Posts Tagged literature

‘This song screamed at me’ – Scott D Southard

for logoMy guest this week says his wife has forbidden him to play certain albums in her presence. Of course, they are the ones that provided the souls of his novels; drew him to the writing desk; catapulted him into the worlds of his characters. Readers here will be well acquainted with the idea that once a song joins your writing repertoire, you never tire of it (although your family might). For his latest novel, he was drawn to songs of desperation, and the finely drawn character vignettes of Belle & Sebastian – a band he says are truly made for writers. When you see that the title of his novel is A Jane Austen Daydream, you might be surprised that its music is so contemporary. But has there ever been a time when Ms Austen didn’t feel bang up to date? Join us here on Wednesday when Scott D Southard will be sharing his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Jonathan Pinnock

for logo‘It’s never a bad thing to let the reader feel a bit uneasy’

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 award-winning fiction and non-fiction writer Jonathan Pinnock @jonpinnock

Soundtrack by Richard Thompson, The Adverts, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Asha Bhosle

I very rarely listen to music when I’m writing because it seems to play havoc with the creative bits in my brain, so with one exception – which we’ll come to later – none of the music that inspired the stories in “Dot Dash” was actually in the background when they were being written.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat said, there is a lot of music lurking behind Dot Dash. A couple of the stories were inspired by two of my favourite Richard Thompson songs: The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife by The Great Valerio, and Piss and Patchouli by Beeswing. The Great Valerio wasn’t a direct influence, I guess, but I think it planted in my mind the idea that a tightrope walker – or indeed a tightrope-walking couple – could make for a powerful metaphor as well as being able to induce a sense of vertigo in the reader. It’s never a bad thing to make the reader feel a bit uneasy, and if you’re going to stage an argument, halfway across Niagara Falls is as good a place as any.

Beeswing – one of the most poignant songs ever written – has a closer relationship to my story, in that both are about a relationship with a self-destructive free spirit, and the choices to make between settling down and cutting loose. In the end, I gave John Martyn a namecheck in the story rather than Richard Thompson himself, probably because Thompson’s still a bit of a geek’s idea of a folk singer. I remember spotting a reference to him in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and thinking to myself that it was absolutely spot on.

The first full-length story in the book, Convalescence, owes a lot to Gary Gilmore’s Eyes by The Adverts, taking the premise of that song – what if you were given the eyes of a serial killer? – just a little bit further. The wonderful thing about punk was that it not only gave anyone permission to pick up a guitar and play, but that it also gave them permission to write a song about almost anything and this is an excellent example of that.

There’s one story in the book, Unfinished Symphony, that is actually about a piece of music – a beautiful, minimalistic piece deriving from nature that reduces an audience to tears. The problem is that the piece I’ve described in the story could never really exist! However, I think the composer that comes closest is probably Einojuhani Rautavaara, who wrote the extraordinary Cantus Arcticus, a concerto for Birds and Orchestra.

9781844718825The one time that I did specifically listen to a piece of music for inspiration was when I was writing Mr Nathwani’s Haiku, when I wanted – somewhat presumptuously – to locate an Asian voice. So I put on a wonderful Asha Bhosle compilation, The Golden Voice of Bollywood, and by the time the CD had finished playing, I had the bare bones of the story down.

Jonathan Pinnock leads a dual life. In one half, he runs a software development company. In the other he is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. His Scott Prize-winning short story collection Dot Dash is published by Salt. His novel, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is published by Proxima Books. Find him on Twitter at @jonpinnock and on his website and blog.

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‘A minimalist piece that reduces an audience to tears’ – Jonathan Pinnock

for logoA change of gear this week. This is the first time I’ve hosted a writer who is talking about short stories. A lot of music lurks behind his award-winning first collection, inspiring the plot, mood and characters. Various signature songs have passed through his imagination to become a tightrope-walking couple, a doomed relationship, a person given the eyes of a serial killer and a haunting piece of music derived from nature. His name is Jonathan Pinnock and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Tom Bradley

for logo‘The strangest, most terrifyingly delirious music’

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 Tom Bradley

Soundtrack by Alexander Scriabin

My current book (Family Romance) and my next (We’ll See Who Seduces Whom) are ekphrases. Ekphrasis is by definition synaesthetic: two or more art forms, under the aegides of disparate sense organs, mutually interpenetrate. And who is the greatest synaesthete of post-antiquity? Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin.

