Themes and Influences

Going back to Emily’s point about how themes emerge the more that one writes, I’ve realised I’ve unwittingly used some fascinating influences. I’ve just been writing, very slowly, a scene where Kim paints in her tube carriage studio and decides whether she likes James or not. Watching artists at work is not something I’ve properly researched yet but I found myself writing about gestures like her putting a brush to her mouth and nodding her head from side-to-side. I’ve realised where my mind dredged this up from — a rather famous Cadbury’s advert from the 1970s which can now be seen again on You Tube.

I’ve also given Kim a liking of religious choral music, partly because I have some of it on the computer and it’s randomly played as I’ve been writing. I did, however, buy the Classic FM CD ‘Music for the Soul’ last week which has Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ (apparently the third best loved piece of classical music in the country). I’ve seen this performed twice now — once at the Proms for the fiftieth anniversary of RVW’s death (in 2008) — and this really is music for the soul. Heard live, the bass strings resonate through your body. What’s special about the CD is that before the Fantasia is the original theme by Tallis which RVW used as the basis for his work — called ‘Why Fum’th In Fight?‘. It’s quite extraordinary to hear the theme sung and then elaborated by the string orchestra.

I may have Kim be inspired by the Tallis Fantasia later in the novel. I wanted to write it in the current scene but it’s getting quite long and I need to get the characters moving. Instead she plays John Tavener’s ‘Song for Athene’ (the 20th century Tavener, not Tallis’s contemporary). Of course this is most famous from being the music to which the Princess of Wales’ coffin was carried out of Westminster Abbey and was accompanied by the most striking images of the black and white tiling on the abbey floor. There’s also another connection between Tavener, Tallis, Vaughan Williams and Westminster Abbey. The part of Westminster Abbey where the choir sang ‘Song for Athene’  is where Thomas Tallis is buried and Vaughan Williams’ ashes are interred, which I’d not known until I did a bit of research.

I realised that I’m spontaneously generating quite a lot of references to cathedrals and other religious themes. St Paul’s is going to play a part in the story and so will the village church and churchyard (think about Emma). But it’s probably no co-incidence that this is happening with a novel that’s called The Angel — whether the title is a symptom or a cause of this is an interesting question but it all seems to tie in quite uncannily.

I also read on the Guardian’s Book Blog that angels as a general literary theme are meant to be the Next Big Thing, replacing the current vogue for vampires. I’m not sure this is a great thing for my title, seeing as my angels are on pub signs and are symbolic — not the scary sort made notorious by the likes of the famous Stephen Moffat Doctor Who episode — ‘Blink’. I do like the title, though. I’ve even worked it into the dialogue — from recently written chapter two:

He shrugged.

‘Yes, sorry about your job too,’ Kim said.

‘I’ve got the cash for you, though.’

‘You’re an angel,’ she said. ‘Come up and take a look around.’

4 Replies to “Themes and Influences”

  1. Hi Mike…I thought it interesting about your utilising a specific piece of music in your novel to spark soemthing within a character/between characters…I have just this same thing sketched out for later on in my own writing. I thought about Roland showing empathy to Almir – once theyve been having an affair for a few months and have become closer than just the sex – Almir’s down for a second time after Trudies mugging and Elyes’s deportation. Roland tries to get Al to open up but not very succesfully – he relates his own recent experience of grief following his mothers death – and Al tells him” people say, don t they, you never really completely grow up til you lose a parent; but what if you lose both parents and at the same moment – when you are just 15 years old – and 30 minutes before you were sitting around the kitchen table eating dinner together…It makes an old man of you, a bitter old man of you at 15!” (or words to that effect – not sure yet …just have a brief notes sketch of it so far. Roland then is so moved he cant think of anything to say …so ..he shares a piece of music with Al…which ” Gerry -an old queen I know – we’ve never had sex but he’s always been around for me, since I was in my early 20’s and satrted doin stuff – you know – with guys — and I always went to him if I had things on my mind – he’s my fairy godfather? mother?(not sure which) to speak..this old guy , I went to see him when my mum passed away and he put on this music and he didnt need to say anything cos’ that music said just exactly how I was feelin…Roland puts on Pergolese’s Stabbat Mater….then for the first time – hearing it Al cries in Rolands presence and Roland holds him in his arms and rocks him as he cries like a baby(well – something on these lines)..What do you think?


  2. I think, in principle, alluding to music is a good thing in a novel. I mentioned a few pop/disco tracks in my last reading like John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the Air’, Diana Ross’ ‘Love Hangover ‘ and a Barry White track. No one made any negative comment about me having done that.

    Certain novels are very famous for their use of music — although this tends to be most effective in TV and Film adaptations. The one I think of most is Inspector Morse with his Wagner and Mozart being quite integral to the stories/dramas.

    I certainly think that music can express emotions that are difficult to put down in print. I have an idea for my novel of Kim’s breathing being in time and reacting to the Tallis Fantasia.

    Whether it works or not depends, I think, largely on the genre and audience. Would they be familiar with the music? For the music I’ve mentioned, RVW’s Tallis Fantasia was number three on Classic FM’s Hall of Fame this year so it’s a fairly safe bet that people interested in classical music will know it. Very few people will know Tavener’s ‘Song For Athene’ by name but if you say it’s the song at Lady Di’s funeral then it should click for most people.

    Even so, if the context and reaction to the music is written well enough then I don’t think it’s necessary that it’s a really popular work. Your scene descriptions are very poignant and emotional and I think that readers might seek out the music that you describe, even if they don’t know it.

    My instinct would be to include all these things at the moment. If the musical references fall foul of an editor then so be it but, like you say, they can articulate emotions very well.


  3. Kool …as they say…Kool…I did wonder who’d heard stabatt Mater(Pergoleses’)…if you have you’d get it straight away…Its about the mother of Jesus weeping fro her sons,s suffering when he is on the cross…

    What I am going to do is listen to it afresh and record my own emotions to each phrase and try then to pu this into words..if I thn have Roland expalin what the piece is about, that should help the reader too


  4. Just been revising my writing and came across an expression I’d used to describe the size of a can — ‘a Tate and Lyle Golden Syrup Can’. As it was from Kim’s POV I was just about to delete the brand name as being non-German BUT then I realised the connection with sugar and art. Wow. Talk about subliminal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *