The Transformation of Pain Helps us see Value in Suffering

“Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” ~ Bob Dylan

Pain – either physical or emotional, is something most of us seek to avoid. Yet our pain is just as valuable as our joy.

Such perceived undesirable feelings are at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum from joy and ecstasy, but are essentially all part of the same energetic material. Pain is one of those things that we strive to remove and resolve once we’re feeling it, yet it has immense value to our lives if we can use it constructively. As a form of feedback it is invaluable.

It can lead us to an expanded awareness and an equanimity that would not otherwise have been possible, but for our moments of pain.

Pain that has been transcended can be compared to the physical pain of childbirth: it hurts like hell at the time, you have no idea how long the labour will last, how long you can bear the intensity, but when it’s finally over you have a priceless gift – a new life. After a few months it’s not possible to recall the acute pain of childbirth, it is consigned to a murky memory; all you know is that it was worth it, because you brought a human being into the world.

What recondite depths have inspired composers, writers, poets, artists, social entrepreneurs and people from all walks of life, wanting to make the world a better place for others?

Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo
In 1939 Frida and Diego divorced. She was devastated and her emotions were reflected in this painting. She drew two identical Fridas, but with different personalities. One is the “Mexican Frida;” the one Diego Rivera fell in love with. The other is “European Frida” – the new and independent artist that’s recognized worldwide, but also, the woman her husband abandoned.
Their hearts are exposed over their clothing, and there is a thin vein passing through them both, uniting them. Victorian Frida holds surgical scissors that cut the vein in her lap, and the blood spills on her white dress. Frida was experiencing real sorrow, the kind of sorrow that made her feel she could bleed from the pain. Both women are holding hands as if the artist accepted she was the only person who understood her, loved her, and could help her to move on. ~ Matador Network

Such motivations do not normally emanate from pain free lives. When we have experienced profound pain we genuinely develop more compassion and empathy, and are probably more willing to help alleviate suffering if we come across someone going through a similar situation.

Pain is a powerful motivator: it can spur us into action, prompt us to change course, widen our perception, and in many cases, make us more accepting and less judgmental and align us to a meaningful purpose.

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” ~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

For me, intense pain formed the bedrock of my determination to follow my dreams and made me a stronger, more resilient person. I learned to listen to the inner longing that wasn’t based in my head.

Through pain I liken myself to a carbon atom that has been pressured, pulverised and heated inside the earth’s mantle; a violent process that forms a striking crystalline structure which is dense yet clear, still rough around the edges, yet with further cutting and refining will one day gleam with the best of them.

I have taken the gems (no pun intended!) of my own suffering, and used them in a coalescence of knowledge, experience and imagination in the form of my novel, The Virtuoso. 

There was a time in my life when I considered making an early exit from existence, but fortunately I decided against that idea. My love for my family spurred me to turn my life around. One day at a time.

It has been said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Most people don’t want to consciously end their life, they want to end their pain. Sadly, not every one can get past their pain.

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis

Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian c. 1571

The other day I was reading an email from Vishen Lakhiani, the founder of Mindvalley, telling a very personal story about how a painful experience became the catalyst for the values he lives by.

In Vishen’s words:

Your values became the healing you want to give to the world because of past pain.

My first core value was sparked from a horrible incident in 2003.

Just imagine, for a minute, being forced to leave the country you love because you were put on a watchlist based on a bullsh*t idea that, because of your place of birth, you were somehow a potentially dangerous immigrant.

But that was the situation I was placed in 2003 while living in America. I don’t blame anyone…it was the years following September 11th. And this was part of global politics. But boy was it painful…

I had lived in America for a decade and it was a place I had called home. My wife from Estonia and I lived in New York. We were newly married and I’d been living in the United States for 9 straight years. This was our home and I wanted my son born as an American.

But then – one day in 2003 arriving at JFK airport I was taken into a special room and told that I could no longer travel as freely. I had been added to an early version of the same Muslim-watchlist that Trump has been recently pushing for.

See, because I happened to be an immigrant from a Muslim-dominant country (Malaysia), I, alongside 80,000 other men, weren’t afforded the same freedom of movement as everyone else. I could no longer board flights or get off a plane without enduring 2 to 3 hrs in interviews in tiny rooms at the limited airports I was allowed to fly from.

Worse, I was expected to report to the government every 28 days. Interrogated for hours, get my picture taken, and have my credit card purchases scrutinized. Sometimes after waiting in line for up to 4 hours. And I had to repeat this. Every. Four. Weeks.

The funny thing was that I was not even a Muslim. Nor should that even matter.

Waiting 4 hours in the cold New York weather every 28 days just to be subjected to a really degrading process was something I could only tolerate for so long.

That was it.

And I had enough.

I was deeply saddened that I had to leave America this way, but I felt I didn’t really have a choice but to relocate Mindvalley to Malaysia.

In the end, in 2008 the then-new President Obama ruled the whole dumb process unconstitutional and this Bush-era regulation was tossed into the garbage bin.

I was finally free to travel.

But this pain served me. It set me up for the value of UNITY.

Unity is the idea that we align not with our country, our flag, our religion, or our ethnicity first — but that we align first and foremost with humanity as a whole.

My kids are half-Indian and half-white. You know what that means? It means they look middle-eastern. I don’t want MY children ever ending up on some stupid “watchlist” because fact-challenge old men with racist tendencies think something like a Muslim-ban is somehow a good idea.

So, I made it my mission to bring humanity together.

And the result was the value of Unity in everything we do at Mindvalley.

For example, our events typically welcome people from 40 different countries. Our team of 300 people now come from 49 countries.

And we make effort to represent the under-represented. Mindvalley University for example had 55% women speakers. Our courses feature people of all ethnicities and sexual orientations.

And we actively stand up for pro-Unity politics.

Unity was a value that made me who I am.

I was once on the popular talk show “Impact Theory” and the host Tom Bilyeu asked me.

“Are you an entrepreneur or a philosopher?”

I replied that I think the label ‘entrepreneur’ is pointless. Anyone can be an entrepreneur.