Family Romance and We’ll See Who Seduces Whom are explicitly Scriabinesque in their merging of visuals and verbals. In both books I have accepted the challenge posed by stacks of preexisting art. Nick Patterson is my collaborator in the former book, David Aronson in the latter. Their pictures came first, and I made the fiction and poetry, respectively, around them.

CA390020My method was derived explicitly from Scriabin’s unfinished monstrosity: the Mysterium. It’s a week-long rite, an apocalyptic liturgy of ‘omni-art’ that absorbs and dissolves the entire sensorium: not just the visual, but auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and even the famous ‘sixth sense’ of the Buddhists, comprising manas and dharma. My particular art form, literary, can be said to engage the sixth sense most directly.

While our books are contained between covers, Scriabin’s Mysterium requires an entire gorge in the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s meant to be celebrated in a strangely protean cathedral, built expressly for the occasion. This edifice will writhe and swell like a transcendent amoeba. Scriabin says: ‘…it will not be constructed of one single type of stone, but will continually change with the atmosphere and motion of the Mysterium’. The architecture is made malleable with psychoactive aerosols and the rhythmic projection of colors by a tastiera per luce, or ‘keyboard of lights’. (Parts 2, 3, 4, 5 are here.)

Family Romance and We’ll See Who Seduces Whom are less labor intensive and don’t require such a large budget, but the idea is the same: what corresponds to brick and mortar in a printed work becomes protoplasmic as Scriabin’s venue. The illustrations of Nick Patterson and David Aronson, while divergent in style, share this shape-shifting quality. Though static in the literal sense, the longer these images are stared at, the more motion they communicate. It’s only natural to intermingle them with prose and poetry: those two contrivances that traverse time and space more efficiently, and violate solidity more contemptuously, than any other human inventions.

With soundtracks

Part of Debra Di Blasi’s program at her great synaesthetical Jaded Ibis Press is to add a soundtrack to each of the books she publishes. I am recommending she make our track Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, for he just happens, by coincidence, to have written the perfect music to help me encompass my job of explaining how the Pattersonian and Aronsonian bizarreries came to be juxtaposed.

If Scriabin is the inner ear of our books, he comprises the entire central nervous system of the Mysterium. Cast in the role of Celebrant, he is seated at his grand piano in the very apse of the gaseous temple, directing what sounds like an orchestra of thousands. They are playing the strangest, most terrifyingly delirious music. A gigantic brace of mixed antiphonal choirs produce a roar without words, identified spontaneously in my mind with certain moiling mobs who stomp through Nick Patterson’s paintings: grotesqueries with shoulder teeth, problematic crotches, and ostrich legs.

Physiologically peculiar choristers

I came to call these physiologically peculiar choristers, these inarticulate roarers, the Relic Amalekites. You might recall from the first book of Samuel the penalty of genocide having been declared upon their remote ancestors by Jehovah. Their vocalizations are often washed away as by a current of God-cursed blood, so I have placed the Relic Amalekites’ home turf — or, rather, home sand–on the banks of a river. When you listen to the Mysterium, you will understand why this waterway could only be called the Judeuphrates.

But from whose simultaneously super- and subhuman larynx issues the single voice that comes stabbing through the rout of Relic Amalekites? It’s a horrifically sublime soprano soloist, also unendowed with the capability of human speech. I knew, of course, that she could only be the aural counterpart of the naked woman who haunts so many of our books’ illustrations: a terrifying creature writhing and hemorrhaging across the pages.

Ravenous erotic

I made her into the Kali-Avatar, the Tantric Initiatrix: sinister, ravenous, erotic Mom. Nude and protean, Mom often indulges a compulsion to mount other creatures and characters in Family Romance. She feeds her spawn a jejune diet consisting solely of psychoactive mushrooms, in a eucharistic shamanism answering to the entheogenically tinctured mists that cause the walls and niches of the Mysterium cathedral to undulate among the Himalayan foothils like a unicellular protozoon.

