Undercover Soundtrack

The Undercover Soundtrack – Jennifer Scoullar

‘An enigmatic contradiction; fragile but powerfully emotive’

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 Australian environmental fiction author Jennifer Scoullar @pilyara

Soundtrack by Geoffrey Gurrumul YunupinguHugh McDonald, Sara StorerKT Tunstall, Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Natasha Bedingfield

I love an eclectic range of music – rock to folk to soul. But with my new novel Brumby’s Run, I was drawn to the music of the Australian outback. The novel is set amongst the hauntingly beautiful ghost gums and wild horses of the high country, and I wanted music that would bring me close to my setting.

Songs from the land

To begin with, I immersed myself in the music of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. This unique Aboriginal man sings songs about identity, spirit and connection with the land. Born blind, Gurrumul grew up as a member of the Gumatj clan on Elcho Island, off the coast of tropical Arnhem Land. He speaks little English. His sound is an enigmatic contradiction, fragile but powerfully emotive and it affects me in a way no other artist does. The transcendental beauty of his voice was a perfect inspiration for writing about the wild Australian alps.


Music helped with characterisation too. One of my characters is an indigenous man named Bushy. Several songs allowed me to flesh him out – helped me picture him in my head.   The first is Diamentina Drover. This song was written by Hugh McDonald of the band Redgum, and is a bush classic. While on a train ride up to Brisbane in Queensland, Hugh met an 80-year -ld man who explained how he had worked for 50 years as a drover on the Diamentina River, and he wrote this song about him. The second is Buffalo Bill by Sara Storer. Storer is a storyteller par excellence. Her songs paint a vivid and realistic portrait of life in the bush – a sweet country sound with a subtle steel in the lyrics. The simple but poignant words and melody of these two songs were perfect catalysts for  my imagination.

Another character, a feisty young woman named Charlie, was partly inspired by KT Tunstall, in particular her song, Black Horse and a Cherry Tree. (Okay, I know … she’s Scottish) Tunstall says the song is about having to dig incredibly deep to find out who you really want to be – perfect for Charlie. I also love the acoustics and her super-gutsy performances.

Paul Kelly, Australia’s master singer-songwriter, was a constant soundtrack in the latter stages of the manuscript. Many wonderful Brumby welfare organisations are drawing attention to the plight of Australia’s wild horses. I’ve dedicated my book to them. Songs like Kelly’s From Little Things (Big Things Grow), capture the sense of this swelling grass roots movement. I’ve included a link to Archie Roach and Sara Storer doing a wonderful cover of this ballad.  In addition I listened to a lot of songs about horses. To finish I’ve included a link to Natasha Bedingfield’s Wild Horses.

Jennifer Scoullar has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. She lives with her family on a property in the southern Victorian ranges. Her house is on a hill-top, overlooking valleys of messmate and mountain ash. Horses have always been her passion. She grew up on the books of Elyne Mitchell, and all her life she’s ridden and bred horses, in particular Australian Stock Horses. Her first published novel Wasp Season, is an environmental thriller. Her second published novel Brumby’s Run was released by Penguin Australia on July 2 2012. Jennifer is on Twitter as @pilyara

Undercover Soundtrack

The Undercover Soundtrack – Laura Pauling

It’s all about capturing the emotion’

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 YA author Laura Pauling @laurapauling

Soundtrack by Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Colbie Caillat, Natasha Bedingfield, Christina Perri, Adele

To quote Randy Jackson from American Idol: ‘The transference of emotion is what the audience wants.’

Readers more than anything want to feel what we’re feeling when we put our hearts into a story. Whether it’s heartbreak, humour, revenge, sorrow…etc. And sometimes listening to the right kind of music, a certain song that pushes my heart to its limit, can transfer over to my writing.

Stories at your fingertips

So when I was writing A Spy Like Me, I took into account that this was a fun, suspenseful story. I listened to Taylor Swift a lot. Her teenage voice and lyrics pumped into my ears while the story poured out through my fingertips. And it really helped lift my mood and emotions to where they needed to be.

A Spy Like Me is about change. Seventeen-year-old Savvy is uprooted from her home and moved to Paris, France. She lives with her dad and misses her mom. But sometimes change is what we need to find the answers. And that holds true for Savvy. Here’s Taylor’s song, Change. One of many I listened to.

The whole story, Savvy fights for knowledge. She’s tired of the lies and strikes out to find the truth…by – you guessed it – spying! But through the chaos and danger, sometimes, she wouldn’t mind going back to before it all began, when her mom lived at home and they were a family. Here’s Taylor’s song, Back to December.

Of course, living with a teenage daughter helps; and together, we’re putting together a great playlist for this spy trilogy. Kelly Clarkson: Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill you) and Break Away; Colbie Caillat: Brighter than the Sun, Natasha Bedingfield: Pocketful of Sunshine

That’s just the start. But I’ll stop there. Just watching these videos and listening to the tones and the themes give me goose bumps. Like they were written for Savvy and what she’s experiencing.

Not about the lyrics

Sometimes it’s not the lyrics of a song that match my story, but the emotion. And that’s what writing comes down to: how well the author captures the emotion behind the story. For example, Christina Perri’s Jar of Hearts: a hugely popular song. It was the sound and tone of this song. It moved me. It’s filled with this aching emotion that drives me to write. It still does when I hear it. I have yet to act on it. Someday…

Why did Adele win the Grammy? She was just singing a song about a guy breaking up with her and wishing him the best. There are countless songs like that from the past, in the present and in the future. But her big time emotion transferred to her audience. The incredible unique voice helps too. Listen to Adele sharing about Someone Like You and singing it in her home. Incredible.

Emotion on the page

In all my writing, whether a fun spy adventure in Paris or not, I strive for that emotion to come across on the page and to my readers. I will work toward that every time I sit down to write. And I’ll keep doing it.

It’s funny. I accepted Roz’s invitation to guest post on this series but waited days to write it. I knew what I wanted to say but I wasn’t sure how to approach it. It wasn’t until tonight, watching American Idol and hearing Randy say, ‘transference of emotion’ that it all came together. Why I listen to music when I write (not when I edit). Why I find songs that fit the tone and style of my writing. And why as a writer I learn so much about storytelling from listening to a heartfelt song.

Thanks for having me, Roz. It’s an honour.

Laura Pauling writes about spies, murder and mystery. Her debut novel, A Spy Like Me, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords and her blog is here. Visit her blog before May 25 for a Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon with guest posts and free giveaways.