Posts Tagged World War I

The Undercover Soundtrack – Suzie Grogan

for logo‘A sense of collective trauma across a century’

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’s post is by Suzie Grogan @keatsbabe and @shellshockedgb

Soundtrack by Nick Drake, Kenneth Branagh and the Moody Blues

An ‘Undercover Soundtrack’ reflecting the writing I have been doing over the past two years, and which I will continue to work on for the foreseeable future, offers a particular challenge. Not specifically character driven, yet evoking a sense of collective trauma across a century, my most recent book Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for author picBritain’s mental health is a call to arms for those responsible for supporting service personnel and their families on into the 21st century. It is a tough subject, taking a writer to scenes of horror and despair worthy of the darkest psychological thriller; yet the writing must inspire hope and promote understanding and compassion. Some 80,000 men were diagnosed with shell shock during the Great War, but that is a gross under-estimate. It does not include those that broke down post-war, or who suffered in silence until the ends of their lives. It does not include those on the Home Front – families torn apart by grief, or affected by the trauma of air raids. The soundtrack to Shell Shocked Britain is a varied one indeed.

Gentle despair

The first track I have to mention is Day is Done, by Nick Drake. Drake was a precociously talented young man who found the world a difficult place to live in, despite the opportunities that it offered to express himself through his love of music. My poor husband, regularly working with me at home, was shushed and ignored as I tapped away to the complex and unorthodox guitar and the melancholy lyrics.

Can despair ever be gentle? As I wrote Shell Shocked I came to realise that ultimately it was the return to what passed for normality, the requirement to fit in to a world forever changed, that broke many men post war. One young man wrote, in a note found in his pocket following his suicide

The day is one of intense loveliness, but the purpose for which I came down must be accomplished.

He had served with great courage at the Front, but life had become meaningless for him. Men lost their way, could no longer communicate with loved ones and found solace in self-medication.

Occasionally I would reach a point in the manuscript where I felt drained of any emotion and it was then I would turn to Nick Drake. He ended his life with an overdose of antidepressants, planned or accidental. The track recharged my commitment to expose the horrors and give that despair a voice.

Wilfred Owen

Is it cheating to include a recording of poetry? Kenneth Branagh reading The Parable of the Old Man and the Young by Wilfred Owen (a poet whose death occurred so close to the end of the First World War that his parents received the telegram on the day the Armistice was signed) was a track that I turned to when I really wanted to evoke that real sense of horror at what the men in the trenches suffered, without any graphic depiction of the physical privations. Read so simply, the deep meaning can elude you. But if ever I needed reminding that despite all the warnings, in the face of so much evidence, a man’s emotional and physical well-being was denied throughout the period of the Great War and then for years afterwards, this is the track I turned to. Those final lines are chilling:

Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Researching Shell Shocked Britain I was not surprised to read that those in government were reluctant to step back from the horrors, but I was stunned at the level of ignorance that continued well after the war, and which left families to cope with damaged men, or consigned them to lunatic asylums.

The question

Finally, no other song threads its way through the pages of my book like Question, written by Justin Hayward and sung by the Moody Blues. Question – how would we respond to a Spanish influenza outbreak that killed 200,000 people in a year? Question – how could anyone really believe that a spiritualist medium could talk to sons, brothers, lovers lost in shellthe mud and blood of the trenches to the point where some 5000 séance circles were established and thousands would crowd halls large and small to hear a medium communicate with the dead? Question – why did doctors continue to believe men with symptoms of shell shock were malingerers or cowards well beyond the end of the war, leaving thousands of men lost in local lunatic asylums? Question – why do we hear so little about the rise of the eugenics movement post First World War, little realising that many historical figures advocated the eradication of the mentally ill from the ‘breeding’ stock of Britain. And Question – why, 100 years on are young men and women still suffering levels of PTSD wholly unacceptable in a modern military?

We may not have the answers, but we, like the Moody Blues, must keep asking the questions.

Suzie Grogan is a London-born writer, researcher and editor, published in national publications on the subjects of health (focusing on mental health), women’s issues and social history. She has had two books published and is currently working on two further commissions for Pen and Sword Books for publication in 2016 and 2017. In her spare time she dabbles in fiction and has her own imprint, Mickleden Press. Married with two children – one a philosopher, one a high jumper – she lives in Somerset but has her heart in the Lake District and London. Her long-standing passion for poetry, especially John Keats, has led to the wicked rumour that there are three people in her marriage… Find Suzie on her website, her blog, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, where she is both @keatsbabe and @shellshockedgb. Shell-Shocked Britain is available on Amazon or from the publisher.