“What defines a person”, I said, “is not the label – but what they stand for.”

I could lost my business. I guess that happens to many people. But it won’t make me lose my identity.

But if I lost my stand. And my stand is Unity. I would not be Vishen Lakhiani. Everything I do, including Mindvalley, is designed to bring unity to the human race.

That’s how deeply entrenched unity is in my DNA.

And you can see how PAIN – can lead to the strongest values.

The healing, transforming power of music

Nowhere is the transformative quality of pain more evident, accessible and immediate than in the experience of listening to, performing and writing music. Like all the creative arts, music can be a miraculous medium for ameliorating pain – leaving a legacy of great benefit to many people, no matter if they are alive at the same time in history.

The Violinist by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp

All types of music fulfill this role for people. Some prefer rock, pop, country, jazz, tango, rap, heavy metal, dance anthems, not forgetting the more established and earlier types such as romantic, classical and baroque.  I find my mood and activity selects the music, but the kind that reaches the parts others cannot is – surprise, surprise – classical music.

I have included a few examples of pieces that continue to resonate with audiences centuries later, due to the emotion that was fundamental to their creation. It seems many of the most loved and enduring musical works were hammered out on the anvil of pain…

As you can imagine, keeping this list short is quite impossible for me, so forgive my alacrity if we’re not on the same musical page.

The andante con moto of Schubert’s chamber masterpiece ‘Death and the Maiden’ speaks to me deeply of pain. When I hear it, any unresolved pain I feel comes through and tells me it’s there…

It connects me to the composer, to myself and to humanity.  It has even inspired the title of a trilogy of psychological thrillers, quietly brewing in my psyche.

Schubert composed the String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810 in 1824, after he had been seriously ill and realised that he was dying. It is Schubert’s testament to death. The quartet takes its name from the lied ‘Der Tod und das Mädchen’, a setting of a poem of the same name by Matthias Claudius which Schubert wrote in 1817.

Only one who suffered such as Schubert could have written it. Much of Schubert’s music reflects the deep chasm of human emotion. It some of the most heart-felt music I think I will ever hear.

“My compositions spring from my sorrows. Those that give the world the greatest delight were born of my deepest griefs.”
~ Franz Schubert

An incredibly moving performance of Schubert’s Piano Fantasie in F minor, D. 940 for four hands, by Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen:

The bittersweet quality of the melody and their sensitive, nuanced interpretation makes me well up.

The touch of a master makes the Impromptu No. 3 Op. 90 sound like it’s coming straight from Schubert’s heart…

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi
Variations on this sentiment:
“There is a crack in everything God has made.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Antelope Canyon – by Madhu Shesharam on Unsplash

“The crack is where the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen
“Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.” ~ Groucho Marx

Beethoven similarly expressed profound depths through his music, in way too many pieces to share here. Works that could only have come about because of his physical and emotional wretchedness. He was the epitome of the tortured genius!

The Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Apassionata), was written at a time of great political and personal turmoil, and it seems that Beethoven has bared his soul within the notes. The famous triadic motif from his fifth symphony can be heard in the opening movement, indeed, it pervades much of his musical output.

You can hear the violent rage, anguish, torment, passion and determination expressed either consciously or unconsciously by Beethoven, as if he is unashamedly showing us his inner core, which was clearly on a stormy setting at the time.

He was reeling from a broken heart, just when his brother Karl announced his marriage to Johanna, a woman Beethoven despised. He could not bring himself to dismount from his moral high horse and be happy for them.

Oh my, it was quite the maelstrom… I think Richter played it like the mercurial maestro would have:

Prior to publication of the Apassionata, Beethoven erupted with fury in a disagreement with a great patron of the arts, his aristocratic benefactor, Prince Lichnowsky. The altercation supposedly took place one stormy night at the prince’s country estate near Graz.

Lichnowsky asked Beethoven if he would perform for him and some of Napoleon’s officers he was playing host to. Beethoven refused in his combustible, irascible manner, and strode off into the rainy night with his Appassionata score under his arm; but not before telling Lichnowsky that there were many princes, but only one Beethoven!

The blotches caused by the contact of rain and ink from that fated evening are still visible on the original autograph manuscript.

Even though Beethoven never quite forgave Lichnowsky for his transgression, he still wrote to his estranged patron sometime later to complain of his “thoroughly lacerated heart.”

The pain of parting is so beautifully transferred to the ivories by Alfred Brendel in this recording of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81a, ‘Les Adieux’:

In his brilliant analysis of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Charles Hazlewood highlights that the piano and orchestra are in a conversation; a dialogue that becomes increasingly tense through the first and second movements.

He enthuses that Beethoven created a new era for the role of the piano by not starting the concerto with a grand orchestral opening, as was the custom, but instead with a tentative phrase on the piano, which seeks to dictate terms to the orchestra.

Discord permeates each phrase of the conversation as the tension becomes more pronounced in the andante con moto. When the piano finally breaks out it seems that the gulf between the piano and the orchestra is unbridgeable, until the third movement brings about resolution and reconciliation. The piano mollifies the orchestra and they unite musically.

I could not leave out the incomparable second movement of his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major minor, Op.  73 (Emperor), which seems to encompass the entire history of mankind at the molecular level within its sublime, poignant melody.

The whispered opening makes me hold my breath for eight unbearably beautiful minutes, floating in suspended animation, soaking up the apotheosis of all that is…

James Rhodes blends notes and emotion perfectly in the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109:

Backed by Stanford University’s Ensemble in Residence, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Robert Kapilow, (composer and radio commentator), explores the notion of illness as a potent source of creativity, (e.g. appreciation for existence) through Beethoven’s ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’, which Beethoven wrote in thanksgiving after recovering from a life-threatening illness.

