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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 my guest is painter, singer-songwriter, humorist, mystery/suspense and time travel novelist Natalie Buske Thomas @writernbt
Soundtrack by Enya
Grandpa Smiles is an oil painting picture book about how Grandpa watches over a boy throughout his life, though he can be with him only in spirit. My father lost his battle to cancer when he was 37 years old. I told my son that my dad was a cardinal in the tree, watching him laugh and play. Grandpa Smiles is a sweet timeless story: family is forever, love lives on. But how could I communicate the beauty of loss in so few words when my heart had so much to say?
My Undercover Soundtrack for the writing and painting of this project was Enya, and only Enya. Nothing else would do! As you can probably imagine, it’s hard for me not to get pulled into the music when I paint. My paintbrush tends to ‘dance’ to the beat, so there were a few Enya songs that I couldn’t listen to because the music was too distracting. But if I didn’t play the songs that made it into my ‘loop’ I froze!
Music to grieve by
One illustration combines two oil paintings onto one page. The boy (a painting created for the book) looks at a picture of his grandpa (a painting created previously). The picture of Grandpa is an oil painting of my parents’ wedding day. Dad is wearing his military dress uniform, he was leaving soon for the Vietnam War. The painting was featured in a gallery exhibit called ‘Touched by War’. My dad has been gone a long time now, over 25 years. My mom is gone now too. I didn’t realise how overwhelming it would be to paint a portrait of their young selves in their wedding clothes. I was doing fine until I painted their eyes, that was when I lost myself in Enya’s It’s in the Rain.
Beauty in pain
Sometimes the art came to me first and other times the words did. I needed a seasonal picture, so I looked through my son’s photo box for inspiration. I found a picture of my son jumping in a pile of leaves on our old hobby farm. The property was a beautiful five-acre parcel that my husband and I built into a home for our young family of five, but we had to sell it seven years later, when layoffs and pay cuts hit my husband’s company hard. Around this same time, my mother had passed. It was time to move on. We left behind the land where our children played. As I painted the image of my son playing in the leaves, my heart was breaking. My little boy was now a young man. Where had the time gone? (Only Time, says Enya.) But through the color of my paints, he is forever that child who laughed in the leaves. No matter where he goes, his moment of joy in the leaves lives forever. (On my Way Home)
Love lives on
One of my favorite pictures in the book says ‘The child leaps’, followed by ‘Grandpa helps’ on the next page. I painted an image of my son in his Superman costume with his arm outstretched, his fist pumped, and his eyes sparkling. Grandpa is portrayed as the face in the wind that lifts his cape so that my son can fly. (Hope has a Place.)
Grandpa Smiles was meant to be a heartwarming story, nothing more. My career as an oil painter was exhausting. I didn’t want to do gallery exhibits anymore. I already had a career as a novelist, why was I running myself ragged? What if I combined my art with my writing? It was meant to be that simple. But watching my son’s face when he saw the book for the first time was like witnessing him receiving a message from heaven. Later, I brought a few copies with me at the Doctor Who convention in Minneapolis. I expected to sign my time travel fiction, but people were more interested in Grandpa Smiles. Strangers flipped through the book in front of me and became emotional – I had no idea that my book could touch people like this. Besides strangers, my dad’s family was moved to tears. My aunt asked me to send a gift copy to a family friend I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. This family friend sent me a handwritten thank-you note. In the note she mentioned that the painting of my parents was very recognisable. I didn’t realize how important it was that I capture my parents’ likeness until I read her words. A project that had a simple concept, simple words, and simple pictures turned out to be anything but simple.
Natalie Buske Thomas is an oil painter, singer/songwriter, humorist and the author of over a dozen books. She is currently working on her first album Painting my Songs that will combine her music, writing, and art into one project. Watch Natalie paint, try one of her Serena Wilcox books for free, or learn the secrets to her success in her new book Nice Authors Finish Last. Find her on Twitter @writernbt
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My guest this week is writing about a very personal project – a book of oil paintings that contain a story where a young boy is watched by his grandfather. She was inspired by her memories of her father who died tragically young, and she struggled to do him justice in a medium that allowed her so few words. Her guide was the music of Enya, and certain signature tracks carried the emotions she was looking for as she painted and wrote – love, loss, the swift march of time, letting go and still loving. She is Natalie Buske Thomas and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, Enya, family, Grandpa Smiles, grandparents, grieving, loss, love, music, music for writers, music for writing, musicians, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Natalie Buske Thomas, oil paintings, parents, personal project, picture book, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing from grief, writing from loss, writing to music
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 my guest is romance mystery novelist Anne Allen @AnneAllen21
Thanks, Roz, for allowing me to air my thoughts on the music that influences me while I write. Your series has shown how varied the music is that writers listen to in their search for creativity. My own selection is quite limited in comparison but it did inspire me while writing my first novel.
