Thursday, April 02, 2009

Music and Lyrics Part Two (Or how my weird mind works...)

I did say this subject was going to be one I return to. So if it bores the pants off you, feel free to walk away now...

Although I never thought consciously about being a writer till I was really quite old, I have always made up stories in my head. Of all my children, in this no 3 resembles me the most. I often find her squirrelled away in corners talking not to herself, but to all the imaginary people in the fantasy world she is inhabiting. I still do that now. I have just said goodbye to Gabe, Marianne, Cat and Noel who are the four protagonists of Last Christmas, and am currently getting to know: Doris (or possibly Dorrie as my ed thinks Doris is too old fashioned, but I have a personal reason for calling her that), Caz, Beth and Sarah. Caz and Dorrie are currently the strongest characters chundering away in there, but Beth who is the quiet one is coming out of her shell, and Sarah I know has a lot she wants to tell me. In anyone other then a writer, admitting that should probably get you sectioned, but although I have a healthy fantasy life, I fortunately have four offspring, a very down to earth husband and aged mil to keep my feet firmly on the ground.

The first time I can remember consciously thinking I wanted to put some of the stories that unfolded into my head down on paper was when I was at university. And perhaps not unsurprisingly, given my previous post on the subject, it was music that inspired me. I was in a bar in Liverpool with Spouse, one warm spring evening. I was wearing a turquoise dress I loved at the time, with black pointy boots, and he was wearing his long dark trademark 80s student coat, probably a black shirt (can't quite remember), black jeans and black pointy boots. I can remember the stools we sat on, the bar we leant against, the low lighting, the 80s glitz, and the reason I remember it so clearly is because the song that was playing: Addicted to Love by ZZTop has cemented it in my head forever. (Except, I have misremembered - ZZ Top appear NOT to have done a version of this, I must have been thinking of Robert Palmer's version. Thanks to Persephone and Political Umpire for correcting my mistake!) I came home and wrote a corny story about a girl who couldn't commit and as a result lost the love of her life. It wasn't very good. And lacking the necessary confidence to pursue writing, desperately needing to earn some money post uni, and more importantly not having any of the requisite life experience to write the kinds of stories I write now, I kept my fantasy and real worlds separate. Then I fell in to publishing and spent ten years using all my creative juices on other people's ideas, which was fun, but didn't leave me any room for creating stuff of my own. I cannot tell you the sense of liberation I got when I sat down to write my first novel and realised that from now on I could keep all my good ideas to myself.

When I started thinking about the way music inspires me, I genuinely thought that I had only started using it with Pastures New, but thinking back to my early attempts at writing, the music thing has always been there, but I just didn't realise.

The first novel I completed, White Wedding is even named after a song - again I can see a moment in time in my own life, where I sat on the floor in Spouse's room at uni listening to Billy Idol telling me it was going to be a nice day for a white wedding, while I felt utterly desolate that I was going to spend the summer away from him. I just have to hear that song now and those feelings of desolation come flooding back (not unnaturally, I have it pegged down for the soundtrack of the book I am embarking on, which is about weddings.)

The next book I started working on which I never finished, was going to be called Losing my Religion - thank you Michael Stipes. And while the second book I finished, Coming Full Circle which never got published, didn't have a musical title, there were definitely songs hovering about in my subconscious as I wrote it.

It wasn't till I got to Pastures New though, that I realised that music was part of the process for me. (Spoiler alert here if you haven't read it.)

Pastures New was originally going to be in six parts, and (thanks to discussions with some of my RNA writing chums, in particular the fabulous Elizabeth Chadwick who brilliantly soundtracks her mediaeval stories to rock) I chose a song for each part of the book. The story really began with Justin Hayward's Forever Autumn, another song from the soundtrack of my young life. At one point early in our courtship, Spouse and I split up. I was convinced it was all over and I remember listening to that song on a train feeling that my heart had broken and would never recover (which of course was arrant nonsense, but melodrama works when you're 20). It seemed the perfect song for my heroine Amy, recovering from the death of her partner. I also used: California Dreamin' by the Mamas &Papas(another soundtrack song - Spouse played it to me on our first date), Soak up the Sun by Sheryl Crowe, Here Comes the Summer Son by Texas (last two came from listening to them on long car journeys - a common source of finding inspirational songs I find), Sing by Travis and Fix You by Coldplay. I did blog about why ages ago, but I can't inconveniently find the post in my archives at the moment.