Tchaikovksy could also pack in the pathos, as expressed in his Serenade Melancolique Op. 26, via Itzhak Perlman on his violin:

The sobriquet ‘Suffocation’ is a fitting description for Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28:

I think the addition of the cello brings out a lyrical, lugubrious quality to the melody:

The original lyrics to ‘So Deep is the Night’ by André Viaud and Jean Marietti were set to Chopin’s Etude No. 3 in E Major, Op. 10 ‘Tristesse’, perfect on its own:

In the medium of opera and vocal works suffering finds an outlet through the voice. I find  Camille Saint-Saëns’s ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ from Samson et Dalila one of the most moving arias ever written. Maria Callas was no stranger to emotional pain, and you can hear it as she pours out her heart:

Callas is also unmatched as Norma in Bellini’s eponymous opera singing the aria Casta Diva:

Puccini and Pavarotti are a match made in heaven…

I love the strong sentiment in this interpretation by Marita Solberg of Edvard Grieg’s ‘Solveig’s song’ from his Peer Gynt Suite:

Bach’s eternal, prayerful and beseeching ‘Erbarme dich mein Gott‘ (Have mercy Lord, My God) from his epic St. Matthew Passion:

Get the tissues ready for Handel’s signature aria ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from his Opera Rinaldo.

Let me weep

over my cruel fate,

and sigh for freedom.

Let my sorrow break the chains

of my suffering, out of pity.

Dimitry Shostakovich takes us to the abyss as he performs the andante from his Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102 in this vintage recording:

Albinoni finds a sorrowful voice for the oboe in the adagio of his concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 9:

I couldn’t leave out maestro Mozart, who proved he was equally at home with a deep and meaningful as well as a galloping allegro.

Vladimir Horowitz always takes me to another dimension with this recording of the adagio of Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488. The heartache is palpable…

In my humble opinion this is no ‘feeble adagio’ as Brahms had labelled the slow movement of his Violin Concerto in D Major. The oboe, bassoon, brass and violin share the profound melody.

To me it is poetic and purifies the soul.

Franz Liszt wasn’t always a showman, as he proves in his nostalgic and tender Consolation No. 3:

Love hurts and pleasures at the same time when Wagner gets involved! The immortal Tristan und Isolde, Prelude & Liebestod:

The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs is a symphony in three movements, composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976.

In the second movement a solo soprano sings the Polish message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, from the perspective of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of each of the three movements of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war.

The symphony is constructed around simple harmonies, set in a neo-modal style which makes use of the medieval musical modes. The nine-minute second movement is for soprano, her words are supported by the orchestra and the movement culminates when the strings hold a chord without diminuendo for nearly one and a half minutes.

The final words of the movement are the first two lines of the Polish Ave Maria, sung twice on a repeated pitch by the soprano.

Maternal Affection by Adolphe Jourdan c. 1860

Górecki dedicated the work to his wife, Jadwiga Rurańska. He never sought to explain the symphony as a response to a political or historical event. Instead, he maintained that the work is an evocation of the ties between mother and child.

You can certainly feel the fathomless pain of parental separation, as well as the music’s roots in the Holocaust, and indeed every war:

Honestly, I could go on forever, but I think you get the idea!

In his book, The Joy of Music, Leonard Bernstein makes a point about the futility of trying to extract the meaning of music, contending that it stands in a special lonely region, unlit…

The composer and musical artist bring their own ‘wounds’ and life experience to their work. In the process there is catharsis, release, healing, beauty and meaning. For them, and for us.

For violinist Ji-Hae Park, music was part of the pain and the resolution:

One could go as far as to say that a completely happy life provides no substance for a creative individual.

Hirzel, Switzerland by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

I have had my fair share of pain, but also incredible joy, and it makes you appreciate the good times. I’m reminded every day to extract every drop of life from each precious, present moment…

Letting go

Letting go of pain takes patience and practice. At least for me.

When I finally decided I was sick of the perverse way my ego was getting off on my pain, I decided to let it go. I could stand in the fire and not be burnt by it. But that took time and awareness.

In hindsight we can understand how our painful experiences have made us who we are, and how they may have served us, but rarely is this possible when we are in the thick of it.

When we step out of the victim archetype we regain our power.

I find this profound teaching by Dr. David R Hawkins (in terms of the paradigm of Content and Context) really helpful in managing and transcending pain. The best course of action is to focus on the totality of the experience, (context) and not the specifics, (content).  He was a wise and wonderful real-life Yoda!

#BeTheBowl

I recently had a candid chat with a good friend of mine, who happens to be a spiritual coach, and I was relaying what a horrendous first six months of the year I’d had, and how I’d struggled to maintain my usual positive outlook and get back on track with my plans. I put on a humorous slant, relieved that I’d got through it. She listened and smiled, and gave me the most amazing advice.

She said, “Ginny, be the bowl!”

I must have looked a bit dim and confused, because she went on to explain that in Japan, they have a custom of not throwing out damaged or broken things. So a precious vase that may have been knocked over and smashed is glued back together using a special gold lacquer.

Rather than cover up the imperfection of the object or throw it away, they appreciate and celebrate it.

I really love that ethos. The practice is known as Kintsugi.

I thought #BeTheBowl would make a great hashtag  to embrace life in all its manifestations.

We all go through rough patches, but rather than bury the hurt, or wallow in it, we can always bring it into the light to mend it with our personal application of liquid gold.

Our life experience comes moment by moment through our thoughts, emotions, words and deeds, and to expect that it will always be perfect is setting us up for unnecessary suffering. We have to just roll with the punches, knowing that they are coming, but not necessarily how hard, how many, where or when…

It seems a much more reasonable proposition to love and accept each other despite our random gold seams.

#BeTheBowl is my new mantra whenever I’m feeling low or the proverbial hits the fan.

#BeTheBowl helps me see myself and humanity as a work in progress.

Khalil Gibran’s poem On Pain, from his timeless book, The Prophet,  is a great reminder that pain is the divine taking us to a different dimension of life. It’s futile to oppose and resist the inevitable.

The only reason we suffer with our pain is that we don’t want to accept its existence and don’t recognize its value. We think that pain is not fair, that we didn’t deserve to experience it, that perhaps we are being punished for something we have or haven’t done.

