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My guest this week has a theory that everyone’s head is carrying a tune – a permanent soundtrack, a default earworm. Her own cerebrum is tuned to Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower, which has special significance when she starts writing as she sees the process of plotting as the search for an escape. And her book centres on two characters who need this escape – sisters who were professional singers, who go through multiple misunderstandings before they find their equilibrium. (Cue Nina Simone: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.) The author is Nadine Matheson and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, contemporary fiction, earworm, Jimi Hendrix, music for writing, music industry, My Memories of a Future Life, Nadine Matheson, Nina Simone, Roz Morris, sibling rivalry, singers, song in your head, The Sisters, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, writing with music
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 my guest is a capella singer and debut author Paul Connolly @ACappellaPaul
Soundtrack by The Beatles, Van Morrison, The Beach Boys, Thomas Tallis, John Barry
The Fifth Voice is about the power of music and friendship, and the incredible influence both can have on our lives. The four main characters are struggling in various ways with what life has thrown at them (an illness, a betrayal, a bereavement, a mid-life crisis), but when they sing together none of that matters. Together they embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing, as they go in search of the mysterious and elusive Fifth Voice.
My very first memory is hearing Help! by The Beatles playing in an amusement arcade when I was just five. Listening to the song as an adult, I remember what it was like to feel happy and carefree as a child on holiday, being transported by music for the very first time. Coincidentally, John Lennon said he wrote the song at a time when he’d completely lost himself and was harking back to when he was much younger and everything in life was much simpler.
Aside from the obvious connection (four singers), The Beatles inspired The Fifth Voice by providing two of the protagonists, Vince and Danny, with the material for their opening dialogue, arguing about their favourite albums around a pub table. They don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to The Beatles, Vince referring to the Sergeant Pepper album as ‘a pile of over-contrived, trippy nonsense’. Danny hits back by informing his friend that ‘when Sergeant Pepper was released, Kenneth Tynan in The Times said it was a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization’. And so the tone is set for the emerging friendship between the two.
Oh, and there’s dance too
One of my own favourite albums is Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, which features the song Ballerina. It’s a haunting evocation of a love unrequited, or perhaps broken in some way. Listening to it, I get a sense of fragility, of a man who is yearning for this perfect vision of a woman to be his. The fact that I was once married to a ballet dancer means that those feelings have the ring of truth, and both the song and my personal experience compelled me to include a character in the book who was once a ballet dancer.
Margaret, the mother of Neil (another of the quartet) is a smart, sensitive, worldly and compassionate lady of a certain age. She has suffered the loss of her eldest son, which both she and Neil are struggling to come to terms with. She has every right to be bitter, but instead she throws all her energies into looking after her husband and remaining son, helping local charities, and running a ballet class for the senior citizens of her village. In her early years she lived a rarefied and exotic life as a dancer in Paris and was, without doubt, held in as much esteem as the ballerina in Van Morrison’s achingly beautiful song.
Finding their voices
One of the first songs I learned to sing in four-part harmony was a Beach Boys medley featuring the ballad In My Room. It made a big impression on me, as the harmonies are delicate and easy, and yet powerfully moving. I had to make it the first song the quartet in The Fifth Voice sing together, the one that makes them and their assembled company realise that their voices blend beautifully and that they could have a future as a quartet.
The song doesn’t always serve them well, however. When Ken, their eccentric vocal coach and mentor, invites them to explain what the song is about, Vince suggests ‘a bloke in a room’. Frustrated by his lack of imagination, Ken replies
Well, that certainly explains things. From the way you sang just now, I’d guess that the room is painted entirely white. Featureless. And I’d say that the bloke in question is probably wearing a straitjacket, that the walls are padded, and that the door is heavily bolted from the outside.
The book is about the search for harmony, not just in the musical sense. Ken inspires the quartet to discover a curious vocal technique called The Fifth Voice, which has the promise to deliver a prize much greater than anything they can imagine.
This idea was inspired in part by listening to harmonies on a grand scale, in the form of Spem In Alium, a 40-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis. Composed in the 16th century for eight choirs of five voices each, this majestic piece is mind-blowing in its complexity and beauty, and no wonder it is widely considered to be the greatest piece of English early music.