All of the songs were chosen for the mood they inspired, their part in advancing the story and for some significant line that led into the character's behaviour. Forever Autumn includes the lines my life will be forever autumn/cos you're not there, which is how Amy feels about losing Jamie (and pretty much how I'd feel if anything ever happened to Spouse, god forbid): California Dreamin' includes: All the leaves are brown /And the sky is grey /I went for a walk /On a winter's day/ If I didn't tell her /I could leave today , which fit both the wintry mood of the beginning of the book and the hero Ben's dilemma about his love life; Soak up the Sun was chosen for the lines:Its not having what you want/Its wanting what youve got which fit Amy's burgeoning reconnection with the world and acceptance of the good things in life, while Here Comes the Summer Son contains the lines: Before you take my heart, reconsider/Before you take my heart, reconsider/I've opened the door/I've opened the door, which fitted Amy's nervousnes about indulging in a new relationship. The last two songs, Sing and Fix You were chosen for the pain and anguish they engender - Fix You, particularly stayed in my head as Ben's song, as it summed up what he feels about Amy and why she keeps him out of her life. High up above or down below/When you're too in love to let it go/But if you never try you'll never know/Just what you're worth/Lights will guide you home/And ignite your bones/And I will try to fix you (ok the ignite your bones line is not Chris Martin's finest hour, but it is a song that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up).

When I was writing Pastures New, I tried to weave some of the song lyrics themselves into the story (quoting verbatim from songs is a very expensive thing to do, so I generally try to avoid it). So Amy remembers walking in golden fields with Jamie, Ben at one point does stop into a church, Amy hears Sheryl Crowe singing about having what you want, and wonders later on if she should go through the door of a new relationship. I didn't use Sing so much, but at the end, I did literally have Ben lighting her way home. However, I realised after I'd done it, I was trying too hard to bend the story to fit the song, plus when I came to write Strictly Love (more spoiler alerts) I wanted my characters to have a theme tune each and that rather then having one theme song for each part of the book, I also wanted to highlight certain key moments, like soundtracking a film.

So in Strictly Love I worked it slightly differently. Each part had it's own theme song: Part One had The First Cut is the Deepest, for Mark who was mourning the loss of his marriage; Part Two was The Weakness in Me for Emily who kept going back to an unsuitable boyfriend and for Katie who was being tempted by Rob: Part Three had Can't Get You Out of My Head for all my protagonist's as they attempted to control their feelings and Part Four's theme was Song for Lovers, which makes me go slightly weak at the knees.

Additionally, I used :

Abba's heartbreaking Slipping through my Fingers for Mark's relationship with his daughter Gemma (I have sobbed EVERY time I see Meryl Streep singing that in Mamma Mia!- it's also turned up as a theme for Cat in Last Christmas)
Feel for Rob, which helped me hugely give depth to his character. He started off as a happy go lucky character, who lacked commitment, but I always knew he was hiding a dark secret. Then I heard Feel on the radio one day and suddenly I knew Rob so much better. I listened to this song obsessively every time I had to write a Rob scene, and in the end he became my favourite character because of it.

I just want to feel real love
Feel the home that I live in'
Cause I got too much life
Running through my veins
Going to waste

I don't want to die
But I ain't keen on living either
Before I fall in love
I'm preparing to leave her
I scare myself to death
That's why I keep on running
Before I've arrived
I can see myself coming

The Miracle of Love - by the Eurythmics. I love the Eurythmics and this song about the wonder of finding love again was a perfect soundtrack moment for the first time Emily and Mark get together. I had this scene in my head for months before I wrote it- it unfolded as if I were watching a film. And had I been watching a film, then this song would be what you'd hear...

Fields of Gold- Sting. Again, I had a scene in my head with Emily and Mark lying in fields of gold watching the sun rise, and this poignant song just fitted the mood perfectly. I also played Sting's Shape of my Heart alot for this particular moment, more because of the way it catches at my heart then the lyrics.

The boys also got two theme songs: The Boys are Back in Town for their attempts to get laid and Fifteen Years, which is a great song about booze and regret and lost opportunities, and perfect for anyone who has ever sat in their local, looked around and thought, shit, is this what my life's come to?

A last minute addition (thanks to watching an episode of Ashes to Ashes) was Body Talk, which worked really well both as the song that Rob and Katie danced to when they realise their true feelings for each other, but the perfect accompaniment to a rumba. I even choreographed the steps (Marie, you may remember, I was emailing you as I did it), with the use of a little handbook of dancing, myself on my own inf ront of a computer trying out both the male and female steps, while I listened to the song. Sometimes I probably should be sectioned...

For Last Christmas, I've gone less for major theme songs and more for key moments of the story, where again, if it were a film you'd have an apposite piece of music playing (I had a completely eureka moment when I went on the Being Human website - currently my favourite place in cyberspace and read about how they chose the music for each episode, a subject I think for another post - and realised this is what I aspire too).

So this time around (I am trying not to give anything away here, because of course, in October I want you all to go out and buy the book!), I had alot of songs about tension in relationships, as one hero and heroine: Cat and Noel are in a long term marriage which is fraying a bit around the edges.