My biggest question to God during the depths of my despair was always, ‘why me?’ In truth, pain chooses us when it sees that we are ready for transformation.

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” ~ C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain)

I can’t think of anyone who transformed his pain into such beauty and an enduring legacy more than Beethoven…except Jesus!

As I tell the W.I. ladies whenever I do a fiction talk, there is no greater fodder for your fiction than that of your life, or the lives of loved ones.

Grampians National Park, Australia by Manuel Meurisse on Unsplash

The soul has to be breached to be opened, and wounds do the breaching. The deeper the wound, the richer your story will be, the greater the journey, and the more satisfying the transformation.

This is just as true for real life as it is for fiction.

“Only the wounded physician heals.” ~ Carl Jung

A Brave New (and Hopefully) Best-Selling Cover for The Virtuoso

“There is much to discover that’s not on the back cover!” ~ E.A. Bucchianeri

We’ve all heard the well-worn idiom, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. After all, the phrase goes back to at least the mid-19th century, first printed in the newspaper Piqua Democrat, in June 1867:  

“Don’t judge a book by its cover, see a man by his cloth, as there is often a good deal of solid worth and superior skill underneath a jacket and yaller pants.”

Yet it’s something we all do, whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s even harder to be objective when that cover belongs to your own book!

An author’s emotional connection to their work is usually strong, and sometimes personal preferences can unconsciously override what might be more popular with readers. The challenge is to strike a balance or fusion between the author’s ideas and appealing to the marketplace.

When it comes to covers, whatever will accurately represent the story and arouse a potential reader’s curiosity is the priority.

Some eye-opening stats about the Amazon literary marketplace

Here is a comparison of titles held by the Library of Congress (the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, thought to be the largest library in the world), versus Amazon, the world’s largest online book retailer.

Library of Congress (LOC):

  • Total Books & Printed Material – 14, 602, 487
  • English Titles – 6, 804, 199
  • Titles available online – 199, 160

Amazon:

  • All Books (in stock) – 40 million (2.7 x LOC)
  • English Titles – 10 million (1.5 x LOC)
  • English Kindle Titles – 4, 794, 589 (24 x LOC)

With around 4.8 million English books available on Amazon Kindle, it is by far the largest single platform for ebook sales in the world. A staggering 70,000 new titles are added to Amazon every month, with a 17% growth in book supply every year. Over 2,000 books are launching every day onto this publishing behemoth…

It’s a tough job to create a compelling book cover that’s both eye-catching and unique, in order to stand out in a crowded market and entice readers. It has to embody the story with flair on the outside, and then fulfill the promise of that visual hook on the inside.

The bottom line is, does the book cover create the desire to read it?

A cover plays a major part in helping to differentiate your book from the plethora of titles available online and in book stores.

“In the old days, books had awful covers and marvellous content; nowadays, the opposite happens.” ~ Giacomo Leopardi, Thoughts

Is it greedy to want both a stunning cover and great content? No, I don’t think so. These are the standards professional authors aim to achieve and that readers expect.

There are some amazing and iconic covers out there. Here is a list of the 50 coolest book covers chosen by shortlist.com.

I am hugely excited and a teeny bit trepidatious about changing my literary ‘brand’. The new cover is very different from the first, but that’s a good thing in my opinion. Otherwise, what’s the point in a fresh look?

New front, spine and back cover of The Virtuoso

I asked Oliver Bennett at More Visual Ltd. to redesign the cover of The Virtuoso to include my Publishers Weekly review, and of course, the beautiful contemporary classical soundtrack (embedded on the sidebar), performed by violinist Adelia Myslov.

I think he has done me proud, and I love it. But what I think doesn’t really matter.  It takes creative courage to judge your own book by its cover, and you can only go on your own impressions as well as feedback from others. I’m grateful to those I’ve asked for giving me their honest opinions and suggestions.

Ultimately, artistic design is highly subjective, just like the act of reading itself.

3D view of The Virtuoso

I hope the new design will garner positive comments, and perhaps, (in conjunction with favourable book reviews), help generate more book sales…

If you fancy giving it a go, here are the UK and US Amazon links. The Virtuoso’s new Goodreads page.

I’d be delighted for any feedback from readers: either past, present or possibly future! I am currently offering free digital copies to book reviewers and book lovers who are willing to leave an honest review.

Just drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll email the link. If you prefer to hold a paperback I’d be happy to send you one in the post.

For U.S. based readers I’m running a Goodreads Giveaway of 100 Kindle copies of The Virtuoso between 16th and 24th June. You will be able to enter this giveaway from the link I will post on my sidebar.

#TuesdayBookBlog – How to Make an Author Insanely Happy

“A page-turner and moving journey filled with romance, Burges’s novel shows the possibilities of moving on beyond tragedy.” ~ Publishers Weekly

We authors are a sensitive breed. At least, I know am. Perhaps it’s because of my creative and open nature. Writers live in a world of words and pictures, with scenes floating around and playing out in our heads. Premises come and go; only the most compelling that take root in the depths of our imagination will be used for that next novel. Our heads are full of images: faces, voices, characters, traits, plots, places, descriptions, all coalescing and escalating to a breathtaking climax before breakfast. No, not that sort!

oscar-wilde-quote-a-writer-is-someone-who-has-taught-his-mind-to

As Ernest Hemingway said with a hint of satire: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Not literally I hope, but sometimes it feels like my head will explode. You craft your stories as best you can, edit them, get them read, incorporate feedback, edit and rewrite, get more feedback and go on until you’ve reached the end of your tether and just want to get the darn thing published.

You’ve probably gathered I don’t possess the patience of a saint!

virtuoso-kindle-no-bleed-2

Some writers are blessed with quick minds, maybe if they have no other work or family commitments they can churn out a book every year. It took me five to finally publish my debut novel, The Virtuoso. It was a labour of love. But that doesn’t mean to say I don’t care about its journey out into the big, wide, literary world.