Meanwhile, bells the size of yacht hulls, alloyed of platinum and electrum, are hung from cumulonimbic clouds that swell among the oozing cathedral’s corbelled vaults. These clouds are engendered and seeded by entire metric tons of cinnamon and sandalwood, benzoin and mace, storax and galbanum, combusting in boundless bonfires and wafting over the attending multitudes. In their simultaneous week-long orgasm, Scriabin’s spectators and performers gradually become cloudlike themselves, indistinguishable one from another.

At this late point in my writing it became useful to supplement the Mysterium with another orchestral work, Prometheus: The Poem of Fire. Scriabin actually managed to finish this piece before he died, so it was consulted in the concoction of the climaxes and denouements of our Family Romance and We’ll See Who Seduces Whom.

famrob&wUp until the last chapters everything has been imbued with the famous Mystic Chord: C F# Bb E A D. All has been derived from iterations and inversions of this quartile pitch set, in endless permutations and combinations. Prometheus: The Poem of Fire miraculously, through a heroic act of will and faith on Scriabin’s part, draws the dissonance into a stable minor triad: F-sharp. This sonic normalcy rings out at the final moment, when Scriabin’s commixed congregation and clergy are atomized in the perfumed clouds and drugged mists.

The promethean mystery has popped its climax: nothing less than the annihilation of humanity and the engendering of a more vigorous race of beings from the primordial soup condensed in puddles among the cathedral cobbles. This corresponds perfectly to the moment, on the last page of Family Romance, where just such an extinction and transfiguration takes place within the consciousness of our protagonist. Nick Patterson depicts him as a blindfolded poet with huge hands, sweeping the strangest hieroglyphs upon a scroll that unfurls, roaring like a tidal wave. Scriabin can be sensed in that oglable roar.

Tom Bradley is the author, most recently, of Felicia’s Nose (MadHat Press), A Pleasure Jaunt With One of the Sex Workers Who Don’t Exist in the People’s Republic of China (Neopoiesis Press), Even the Dog Won’t Touch Me (Ahadada Press), Hemorrhaging Slave of an Obese Eunuch (Dog Horn Publishing), My Hands Were Clean (Unlikely Books) and Put It Down in a Book (The Drill Press), which was named 3:AM Magazine‘s Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2009. His next novel, with secret title and hidden nature, illustrated by the alchemical artist David Aronson, is coming next year from the occult publisher Mandrake of Oxford. He’s also a member of the League of Extraordinary Authors. Further curiosity can be indulged here.

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‘Art that engages the sixth sense’ – Tom Bradley

for logoMy guest this week is part of a program that publishes unusual fiction that drenches all the senses. He describes Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin as both the ‘inner ear’ and the central nervous system of his novels which were written as collaborations with artists. His Undercover Soundtrack is wonderful, eerie, apocalyptic and elastic; his name is Tom Bradley – and you can meet him here on Wednesday.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Andrew Blackman

for logo‘For a month, I listened to music to hear my characters’

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 award-winning literary fiction writer Andrew Blackman @BlackmanAndrew

Soundtrack by Beethoven, Sibelius, Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom, Birds of Chicago, Arctic Monkeys

Ah, the difficult second novel.

I’d written a manuscript of 100,000 words, sent it to my agent, and was feeling good. I met him at a pub in Camden, ordered a pint of Guinness, and sat on a bench outside in the watery spring sunshine, expecting a conversation about how large my advance would be.

IMG_0459Instead, I got something else. Something I wasn’t expecting. I got criticism. The voices didn’t work, he said. I’d told my story as a serial first person narrative, with a different character picking up the tale in each chapter. But they all sounded the same. One was an 80-year-old granddad, another a young woman from California, another a cynical 20-something furniture salesman. But they all sounded the same. They all sounded like me.

When I got home, I did what every writer does after receiving helpful, constructive criticism: I took it as an attack on my ability as a writer, went to bed and turned off the lights and felt like never getting up again. The manuscript I’d been so proud of that morning now seemed to me like worthless junk, a waste of two years of my life. It’s lucky I’d made multiple digital copies, otherwise I’d have burnt the thing.

After indulging in a weeklong orgy of pathetic self-pity, I grew up, accepted that he was right, and went to work.

