23 July 2011

Inspiration (a musical interlude)

~ A Musical Interlude -  Part One ~

Welcome to my Guest: Bronwen Harrison 

Leli and Bronwen

Bronwen is a talented musician and songwriter; she has two musical outfits, Lumina and  Guesswork each very different – both awesome.
Bronwen is also on the 1066 movie team with me, her music and haunting songs will be used in the soundtrack (when we eventually get this movie made that is). More recently you would have heard her on the soundtracks to my book trailer videos for Harold the King (U.S. I am the Chosen King) and Sea Witch.

Many authors use music as inspiration for their work – for instance, Elizabeth Chadwick uses “mood music” a lot. As do I. Maybe a soft, romantic flavour, or something dramatic to help the Muse along with a difficult, action-packed battle scene?
Last year Bronwen gave a superb talk for the NewWriters UK Book Festival in Nottingham and I persuaded her to send me her notes. As with writers, musicians and singers have a hard time marketing their work and getting noticed. So here’s my personal bit to bang the drum for Bronwen Harrison....

Bronwen’s words:

I don’t have a clue what constitutes the perfect inspiration for getting the feel of a scene just right! I don’t think it can be quantified, categorised or pinned down to a particular factor or source. Yet I do know that often it’s simply having the time and place in sync and the mood a perfect fit.
I think the key to inspiration is not to look for it. It can’t be forced – it will come when the circumstances and timing are right. At the same time, it’s important to be always open, with the antennae primed for receiving what life may present. An addiction to ‘people watching’ helps!
I’m not a novelist or a writer of stories in the usual way, but as a songwriter, I also seek inspiration and often find it when I am least expecting it – odd situations and events producing a ‘short sharp shock’ that in turn sparks off the need to write.
As a small child I quickly developed a love of music. I was not academically gifted at school. Difficulties during my teens were dealt with by going spectacularly off the rails! When I was fourteen, a student science teacher worked at my school for a few weeks. I welcomed her with one of my usual, ‘I’m not interested in this crap’ presentations during a lessons and she kept me back after class. ‘Well, what are you interested in?’ she asked. So I told her; words, wordplay - arty-farty stuff that just wasn’t on the school agenda. The following day she brought in a small book of Haiku – a precisely structured form of poetry (usually three lines, seventeen syllables).
Those little snapshots of emotion and observation were like nectar to me – cleverly capturing a world in a few words – rather like song lyrics. They provided the inspiration I needed to begin a lifelong relationship with writing combined with my first love of music. I saved my pocket money, bought a tatty old guitar from a jumble sale, taught myself to play and began writing songs. I’ve been a songwriter now for over 40 years, professionally for the last 21.
That student teacher provided the catalyst that helped change my life! I hardly need say how grateful I came to be that she had the guts to challenge the grumpy teenager. 

My song, ‘Mentors & Muses’  (Listen here on Cabin Fever) is about some of the people who have influenced or inspired me in life. Her contribution features in the opening lines: 

‘You who took the trouble – you who took the time
When all around was desert, you were my irrigation
Just passing through with your oriental rhyme
Did you recognise some water in motion?’

Although being a songwriter is different to being a novelist, comparisons can be made.  In songs, the story is honed down to a snapshot. To give an example; in Helen’s historical novel Harold the King – a hefty book full of wonderful period detail and great storytelling - the depiction of his battle against William at Hastings is rich and action packed, covering many pages. On the same subject, ‘This Land’ which I hope you will one day hear on the 1066 movie soundtrack, comprises just a few lines:

‘This land of wind and rain and frost and fire
This land of sun and sea and mountains all
Infinite life it begets
Worth the price that it demands

This man of heart and mind and strength and valour
This man of flesh and blood and mortal pride
All held on the breath of a moment
Plays the dice the day has cast

One life, one heart, to win, to lose
This love, this prize, this land
That lives and waits upon no man’   

(HH Take it from me - This Land is a beautiful song! Another song that Bronwen has composed for probable use in the 1066 movie is "God Be With You" - Edyth Swanneck's prayer to Harold as he marches north to face battle at Stamford Bridge. You can hear the entire song below as the soundtrack to my Harold the King (I am the Chosen King) book trailer below)

I am often inspired by other people’s work and unashamedly use those influences. It can be a line or phrase; a captured feeling or even a character.
For instance, I have always been intrigued by Miss Haversham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Her world - a dusty room full of cobwebs adorning a wedding breakfast; she herself withered by lost love into a dry empty shell. Pathetically she sits, an embittered old woman in a yellowing bridal gown, her life suspended, as though time has stood still, her life put on hold since she was jilted at the alter. Her lover having pushed the pause button, poor Miss Haversham would never play again. 
The character inspired the song, ‘Gathering Dust’ – with the chorus: ‘You hit pause and now I’m gathering dust’ and a video to accompany it.

