Posts Tagged Tori Amos

The Undercover Soundtrack – Andrea Darby

redpianoupdate-3The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 journalist and debut novelist Andrea Darby @andreadarby27

Soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, Debussy, Chopin, Tori Amos, Kate Bush, the Beatles, Charles Ives

Music is both my ‘on’ and ‘off’ switch.

Listening to it can stimulate and clarify thoughts, ideas, moods and memories, but, as a pianist, with the right music, physically playing is like a cerebral, and emotional reset button. It can clear my head, force me into the moment in a way that nothing else does. When my brain gets too busy, words and ideas muddled or puzzling, or if I feel frazzled or frustrated, sitting at the keyboard can erase everything, give me a refreshed mind and fresh page.

the-undercover-soundtrack-andrea-darby-1The idea for The Husband Who Refused to Die came to me in musical packaging. It was while I was sitting in a hotel conservatory overlooking Lake Windermere, reading a magazine article about a young couple who’d signed up to be frozen – or cryonically preserved – after death, believing there was a chance that they could come back to life; one day when science has moved on.

I can’t recall whether it was playing in the background while I read the feature, or whether I heard it just before or after, but Chi Mai by Italian composer Ennio Morricone attached itself to my excited thoughts about having finally found a potential premise for my debut novel – and wouldn’t let go.

Written in 1971, Chi Mai became a popular ‘theme’ tune, featuring in the films Maddalena (1971) and Le Professionnel (1981) and reaching number 2 in the UK charts after being used for the TV series The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.

Haunting, hopeful

I heard the minimalist melody often in my head whilst contemplating my book idea and the challenge of using it in a contemporary, realistic context, and subsequently played it when I imagined Dan, the deceased husband in my story, his body ‘suspended’ in a tank in a sterile, sanitized cryonics facility. The fragmented string theme, haunting yet hopeful, became his tune. In my inner ear, the main motif is infinite, repeating over and over, on a loop. I never hear the ending.

Chi Mai, meaning ‘whoever’, became the mood, and the metaphor, for Dan’s holding on, and later for his widow Carrie’s struggle to let go, not just of her husband, but also of past events and her insecurities.

Dan’s love of pop group The Beatles, which he shared with another character, his friend and Carrie’s colleague Mark, also steered me back to an old cassette I used to play in my early teenage years, and to Fool on the Hill. I’d never paid all that much attention to the lyrics, it’s always been about the bittersweet melody for me, but I thought of Dan and the words edged forwards. He could be the fool – many believe so, even Carrie, and their daughter Eleanor, on occasion – but perhaps he’s the wise one, seeing something that others can’t, or won’t.

Find their space

While writing the first draft, I was learning to play Chopin’s Nocturne, Opus 9 no1 in B flat minor, which had been on my piano wish list for many years. In some respects, it became a mirror for the writing process. Much of it wasn’t overly difficult to grasp, due to many years of practice and experience. But there were a few phrases that challenged my technique and stretched my span, and several bars containing cross rhythms – 22 versus 12, for example – that I found particularly tricky and frustrated me greatly. After spending far too much time fighting with these difficult note groupings, both in terms of dexterity and mathematics, I finally took on board the advice of my teacher, a concert pianist, and, at times, I’m getting closer: ‘Just relax and let them find their own way into the space – don’t overthink them.’

Of course, the really accomplished pianists do just that. And without the sweat. For me, the great polish American pianist Artur Rubinstein’s version of this gave me the most pleasure. Everything seemingly effortless. Simply beautiful.

Duet

I also revisited Cactus Practice, a track inspired by this nocturne from American singer-songwriter Tori Amos’s 2011 concept album Night of Hunters. Chopin’s melody is shared between Amos and her daughter in the form of an enchanting duet.

The theme of loss is central to The Husband Who Refused to Die. Carrie is left to cope with a grief that she can’t comprehend, and a lack of closure:

No body, no coffin, no earth, no ashes, no stone carved with the permanence of an epitaph. No drawing of curtains. No laying to rest.’

She’s lost her husband, yet he doesn’t see death as a full stop. He believes he can be revived. For him, it’s an ellipsis; a pause. I listened to many songs about loss, but Kate Bush’s A Coral Room seemed to capture Carrie’s struggle:

Sorrow had created huge holes in me, deep craters that I worked so hard to fill. Yet one comment, or bad experience, even a thought or memory, could open them right back up.’

I find Bush’s ballad breathtakingly beautiful, bravely personal and deeply moving. There’s a sense of reluctance to peel away the layers of grief, a fear of directly confronting the pain of losing a loved one.

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I’m not sure I understand all the imagery, but I thought of Carrie in the ‘little brown jug’, an object that holds painful memories, but also prompts the jaunty old drinking song, and the lyrics of laughter: ‘ho ho ho, hee hee hee’.

Humour is Carrie’s mask, something she relies on to help her through her struggle, both with losing Dan and coping with the repercussions of his wish as she tries to move on.