Changing the voice of all seven different narrators is no simple task. It’s easier to write new scenes or even a new ending. Changing narrative voice means going through every line of the novel and rewriting it. But first it means defining what the different voices are going to be. As I’ve done many times before when in need of inspiration, I turned to music.

I created a different mood for each character, based on my idea of who that person was. The Beethoven and Sibelius I’d listened to while writing my first draft was fine for Granddad, but not for young, idealistic Marie from California. She listened to Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom and Birds of Chicago. As for Jon, the furniture salesman, he was an Arctic Monkeys man. I listened, and I tried to hear their voices in my head. I did this for all seven characters. For a month I didn’t write a thing. I just spent time with my characters, listening to the music they liked and trying to hear them speak the sentences I’d written.

Doing this helped me see just how much my agent was right. My 20-something furniture salesman referred to a smelly minicab as being ‘like a full-bodied wine, releasing more varied and subtle aromas with more time and attention’. With classical music playing, that had actually sounded OK. With the Arctic Monkeys blasting out, I realised just how ridiculous it was. I changed it to:

Another click and we were locked in. Hot and clammy suddenly, choking on nicotine and pine … At a red light, the fizz of a can, loud slurping, the metallic stench of Red Bull. Behind it all, a strange, burnt aroma…

A Virtual Love CoverI did the same with every character, line by line, word by word. I changed the vocabulary, I changed the cultural references, I changed the rhythm of the sentences. Jon, with his guitar-charged indie rock, spoke in a choppy, broken English, while Marie with her contemporary folk was more florid, elegant and occasionally long-winded.

By the end, I couldn’t tell whether I was choosing music to fit the character, or whether the character was being shaped by the music. And the best part was that it didn’t matter. I was listening and writing in different voices. I ended up with 29 chapters written by seven different characters, and there’s nothing in the chapter title to indicate who the narrator is. The voices are, I hope, so distinctive that you can tell within a few sentences who you’re listening to. It’s only possible because of the time I spent with my characters, listening to their music and letting their voices enter my head.

Andrew Blackman‘s second novel A Virtual Love is in bookshops now. His debut novel On the Holloway Road (Legend Press, 2009) won the Luke Bitmead Writer’s Bursary and was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. He’s a former Wall Street Journal staff writer, now converted to fiction. More information available at his website, or you can connect with him via Twitter.

GIVEAWAY Andrew is offering a signed copy of A Virtual Love. 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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‘Changing the voice of seven different narrators’ – Andrew Blackman

for logoAnother Soundtracker returns this week, another book under his belt. Andrew Blackman had set himself a steep challenge with his second novel. His story of love in the internet age had seven narrators, each needing their own voice and style. Early feedback from his agent said they weren’t distinct enough, and for a while, Andrew despaired of finding a solution. Then, as he always did in times of trouble, he turned to music. Which saved the day. He’ll be here on Wednesday with the Undercover Soundtrack to his second novel, A Virtual Love.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Andy Harrod

for logo‘Love is the key to these stories’

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 Andy Harrod @decodingstatic

Soundtrack by Ólafur Arnalds, HATR Project, Smoke Fairies, Joy Division, Soap & Skin, Lanterns on the Lake, Eels, Polly Scattergood, The National, Sigur Ros

I constantly surround myself with music and that is where my words come from. Music allows me to connect with and un-censor myself, to release and to be. Which is exactly how Living Room Stories and tearing at thoughts came to be.

AndyHarrodLiving Room Stories was an experiment, to write to music, namely Ólafur Arnalds’s Living Room Songs. I plugged into the sparse piano of Frysta and sketched a moment of waiting. From then on I danced with Ólafur’s music, which I feel is very emotive; there is a beautiful simplicity to it. Love is key to these stories; without love I fear we are nothing. Ólafur’s songs connect to my heart and on this occasion I decided to dive in, listening to each song for a few hours and with this immersion a life in seven moments was formed. One of the reasons I buy music on vinyl is that I see the packaging, the art, as an extension of the music. Living Room Stories is housed in a 7inch record sleeve, each story on its own card with accompanying image, with a transparent print for the cover. It invites the reader to play with these moments, to invent their own story.


