Posts Tagged The Red Season
The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by travel memoirist, novelist and blogger Catherine Ryan Howard @cathryanhoward
This past summer I sat down to write 70,000 words about a three-month backpacking trip I’d taken in Central America in early 2008. I soon found that while it was easy to remember the things we’d done (there was a travel blog, a travel journal, a well-thumbed copy of the Lonely Planet’s Central America on a Shoestring to refer to, a best friend to double-check with and a thousand photos to help jog my memory), I found myself struggling to recall—and so, recreate—exactly how I’d felt.
I turned to music for help.
There were songs we listened to while on the road that would’ve been obvious choices for memory-jogging, but I wasn’t trying to go back in time. (And I also find music with lyrics fatally distracting while writing.) What I was really trying to do was to create an authentic mood in the present similar to the mood I’d been in back then, that would enable me to write about the trip’s events with a depth of feeling that the passage of time might have otherwise made shallow.
And I found the perfect soundtrack—or soundtracks, rather. When you need music to help conjure up a specific feeling (and conjure it up quick), for me, there’s one obvious place to turn: movie soundtracks, which have been written to serve just that purpose.
The pick-up truck
I’m not exactly your typical backpacking gal (or even her third cousin twice removed) as the book’s title—Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America—suggests. For the first month I had to bite back a growing desire to pick up my backpack and go home, and an anxiety about the fact that I hadn’t yet. This all changed when, quite by chance, I got to ride in the back of pick-up truck through the stunning highlands of Honduras where I realised how lucky I was to be experiencing such a thing. To help bring back that feeling of pure joy and sudden elation, I listened to Gumption, a piece by Hans Zimmer from The Holiday soundtrack.
For those thirty minutes, I constantly reminded myself that I was backpacking. That I was in Central America. That I was in Honduras. That I was in the back of a pick-up truck, headed to a Las Vegas that didn’t have a strip, climbing up a mountain covered in luscious tropical forest and while enjoying an uninterrupted view of the countryside that expanded with every turn of the wheel.
And I recognised what a privilege it was to experience such a thing, and I could forever consider myself lucky to have done it.
I thought, I am so lucky that I’m here. I’m so glad I came. This was a fantastic idea.
Me, the Starbucks addict.
Me, the five-star hotel devotee.
Me, the reluctant backpacker.
The only true fear I felt during our trip was when for a reason that is still a mystery to us, a bus we were travelling on got mobbed near the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. In the midst of it, our backpacks were stolen from the roof rack. It was hard to write this scene while preserving the confusion I felt while it was happening, to do it without diluting it with facts I’d learned since. Writing this, I listened to Iguazu by Gustavo Santaolalla, from The Insider soundtrack. It creates for me an atmosphere of underlying danger, sinister events that are unfolding quickly, and there’s something about it (the charango, maybe?) that evokes a feeling of a foreign, unfamiliar place.
We had to come home eventually and when it came time to leave, I became unexpectedly upset. Cruelly our travel plans had our second bus leaving as our first bus pulled into the station, and so our goodbyes to the rest of our six-strong travel group had to be done suddenly, speedily and unexpectedly. I wasn’t at all prepared — for saying goodbye, or for being upset having to. One of the most hauntingly sad pieces of music I know has a suitably sad title: The Letter That Never Came. It’s by Thomas Newman and from the soundtrack to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. To me, it sounds like sadness with roots: a reflection on the past, a move into a new future, a person changed by the events in between. Perfect, in other words. I put it on repeat the night I wrote the last chapter and by the end—and ‘The End’—I was more upset than I’d be on the day!
It was all a bit like Dorothy at the end of Return to Oz when a stone-faced Ozma cruelly sends her back to Kansas before she’s ready.
Damn that Ozma.
And damn that bus.
We did our best to run around to everyone with a hug and a goodbye, but it was a quick scramble, and we needed to get on the bus, like, five minutes ago. We waved over our shoulders as we ran onto it, and grabbed two seats at the back.
The last we saw of our little group was Dan, sitting on everyone else’s backpacks in the bed of the pick-up, a half-smile, half-smirk on his face, waving to us as our bus pulled away.
As the scene faded from the view, Sheelagh and I turned away from the windows.
And started to cry.
Catherine Ryan Howard is a writer, blogger and self-publisher from Cork, Ireland. She is the author of two travel memoirs (Mousetrapped and Backpacked), a novel (Results Not Typical) and a ‘sane person’s guide to self-publishing’ (Self-Printed). She can usually be found dividing her time between the desk and the sofa, on Twitter at @cathryanhoward or blogging on www.catherineryanhoward.com.
And incidentally, in this festive season you can get episode 1 of My Memories of a Future Life for free on Kindle – but hurry to the Kindle store right now as the offer vanishes after December 30…
Download now – this link will take you to a google Docs page and you can download the MP3. file size is 12MB.
If that file is too big, there’s a more compressed version here, but the sound quality isn’t as good. Try the other one first!
You can also stream it here at Soundcloud:
Special thanks to Barry Brimer at BeOriginal.com for masterful file compression and for bringing the text alive with footsteps, thunderstorms, passing trains and a soupcon of piano. If you need a sound file sweetened (as they call it in the trade), he’s your guy.
Where to buy My Memories of a Future Life
‘Here’s a book we just love that’s brimming with ideas – a wonderful literary journey’ said Dan Holloway on Twitter. Dan went on to give me a whole post on eightcuts, his provocatively interesting lower-case blog where he champions ‘extraordinary literature‘
Here’s a selection of what you’ve been telling me around the ether:
I got 3/4 of the way through The Red Season last night. I’m enjoying the read, and looking forward to finishing it tonight. I’m hooked! Daniel Marvello, Nail Your Novel blog
Great read! Gene Lempp on Twitter
Reading Roz’s book. Magnificent. There’s a reason Roz is the writing guru. Like watching Yoda whip out a light saber. Thank you for making literary fiction entertaining Kevin McGill on Twitter
Thank you also for your emails as you’re reading, your speculations and ‘well I nevers’, and a very special mention to the fellow who is documenting a strange and beguiling process of transformation…
Episode 1 – The Red Season – is now up and has its first review! ‘Groundbreaking fiction – expect the unexpected’, says writer, fiction editor, and author of The Art & Craft of Fiction, Victoria Mixon.
I’m not necessarily going to blog every single review – but this first one, which sends the book out on its maiden voyage, is very special. Thank you, Victoria.
What did I want the cover to say? It had to embody the resonances of the story, set up a signature that was at once modern and classical, startling and beguiling, like the narrator’s deep love for her instrument.
A piano against a sky. But not just any old piano, a red one. A piano that screams blood, passion, hell even. It contains the very soul of the narrator, the thundering wonder of making glorious noise to express that you’re alive.
The sky I chose for souls in flight, The antithesis of what’s solid. Nebulous matters beyond our corporeality. A veil between us and outer space. Lying on your back on a warm day and gazing forever into your own imagination.
Or perhaps it’s just sky.
My Memories of a Future Life
Episode 1: The Red Season will be available on 30 August from the Kindle store.
The Red Season.
Available August 30