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‘A sense of collective trauma across a century’ – Suzie Grogan

for logoMy guest this week is a writer of non-fiction. Her book is an exploration of the legacy of the World Wars on mental health – the soldiers who developed shell shock, broke down afterwards or endured their nightmares in silence. And those on the home front too, the families torn apart by grief or traumatised by air raids. Her soundtrack is honest and searching, seeking a way to do justice to a tough subject. There is the gentle despair of Nick Drake, the Question of the Moody Blues, and a reading of Wilfred Owen by Kenneth Branagh. The author is Suzie Grogan and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Denise Kahn

for logo‘Music to unite and reunite’

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’s post is by Denise Kahn @DKpolyglot

Soundtrack by Brahms, Chinese Guqin music, Walter Kirchoff, Wagner, Sacred Spirit – Yeha Noha, throat singers, Nana Mouskouri, Bruce Springsteen,

My very first memory of life was the sound of my mother’s glorious voice singing to me, most likely a Brahms lullaby.   I’m convinced that is why music always has a delicious way of creeping into my writing, and becomes one of the most important elements. I find that music is almost synonymous with being in a state of trance, and that is how I become when I write.  I get very focused, and live the scenes with my characters.  As each mise en scène blooms music envelopes my mind with a melisma, or a melody that already exists.

Denise Kahn photoPeace of Music

I wrote my book Peace of Music for my son, so that he could have the story of his ancestral family.  It became a novel (much more fun that way) as I could take a few liberties, such as the scenes in China’s 13th century Song (what else?) Dynasty.  One of the scenes is of a blind potter who is commissioned by Quan Yin, his Goddess, to make a special vase, but he doesn’t know how.  Chinese Gugin music was the key to the scene.

…From the back of See-Fu’s house a soft melody rang out.  It came from Lotus Blossom’s room.  Her long delicate fingers plucked her qin.  Her performance was ethereal See-Fu thought, a combination of earth’s gentleness and mysteries of the night.  Every once in a while Lotus Blossom accompanied the harmonics with a song, an ancient love poem.  See-Fu felt his entire body mellow as his daughter’s voice reminded him of birds, and the melody painted the portrait of nature’s beauty where they had collected his ingredients.  He smiled triumphantly and delicately touched the statue of his Goddess.  He now knew.  He remembered Quan Yin’s guidance:  “When the music is played, your heart will be your eyes.”

While about 10 percent is fiction (like China), the rest is fact, and since the characters/family members were opera singers and concert pianists I thought their stories would make a good novel.  My tag line is ‘Spreading the Power of Music through Words’, and in this book music proves how it can unite and keep people together and strong, especially in difficult circumstances.  Throughout the book, music is the glue that keeps this family saga together.  One of my favorite scenes takes place on Christmas Eve during WWI, the true ‘silent night’ of that horrific war.  The only sounds were that of soldiers, from both sides, singing Christmas carols together, all started by two brilliant tenors, one German, the other French.

Split-Second Lifetime

The second book that I published was Split-Second Lifetime.  I was visiting some friends in New Mexico.  We went to see some Native American dancers and I was mesmerized by their throat singing—a very unique form of song.  I did some research, and found that the only other people that sing that way are the indigenous people of Tuva, in eastern Siberia.  I also saw this attractive woman, in jeans and jacket, standing very regal.  As I watched her she suddenly morphed into an elegant mountain lioness.  And then I saw the entire story, frame by frame, as if playing on an old moviola, all of it surrounded by the music in the background.  This is what came out of that moment in time:

The main protagonist (Jebby) is an ethnomusicologist, who roams the world recording indigenous music.  On a plane to her next destination she meets her seat mate (Dodi), who seems to trigger past life memories from the old American Southwest.  As they travel through Uzbekistan, Jebby realizes that in a past lifetime they were man and wife as members of the Hopi tribe. As she encounters some magnificent musicians each one seems to give her a new ‘clue’, or vision, into that past life.

split_second_coverThe book is filled with scenes of music and musicians:  Nana Mouskouri at the Royal Albert Hall in London; an Uzbek, with a horrible English accent, trying to imitate Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA, while traveling in the middle of a desert; traditional and modern Uzbek music; and even elements of Rumi in a Dervish ceremony.

I journey with the protagonists on their voyage, as they discover the beauty of other cultures and their musical traditions. It is food for my passion and my senses, as it travels down to my fingers on the keyboard.

Denise Kahn spent 20 years in Europe because of her father, who was with the US Diplomatic Corps, and her mother who was an opera singer. She worked mainly as a simultaneous interpreter and translator as she is a linguist and speaks several languages, five of which are fluent. Because of her exposure to people of different nations her writing includes many foreign settings and cultures. She is a proud mother of a gallant Marine who served in Iraq, and among the members of her household is Louie the cat, so named because of his clawing love of Louis XV and XVI furniture, and surely thinks he must have been a fearless Marine in one of his former lives. Her books are here, her website is here and you can find her on Twitter as @DKpolyglot

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