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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 Adrienne Thompson @A_H_Thompson
Music has always framed the big and not so big events of my life. It has always surrounded me. As I recollect the massive record collection that still resides in my mother’s home or remember the record players and boom boxes and Walkmen that were my constant companions throughout my sometime chaotic and painful childhood, I remember that music has always been there, and I know that it will always be there.
In December of 2010, I left the town that had been home to me since I was three years old and took a job transfer that required me to move 70 miles away. It was just me and my daughter who hit the road that winter, facing uncertainty together. My daughter adapted to her new environment right away while it took a couple of months for me to adjust. After I adapted to my rapidly changing life, I found my way back to my love—my purpose. I picked up a pen and began to write. I penned a book entitled Been So Long during my off days and snow days (yes, they actually let us miss work when it snowed).
This book, which often made me smile as I wrote it, would go on to outsell any other of the nine books I have written and published thus far. And I have to admit, if I had to pick a favorite character to write about, it would be Been So Long’s anti-heroine, Mona-Lisa Dandridge, with all of her issues and imperfections. The songs that helped me create this book are also the songs that would comprise the soundtrack of my life at that time. Both the songs and the book helped me transition from my old life, to a new one.
Please Don’t Go by Mike Posner jump-started the writing of this novel which chronicles the life of a very attractive African American woman. She is involved in a long-term affair with a married Pakistani doctor who just happens to be the father of her teenage sons. The lyrics aptly describe her lover’s feelings for her, and this song often put me in the mood to write the words that chronicled their complicated relationship.
Then there’s Southern Girl by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. This song inspired me to create the persona of the main character. In my mind, this song was the sway of her hips and the soft curves of her body. While listening to this song, I could see Mona-Lisa as she sashayed around her beautiful home, living the life of a kept woman. I could smell her expensive cologne and see her smile as she enjoyed the comfortable life her lover provided despite the fact that behind the smile was a past she’d tried very hard to forget.
At first glance, one would think Dr Wasif Masood was nothing more than a selfish man with selfish intentions demonstrated by selfish actions. But in listening to Bad Habits by Maxwell, I was able to see the layers of his character. I was able to recognize that what he felt for Mona was far deeper than what is found in your usual affair. Mona was more akin to an addiction than a mistress to him. At times, what he felt for her was completely out of his control. That song helped me understand his lack of control when it came to his feelings for her.
Whatta Man by Salt-n-Pepa featuring En Vogue played in my head every time I wrote the name, Corey Sanders. And what a man he is! Corey is a man from Mona’s past who shows up in her present and flips her world upside down. It is not only the lyrics that allow me to channel Mr Corey Sanders when I hear this song. It is the rhythm which reminds me of the swagger in his step. The driving baseline is his strength. And the guitar riffs which are reminiscent of the music of yesteryear allow me to channel the old fashioned values that are so important to his character.
And, finally, there’s Say Yes by Floetry. This song put me in the mood to write scenes where my characters needed to get up close and personal with each other (if you know what I mean). If there is such a thing as intimacy in the form of a song, this one is a prime example. I dare anyone to listen to it and not feel something… somewhere.
Wait, I can’t leave without mentioning the song which embodies the feel and mood of the entire book and inspired its title — Been So Long by Anita Baker. The very first line of that song sets the tone for both halves of what eventually becomes a very unique love triangle. And Ms Baker’s haunting vocals almost embody the emotions of all of the characters. I would sometimes put this song on repeat and listen to it over and over again as I let the underlying desperation sink into my mind. This song served as my muse for the entire book.
So there it is, Been So Long’s Undercover Soundtrack. Thanks for reading and thanks to Roz for the opportunity to share with you all!!
Adrienne Thompson has worn many titles in her lifetime–from teenage mother to teenage wife to divorcee to registered nurse to author. This mother of two young adults and one teenager currently resides in Arkansas with her daughter where she writes and publishes her stories full time. Find her on Twitter as @A_H_Thompson, Facebook, her blog and her website.
Adrienne Thompson, Anita Baker, authors, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, En Vogue, entertainment, Floetry, Frankie Beverly, inspirational fiction, inspirational novels, Maxwell, Maze, Mike Posner, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, romance, romance fiction, Roz Morris, Salt-n-Pepa, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music
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 Andrew James @4ndrewjames
Soundtrack by Guns N’ Roses, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Nirvana, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Faithless, Chris Thomas King, Jeff Buckley, Purcell, Malena Ernman, Philip Sheppard, Sonny Boy Williamson, Moby
So let’s get the pretentious statement out of the way first, huh?
Prose and music: to me, they’re the same thing. Perhaps more accurately, they’re part of the same thing. Because I could include art and film into that statement, too. I could expand on this at length, but in the interests of brevity and lucidity, let’s crack on with the soundtrack to Blow Your Kiss Hello, my novel of love, rock & roll, guns and quantum physics set in the 1990s. And just a little bit in the 1600s.