When I was grappling with the rewrites of my manuscript, playing Debussy’s Clair de Lune, no 3 of his Suite Bergamasque, on the piano was my escape; a refuge. I played it most days. Not just because I love Debussy’s music and consider this piece sublime. The joy of being immersed in the exquisite melodies and, harmonies, lost in the layers of sound, along with the technical demands of the music, consumes me mentally and physically. I can’t think about anything else except producing and listening to the notes; the numerous tone colours and nuances. It’s the closest I get to mindfulness, a space that allows feelings in, but rarely thoughts.

andrea-bookIt appears there’s no such sanctuary for Carrie in the narrative. She’s a difficult character, full of contradictions, and I didn’t find her in music until the 2nd movement of American composer Charles Ives’s Symphony no 3 came on the radio during the final edits. It’s a piece I’d not heard before. The allegro, entitled Children’s Day, opens with a melody that appears to be lyrical, and a touch playful. But there are interruptions in the lines, unexpected, angular notes, bars and phrase endings, and complex harmonies and rhythms beneath. It’s as if the jaunty mood is constantly under threat, battling to dominate. There’s a sense of relief, towards the end, as things slow down and begin to settle. It becomes more melodic, maybe romantic, the texture simplified; finishing with a final, peaceful chord.

But then, in the silence, I hear Chi Mai. Again. And again.

Andrea has worked as a journalist for more than 20 years, both as a writer and sub-editor on newspapers and magazines. Articles she’s written have been published in many regional and national UK titles, including Prima, Best, Take a Break, Prima Baby, Woman, Dogs Today and Cotswold Life. The Husband Who Refused to Die is her debut novel, with an original and topical cryonics premise that casts an unusual light on a story about love, loss, family and friendship. When not writing, Andrea teaches piano from her home in Gloucestershire. Find her on Twitter @andreadarby27

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Vivienne Tuffnell

‘Obsessive love underlies the whole novel’

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 Vivienne Tuffnell @guineapig66

Soundtrack by Vivaldi, Tanita Tikaram, Tori Amos

Music is such a powerful influencer that I’d rather have silence than the wrong music. I’m not someone who’s constantly plugged into an ipod. I can’t have music as background. When a piece of music grabs me, evokes emotions or images or a roaring rush of words, I listen till I cannot bear it any more. Then I write it. This is probably why I don’t like live music (that, and a year of roadie work).

The dream

The opening scenes of The Bet came from a vivid, disturbing dream, but that first chapter was written to Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The main character has taken his newborn son away from hospital without permission and is making his way home through the snowy countryside. His mental and emotional state veers wildly from severe anxiety, back to numbness, frozen to slowness, and his movement reflects this. Breaking into a frantic run, then standing staring blankly at the falling snow, heart and mind racing. He’s done something terrible, shocking even, but the reader does not yet know how shocking. The music steered this jolting narrative from one change of tempo to another. Writing it, knowing what had really happened, the music kept my focus on building and exploring the internal turmoil without revealing the truth until almost the end of the chapter.

Preyed upon

The next music that influenced me in writing this novel is from Tanita Tikaram. The song Preyed Upon is like hearing overheard snippets of dialogue between myself as author/creator and the main character Antony Ashurst, and between him and other characters. It was that phrase ‘preyed upon’ that haunted me. People who get preyed upon. Why? What makes them so vulnerable? Ashurst ‘s father says to him on one occasion, ‘Boys like you get preyed upon’, and the phrase haunts him too, and makes him question what is going on in his relationship with Jenny.

There’s a second song by Tanita Tikaram that powerfully influenced the novel: I Love You. The Bet is not a love story or a romance. But obsessive love (which is not the same as love at all) is a theme that underlies the whole novel both in terms of the main plot and the subplots too. It twists everything; it twists the two main characters into a tangle neither can extricate themselves from. Valentine Heart is another song that felt like I was overhearing the words Jenny and Antony didn’t say to each other.  In the penultimate chapter, Antony does say to Jenny, ‘I was too young, too damaged and far too innocent to have seen you coming’, but it’s far too late by then for it to make any difference.

Disintegration

The final song I’d like to share is Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes. It’s such an evocative piece of music that influenced the writing of the final few chapters, especially the lyrics about disintegration of self, the loss of connection to self-hood that Ashurst experiences during the novel, and his need to find himself again after all the pain. At the end of the penultimate chapter he says to Jenny ‘Anyway, I need to let you go, now, so I have a chance to find myself again, out of all that pain. I won’t miss you any more; but I do miss myself.’ The chanting at the end of Little Earthquakes is very much the emotions I was running with as I wrote the final words of the novel. It ends with a cliffhanger; literally, as it ends in a high place, but also metaphorically with a symbolic act that leaves the reader in no doubt as to Ashurst’s intent but perturbed about whether he could ultimately carry through that intention.