With upwards of a million books on Amazon and the empowerment Indie publishing brings to many aspiring writers, it’s tougher than ever to stand out among the noise as a first time author.

oscar-wilde-quote-in-old-days-books-were-written-by-men-of-letters

I know if I could just get The Virtuoso featured on Classic FM or BBC Radio 3 I’d be in with a fighting chance of reaching many of my potential readers through the medium of music. After all, music is at the core of my novel, and so is an irresistible story. Sadly, I don’t have a large marketing budget to afford the advertising and an unknown author is a bit of a risk for the big radio stations.

And now to the question of how to make an author insanely happy: it’s twofold really, read their book and write an honest, constructive review. Social proof is the best way for a fledgling author to win new readers and build up a fan base so that they can hit the ground running with their next novel. Writers spend many hours obsessing over their ‘babies’ and want nothing more than to enrich readers’ lives with their work.

oscar-wilde-on-writing-and-creativity-22-638

I haven’t found the process of marketing my book entirely comfortable, I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but it is certainly easier to sound off someone else’s!

Hence my unashamed promotion of my first major book review; an awesome endorsement from industry giant, Publishers Weekly. When I submitted The Virtuoso for a review on their BookLife platform I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. It was highlighted that many, many books were sent to them and only a select few would be chosen for a review.

oscar-wilde-quote-there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-moral-or-an-immoral

Imagine my delight when I received this email from BookLife yesterday!

Dear Ms. Burges,

The Publishers Weekly review for your book, The Virtuoso, ran on Nov. 14th:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-9930777-1-5

Thank you for submitting your book for review to Publishers Weekly. Of the hundreds of self-published titles received each month, only a handful of the very best are selected for review.

Thank you also for being a part of the BookLife community. We hope you will continue to use all of the resources at BookLife.com to support your work as an author.

Sincerely,

BookLife.com

Here it is:

publishers-weekly-review-cropped

Dare I finish by saying that the thing that would send this particular author into the stratosphere, would be to have a film adaptation made of The Virtuoso.

My dream cast

My readers tell me they think it would make a fantastic film. My dream cast would be Keira Knighly in the main role as Isabelle Bryant, the heroine of my novel. She has the perfect blend of spirit, talent, vulnerability, courage and beauty, (both inner and outer) to play the beleaguered violinist. her Her box office appeal doesn’t hurt either!

Sharon D. Clarke is the only woman I can visualise as the larger than life jazz singer, Hortense Lafayette. I think Damian Lewis could bring the right amount of the narcissist and tortured soul to conductor Howard Miller’s character. I’m not sure about Daniel Carter. Maybe someone like Hugh Grant could fill his shoes.

There are some wonderful locations as well, such as Madeira, New York, Vienna and London.

hofburg-palace

If you’ve read The Virtuoso, thank you, and if you’ve left me a review on Amazon or Goodreads, thank you from the bottom of my heart! Do feel free to share your ideal cast for the film adaptation, I’m open to suggestions…

I can always dream can’t I!?

At least the music soundtrack has already been recorded!

How to be More Motivated and Successful After Rejection

“Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” ~ Isaac Asimov

You may ask, what can an author who’s sold more than 450 million books, as well as providing the content and inspiration for the behemoth that is the blockbuster series of Harry Potter movies, teach me about being rejected?

I would venture to say quite a bit actually. JK Rowling certainly inspired me to keep going, albeit not down the same path, but you’d imagine because of her stellar success she wouldn’t know anything about rejection – but you’d be wrong.

Rowling was rejected numerous times when she began approaching literary agents with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’ll bet they’re kicking themselves now.

rsz_harry_potter_book

The Christopher Little Literary Agency agreed to represent her, a decision which has more than paid off! The rest, as they say, is history.

Rejections under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith

Many of us are aware that JK Rowling didn’t have immediate success when she approached agents and publishers with her first Harry Potter adventure.

Despite those rejections, the best-selling author of the Harry Potter fantasy series and her first adult novel, The Casual vacancy, decided to go incognito for her first foray into crime fiction.

I recently read a newspaper article that highlighted her rejections when she was looking to become published as crime thriller author, Robert Galbraith. When she sent off The Cuckoo’s Calling she came up against the same response as before, and probably some of what you and I have also experienced.

At the request of a fan, only for inspiration purposes and not revenge, JK Rowling revealed some of the responses she received as Robert Galbraith. Here is the reply from publisher Constable and Robinson:

Dear Robert Galbraith,

Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to consider your novel, which we have looked at with interest. However, I regret that we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we could not publish it with commercial success.

At the risk of ‘teaching my grandmother to suck eggs’, may I respectfully suggest the following: Double check in a helpful bookshop, on Amazon or in the twice yearly ‘Buyer’s Guide’ of the Bookseller magazine…who are the publishers now of your fiction category/genre. Call the publishers to obtain the name of the relevant editor…then send to each editor an alluring 200-word blurb (as on book jackets; don’t give away the ending!)…

Owing to pressure of submissions, I regret we cannot reply individually or provide constructive criticism. (A writers’ group/writing course may help with the latter.) May I wish you every success in placing your work elsewhere.

So why would an author who is reportedly worth £580 million put herself through that kind of torment? Rowling states: ‘I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try.’

It’s thought that twelve publishers turned down Harry Potter in 1996 until Bloomsbury took it on. Rowling pointed out that the same publisher who first rejected Harry Potter had sent the ‘rudest’ response to The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Eventually it was published by Sphere, the same publisher who accepted The Casual Vacancy in 2012. It was released in April 2013 and sold around 450 copies in Britain and a further 1,000 worldwide before the author’s true identity was made public.

rsz_the_silkworm

Rowling has penned two further novels under the Galbraith pen name: The Silkworm and Career of Evil. So even one of the most successful authors of all-time continues to be rejected!

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” ~ Ray Bradbury

Most authors have suffered many rejections. Rejection is part of a writer’s life; it’s how you deal with it that matters.

Rejection - HG Wells

So if you’ve been rejected you’re in great company!

