This week’s Bookends, a feature in the New York Times Book Review, asks two authors to describe their non-literary influences. Thomas Mallon who writes historical fiction cites photos such as one of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination while James Parker says drummers, comedians and bakers. (An odd mix, don’t you think?)
My own non-literary influences are photos and music. For a number of years I have had two cork-boards next to my desk filled with photos taken during a trip to northern France and postcards I accumulated on that same trip – an iconic picture of five WWI soldiers silhouetted against a backdrop of skeletal trees and barbed wire, another of a trench filled with human detritus, one of the bombed-out remains of Ypres beside a present-day photo of Ypres restored and one of men going ‘over the top’ and out to battle. I have a picture of a soldier leaning against boxes of ammunition writing a letter, of three men wearing gas masks and a photograph of the main figure of the Vimy Ridge memorial, a woman with head bowed gazing at the tomb below. A particularly poignant photo is the one of my grandfather taken in 1915 just before he went overseas. The grave innocence of his face haunts me and is on the cover of Lies Told in Silence.
Whenever I needed – or need – to recapture the feelings associated with the insanity that was World War One or the bravery required to endure, I looked at these photos to recapture that feeling.
Music played a different role in my writing. While working on Unravelled I often played songs from the late 30s and early 40s as a way to imagine the feelings of those living through WWII. Some tunes are upbeat, others full of longing and regret. Simple lyrics for the most part, but through them, you hear the heartbeat of war and purpose – the defence of family and country and loved ones. A sweetheart missing at Christmas, a soldier hoping to reassure, a father wondering if his son will ever know him, a woman drowning her sorrows.
Photos and music – one author’s inspiration.