Vivienne Tuffnell is a writer who seeks to explore the hidden side of human existence, delving into both mysticism, the paranormal and deep psychology in her stories. She writes character-driven fiction, soul-filled poetry and blogs about soul growth at Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking. Her two previous novels Strangers & Pilgrims and Away With The Fairies have been regularly in the top 100 for their categories in the Amazon Kindle UK charts. Find her on Twitter @guineapig66

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Lydia Netzer

Their love song is very sweet and sort of ridiculous’

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 post is by debut novelist Lydia Netzer @lostcheerio, author of Shine, Shine Shine

Soundtrack by Carbon Leaf, The Lightning Seeds, Imogen Heap, Tori Amos, I Blame Coco, Lydia Netzer

Shine, Shine, Shine

My novel’s title was inspired by a song by Carbon Leaf, and the title of the song is Shine. Listening to this song caused my fist to involuntarily pump at times during the chorus: ‘It’s time to shine shine shine!’ and my teeth would grind together with determination. It became, in my mind, an anthem for the book’s housewives, who were furiously sublimating their authentic selves into perfect, acceptable automatons. It also became an anthem for me to write and finish the book, as in, ‘Get your head out of the diaper pail, girl. Bang the drum. Fee fi fo fum. Enough silence and subordination and blending in with the wallpaper.’

Love

My characters fell in love as children, really, though at the time it was more a bonding of two weirdos to face the world together. So their love song is very sweet and sort of ridiculous: Pure by The Lightning Seeds. You may remember this song from 1990 — it was sort of a last brave gasp of the 80s before grunge came to eat our faces off. This song helped me think about my characters Maxon and Sunny in their origins, as little kids playing in the woods, looking at the stars, and grounded me in that original innocence and acceptance, when Sunny’s attitude toward Maxon was pure love and gratitude, and she hadn’t thought to measure him yet against the world.

Sex

Like I said, my characters met as children and ended up married with children of their own. So they had to go through a transition between the pure, innocent love of childhood and a more complicated, ragged, sexual love as adults. The song Come Here Boy by Imogen Heap was what I turned to as I was writing about their awakening, and how Sunny transformed from a dreamy, disconnected child into sort of a sexual aggressor. In fact, at one point in the story, she actually says the words, ‘Come here, boy’. And that’s because I had this song on repeat while writing that scene.

Death

There are several tragedies in the novel. Several deaths. The song Parasol by Tori Amos captured for me the paralysis of loss, the horror of getting that awful call, but also the way you can react with strength and move on. There’s almost a steeliness about the character in the song, and I needed my characters to behave with the same resolve, not get knuckled under by grief, protect themselves and keep living. This song probably has more plays on my iTunes than any other song – I kept it on repeat a lot while I was writing the later chapters of the book.

Robots

Maxon is on his way to the moon to colonise it with robots. In his world, robots can be as much like humans as he wants them to be — it’s just a matter of more circuits, more if/then statements, more programming. But Maxon sees love as an irrational preference, and while they can laugh, cry, and dream like humans, he hasn’t programmed his robots to love. While he recognises that he himself does it, he starts the book not really knowing why. By the end, he understands his humanity, and his robots, on a deeper level.

When I first heard Selfmachine from I Blame Coco I was in the passenger seat of a car, and we were driving in Rome. This song came on the radio and I was electrified. When it finished, I turned to Dan and said, ‘I need that song in my ears at all times immediately’. Of course although Coco is British and the song was in English, the DJ was speaking Italian and we couldn’t figure out the name of the band. When we got back to our place that night, Dan searched around via snatches of lyrics and found the song for me. A few days later he had bought me the CD, and that’s when my addiction to Selfmachine really took off, as my children can attest. Their attesting might sound like, ‘OH NO, NOT LONELY ROBOT! Anything but that!’ While I had already sold the book at this point, I still had developmental editing ahead of me, and line editing, and many changes and tweaks to make. Selfmachine became a celebratory song, but for me it also meant surrendering the story and characters to the world.

I wrote my own songs to go with this novel, and the two that are included on the audiobook are also about robots: Bad Machine and Robots. Here’s a music video for Robots which also works as book promotion for the novel.

Writing songs from my characters’ perspective, about my novel’s themes, was a lot of fun. As a happily married woman in comfortable circumstances, it’s hard for me to write rock and roll songs about angst, despair, mean men, and the fight against authority. So borrowing my characters’ angst and despair was really useful! And it also helped me open windows into their worlds that I might not have been able to really see through words alone. Here’s Bad Machine, which is about the feeling of loving someone who is robotic and unemotional, the way Maxon is in the book.

Lydia Netzer’s first novel is Shine Shine Shine, published by St Martin’s Press. It is a People’s Pick in People Magazine, a Spotlight Book of the Month on Amazon, and is a love story with a side of robots and maths. Lydia lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, and plays the electric guitar in a band called The Virginia Janes. You can find her on Twitter (@lostcheerio), Facebook, and on her web site.

GIVEAWAY! Lydia is offering a copy of the Shine Shine Shine audiobook to one random commenter. The audiobook  is read by the NYT bestselling author and award-winning audiobook narrator Joshilyn Jackson, and includes Robots and Bad Machine by The Virginia Janes. Leave your calling card in the comments for a chance to win.

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