Having been told by an editor that he couldn’t write about women, Stephen King set about penning his grisly epistolary tale of a lonely teenager, Carrie, a vilified misfit with telekinetic powers. King actually rejected himself by binning his first few pages of Carrie, (his fourth novel but first to be published), but his wife Tabitha rescued the pages from his waste paper bin!

Margaret Mitchell had Gone with the Wind rejected 38 times before it was published and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. The movie of ‘Gone with the Wind’ became the most successful film ever made up to that point, and remained the highest earning film for a further 25 years after it was released in December 1939. It won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress.

It’s still the most successful film in box-office history after monetary inflation has been taken into consideration.

Other celebrated and successful authors that were rejected include: Mark Twain, DH Lawrence, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Dan Brown, Beatrix Potter, Agatha Christie, James Redfield, William Golding, George Orwell, John le Carré and Rudyard Kipling to name but a few.

Moby-Dick

Although it’s unpleasant, it seems par for the course that at some point you’ll be rejected, either as a writer, or in any other endeavour you undertake.  If you have the right attitude about it, rejection can inject you with the essential determination and strength of character needed to succeed, as well as helping to hone your skills where appropriate.

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”  ~ Neil Gaiman

When I was ready to put my debut novel, The Virtuoso out there, it was a nerve wracking time. I was a first time author, my confidence was growing but I felt vulnerable and self-conscious. I didn’t know if I had it in me to become a published author or if people would enjoy my book.

Virtuoso-Kindle-no-bleed (2)

These fears have been banished since publication and the growing body of healthy reviews.

Needless to say I had many ‘thanks, but no thanks’ type of replies to my submissions, and some didn’t even bother to respond. After a few months of this soul destroying process I decided to self-publish. Independent authors comprise a significant share of the publishing industry. In this 2015 article, The Bookseller attempts to highlight the size of the self-publishing sector within the industry.

John Lock was the first author to sell over a million ebooks on Amazon. It can be done. There are many avenues an author can pursue, which I’m not going to go into here.

Rejection - JD Rockerfeller

Once I took my future into my own hands I felt better about myself. I was no longer at the mercy of literary agents; I could determine my own path.

The key point is to take positive action and don’t stop believing in yourself. Reading is highly subjective, and as Stephen King rightly pointed out, you can’t please all of the readers all of the time, you can’t even please some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.

If you can do that, you’re up there with the best of them.

I spent years working on my manuscript alongside working and raising a large family, I wasn’t about to ditch my dream because an agent or publisher didn’t feel my work was quite right for them at the time.

In fact, some of my rejection responses spurred me on. I’ll share a couple with you but I won’t say which agents they came from:

Thank you for bearing with me while I took a read of this. The Virtuoso is a window into a fascinating world, and you obviously know your subject very well. I’m afraid I don’t think it’s one for my list – I have to be very selective about what I take on, and to me the focus on relationships and dialogue just felt a little far towards the commercial end of the market for my tastes. Do keep trying it with agents – perhaps have a look in the acknowledgements sections of books that you think are for a similar readership, and see who represents them?

Very best of luck with it.

Dear Ginny,

Thank you for sending me THE VIRTUOSO and for giving me the opportunity to consider your work.

Unfortunately I am not able to offer you representation for your work. Although I thought the premise of the story was engaging, I’m afraid I did not fall in love with the writing, itself, the way I would need to in order to take it on in today’s tough non-fiction marketplace. I am sorry for this response but I feel that an agent must be wholeheartedly and unreservedly behind a book if she hopes to sell it to publishers. These judgements are always subjective and you may well find someone who feels very differently.

Thank you for giving me the chance to consider your work and I wish you luck in your search for a suitable agent to assist you.

Dear Ginny,

Many thanks for sending us this proposal, which I read with interest. I considered it carefully but I’m afraid on balance it just doesn’t quite grab my imagination in the way that it must for me to offer to represent you. So I must follow my instinct and pass on this occasion. I’m really sorry to be so disappointing, but thanks for thinking of us. Of course this is a totally subjective judgement, so do try other agents and I wish you every success.

Dear Ginny,

Thank you for sending in your material to us. We have read and considered your proposal carefully but do not feel it is something we could place successfully in the current publishing climate. Please bear in mind that this is the opinion of one agency alone and that others may feel differently.

We are extremely sorry to disappoint you but we wish you the very best of luck with your future writing.

Dear Virginia

Thank you for sending me your submission. I found your writing engaging, as you do write with real energy and imagination.

Having said that, I am afraid it wasn’t really something that I am currently looking for but I do wish you every success with your submission.

You may be reading this and thinking, ‘But I’m not an author so this isn’t relevant to me.’ However you can still apply the principles of not giving up, determination, re-evaluation and persistence to whatever project you’re working on.

Here’s a great motivational video by Prince Ea if you need help in that department!

We can all take a leaf out of Scarlett O’Hara’s book – after all, tomorrow is another day!

“I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, ‘To hell with you.’“ ~ Saul Bellow

5 Valuable Lessons I Learned From Writing a Novel

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

When someone reads a book they are going on a journey. That person has invested hours of their life travelling in the mind of the author, wanting nothing more than to reach the end if it’s an exciting adventure…

Book and hands closeup

The fictional dream is a powerful phenomenon. There’s been many a time I couldn’t stand not knowing what was going to happen next because I was totally engrossed in a story. Equally there were moments when my imagination was in overdrive and I was writing so fast there must have been steam coming off my keyboard.

Just as the benefits of reading impact on the reader, the action of writing imbues blessings on the writer.

I’m willing to bet even famous and seasoned novelists still get a rush of joy when they read a good review of their work. It’s a kind of validation that the thing they love doing and can’t live without is somehow contributing to another person’s life in a positive way.

Twitter_-_stephanie_comments

That’s certainly the case for me as a newbie author. But beyond those feel good factors there are some profound and deep things I discovered about myself in the process of writing and publishing The Virtuoso, that go way beyond recognition or financial success.

It may not be a literary masterpiece in the same ilk as Hilary Mantel’s, or as epic as War and Peace, but it’s my story, told with my ‘voice’.