Their songs include:
This is Where I Came In by the BeeGees. I belatedly realised when they brought out their last album before Maurice died, that I totally heart the Beegees. And this song is just amazing. The lines: I lie and you lie /And who would get the sharpest knife, I'm sure will resonate with anyone who's been in a longterm relationship. There are certainly days when every couple is scrabbling for the sharpest knife, but usually the wounding is with words. But I also love it for the reality of these lines: Hope rides on/But I’ll go anywhere/Yes, I’ll go anywhere with you/Time has gone/But I’ll go anywhere/Yes, I’ll go anywhere with you. The point is, however rough the ride gets, however much you sometimes are hard pushed to like each other, if you LOVE each other you will go anywhere, through thick and thin. That's why those pesky marriage vows are in there. We never imagine the worse when we get married, but boy oh boy, the better is worth the occasional pain. Well, I think so anyway, but then I do write romantic fiction.

Cat and Noel also have: Bryan Ferry's Let's Stick Together for similar reasons, but for moments when the going is tough, another song for them is the Manic Street Preacher's Your Love Alone for the lines: Your love alone - is not enough not enough not enough/When times get tough they get tough they get tough they get tough. Because despite what I said above about love making you go anywhere with your partner, it isn't enough, on its own to see you through the tough times. You also have to hang on and remember the good times. Which is why I've also given Cat and Noel Coral's Put the Sun Back. This is absolutely somewhere I've been emotionally, and I think it's brilliant:

I caught you crying
Trying to hide your tears away
And all the whileI never knew you felt this way
I've loved you from the start
How could we let this come apart ?

We've got to put
The sun back in our hearts

For my other couple Marianne and Gabriel, I have the wonderfully perky and upbeat She's Got You High by Mumm-Ra (with huge thanks to Persephone for pointing me in the right direction with that one) , which is one of the most perfect falling love songs I have ever heard, even if I mistakenly heard the lines this world has turned to seethrough as this world has turned to seafood, till I googled the lyrics.

Gabriel is in a difficult relationship with his mentally unstable wife at the start of the book, and I have two songs for key moments they have together. The first if Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, which is such a painful, sad destructive kind of song:
When the routine bites hard
and ambitions are low
And the resentment rides high
but emotions won't grow
And we're changing our ways,
taking different roads
Then love, love will tear us apart again

And I also had the wonderful KT Tunstall's Other Side of the World, which is another song which makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and also is brilliant for catching the insolubility of their problems.

Cat has a lot of me in her. She is the mother of four and has I hope a moving storyline featuring her own mother, which turned out to be a damned sight more personal then I intended when I thought of it. So she has Angels as a theme tune. Which makes me howl. Which I also hope is the reaction of my readers to this part of the storyline...

At the last minute I've brought in I Can See Clearly Now and Love Resurrection for Marianne, for two key moments for her.

And I also had a sudden wow moment and used The Streets of London for a hugely important scene for Noel.

But the heart of this book, belongs to Noel and so my favourite emotional stirring song of the last year (till I heard Johnny Cash's Hurt) is Neil Diamond's Pretty Amazing Grace, which is relevant not just for Noel, but in their own ways all the other characters too.

Pretty amazing grace is how you saved me
And with amazing grace, reclaimed my heart
Love in the midst of chaos
Calm in the heat of war
Showed with amazing grace
What love was for.

No book about Christmas would be complete without some cheese. So I've also got Wham's Last Christmas as the title song and Marianne and Gabriel's theme tune(I was always partial to those Wham boys). I've even pinched the lyrics for my part titles which are: I Gave you my heart/You gave it Away/To Save me from Tears/Someone Special.

I'm just working on the soundtrack for my next book, about weddings, and will report back in my next musings on this subject, as well, I hope posting some coherent thoughts about the Being Human soundtrack and how it's inspired me, and when I get round to listening to the four CDs Lisa has been kind enough to send me, I shall be posting on that too.... But for now I really really must get to Sainsbury's. Sometimes my real life is dead inconvenient...


Persephone said...

ZZ Top did a cover of "Addicted to Love"? I guess I can sort of imagine it....

Political Umpire said...

That's the comment I was going to make - surely you mean Robert Palmer?

Hello J, btw, sorry I've not been around much. Too busy with work and all that real life stuff. Glad to see your output hasn't dimished, however.

Jane Henry said...

OMG. I was soooo sure it was them. Just looked it up and it wasn't at all... I knew it was Robert Palmer's song, but 1986 would fit the time frame. Shit. Why did I think ZZ Top had done it??? Isn't memory weird...

Jane Henry said...

As you can see PU, your comment and mine coincided. Nice to see you again. Was hoping that meant you were blogging again, but sadly I see not. Would love to read your take on the current global madness...

Jane Henry said...

PS Just realised, that it is probably lodge in the memory banks as ZZTop as the bar was showing a video of ZZTop, but it must have been playing a different song. So the memory is indelibly lodged in my head of THOSE beards and hats and THAT song. Which sort of is the point I'm trying to make about music - it has the effect of evoking memory of time and place and emotion in a way that no other medium does, and THAT's what I attempt to tap into.

Marie said...

I do remember! :-)

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