Songs and music have always been part of my stories, but it wasn’t until the musician Sorley moved from minor character to supporting in Empire’s Exile that I started to create playlists for part or all of my books. In Exile, it was only one song: there exists, in my fictional world, a song about two brothers separated forever by war. Sorley sings this one night, ‘for all we have loved, and all we have lost.’ Before and during writing this scene, I listened to Danny Boy, over and over again, trying to capture the sense of loss and love embodied in both its tune and its words.
Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side….
Then Sorley moved from supporting character to main character, and the story he had to tell was one of love and betrayal, both in the immediate and looking back on it, and I needed songs to tell me of his pain and longing. The playlist started with Runrig’s This Beautiful Pain:
All that’s constant
And wise I still see in your eyes.
It was always this way from
The start. Right here where I
Stand on the last of the land.
But you’re still breaking the
and Stan Rogers’ Turnaround:
…yours was the open road,
The bitter song, the heavy load
That I couldn’t share
Though the offer was there
Every time you turned around.
Eventually it included Blue Rodeo, Gordon Lightfoot, more Runrig, Cat Stevens and CSNY. And one more, by the end: the song Sorley writes himself (or, rather, I did, of course – capturing the mood of Archie Fisher’s Dark Eyed Molly), his beautiful Paths Untrodden.
Then I started writing Empire’s Heir, which is the first of my books to have two narrators: the aging Cillian and his adult daughter Gwenna. There were two separate moods I needed to capture, along with a sense of a world changing, the torch being passed. I had Gwenna’s quickly: another Runrig song, Always the Winner.
When you close your eyes there’s
A frightened pride that lives
For you. That your mother’s life
And your father’s eyes can’t
Hide. You had no choice, didn’t
Ask the dice to fall for you.
Still your courage comes like
Thunder through the skies.
Cillian’s song took much longer – until a comment on Twitter discussing Leonard Cohen’s best songs took me to Alexandra Leaving – and it was perfect.
Suddenly the night has grown colder
The god of love preparing to depart
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder
They slip between the sentries of the heart…
Now, as I contemplate the two planned books – Empress & Soldier, the stories of Druisius and Eudekia before Lena and Cillian and Sorley enter their lives, and the last book of the series, Empire’s Passing, which will be narrated by Colm and Lena – I’ll have to go looking for appropriate songs again. They’ll be out there, somewhere.
Danny Boy lyrics: Frederic Weatherly, 1913; copyright expired.
This Beautiful Pain: Songwriters: Calum Macdonald, Rory Macdonald lyrics © BMG Rights Management
Turnaround: © Stan Rogers, Fogarty’s Cove & Cole Harbour Music
Always The Winner Songwriters: Calum Macdonald, Rory Macdonald lyrics © BMG Rights Management
Alexandra Leaving: © Leonard Cohen, Sharon Robinson and Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada Company.