Guest post by Moira Young, the author of Blood Red Road (Dust Lands Series).
The Music of Blood Red Road and Rebel Heart
Music has always been an integral part of my life. My family is heaving with musicians of all kinds. My mum taught piano, so I started early, going on to a career in musicals and opera. And – surprise, surprise – music has ended up in my books.
I started modestly. With sea shanties in mind, I put one song into Blood Red Road: Jack sings “Hard-Hearted Annie”. Then I let rip in Rebel Heart. I put in instruments, dance music, songs, and musical echoes from the lost world of the Wreckers. All the music – with two significant exceptions – is inspired by folk (American and British), country, blues and bluegrass.
The first music in Rebel Heart comes at the Snake River social. A brassy dame sings with a junkband. It’s a high-spirited square dance that “bucks an kicks an hollers to yer heartbeat”. The junkband idea came from a BBC documentary, Scrapheap Orchestra, and fits perfectly with Saba’s world.
|The Scrapheap Orchestra|
Salmo Slim, “Travellatin Physician an Surgeon”, sings to Moses the camel as they rattle around New Eden in the Cosmic Compendalorium. Slim’s partial to bawdy tavern ditties. I have great fun writing the lyrics to my songs and take ages over them. I do have a tune in my head for each one, but nothing I’m willing to share! Anyway, it’s the rhythms that are really important.
|Playing spoons – he’s got rhythm|
There’s another dance once Saba and her friends reach New Eden. This one is a harvest celebration, with the dancers’ faces concealed by primitive corn-husk masks and darker, rougher, earthbound music, heavy on the drums. Here, I was thinking of the ancient festivals that would have punctuated the year for our ancestors, before we lost our connection to the natural cycles of the earth.
|Masked ceremonial dancers|
Near the end of the book, there’s one piece of music from an opera. I’ll give a prize to the first person who correctly identifies it, unless they happen to be an opera singer. If they are, they should recognize it immediately and if they don’t, shame on them.
|Here’s a big hint|
I use musical rhythms, beats, pulses and phrasing, usually when I want the language to help push the pace or reflect Saba’s emotional state. For example:
I cain’t speak.
My golden heart is gone.
I kneel in the dust.
The tears roll down (my face).
An a hard red rain starts to fall.
If I were writing this now, I would leave out “my face”. For me, that line needs to be rebalanced. Each line break indicates a breath and/or an emotional shift. This drives my editor bonkers for a very practical reason: more lines equals more pages equals higher production costs. She pulls the lines closer together and I immediately set about reinstating as many as I can get away with!
So, music in the language, the text, even the structure of the trilogy as a three-act opera … I could go on. But you get the drift. As Kiki Dee says, “I got the music in me.”
Moira Young’s blog tour concludes tomorrow at
More about the author:
Moira was born in New Westminster, BC, on the west coast of Canada, to a business man father and a primary teacher mother. She has two younger sisters and all her immediate and extended family live in the Vancouver area.
Moira graduated from high school in Winnipeg, and from University of British Columbia with a history degree. She moved to the UK to attend The Drama Studio in 1983/4. She gained her equity card performing with Fancy Goods on the alternative comedy circuit in the mid-80s when highlights included being pelted with fruit and vegetables by the audience at the infamous Tunnel Club, and being hissed off the stage at the Lewisham Labour Club... She became a tap-dancing chorus girl in London’s West End, appearing in High Society at the Victoria Palace directed by Richard Eyre.
From 1988 – 1992, Moira lived back in Vancouver, where she retrained as an opera singer and was winner of the Metropolitan Opera Regional Auditions, Western Canada in 1991. In 1992, she moved back to the UK to continue vocal studies and work in opera, where she sang in most London venues and also toured in the UK and France with Travelling Opera. Her solo concerts include St Martin’s-in-the-Fields and the National Portrait Gallery.
Moira’s first ambition was always to be a writer. She wrote her first book aged 9 entitled ‘The Heirloom Mystery’. Shortly after that, she was bitten by the theatre bug and didn’t take up writing again until 2003 when she enrolled on Elizabeth Hawkins’ Writing for Children course and workshop at the City Lit (2003-2005). Moira’s first children’s novel, Blood Red Road, won the 2011 Costa Children’s Book Award. The sequel, Rebel Heart is now available.
READ MY REVIEW OF BLOOD RED ROAD HERE.