I think of tearing at thoughts as an album. Each piece works separately, but together they layer and resonate the unspoken and the lost. This collection leaves me feeling exposed, in part due to how it was written as separate pieces. Each piece came about from entering a space, where I would immerse myself in my thoughts and feelings, whilst accompanied by music. In that space I was still, and the pieces came out uncensored and are a particular truth. Drawing together the pieces are a set of sentences, the first two were inspired by Coda by HATR Project from Heartbeat Against The Reason. A dark and gorgeous instrumental album that draws me into a place that hisses with noise.

That place of noise is lonely, where fear circles and strangles. Living with Ghosts by Smoke Fairies sums up this place (Strangled by Fear, Twilight), the echoing of slide guitar and plucked strings, the rich haunting voices of youth. Then there is the waking at four-fifty in the morning, sweating as the visuals fades, but the images plague. Dreamscapes interspace (I dreamt, Repeat till Fade) and develop through tearing at thoughts and their reconstruction occurs whilst listening to bands such as Joy Division, the hypnotism of 24 hours seals together scattered images and feelings.

There are pieces where I placed the needle on vinyl and kept repeating. Truth was formed by listening to Soap & Skin’s Lovetune for Vacuum over and over, especially Thanatos, a circling in on words to describe what is lost inside. Mist and Trees required less repeating of the music, it was instead the repeating of a lyric from I’ve Been Unkind by Lanterns on the Lake. When this lyric met a scene of trees in mist, the image of a frightened women was conjured.

EPSON scanner ImageEmpty Embrace and Rust I are those moments on an album, where I delve deep through screaming guitars, battered dreams and vibrating piano strings echoing, echoing, echoing, until I’ve spat out my disgust at the betrayals. The words at first muffled, trapped behind layers of educational, political and social shadows, till the chorus scream, and we are left alone in a pub cradling our empty drinks, the last to go home as there is still something to say. Think Eels, Polly Scattergood and The National’s High Violet and my favourite Bloodbuzz Ohio as sound-tracking that scene.

tearing at thoughts is infused with the places we tend not to explore and lingers with sadness, in the hope that by entering we may come to change ways of relating, become more authentic and less fearful; and the ending is one of hope and happiness. Where ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós is the only song that can capture the joy of choices available in a loving relationship, but even there our choices may not be fulfilled and as such the ending is also a call to not forget myself, ourselves in our lives.

Andy Harrod is a writer, not out of a desire to tell stories, but a need to understand, to find meaning and connect with self and life. Outside of writing Andy is a trainee person-centred therapist and runs the streets of Lancaster, one day soon the fells of the Lake District. Living Room Stories was Andy’s first release; handmade and Kindle editions are available. tearing at thoughts, a collection of writing, art and photography, is to be published by 79 rat press as part of its NOTHING TO SAY exhibition, available from June 2013. Andy posts stories, photos, art and thoughts at Decoding Static. Say hello to him on Twitter @DecodingStatic.

GIVEAWAY Andy is giving away 1 handmade copy of Living Room Stories and a print of two from tearing at thoughts. To enter leave a comment or tweet the song that represents love for you. Andy will pick his favourite. If you take the tweet option, include the link to the post and the hashtag #undersound. Good luck!

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‘Music is where my words come from’ – Andy Harrod

for logoI heard a quote this week that I love: ‘All art aspires to the condition of music’. Meaning, it works beyond its medium; a direct connection with nerves and heart. This quote seems particularly to fit my guest this week. He says he writes from a need to understand, to uncensor, find meaning and connect with self and life. He prefers his music on vinyl (good man!) to better enjoy its sleeve art, and his book, Living Room Stories, is housed in a 7in record sleeve. How could you resist? He is Andy Harrod and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.

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‘A harsh, frightening and lonely book to write’ – Tabitha Suzuma

for logoThe most haunting pieces on The Undercover Soundtrack delve far deeper than inspiration. My guest this week shares a very personal story. Her debut novel, about a teenage piano prodigy, didn’t come from a captured track in headphones. It was her own brother learning Rachmaninoff piano concertos in the room above hers. The character struggles with bipolar disorder, as she has in her own life. A later novel tackles an incestuous and doomed love between brother and sister, a harsh and frightening story that she says took a severe toll on her own mental health. Her fiction has won multiple awards and her brother is finishing his studies at the Royal Academy of Music. She is Tabitha Suzuma and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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