(HH: information snippet - the wedding dress in the Gathering Dust Video was mine!)

Some years ago I wrote the song ‘Anything’ – inspired by the film Fatal Attraction. It has become known affectionately as my ‘bunny-boiler’ song! On first hearing people often comment on what a sweet love song it is. On the surface, yes, it would seem to be about a great love: ‘I’ll do anything for you, anything!’ -  I tell them to listen again and more closely to the background vocals. They reveal an underlying meaning – a dark hearted song about possession, a claustrophobic and dangerous obsession. Listen to Anything here on Cabin Fever
(HH for some reason when I first heard this song I thought of vampires – of someone claiming a life forever through a Dracula-type possession!)

Other people’s poems have often influenced me greatly too.
In the C15th, a medieval nobleman, Anthony Woodville, wrote an amazing poem in his prison cell in the Tower of London, just a few hours before he was beheaded. On reading it, I wrote a song called ‘Your Poetry’, using some of his own phrases which I hope capture the strong emotion and desperate nature of his situation - the life of ‘this worldly being’ hanging on a thread soon to be broken as a result of ‘fortunes irony’. Listen to Your Poetry on Cabin Fever

Some 50 years on, another poet was writing from a cell in the Tower after witnessing an execution. Thomas Wyatt, Court poet to Henry VIII, had been in love with Anne Boleyn. Arrested with her, his life was spared but he was exiled.
Wyatt watched her death and wrote emotionally of it afterwards. The writing is poignant and all too human as he tells of being unable to get the sight out of his head, his tears running through the grill in the window as he watched Anne die. It moved me to write the song ‘Sorrow’s Tears’. 
(available on This Ae Nite Lumina Music

It’s not all tears and fears though. I was once more happily inspired by a rather beautiful moment when I suddenly became sharply aware of my connection with the world. I was working on a Victorian Farm at an Open Air Museum. I was shown how to work two gorgeous Shire horses. After several months of instruction, having grown muscles on muscles, I was finally allowed out on my own with them to harrow a field.
As I walked behind the pair, I was suddenly struck with a powerful awareness that I was walking in the path of my ancestors. I was doing what people before me had done for centuries. In that instant, the title and idea for ‘Dead Men’s Shoes’ formulated. It was one of those rare moments that crystallise all existence; when your place in the Universe is briefly clarified as part of the continuing cycle of life.
‘Look out through the hollow of sunken eyes, see what lies ahead when I look behind me’
I was keen to capture the rhythm of the horses in the music; the wonderful sway and hypnotic percussion of their walk. The song has become a personal favourite as it evokes warm memories of those beautiful Shires. 

Many of my songs have very specific inspirational sources like that. One afternoon, I was walking my dogs in nearby fields. Feeling particularly low that day and further depressed by the rain, I noticed a tree (I must have seen it on many occasions). It had no top and the trunk was split, the inside black and burnt out. That tree seemed to symbolise how I felt – empty, hollow, dead inside! Like looking into a mirror. On returning home I wrote ‘Sometimes’. There is nothing poetic about the lyrics – just a matter-of-fact recollection. No exotic inspiration; a mundane tree trunk that I’d passed many times without notice. Only, on this occasion, it had become my mirror. 

‘Today I went out to the fields nearby 
Walking while the rain came down like a torrent of tears
That had waited a century to fall
I passed right by an old dead tree
With its trunk split open from the ground to the sky
And someone had burnt out the middle
Leaving nothing but a big black hole inside

Sometimes you look into a mirror
Sometimes you glimpse a sad reflection
And it feels good from time to time
Just to howl at the moon’

HH And often, the mirror into the soul is what sparks the words to write. 

Bronwen’s Blurb 

Bronwen was born in north-east London. Music has been a continuing passion throughout her life and she has been keen to embrace a variety of genres. Although she continues to write, record and produce her own material, Bronwen is happiest when working with others who share the bliss of creating music. 
In the late 1990’s she met the amazingly versatile guitarist Peter Stothart and together they formed Guesswork. They regularly perform live and have produced two albums, attracting great reviews.
In contrast, Bronwen is also part of period music duo Lumina with Leli Hockin. They perform the beautiful music of our past, from medieval times to the Victorian era. 
Bronwen composes original music to accompany short online trailers for authors promoting their books. In this field, she works closely with Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics, who creates each film individually to best capture the essence of the book. 
In addition, Bronwen creates music and songs for most kinds of theatre productions and films. She has recently composed a number of original songs which will be featured in the proposed movie production, 1066

Also a professional actor, Bronwen has worked with numerous children’s touring theatre companies as well as taking on serious roles in political plays and contemporary mask and physical theatre productions. She has also performed in Panto and Street Theatre comedy shows. 