I do love music but there are also times when it seems to get in the way; I find myself so drawn into the music, particularly vocal, that I literally lose the plot! Music helps to create the mood, spark the creativity but then must either be less noticeable or pertinent to what I’m writing at that time. My normal listening taste is quite eclectic; Michael Jackson, Adele, Nina Simone, Pavarotti, 1812 Overture, Chris Rea… And I love the more meditative New Age music which always formed a backdrop to my sessions when I practised as a hypnotherapist.
While writing my first novel Dangerous Waters I started off by playing New World Collection Relaxation II, a compilation of different artists playing hauntingly beautiful music which fed my soul while I stepped into the unknown as a writer. The first track, Wisdom by Philip Chapman, is played on a piano but with strings in the background and always calms me. My central character, Jeanne Le Page, is a young woman returning to her island home of Guernsey for the first time in 15 years, after fleeing to England as a girl of 16. She had lost her family in a tragic accident and now returns after the death of her grandmother, while also mourning the end of a long-term relationship. Tragedy and loss are the cornerstones to the story but as time goes on, hope of a fresh start and new love appear and the mood changes. My favourite track on this album, Soldier of Love by Denis Quinn, is in harmony with this change and provided the ideal background for the latter part of the writing process.
Jeanne experiences so many conflicting emotions through the story and music helped me to identify with them. I cried at times too, the words and music encouraging me to release my own grief as I wrote. I had lost two people I had loved and writing Dangerous Waters proved a catharsis. Another favourite of mine is the Pachelbel Canon which I found inspirational as I grappled with difficult chapters. Bearing in mind that this was the first time I’d written anything more substantial than a 500-word true-life story, I was in a constant state of insecurity; totally untutored. Entering the heads of other characters was also challenging, but I could empathise with some more than others. Molly, a character in the book, was based on a family friend. She was also a hypnotherapist who played a part in helping Jeanne to recover the memory lost after the accident and I played tracks such as Dream by Medwyn Goodall and Wings of the Morning by Terry Oldfield during the hypnosis sessions in the story to evoke the right ambience. At least there I was on known territory!
As Jeanne began to blossom and a new man- actually men! – appeared on the scene, I felt the need for different inspiration and listened to a Rod Stewart album. I know, I know! A bit off piste, perhaps, but it was fun and sexy and that’s what I, or rather Jeanne, needed. The album was If We Fall In Love Tonight. The title says it all, but there were particular tracks that, ahem, helped with certain scenes, such as Tonight’s the Night and Sometimes When We Touch. Rod’s gravelly voice provided, I have to say, both a distracting but complementary background to the writing.
We all respond to music in one way or another. Memories, both good and bad, are triggered by hearing even just a few bars of a tune that resonated with us at one time. Perhaps we take it for granted that it’s there, in the background of our lives, not always listening. But I’m convinced we would miss it if it was no longer there in our world and we have the composers, lyricists and artists to thank for offering us such a rich choice for our inspiration and comfort. Like books, music enriches our lives and I wouldn’t be without it.
Anne Allen lives by the sea in Devon, UK, having finally settled down; perhaps. She spent many years working as a psychotherapist but knew the ‘creative’ in her had to escape one day. In the past two years she has published two novels, Dangerous Waters and Finding Mother; her third book, Guernsey Retreat, is due out later in 2014. Her genre is romance/mystery and romance/family drama and Dangerous Waters won Silver in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2012. Her website is www.anneallen.co.uk and she can be found on Twitter as @AnneAllen21.
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One of the special pleasures of hosting The Undercover Soundtrack is the honesty of the writing. My guests are ready to delve into their innermost creative spaces and share the bare, exacting process of turning memories, experiences and feelings into stories. My guest this week is one of those writers who drew on raw times to create the novel she shares with us. Music helped her examine two tragic losses, with their conflicting emotions and struggling hours. The soundtrack is haunting and melancholic, but is also rakish and fun – Rod Stewart makes a welcome appearance as life recovers and warms up again. The author is romantic mystery novelist Anne Allen and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
Anne Allen, authors, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, grief, loss, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Mystery, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Rod Stewart, romance, romantic mystery, Roz Morris, The Undercover Soundtrack, tragedy, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, Women's fiction, writers, writing, writing from grief, writing from loss, writing to music
- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2021. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'