In many novels, there is a “soundtrack”: a musical accompaniment which the author includes as a guide to characters, or as a background to the plot, or simply to give the story a place and time. In the case of Light and Darkness, an actual soundtrack would not really have been appropriate, so when I started planning and writing the novel, music played very little part in my thought process – and certainly not as much as poetry.
At the beginning, I read and re-read poems of the First World War and the periods immediately before and after, especially those by Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, Edward Wyndham Tennant and E A Mackintosh: four of my particular favourites. I think the poem that inspired me the most and the one to which I returned most frequently was “Slumber Song” from 1920 by Sassoon, the final lines of which read as follows:
But, to your soul that sinks from deep to deep
Through drowned and glimmering colour, Time shall be
Only slow rhythmic swaying; and your breath;
And roses in the darkness; and my love.
I was not familiar with this poem before I started writing the novel, only reading it for the first time when I was more than half way through and, as well as being utterly overwhelmed by its beauty, I was taken by how well it reflected my feelings about the story and the characters I was creating. The symbols of ‘roses’ and ‘darkness’ were already well established within the plot and it seemed uncanny, reading these words in Sassoon’s poem.
As time progressed, however, other than “Slumber Song”, the poetry became of less and less importance and was overtaken by my own musical soundtrack: not one which is included in the story, but one which inspired and accompanied me as I wrote. This started with Elgar, which helped to put me in mood of the era, but soon progressed to music whose lyrics fitted with what I was trying to say. My main inspirations here came from Adele, The Fray and, above all, The Script. Every day and late into the evening (or, to be more precise, early morning), I would plug in my headphones, switch on my iPod and listen, while writing. It was never distracting, just uplifting.
Initially, I found it quite surprising how modern lyrics could suit a historical setting. Then, certain tracks, or sections of lyrics became “themes” for different characters and it was useful to revisit them when my imagination was failing me in the early hours of the morning. Eventually, I came to realise that, when writing – whether it’s a novel or a lyric – there are some things, such as love, that will never change, regardless of their time and place. Love doesn’t belong to today, or to yesterday: it is universal. To quote Danny O’Donoghue, “sometimes love’s intoxicating” and even when it isn’t, it’s still irresistible.