Posts Tagged travel

The Undercover Soundtrack – Erika Robuck

‘Dark bars, blazing sun and volatile 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 historical novelist Erika Robuck @ErikaRobuck

Soundtrack by Manuel Ponce, Cole Porter

I don’t know who once said that art begets art, but that has always been true for me in my creative process. There’s nothing like a particularly evocative painting or piece of music to inspire scenes, mood, or even character in my writing.

My latest novel, Hemingway’s Girl, is set in Key West in 1935, when a half-Cuban woman goes to work for Ernest Hemingway to support her widowed mother and sisters, and save money to start her own charter fishing boat business. Soon after she becomes Hemingway’s housekeeper, she finds herself torn between the writer and a WWI veteran and boxer working on the Overseas Highway.

Like the other novels I’ve written, music was integral to my creation of this work, particularly in the areas of temperature, time, and theme.

Heat

In Hemingway’s Girl, the characters and the time period are warm, passionate, and colorful. From the Spanish-speaking Cuban mother, to the dark bars and boxing matches in town, to boating under the blazing sun on the Gulf of Mexico, Hemingway’s Girl simmers with tropical heat.

Nothing captures that simmering intensity for me better than Spanish classical guitar music, specifically by Manuel Ponce and David Russell. Both composers’ blends of sultry guitar riffs, moody reflective measures, and sudden bursts of sound and scale matched my characters and their volatility.

One of my characters is an amputee from WWI, and he plays Ponce’s Suite in A Minor on his guitar to convey his emotions associated with his passionate love of life and pain over his loss, just as my protagonist’s widowed mother plays the song on her gramophone. I named the song in the text as a frame of reference for the reader with the hopes of sending my audience searching for the music that inspired me, and to convey the heat I felt while writing it.

Time period

Writing historical fiction while living in the present day, with three sons running around the house, is a special challenge. When I step into the writing zone, I put down a sippy cup and pick up a metaphorical long, pearly cigarette holder. I don’t actually smoke, but the act of turning from my life to the past happens more seamlessly in the context of prop and music.

While writing Hemingway’s Girl, one of the songs that grounded me in the thirties was All Through the Night by Cole Porter. It came on a Pandora mix one night while I was writing, and inspired a scene where my protagonist first danced with the boxer. The song is so intimate and filled with longing that I was able to get lost in a moment where two people began to understand the depth of their feelings for each other. The music opened up a new avenue for me in the story because, until hearing it, I couldn’t figure out how to transition their relationship from casual friendship to the beginnings of love. It was the music that made the scene.

Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway once said that he used words the way that Bach used notes. He said that he studied Cezanne until he could paint a landscape with words the way the artist could with his brush. Hemingway felt the connection between art forms and recognized their power. It is my hope that the music in the creation and product of my novel enhances the themes in the story.

Erika Robuck is a guest blogger at Writer Unboxed and has her own historical fiction blog called Muse. Her novel, Hemingway’s Girl, was published in September 2012 by NAL/Penguin, and will be followed by Call Me Zelda in 2013. Connect on her website, www.erikarobuck.com, Twitter @ErikaRobuck, or on Facebook.

GIVEAWAY Erika is giving away one signed copy of Hemingway’s Girl to a commenter here… so be sure to say hello!

Advertisements

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 Comments

The Undercover Soundtrack – Jennifer Scoullar

‘An enigmatic contradiction; fragile but powerfully emotive’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by Australian environmental fiction author Jennifer Scoullar @pilyara

Soundtrack by Geoffrey Gurrumul YunupinguHugh McDonald, Sara StorerKT Tunstall, Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Natasha Bedingfield

I love an eclectic range of music – rock to folk to soul. But with my new novel Brumby’s Run, I was drawn to the music of the Australian outback. The novel is set amongst the hauntingly beautiful ghost gums and wild horses of the high country, and I wanted music that would bring me close to my setting.

Songs from the land

To begin with, I immersed myself in the music of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. This unique Aboriginal man sings songs about identity, spirit and connection with the land. Born blind, Gurrumul grew up as a member of the Gumatj clan on Elcho Island, off the coast of tropical Arnhem Land. He speaks little English. His sound is an enigmatic contradiction, fragile but powerfully emotive and it affects me in a way no other artist does. The transcendental beauty of his voice was a perfect inspiration for writing about the wild Australian alps.

Characters

Music helped with characterisation too. One of my characters is an indigenous man named Bushy. Several songs allowed me to flesh him out – helped me picture him in my head.   The first is Diamentina Drover. This song was written by Hugh McDonald of the band Redgum, and is a bush classic. While on a train ride up to Brisbane in Queensland, Hugh met an 80-year -ld man who explained how he had worked for 50 years as a drover on the Diamentina River, and he wrote this song about him. The second is Buffalo Bill by Sara Storer. Storer is a storyteller par excellence. Her songs paint a vivid and realistic portrait of life in the bush – a sweet country sound with a subtle steel in the lyrics. The simple but poignant words and melody of these two songs were perfect catalysts for  my imagination.

Another character, a feisty young woman named Charlie, was partly inspired by KT Tunstall, in particular her song, Black Horse and a Cherry Tree. (Okay, I know … she’s Scottish) Tunstall says the song is about having to dig incredibly deep to find out who you really want to be – perfect for Charlie. I also love the acoustics and her super-gutsy performances.

Paul Kelly, Australia’s master singer-songwriter, was a constant soundtrack in the latter stages of the manuscript. Many wonderful Brumby welfare organisations are drawing attention to the plight of Australia’s wild horses. I’ve dedicated my book to them. Songs like Kelly’s From Little Things (Big Things Grow), capture the sense of this swelling grass roots movement. I’ve included a link to Archie Roach and Sara Storer doing a wonderful cover of this ballad.  In addition I listened to a lot of songs about horses. To finish I’ve included a link to Natasha Bedingfield’s Wild Horses.

Jennifer Scoullar has always harboured a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world. She lives with her family on a property in the southern Victorian ranges. Her house is on a hill-top, overlooking valleys of messmate and mountain ash. Horses have always been her passion. She grew up on the books of Elyne Mitchell, and all her life she’s ridden and bred horses, in particular Australian Stock Horses. Her first published novel Wasp Season, is an environmental thriller. Her second published novel Brumby’s Run was released by Penguin Australia on July 2 2012. Jennifer is on Twitter as @pilyara

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

‘An enigmatic contradiction; fragile but powerfully emotive’ – Jennifer Scoullar

It was hard to choose a quote to introduce this week’s Undercover Soundtrack. Jennifer Scoullar’s novel about Australia’s Brumby horses and the people who live among them has a soundtrack of many moods – from the intensely spiritual to the raucously rocking. She has also dedicated Brumby’s Run to causes that protect wild horses. In the end, ‘fragile but powerful’ seems the best way to do it justice. Join me here on Wednesday for her Undercover Soundtrack

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

The Undercover Soundtrack – Catherine Ryan Howard

‘I was trying to recreate a mood, to write about events with a depth that the passage of time might have made shallow’

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

Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, Gustavo Santaolalla, Thomas Newman

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.

Border crossing

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.

The ending

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…

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 Comments