Bronwen’s Dinner Guests

1.     Charles Dickens          (a favourite writer)
2.     Richard 111                (to discover the truth)
3.     Emily Bronte               (bonkers but so interesting)
4.     William Hogarth          (for humour & social comment)
5.     David Starkey             (provocative & knowledgeable)
6.     Gunter Van Hagen      (contemporary anatomist)
7.     William Marsworth      (a hangman who developed the successful long-drop) 
8.     Ella Fitzgerald              (to sing for us)
9.     Samuel Pepys              (for humour & interesting stories)
10.   Marco Pierre White    (who else will cook for us?) 

Thank you Bronwen (You & Ella Fitzgerald singing together after dinner... wow!)

A wonderful bonus to setting this particular Guest Post - I have been listening to Bronwen's songs 
and her beautiful voice - and they call this job I do "work"?

Book Trailer Soundtracks - Bronwen Harrison
(designed by Avalon Graphics

~ A Musical Interlude -  Part Two ~

 I am proud to announce the launch of Songs of a Sea Witch 
 a collection of nautical-based songs. 
The CD has been especially put together by Bronwen Harrison 
 to compliment my Sea Witch Voyages.

Click here to listen to some excerpts from  Songs of a Sea Witch 

Sea Witch
Porthia Tango
The Seer
Across the Sea
Dark Music
Heading North
Beyond the Clouds
The Moons of Grieving
She Calls Me / Siren
Gallows Wake


Dark Music is a song about Blackbeard
 (to be featured on the Bring It Close Trailer)
Gallows Wake will be the inspiration behind a future adventure for
Jesamiah Acorne 
 and a small part of it is the soundtrack for the Sea Witch Trailer

Believe me you are in for a treat!

Pirate Code Trailer ...


  1. A very interesting post. Music plays a large role in setting the mood and tone of a book. I know there are many authors who write with music on and as a reader I often connect certain songs to books and scenes. Everytime I hear the song the whole story comes back to me. Although lyrics are helpful, some of the best way to set a mood is one without lyrics. Your senses really has to open up and absorb all the melody.

    Helen, you mentioned the 1066 movie team. Is one of your books being considered for film/TV?

  2. I am co-screenplayer writer for the proposed movie 1066 - based on my novels Forever Queen (called A Hollow Crown in the UK) and I Am The Chosen King (Harold the King in the UK)

  3. When I sat down to produce the book trailer for Harold the King, I was given Bronwen's audio track "God Be With You" and I was instantly inspired in designing a video from listening to that gorgeous composition. As a designer, I always listen to music while I work as it also inspires and often unlocks my creative muses.
    I am fortunate to work with Broni and to have been introduced to her beautiful and soulful sounds. The new CD 'Songs of a Sea Witch' is particularly stunning - the perfect companion to Helen's novels! Bronwen perfectly captured the essence of Helen's characters and their adventures. I often listen to Broni's music while designing marketing materials for Helen's novels.

    Broni - you are a true gem and I am very pleased and fortunate to have met you!

    (Avalon Graphics)

  4. Broni has long been one of our favourite singer-songwriters and we have been lucky enough to have seen her perform live several times.
    Her albums are a delight and usually our first choice when relaxing at home.
    It has been a pleasure to follow B's music and acting career and she has proved what a versatile artist she is.
    She seems to make a success of every new project and we are always waiting to see what she will do next :-D

  5. Helen, I just saw the link to this competition on my blog and I was so excited I had to jump over here immediately. I love using music to set the scene of a book, in my own writing, and when reading/reviewing. Every time I reviewed a book from the Sea Witch series I listened to Pirates of the Carribean. I would LOVE to win this soundtrack!

    Interestingly enough, I played the Sea Witch Trailer today, just to hear the lovely song :) Having seen (and heard) the depth in Bronwen's music, I think BETWEEN sounds the most interesting, because I feel like the word alone evokes so much feeling, that the song could do and say so much.

    Thanks for the competition.
    -Jessica @ Laugh Love Write
    jkhastings AT yahoo DOT come


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