I’m very pleased to present here an interview with Jodi Cleghorn and Adam Byatt. Jodi and Adam are embarking on a very interesting literary experiment. Post Marked: Piper’s Reach is “an ambitious organic narrative collaborative project”, with Jodi and Adam “traversing an odd path between old and new forms of communication, differing modalities of storytelling and mixed media, all played out in real and suspended time”. That’s a fancy way of saying that they’re producing a collaborative story through writing letters to each other.The project has at its heart a love of letter writing and music, with the letters posted in “real time”.
Post Marked: Piper’s Reach aims are to:
- rediscover the love of letters (writing and receiving), and by extension, reintroduce readers to the form.
- write a serial narrative in a non-traditional form.
- write a serial which brings together the best of new and old technology to create a cross-platform merging
- of digital and paper, instant and delayed gratification, music and prose.
- work collaboratively.
- utilise an organic narrative development process to as closely model a real exchange of letters and reveal between characters.
- explore the different impacts real time and delayed gratification have on the process of writing, character and narrative development.
- participate in a writing project which is fun and does not require massive investments of time in editing and redrafting, which slots between, and complement, exisiting writing projects and professional relationships.
The fictional setting for the project is described here:
In December 1992 Ella-Louise Wilson boarded the Greyhound Coach for Sydney leaving behind the small coastal town of Piper’s Reach and her best friend and soulmate, Jude Smith. After twenty years of silence, a letter arrives at Piper’s Reach reopening wounds that never really healed. When the past reaches into the future, is it worth risking a second chance?
So I had a chat with Jodi and Adam about the musical aspect of the endeavour and why certain songs were included:
Alan: What role does music have in your life and writing?
(AB) Music has always been in the background of whatever I was doing. I’m an occasional drummer and percussionist, currently learning to play guitar and bass, so I have a vested interest in music. Even if I abandoned playing an instrument, music would still form a significant part of my life. My Mum used to ask why I could remember song lyrics better than my History or Mathematics homework. I’m loving getting out to gigs again, hearing live music, playing it when I can. Otherwise, it’s me, a pair of headphones and blissful enjoyment.
(JC) Music is the essential white noise of my life. I play it in the car, when I write, when I cook… I even have it on in the shower (a habit acquired in adolescence). I don’t remember a time without music (apparently I could sing ABBA before I could talk). In my 20s I was a massive consumer of live music and a night club devotee.
(AB) My teenage years were characterised by heavy metal, and I’m still a lover of metal, but I love a wide variety of styles and genres of music. Some of these have crept into Jude’s letters. Some are ubiquitous, others more obscure. I listened avidly to the radio as a teenager, and hearing some of those songs again transports me back to that era.
(JC) Music is my ever-evolving companion: nurturing, soothing, inspiring an outlet for the best and worst in life. In some ways I feel my life is catalogued more by music, than the dusty photo albums in my bookcase. Ella-Louise and I share this. Visceral and primal, music is a limbic connection to thoughts, emotions and memories, and is middleman between myself and the stories queued for scribing.
(AB) I identify with the emotional impact music and can swing through a whole dynamic range of emotions while listening. I often use music to help set a mood or a scene when writing. Picking and choosing the ‘right’ music to write to can be tricky. And I like to drop hints as to my preferences in music here and there. It captures the subconscious levels of our intellect and our emotions.
Alan: The characters use music throughout their correspondence, either referencing song lyrics to suggest the character’s emotional state or mention a song to convey a sense of their relationship. How does music add to the narrative and the characters’ relationship?
(JC) Writing, reading and music were the three staples of my life as a teenager, so it made sense to use music as one of the vehicles to explore a fictional relationship between two people who were best mates as teenagers.
(AB) Jude uses music as a bridge to link him to the past (the experiences he shared with Ella-Louise as a teenager) and to the present. Jude sees the broken Ella-Louise and remembers the girl he loved. There are songs he remembers from their past. But he is unsure of what to make of it now. J: When Adam included a reference to Dire Strait’s “Romeo & Juliet” he had me in tears. I’d never told Adam this was one of my teenage love anthems
(JC) The songs appearing in Jude’s letters heavily influence Ella-Louise’s thoughts, which in turn shape her decisions. I listened to “Don’t Give Up” on speed rotation for an entire cooking session, exploring how it made Ella-Louise feel and it became the soundtrack to her meltdown, but also dominated her climb out of it. The darkness and the redemption in the lyrics appealed to Ella-Louise, as much as they appealed to me.
(AB) Jude’s preference for songs from the past is perhaps an indication of his inability to grasp the present situation with Ella-Louise. Even though they have different musical tastes, the music they share amplifies their emotional connection. Some of the songs I’ve used in Jude’s letters reflect of how I understand Jude as a character but also how Jude wants to engage with Ella-Louise.
(JC) Ella-Louise uses music as a mirror to her past, and later the changing dynamic of her relationship with Jude. The lyrics she shares are tiny glimpses inside her, but for every answer they illuminate, twice as many questions are spawned. For example, in her second letter she pulls lyrics from Birds of Tokyo’s “Wild at Heart.” She writes:
As I walk to the water to cleanse off the blood on my hands
The weight of this crime leaves a stain in the sand
I hope new tides come to wash me clean for good
It is a forerunner to what is an epic meltdown for her and I’ve often wondered just what Jude makes of it all… these strange, ephemeral disclosures from the girl-woman he loved twenty years ago.
(AB) Some of my favourite songs from adolescence appear in the playlist, having knowingly incorporated them into Jude’s letters. Others, for example, U2’s Ultraviolet (Light My Way), I was listening to while writing and it gave me an idea that fed into the narrative. I’m a bit of a melancholic, which certainly comes through in my song choices.
I tend to think of music in this project as a soundtrack, much like a movie. It conveys another emotional dimension from the words the characters use. If the reader is familiar with the song referenced, I hope it’s played in their heads while they read it.
(JC) If not we drop a youtube clip at the end of the digital transcript, adding another layer and dimension to the letters.
Alan: Two songs appear in the first letter, Placebo’s “Pure Morning” and The Waterboys’ “Whole of the Moon”. Was it an intended inclusion and what was the impact of those two songs on the rest of the project?
(JC) When I sat to write the first letter I had my iPod on random and “Pure Morning” came on and it seemed fitting, the beauty and rawness of Placebo’s lyrics and the repetition of the line: “A friend in need’s a friend indeed”. Without planning it, I channelled the underpinning theme of Jude and Ella-Louise’s letters from the start.
(AB) I tapped into Ella-Louise’s love of music and the reference to Placebo, and found Jude had a different taste in music, but it captured his understanding of their past and their experiences. People speak of moments in their lives defined or characterised by a particular song; a shared, almost spiritual, experience.
(JC) The inclusion of The Whole of the Moon was deliberate. It came on the iPod while I was cooking dinner the day before I sat down to write the first letter. It seemed to me the perfect anthem for two young people who would eventually go their own ways without each other. And it set up an interesting contrast of personalities, of optimism and pessimism, light and darkness.
(AB) The Whole of the Moon is a song I remember from my youth and I reconnected with it when Ella-Louise mentioned it. It was from that point I saw music as another aspect to the characters’ relationship.
(JC) Those two songs set up the precedence of music being pivotal to the characters understanding of themselves and each other, adding an extra dimension not just to the letters but to the online delivery of the project.
I’m looking forward to following this collaboration. Find out more about it all here:
ABOUT THE AUTHORS