The Music Girl

img_2256I am not a musician, but I have always wanted to be. Simply because musicians can make people feel things instantly.

My parents recently inherited my great-mother’s piano. It was the piano my father grew up playing and it was the piano, aside from the one in my own house, that my siblings and I used to bang on whenever we visited my grandparents. Growing up, the piano in my house was always well-used, thanks to my father. Stories of his stint as a talented teenage pianist, travelling with bands from summer camps to churches to prisons, will still randomly come out at family get-togethers (or if Dad and I are alone and there is too much silence). My grandmother and my aunt are also wonderfully musical. When I began writing as a young girl, I knew it was only a matter of time before music became one of the main threads in one of my stories.

If summer was the first spark of inspiration for Reeds & Wicks, then the second was, of course, music. In fact, there remained a giant hole in the book for a few years until a friend introduced me to a musician I had never heard before, and like magic, the book finished itself, better and stronger than ever. That artist was Strahan. “You’re the Dawn”, “Deliverance” and “Vineyard” from his album, Posters, are my favourites. This is “You’re the Dawn”. I can’t listen to it without getting swept away.

Hudson Taylor’s EP Battles embodies so much of John Luke’s emotions, most of which he doesn’t realize are there until the end of the book. “Walls” by Gideon Grove is a soft, strong song that just sounds like John Luke’s thoughts. Same with “Stars and Satellites” by Dan Griffin. Plus, anything by NEEDTOBREATHE. And I mean anything.

Then there is Johnny Flynn and John Fahey. Johnny Flynn’s album A Larum helped me shape my first serious attempt at serious writing way back when I was a baby (17, actually). He basically changed my life forever (no big deal), but that’s another story. Literally. One I hope to share with you one day. So, if Strahan helped me finish R&W, then Johnny Flynn helped me start it. This is “Leftovers”.

Nate credits his discovery of his love of music in Mr. Rickshaw’s music store after listening to a record by American fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey. Here is “In Christ There is No East or West”.  Keep listening. 1:11 is when I just get so happy.

Mumford & Sons’ album Sigh No More is one of my favourite albums still to this day because of the lyrics. Such poetry. I must include this video of “Roll Away Your Stone”.

“Madelyn and the guys sang “Georgy Girl” by The Seekers, an Australian pop group from the sixties, just to annoy Ross. When he and Dad were in the seventh grade, their school put on a musical, featuring songs by the band. Ross wanted the lead, but it went to Dad instead. To this day, I still hear Dad singing the songs under his breath while completing chores around the house.”

True story. When my dad was in 7th grade, he starred in a school musical, featuring songs by the Australian band, The Seekers. To end this letter dedicated to the music behind Reeds & Wicks, I have to include this awesome video of the band performing in 1967.

In Good Company

img_2250My sister painted this illustration while I was working on some late drafts of Reeds & Wicks. She asked me which instruments she should base her drawings on, so I suggested a few, especially the inclusion of a steel-bodied resonator guitar, which is Nate’s guitar of choice in Reeds & Wicks (you can read the first chapter here). I really do love the cast of characters which star in this book, so I thought it was a good time to share some sketches.

No. 1 Nathaniel Poet, The Brother

“Dad’s name was Christopher Poet. So, my name, too, was Poet and I always felt the pressure to be deep or meaningful. Sophisticated even, like I should compose or write or be artistic. But ever since I could remember, all I’d ever wanted was open space, sky or sea. I thought that was all Nate wanted, too. I thought we were together in everything. But Nate was a poet. He wrote, he composed, he was artistic. His ambitions went beyond open space. I was reminded of our differences every time I found him doing weird things. Like laying in the middle of my bedroom floor, listening to my tape of “Stairway to Heaven” on my Walkman and refusing to come down for dinner, no matter how many times Mom shook his shoulder.”

I’m going to start with Nate. Nathaniel Poet is our protagonist’s older, musical brother. He is at once mature and childish. Wise and foolish. Caring and unfeeling. He feels things deeply and struggles with constantly climbing up from lows and crashing down from highs.

“It wasn’t hard to understand why she was in love with him, if that’s what she was. Nate was good-looking, talented; he always said the right things at the right time, managing to sound poetic and tough simultaneously. He had convinced Madelyn to overlook her self-doubt with one word, one look, and she was absent to the rest of us.”

John Luke has always felt protected by his brother. He has always trusted his brother. But there is always something in his charm, which John Luke knows is deceptive.

No. 2 Madelyn Odine, The Girl

“The first time I saw Madelyn Odine, I thought she was a ghost…Her shoes were the only things which grounded her. The rest of her clothes were made with muddy colours of pink, and her hair was the colour of pinewood.”

Next is Madelyn Odine. I can’t call her a protagonist or an antagonist because I don’t want to ruin any future reading of the book. She is the newest member of Reeds and Wicks, and the only female character with an active role throughout most of the story. She’s beautiful, talented and hurting. And she causes most of the conflicts—or at least, in the end, causes the roots of the problems in John Luke’s mind to be exposed. She is at best, a paradox like Nate.

“Sometimes, Madelyn seemed a thousand years-old to me, knowing all the way around life. Then, at other times, she appeared to me like a child, lost and perhaps suffering. I wanted to protect the little girl, but a part of me was intimidated by the woman. The child made me feel ten feet tall, asking for help, for affection. But the adult left me feeling inferior, waiting to be scolded for a crime I didn’t know I committed.”

But once the band is on the road, away from everything familiar and secure, John Luke can’t help it: he’s in love with her.

No. 3 John Luke Poet, The Narrator

Finally, there is John Luke Poet—our narrator. He’s 16 years-old when the book begins. He lives for sunshine and silver water, for unchartered territory and, as he puts it, “the dust and dirt of our cropless land”. He is contemplative; quick to listen and slow to speak—not always because he’s wise, but because he’s shy. I don’t want to say much about him because the instant you start reading, you meet him. And I think you’ll be friends.

“What are you expecting out there?” I asked Nate about the road.
“Gold, Jay. I’m expecting gold.”
Then he looked at me and grinned and we both started to laugh like only brothers could laugh.”

Normally, I would shout STAY GOLD, PONYBOY after a moment like that, so I guess, I will.

Stay gold, Ponyboy.

P.S. If you have never read The Outsiders, please read The Outsiders.

P.P.S If you love my sister’s artwork as much as I do, you can purchase this print (and heaps more) here.