‘Music without words explains the terror of the people’
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 debut novelist Liz Fisher-Frank @LizFisherFrank
Soundtrack by Chris Rea, Lucy Rose, Cat Stevens, Michael Kamen, Freddie Mercury, Montserrat Cabelle
I’ve been a lawyer for many years. I’ve had a fairly unusual legal career as for much of it, I specialised in representing teenagers in care. I’d regularly go out to foster placements and children’s homes to meet with my clients and take instructions. Often there could be problems around contact with family and/or siblings or maybe concerns about placements, where homes were not working out. Christmas always made me think about my clients, particularly those living in children’s homes, as no matter how hard people try, for some children, Christmas Day, family, presents, sacks, dinner, TV is quite a different experience to that which many children have.
Driving Home for Christmas by Chris Rea – although this is not my favourite Christmas song by a long shot – makes me think of families at Christmas time. You can’t argue with a good power ballad and it’s no wonder that this song is such a yuletide favourite, topping Christmas playlists up and down the country. But it’s Lucy Rose’s amazing cover that helped me understand my two central characters. Her haunting voice in this pared-down version brings to mind those children and young people whose family life is so very different. In Losing Agir, my two key characters, Alice (a 15-year-old from the UK who is in care) and Agir (a 16-year-old Kurdish boy smuggled into the UK) have both faced family loss, separation and tragedy and this factor somehow unites them despite their very different cultural backgrounds.
Alice, a teenager wanting to fit in at school, pretends to like the music the popular girls are into but secretly, would listen to something with more meaning. Alice reads and loves the classics – a copy of Wuthering Heights plays a important role in linking Alice and Agir. I decided Alice would listen to songs and really think about the poetry of their words – the simplicity of Cat Stevens’s Morning has Broken would give her the message that although difficult, life goes on and tomorrow is another day.
A village torn apart
My book starts at the violent destruction of the Kurdish village of Ormanici, which was situated in the mountains of South-East Turkey. The village was destroyed by Turkish soldiers in the 1990s and formed the basis of a human rights case which was later taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It is the story of the villagers, who won their case, which inspired me to write. My story starts as the soldiers attack the village and Agir and his family, along with the rest of the villagers, are pulled from their home at gunpoint. This part of my book is, I hope, dramatic. Livestock are shot, homes are burned to the ground, families are pulled apart, women scream, men are dragged away and forced to lie blindfolded, face down in the snow. Having read the case transcript and written the story, this scene is about emotive music, where music, without words, far better explains the terror of the people. I found the mood I was looking for in Michael Kamen’s soundtrack to Band of Brothers.
From the dramatic areas to the developing love story between my characters, my ideas, plotlines and characterisation are largely affected by my thinking time which for me, works best when I am running. Since I’ve been writing, I’ve had various moments of getting stuck and for some reason, Freddie Mercury somehow seems to get me past it. In Losing Agir, I was struggling to work out how Alice, a young person lacking confidence, would connect the ‘bad’ characters to enable her then to smash a child smuggling ring. I can remember the moment as I was running with Barcelona gently starting in my iPod. I’d been thinking and thinking about how I could tie the story together. But as the song began to build, my thoughts did too. Then, as Freddie and Montserrat Caballe reached the final ‘Barcelona,’ an idea which had been gathering somewhere in the background burst at high speed into my head. As the very distinctive bells signified the end of the track, I stopped, almost expecting to see fireworks at the realisation that I could possibly make my story work. Muttering a thankful ‘yesssss,’ and ignoring the awkward glances of a couple out walking their poodle, I then carried on my way.
Liz Fisher-Frank has for many years worked as a children’s rights lawyer. Specialising in representing teenagers in care, Liz has also campaigned to improve information about and access to law and rights. Drawing on these themes, Liz’s first book, Losing Agir, is a teen thriller published by Red Lion Books and is the story of two young people from different cultures and backgrounds who unite to seek justice. For more information see www.lizfisherfrank.com, read her blog or follow her on twitter at @lizfisherfrank and facebook.