Monday, 18 October 2010

What is the soundtrack to your landscape?

My landscape is Hayling Island off the south coast of England, next to Portsmouth. Hayling is 25 miles square and completely flat. When the tide goes out it drains right round the Island revealing wonderful mud banks which are a haven for many different birds.Around two thirds of all birds in the British List are here, including Common Tern, Little Tern, Little Egret and the Brent Geese which winter on Hayling from the Arctic Circle.
So my soundtrack begins with the cry of the seagulls and the call of all the different birds which populate my landscape.

Behind the cry of the birds is the sound of the wind. Did you know that windsurfing was invented on Hayling Island? In 1958 a schoolboy called Peter Chilvers attached a tent flap and a curtain pole to a piece of wood and launched from the beach into the wind. The wind blows hard across the Island coming in from the Solent. Trees bend over in agony and the tall pines groan and creak. Thousands of yachts are moored around the Island and the wind plays a merry tune as it jingles their shrouds.
My soundtrack is underpinned by the wind.

My first book, HIDDEN, is set in February in a freezing cold winter and part of the story is set during a deep sea mist. Fog horns sound out on the Solent making my character, Alix, feel cold and lonely, like the illegal immigrant, Mohammed, she has rescued from the sea. Fog horns sound more than once through my landscape and are a metaphor for the huge and difficult task my two teenagers have set themselves, in rescuing and hiding Mohammed to save him from being deported.

My soundtrack contains many more sounds across the three novels; the crash of the waves on the beach in a storm, the dragging of the tide across the pebbles, the splash of my characters falling or jumping into the water, alongside the roar of motorbikes and the revving of motorboat engines. Bicycles whirr down the back lanes of the Island and car brakes squeal in a spin.

There is the clump of boots across the limestone edges of Derbyshire as my characters  in the third book take off for a rock climbing weekend.
Ropes creak and quickdraws snap and click. Someone yelps as the rope runs through his hand burning the skin on his palm and there is a sickening crunch as a helmet crunches into the rock during a terrifying fall.

I have developed my soundtrack over four years, writing the three novels, visiting the Island several times a year to take notes and photos and to write with the wind in my ears. I have also revisited my old climbing haunts and reminded myself of the sights and sounds of the climbing community. I've hung around friends with motorbikes and I've been out on a motorboat in Chichester Harbour, tracking the desperate journey of my characters in the second book. Just as it takes time to develop the landscape of our writing, so it takes time to enrich the soundtrack. I just wish I could record it and put it on a CD.

What is the soundtrack to your landscape?

HIDDEN, the first book in my Hayling cycle, March 2011, Meadowside Books.
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Katherine Langrish said...

I love the idea of a soundtrack to a book. What great advice it would be to anyone setting out to write! Sounds and smells are the things that sometimes get forgotten when sitting in front of a computer. Your soundtracks have taken me right outside.

Miriam Halahmy said...

I feel a writing workshops coming on! Good idea, I could use my blog as a trigger.

Rosalind Adam said...

My favourite soundtrack (and an exercise I often use in writing workshops) is Leicester market with its traders pitching, cajoling and teasing, crates rolling over cobbles, scissors slicing through fabric, potatoes tumbling into weighing pans... not forgetting the richness that comes from over 80 languages spoken by the crowds of shoppers.

Martin H. said...

When I was a small boy, Hayling Island was our seaside destination. I haven't been there for years, but now I feel I should come along to hear your soundtrack for myself.

Linda Strachan said...

Interesting post.
Great to be reminded that all the sounds around us, or sometimes the lack of them, can add so much atmosphere to whatever you are writing.

catdownunder said...

I sometimes ask myself, "if you had to put this to music which music would you choose?" If I cannot answer that question I often have the writing wrong as well!

michelle lovric said...

Miriam, this would make an absolutely wonderful workshop, especially for poets. But all of us need to put down our pens, stop tapping on our keyboards, and listen more carefully.

Penny Dolan said...

Evocative post, Miriam, and a reminder that inspiration is very much a physical experience.

A certain briskness in the wind with accompanying rainclouds always makes me think of summer holidays . . .

Miriam Halahmy said...

Ros, wow, 80 languages, amazing.
Martin - so many people have mentioned to me holidaying on Hayling when I talk about my books. I do hope you go down soon.
Michelle - yes, I'm beginning to plan a workshop on this, both for poetry and prose. Maybe I should try and make that recording!
Many thanks to everyone for your inspiring comments.