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‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’: one of the most romantic songs ever written, I think, for the poeticism of the lyrics. When I am writing romantic fiction, the three most pivotal moments, for me, are the first meeting, the first kiss, and then the first time the characters make love. This song so eloquently and simply sums up the sensations and sentiment for these three moments. Here are the central lyrics:

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies, my love

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move through my hands
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love

The first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the Earth
And last till the end of time, my love

With such beautiful wording, and a haunting, soothing tune, it’s no wonder that this song has been recorded by so many artists – from Elvis to Shirley Bassey, Celine Dion to The Temptations, Matt Cardle to The Stereophonics. But my favourite version is the version that popularised the song shortly after it was written – Roberta Flack’s 1972 recording. If you’d like to hear it, take a look at this YouTube clip.

I mentioned in an earlier blog entry that music is instrumental (forgive the pun) in my writing. It stirs emotion, it inspires, it creates ambiance, it lets the imagination take flight. I have varied tastes when it comes to music, and I listen to an eclectic mix when writing in my study.

When I write, I use a variety of settings and characters of different nationalities. I find a good way to get in touch with a place or a person I’m writing about is to listen to fitting music.

For example, in Burning Embers before coming to Kenya the protagonist Coral had lived much of her life in England, and spent time in America. So I listened to late sixties and early seventies music from America and the UK; for example, Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Rafe, meanwhile, has French in his heritage, so I listened to music like that by France Gall, Brigitte Bardot and Christophe Dalida.

If I want to think Spanish, I listen to Latin American music, or Julio Iglesias or Jeanette. If I’m writing about Italy or an Italian, I listen to Peppino di Capri and Don Backy and Mina (‘In Ciel Una Stansa’, a song from the 1961 film Pecce d’Oro et Bikini d’Argento that’s set in Capri, gives me the shivers and I listened to it a lot while writing Burning Embers).

And then there are the classics – beautiful pieces of music that quite simply inspire me to write romance because they speak of beauty and desire and conflict and union. The works of Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Bizet, Delibes and Rimsky Korsakov (especially ‘Scheherazade’ and ‘The Golden Cockerel’). And the beauty of Adagio in G Minor (Albinoni) (listen for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMbvcp480Y4).

In another life, perhaps I’d have been a musician, such is my love for music (sadly, I never excelled at an instrument). But then I think that writing has a music of its own – the tap of the keyboard as you type or the pen on the table as you think; the swish of pages as you read; the very rhythm of the words and the sense of flow and pace through the narrative that, as do all pieces of music, builds to a climax. As Truman Capote put it: ‘To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.’

‘Egosurfing’, they call it – Googling yourself. It’s not something I had ever done before this week, but with my upcoming book I decided, one particularly gloomy afternoon, to browse the internet for mentions of myself and the book. And it was whilst looking at results for ‘Burning Embers’ that I noticed the panel in Google listing video results for the search term.

I confess that I am a YouTube novice, but I was intrigued by the title of the first video, so I duly pressed play. And oh, what a discovery. American singer/songwriter Kendall Payne’s ‘Burning Embers’ is soulful and gently lulling, and once she got to the chorus I was hooked – the lyrics ‘You feel like burning embers / You feel like coming home / You feel like my forever’ instantly made me think of Coral and Rafe in my novel Burning Embers.

Incidentally, this ‘Burning Embers’ song isn’t the only one I came across while browsing YouTube: Lou Reed, for one, recorded a song by this name, but I’m afraid it is not to my taste.

You can listen to Kendall Payne’s song yourself at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGXI8eQvGqU, and I have included the full lyrics below.

Now I’m off to Google the title of my next book in eager anticipation of discovering more music to brighten the gloom in Kent this week.

Burning Embers
Were we ready, who’s to say the answer?
Who is ever ready for these things?
No one could prepare us for the laughter
No one could prepare us for the pain

You feel like burning embers
You feel like coming home
You feel like my forever
And that’s all I have to know

Every night I ask for your forgiveness
In grown up skin I still act like a child
I can make believe that I am flawless
You’re close enough to see the cracks I hide

You have caused me tears of joy relentless
I cannot now imagine life without 
I owe you more than humble words could confess
I love you more than I even know how

You feel like burning embers
You feel like coming home
You feel like my forever
And that’s all I need to know

You feel like Christmas morning
You feel like summer rain
You feel like holy waters
That rinse away my stains

You feel like children singing
You feel like midnight calm
You feel like breathing deeply 
Until the storm is gone

I love music: it has such power to move, to affect, to inspire. When I write at my desk, I often have music on in the background – carefully selected to reflect the mood of the particular chapter I’m writing.

In Burning Embers, as well as running a prosperous plantation, Rafe owns a nightclub, The Golden Fish: a high-class, palatial establishment with a majestic cliff-top location overlooking the tempestuous ocean. This chapter is charged with emotion – sensuality, jealousy, frustration. It’s a setting imbued with soul and sexuality, and as I wrote, the melody of Fausto Pappeti’s saxophone provided the perfect romantic ambiance.
Have you seen the film Last Tango in Paris with Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider? It’s a very sensual movie, and the theme tune by the Italian Jazz saxophonist Pappeti is everything I imagine in the nightclub in Burning Embers.

I was fascinated to note the recent article in The Bookseller on a company called Booktrack that is offering soundtracks that synchronise with ebooks – so as you read an ebook, you can hear accompanying sounds: the rustle of leaves during a character’s walk in the park; the tinkling of broken glass on a hard floor as a thief breaks into a house. An interesting concept, and at once I found myself picturing a soulful jazz solo echoing through my chapter. What marvellous developments technology brings!

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