In the spirit of sharing I thought it would be helpful to list my personal lessons, in case you were thinking of writing your magnum opus or best-seller this year! It could equally apply to any large project that you have decided to undertake in 2016.

  1. I’m a finisher. The first time I wrote the words The End a feeling of euphoria swept over me, but alas, it didn’t last very long! When I saw the quality of my first draft I was less than impressed and soon realised that it was going to take an awful lot of hard work to produce something of a respectable standard. After umpteen late nights, a further three drafts and two professional edits my 100,000 word manuscript was ready to go out into the big wide world.  So what if it took a few years of consistent effort alongside my daily life; what means more to me is that I completed it.
  2. I have more courage than I thought I did. Sending your carefully crafted words out there is scary as hell! What if people don’t like what you’ve written? Neuroses plagued me. But I reasoned that ultimately it wasn’t important what people thought of me as a writer, the only thing that mattered was the book. The message not the messenger. After my book was published I did three radio interviews, which the thought of doing absolutely terrified me at first. I spent most of last year way out of my comfort zone. But action cures fear. I was doing things I had never done before and conquering them, which is incredibly liberating and expands one’s horizons and confidence.
  3. The act of writing made me believe in myself. Although I visualised my book in print, I didn’t dwell on thinking about writing, I just did it. That created a real shift in my perception and before long my abilities. My creativity blossomed under the hat of hard work. I met and worked with two incredibly talented people as a result of my ‘creation’. The wonderful violinist Adelia Myslov and film composer Tim Johnson collaborated with me to write and perform a unique classical soundtrack to accompany The Virtuoso. Creativity begets creativity…
  4. I developed patience and perseverance. That lesson didn’t come easily either. I’ve had to work at becoming more patient and my book tested me to the limit! The time it took to write the thing, then get feedback, then polish and get more feedback and so on seemed interminable.  Had it not been a labour of love I never would have stuck at it. Even the submission stage was a lengthy process, never mind how long it took to build up some reviews. They were worth waiting for as it turned out.
  5. I learnt to trust my instincts and to forgive myself for my mistakes. Perfection is great to aim for, but in reality we sometimes have to settle for our best at the time. Our maiden voyage in any endeavour is likely to be a little awkward and unsure. Can you remember the first time you rode a bike, drove a car, made love, played a musical instrument or learnt a new skill? Maybe you fell off a few times, fumbled nervously, dropped a few notes and irritated another driver with that daring manoeuvre at the roundabout? So too it is with writing and publishing a book. No experience is ever wasted; you just don’t always get what you expect from it, but rather what you need instead.

Ultimately your lessons will be unique to you, depending on where you’re coming from and they’ll probably surprise you.

Somehow the right people came into my life at the right time, and the support was there when I needed it. I’m very grateful to Satin Publishing for unleashing my words, and everyone who’s been a part of my writing/publishing journey.

Above all, I’ve managed to widen back and go with the flow a bit more. On the other hand, if you do feel inclined to read The Virtuoso I’d be very happy indeed!

And if you also wrote a review I’d be ecstatic!

I’ll leave you with the music that only exists because of the dream that was The Virtuoso

So, whatever you’re planning to achieve this year, go for it!

“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” ~ J.K. Rowling

Chatting about #NaNoWriMo, Writing and #TheVirtuoso Live on Marlow FM

I’m going to let my voice do all the talking on this post!

I’d like to say a big thank you to Jean Wolfe (@jeanspark) for having me as her guest on Friday 6th November to talk about writing on her BizBuzz show. Jean broadcasts every Friday afternoon at 2 pm on Marlow FM.  She was such a warm, welcoming and knowledgeable host and I really enjoyed our conversation.

Jean at Marlow FM

The goal of NaNoWriMo is write 50K words in a month! I’m using this month to get my next trilogy of novels off the ground.

I don’t want to repeat everything we discussed on air, so without further ado here is the link to the interview which will be available with all the music interludes for the next three weeks.

I was delighted to be on my local radio station Marlow FM (@MarlowFM), especially as there are a few scenes in The Virtuoso that take place in the town!

in the Marlow FM studio

And before I forget, here is Schubert’s marvellous String Quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’ (same title as my next trilogy) that we discussed in the interview:

Thanks for listening! I’d appreciate any constructive feedback, I did make an effort not to um and ah too much…

An Evening of Words, Music, Celebration and Chocolate: The Official Book Launch for The Virtuoso

“You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.” ~ Stephen King (On Writing)

Virtuoso Book Launch-019 (1)After weeks of planning my big day was finally here: 25th June 2015 – Book Launch Day.  My stomach had been in turmoil all week, but I was strangely calm on the morning of the event. It felt reminiscent of planning a wedding and I didn’t want to turn into the literary equivalent of bridezilla!

After all, my launch party was meant to be fun, a celebration of getting The Virtuoso into print, and an acknowledgement of the many years of hard work that had gone into its creation. But I still felt I had a lot riding on it. I didn’t want to mess up in front of my family, friends and esteemed colleagues who were waiting expectantly, all dressed up in their glad rags, except for my brother!

It was my chance to let the world know why they should read The Virtuoso, and I had to get over the fact that I wrote it and just be the messenger…

I had lived and breathed my labour of love for the last few years, and now it was time to unleash it on the lovely people who came to support and celebrate with me.

I planned the event as meticulously as I could amidst my busiest month of the year so far. I’d had an extremely manic time with my family; two birthdays, one delayed birthday treat, one school trip to Waterloo, one book launch and a trip to the Royal Albert Hall all within days of each other.

Inevitably, some key people couldn’t make the event and I had to roll with it. At one point I was panicking that I’d just be speaking to my mum! In the end there were about forty guests, so my fears were unfounded.

I went to the hairdressers early in the morning; I didn’t want to risk a bad hair day! Mum and I got to the venue as early as we could, I had lots of helium balloons to inflate, tables to decorate, books to display. It was a real treat having my makeup done for me just beforehand.

