and asked me probing questions about the stories behind the story. No spoilers, though – so if you haven’t caught up you can read without fear of unsuitable premonitions.

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Like Ruby – Episode 3 nearly here

‘Compelling, well told and hugely entertaining’

‘Beautiful, simple, evocative’

‘Delves into the dangerous powers of mind over matter’

‘Part 2 was even better than part 1’ – Andrew Rollings, Facebook

‘Is it the 12th yet?’ Rebecca Allan, Facebook

‘What do I have to do to get parts 3 and 4 NOW?!’ Matt Kelland, Facebook

Tomorrow. Or just a few ticks after midnight, you can download episode 3, Like Ruby.

You can find episode 1 here, episode 2 here and you can try the first four chapters on a free audio here

 

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Rachmaninov and Ruin – episode 2 up tomorrow

Written like a poet, with the depth of a well-glazed canvas Terre Britton on Twitter

Damn you can write well!! Didn’t look up once on my hour-long bus ride home! Amanda Glass-Watson, Facebook

I ended up reading it through in one sitting and found myself wanting immediately to know what happened next upon reaching the end of the episode. Andrew Rollings, Amazon review

Roll on September 5 and Episode #2 Matt Kelland, Amazon review

It’s been a heady week, letting my book fend for itself in the wilds at long last. And not a little nail-biting. I can’t tell you how delighted I am by the postive vibes you’ve been sending me, in comments, tweets, blog mentions, emails and reviews. Thank you.

My idea to release the novel as four episodes attracted the attention of a publisher… because they’d been cooking up the same idea. We had a good laugh about great minds thinking alike and decided to celebrate with a joint post on their blog. My novel also had a spot on Dorothy Dreyer’s blog We Do Write, where she asked about my inspirations, what part of the writing was easiest and what was hardest.

So Episode 2, Rachmaninov and Ruin, is limbering up for release on Amazon at midnight tonight. You can find episode 1 here and you can try the first four chapters on a free audio here

Have fun, and wear your white gloves

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Download free audio of the first 4 chapters

You can listen to the first four chapters right now!

Download now – this link will take you to a google Docs page and you can download the MP3. file size is 12MB.

If that file is too big, there’s a more compressed version here, but the sound quality isn’t as good. Try the other one first!

You can also stream it here at Soundcloud:

Special thanks to Barry Brimer at BeOriginal.com for masterful file compression and for bringing the text alive with footsteps, thunderstorms, passing trains and a soupcon of piano. If you need a sound file sweetened (as they call it in the trade), he’s your guy.

My Memories of a Future Life was first released as a serial of four episodes. You can buy each episode – a whole quarter of the novel – on your Kindle for the special launch price of 0.99c, until 15 October. For the first episode, click here for the UK and here for the US

The whole novel is now available in its entirety on Kindle – here in the US and here in the UK. It is also available in a satisfyingly hefty, 360-page print edition.

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‘Brimming with ideas… a wonderful literary journey’

It’s early days yet for formal reviews, but My Memories of a Future Life Episode 1 is already getting a buzz.

 

‘Here’s a book we just love that’s brimming with ideas – a wonderful literary journey’ said Dan Holloway on Twitter. Dan went on to give me a whole post on eightcuts, his provocatively interesting lower-case blog where he champions ‘extraordinary literature

Here’s a selection of what you’ve been telling me around the ether:

I got 3/4 of the way through The Red Season last night. I’m enjoying the read, and looking forward to finishing it tonight. I’m hooked! Daniel Marvello, Nail Your Novel blog

Great read! Gene Lempp on Twitter 

Reading Roz’s book. Magnificent. There’s a reason Roz is the writing guru. Like watching Yoda whip out a light saber. Thank you for making literary fiction entertaining Kevin McGill on Twitter

Thank you also for your emails as you’re reading, your speculations and ‘well I nevers’, and a very special mention to the fellow who is documenting a strange and beguiling process of transformation…

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