A piece of orchestral music I return to often is The Beyondness of Things by John Barry. Barry’s late signature sound of richly textured strings and reflective, romantic melodies has a wooing effect, and I find myself drifting away whenever I listen to this piece. But it also delivers a genuine sense of beyondness, of there being more to life than the here and now. And that’s the essence of what The Fifth Voice is about. Listening to Barry helped set the tone for the metaphysical aspects of the story, as when Ken first tells the quartet about The Fifth Voice:
Listen to a top quartet ringing chords, and the room will fill with harmonic overtones. And at a purely physical level, you could say that those harmonic overtones are themselves an independent voice. A fifth voice, so to speak. But that’s only part of the story. Any competent quartet can create a fifth voice, but very few find The Fifth Voice. That’s something that goes beyond the physical. Something that comes from inside each of you. Something you have to search for.
Paul Connolly was born and brought up in Liverpool. After studying biology at Manchester University he worked for many years as a technical author in the computer industry, the foundation of his writing career. Paul sings bass with award-winning a cappella group The Royal Harmonics, which provided the inspiration for his debut novel, The Fifth Voice. He lives in Berkshire, visits Lundy Island as often as possible, supports Everton FC, and has a grown-up daughter. He is currently working on the sequel to The Fifth Voice, and you can connect with him at www.paulconnollyauthor.com and on Twitter @ACappellaPaul. The Fifth Voice is available as a paperback and ebook.
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My guest this week is another writer with music in his very bones. His novel features four friends who keep their troubled lives on an even keel by singing in a quartet, and is inspired by his own experiences singing bass with an an award-winning capella group. In the novel, his characters are in search of a state of harmony called The Fifth Voice, where all the hearts and minds are playing as one entity. He is Paul Connolly and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
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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 my guest is former rock singer and multi-award-winning author Warren FitzGerald @Warren_FitzG
Music is evil. It’s the Juju man messing with your head. It’s the sound of Bacardi Breezers clinking in the park when your soul is really being blasted by icy winds. And worse, perhaps, a carefully chosen trickle of notes can flood your thoughts with broken things when really the forecast is fine.
So says one of the characters in a novel I’m working on at the moment. I agree with her: her reasons. But the conclusion I draw is different. For me music is not evil, music is awesome, powerful, magical. That’s probably something most of us feel, but perhaps I have studied its effect a little more than some because of my previous incarnation as a singer which included the joy and stress of being in a struggling rock band to the buzz of performing all over the world as a session singer to audiences as big as 20,000 people, and trust me that is awesome, powerful, magical!
The inspiration for my latest novel Tying Down The Sun came from my recent travels through South America. A heady few months in a continent booming with music. Latin Americans love their music and they love it loud. But the greater part of this novel concerns itself with a harrowing kidnapping which takes place within the beautiful jungles of the Sierra Nevada, Colombia. A place, which when I trekked through there a couple of years back, was one of the few parts on the continent so remote I did not hear music. But music has been crucial in helping me recall and verbalizethat landscape and its own intense soundtrack sung only by cicadas and silence.
The work of Argentinean musician Gustavo Santaolalla particularly from the film soundtracks for Babel and The Motorcycle Diaries was the obvious choice for me if I ever needed to recapture the atmosphere of those majestic landscapes and precious ruins I came across as I backpacked around Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. Every haunting track Santaolalla produces echoes with the vastness of the great waterways of South America, of the endless rain forests, the mountain ranges, the windswept deserts and their icy emerald lakes. If I ever for a moment forgot what it felt like to be there I would just play Deportation/Iguazu and I would be transported there once again with my characters, perched on the edge of Ciudad Perdida, the lost city, couched among jungle clad mountains which joyfully weep with silent waterfalls. And if that’s all it takes to get me back to those heart-swelling places then music (like literature) is truly magical.