The above statement does at least provide a reason (or excuse) for the way I write; staccato sentences interspersed with torrents of tumbling words, driven not so much by actually listening to music as I write but the music that worms itself into my head as subliminal material. The novel itself – at least in my head – is in three acts, with hidden references that occasionally bounce from one act to another. And the music that makes up its soundtrack works in the same way.
Act one sashays its way through straightforward radio rock, setting both the tone and the period with Guns N’ Roses’ Paradise City kicking things off, although for the full effect you’ll need to listen to this with a scarf wound around your head, so it’s muffled and distant. From here, settle into the groove of the Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue and then ratchet expectation via David Bowie’s Queen Bitch, a first suggestion that notions of past, present and future hold no sway here.
By now we and Pistol Star, the fictitious band fronted by my main character and good friend Joe da Flo, are in full flow and are being assaulted by Nirvana, the teen spirit smelling like an adrenaline rush, hurtling forward into a place where the future and the past are all the same, just riding the wave, dodging the bullets, crowd surfing our way into oblivion until it –
Act two. Three initial tracks, bridging the gap between then and something different. The trance of Faithless and God Is A DJ (Yes He Is) tips into the depths of Chris Thomas King’s Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues and wallows in Jeff Buckley’s mercurial and partially autobiographical Forget Her. These songs aren’t just illustrative, they sound as if they were written with the mid-section of the novel in mind and here the notion of the novel as a movie really hits home to me. It’s also here that the story’s marriage to its soundtrack starts to convey the debt it owes to the late Jeff Buckley, who carried the novel from its concept into reality every bit as much as I or my editor Debi did.
As the past started to impact upon the narrative, I was taken over for several weeks by the work of Henry Purcell (1659-1695) and in particular his opera Dido and Aeneas. One piece from that work, Dido’s Lament, became pivotal to a vital scene. However, to understand the soul of the book, to really get under the skin of what the novel is trying to convey, go here. If you’ve not heard this before, it’s quite possible that this might just change your life, or at least, your relationship to art in its broadest sense.
Done that? Deep breath. Time to move on.
Sonny Boy Williamson’s Cross My Heart creates the arc from act two into act three. Incidentally, I have an old vinyl album of Sonny’s music, on which he is backed by Jimmy Page on guitar, Brian Auger on keyboards and one Mickey Waller on drums. I mention this only because in my late teens I could usually be found on a Friday evening in the old Kings Head on the Fulham Palace Road watching Mickey play drums behind another guitarist who now sadly resides in a different universe, Sam Mitchell. As a brief aside, check out this link, simply as a reminder that sometimes we’re closer to greatness than we realise.
As the novel nears its final chapter, it flies on the work of Richard Melville Hall, otherwise known as Moby, and the breakneck Electricity before my wildest dreams hear a song playing as the final credits roll and the audience sits damp eyed and holding hands. Ladies and Gentlemen, Jeff Buckley, live at Sin-e, and Eternal Life. Now you know where that title came from.
Andrew James owned a marketing agency, which he sold in 2010 whereupon Blow Your Kiss Hello began to take shape. He spent his teenage years employed at the Whitehall Theatre, studying for school exams in the lighting box watching such formative productions as What, No Pyjamas? He is a pretty good cook and an okay musician, has curated an art exhibition, climbed Snowdon, ridden motorcycles at ridiculous speeds, had poetry published in Magma Poetry magazine and spent three years living in a church in North Yorkshire. A lifelong Crystal Palace FC supporter, he is also a devotee of South Africa’s Western Cape. He still works in media and marketing and currently lives in south-west London. Blow Your Kiss Hello is his first novel and a second is under way. Find him on Twitter @4ndrewjames
GIVEAWAY Andrew is giving away 2 signed copies. To get a chance to win, he wants you to reply or tweet where the book title comes from. If you take the tweet option, include the link to the post and the hashtag #undersound. Good luck!
Andrew James, authors, Blow Your Kiss Hello, Chris Thomas King, contemporary fiction, crime, crime fiction, David Bowie, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, Faithless, Guns N’ Roses, hidden references, Jeff Buckley, Jimmy Page, literary fiction, literary novels, male writers, Malena Ernman, Moby, music, music for writers, My Memories of a Future Life, mysterious place, Mystery, Nail Your Novel, Nirvana, Philip Sheppard, playlist for writers, Purcell, quantum physics, queen bitch, radio rock, reincarnation, Robert Plant, romance, romance fiction, Roz Morris, Sonny Boy Williamson, The Rolling Stones, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thriller novel, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, writing to music
- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2021. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'