Looking for freedom
The two protagonists in Tying Down The Sun are both young women looking for freedom. We first meet 14-year-old Luz as she is deciding to break away from her isolated Amazonian village and its customs which she finds barbaric, only to escape to a life as a child soldier in the National Liberation Army (ELN), taking freedom from her hostages yet soon realising she is in fact as disenfranchised as them. And we first meet Sarah as she marvels at the natural wonders and ancient indigenous cultures of South America, as she lets her hair down after finishing her degree in London, before she becomes one of those hostages herself.
Some of Sarah’s five fellow captives begin their carefree tourist trek through the rain forests equipped with I-pods to supply them with entertainment on the long nights under the stars, but as the unplanned days and weeks at gunpoint pass, the batteries die and music becomes a rare commodity. Just before the last I-pod loses power, Sarah and Luz cement their unlikely friendship by appreciating a piece by Beethoven. The same piece doesn’t do much for me, but in order to understand how it might move some of my characters I indulged in a piano recording which affects me enormously. I Giorni by Ludovico Einaudi was the piece I used to get myself ‘in the zone’ because the opening few notes alone break my heart every time I hear them. Beautiful because it’s so sad, or sad because it’s so beautiful, this recording makes my heart feel like bursting, I think, because the images it conjures (long lost lovers reunited and caressing each other like blind people feeling their way, crashing waves seen silently through the window of an idyllic cottage, to name a few) are never in reality without their spoiling imperfections.
I played Te Aviso, Te Anuncio and remembered the wonderful ache in my feet as I stomped through cigarette butts and plastic cups. I played Crazy In Love and felt the luxurious sickness in my stomach when I used to twirl until everyone else disappeared.
As the reader and Sarah find out just what horrors Luz has had to endure in her young life already, they surely can’t blame her for her cynicism, but I have hope for Luz because the one word from her indigenous language of Quechua which she clings on to, despite abandoning the rest of her Amazonian roots, is tinkuy. Tinkuy means to dance, but it also means to battle. As Luz’s uncle tells her:
There is no separate word for each. It is just a matter of interpretation, a matter of context. But you have to decide which way you are going to go. Are you going to battle through life or are you going to dance?
I’ll leave the reader to decide if my hope for Luz is justified; to decide whether the novel ends with a battle or a dance.
A graduate of Warwick University and former singer in rock bands, these days Warren FitzGerald often finds himself in remote and ostensibly dangerous corners of the globe. His travel usually involves voluntary work on projects including the building of a health centre in Kibungo, Rwanda (the setting for his first novel, The Go-Away Bird), living on a rubbish dump in Nicaragua (the subject of a documentary film he is currently working on) and trekking through the combat zones and cocaine regions of the Sierra Nevada, Colombia (the setting for his new book Tying Down the Sun).Warren’s first novel, The Go-Away Bird won the Amazon Rising Stars Award 2010, Authors’ Club Best First Book Award (longlisted) 2011 and was Waterstones’ Book of the Month: Oct 2011. He lives in London. Find him on Facebook and tweet him as @Warren_FitzG
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My guest this week has studied music more closely than some. His previous artistic incarnation was a rock singer – both with a band of his own and performing as a session vocalist to vast venues. (If you’re very good, we’ll include a video of him so you can see for yourself.) Now he has settled into an artform of lower decibel, but he hasn’t left music behind. His latest novel, Tying Down The Sun, is the story of a kidnap in the Sierra Nevada and he used music to help him verbalise the landscape and to mark the plight of his captive characters as their ordeal wears on. He is Warren Fitzgerald and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, incarnation, kidnap, kidnap stories, Latin America, literary fiction, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, music of Latin America, music of South America, musician-turned-writer, musicians, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, rock singer, Roz Morris, session vocalist, Sierra Nevada, singers, South America, The Undercover Soundtrack, Tying Down The Sun, undercover soundtrack, vocalists, Warren FitzGerald, writers, writing, writing to music
I first discovered this week’s guest when a Google fairy revealed she’d written a novel about reincarnation and music. I had to try to recruit her. She turned out to be even more suitable for the series than I could have guessed. Her mother was an opera singer. She wrote her first novel to help her son understand the stories of his ancestors in China through connections to music. Her second novel deals with ideas of past lives and ethnomusicology. Her name is Denise Kahn and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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- 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'