The Location

Danesfield House Hotel is the sort of hotel that my protagonist, Isabelle Bryant, would have frequented! It’s nestled on a hillside between Marlow and Henley with magnificent views over the River Thames.

Virtuoso Book Launch-151

The hotel has an interesting history, as well as having played host to George and Amal Clooney for their UK wedding celebration last year. Me and my gang weren’t Hollywood A-Listers, but they still gave us a warm welcome and treated us with impeccable service.

Virtuoso Book Launch-150

It was a happy moment for me when my family arrived to join me. My youngest, Ruby, was just so sweet, she couldn’t hide her excitement and was galloping around the grounds.

Virtuoso Book Launch-035

“Mummy, this hotel is really posh. Even the bushes are posh.”

Virtuoso Book Launch-140

On arrival my guests were greeted with a hug and served with chilled Prosecco. The doors of the Chiltern Suite open out onto the terrace, and luckily the weather was amazing so everyone was able to sun themselves in warm, balmy air and relax a little before the formal part of the evening got underway.

Virtuoso Book Launch-041

I was doing anything but relaxing! I had to get through a 20 minute presentation…

Robert Clay did a brilliant introduction for me, and then it was time to step on to the stage. I made a joke of my knees knocking together under my long black gown with exaggerated movements, which got a few titters, and then I was off! I was mighty relieved to get a hearty round of applause at the end. Luckily everyone seemed to find it interesting and enjoy themselves.

Virtuoso Book Launch-069

After that canapes and drinks were served and the audience were treated to a rendition of the music soundtrack which was written especially for the book. One guest even took the score home to play on her piano.

Virtuoso Book Launch-084

The music is now available to download and stream on Amazon, iTunes (listed under soundtracks on the store) and on Spotify. Search for Tim Johnson – The Virtuoso (feat. Adelia Myslov).

Then the beautiful, large and mouthwatering chocolate cake was cut and I became engaged in signing books…

Virtuoso Book Launch-006 (1)

Not bad for a girl who only wanted to take up the violin because her best friend at school had started lessons, having quickly discovered that she loved it! Out of accidental encounters passions can grow…

Virtuoso Book Launch-121

However – as is usually the case with life – as soon as you find yourself on a high there is someone ready to take you down a peg or two!

Only a few days later I had the absolute worst review on my Amazon page.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and this person didn’t hold back about how bad they thought the book was. I felt devastated. But, like most authors who I’m sure at some point have endured a cruel slur about their work, I just had to pick myself up, dust myself off and try not to feel like giving up.

They made a point about the price differentiation which I can explain. It was not done deliberately! When I originally set the price my publisher was in favour of £8.99 but I wanted to keep it below £8. However, when I made the book available in paperback with Amazon the minimum price they allowed me to charge was $15.99/£8.67.

A bigger book means higher costs. The Amazon paperback version is over 400 pages in length. So the cover will now be amended to show a price of £8.99. I hope you’ll read it and agree it’s worth the money, but I won’t hold it against you if you don’t…

I’m in the process of uploading the photo gallery onto my Facebook page.

It just remains for me to thank my family, friends and everyone who helped to make my book launch a really special evening filled with joy and excitement!

As well as the thanks I owed to everyone who helped me with the book, mainly my publisher, Nicky Fitzmaurice at Satin Paperbacks, and Gary Smailes at Bubblecow and Caroline Jacques for her fabulous cover. I’m also grateful to Liz Britnell for the tasty three tiered chocolate cake, Alison Oswald for making me feel like a movie star, Becky Rui for her amazing photographs of the event, Joanne Howe for her help with my press release, Anke Exnor for some pre-book launch encouragement, Sylvia Baldock and my Athena colleagues for their kind support and Robert Clay for all his mentoring over the years and for giving me a wonderful introduction!

If the majority of reviews remain positive then it will give me the impetus to continue with my next project; a trilogy of psychological thrillers.

There may be a radio interview coming up soon too…

I’m going to finish with a quote from James Patterson, an author who has sold 300 million copies of 130 novels worldwide:

“One of the nice things about books as opposed to television and movies to some extent, is it’s not a passive entertainment. People really do get involved, and they do create, and they do have their own visions of what different characters look like and what should happen. It’s great – it means their brains are working.”

#TheVirtuoso – First the Book, Now the Music!

“When you play a violin piece, you are a storyteller, and you’re telling a story.” ~ Joshua Bell

I’ve been itching to write this post for weeks….

Paradoxically, now the time is here I’m slightly lost for words. I have many superlatives for the work of film/TV composer Tim Johnson and virtuoso violinist Adelia Myslov, and to tell the truth, I feel quite emotional…

In a good way I hasten to add!

Whenever I listen to the superb soundtrack that Tim and Adelia created I can hardly contain myself. The music is playing on a continuous loop inside my head alongside the events of the novel.

After I finished writing The Virtuoso I knew I wanted to have an original piece of music written for it. To tell the story of a violinist and not have a musical narrative to complement it seemed somehow incomplete.

Virtuoso iTunes Cover ONLINE ARTWORK (2)

The journey so far…

Adelia and I met last summer after one of her concerts – she had just given a tear-inducing performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin concerto – and I was bowled over by her talent. We met briefly afterwards, and I wrote about her in one of my early posts: Gem of a violinist illuminates Church Concert. We hooked up on Twitter, and Adelia read my book prior to publication.

I was quaking in my boots, I can tell you. Luckily she enjoyed it, and endorsed how ‘real’ it was, so I was relieved that a virtuoso violinist had authenticated the musical aspects of my story. I suggested it would be wonderful if she could play the ‘theme’ for it, and to my absolute delight Adelia agreed!

We met up to discuss the project, and Adelia put me in touch with Tim (who she met while studying at the Royal College of Music), and the rest, as they say, is history!

About Tim

Tim began playing classical guitar at the age of 9, then moved to electric shortly after. He has always enjoyed music that was loud and fast, regardless of the genre, be it punk, metal, drum and bass or Bach.

Tim JohnsonOn track to study as a sports scientist in college, Tim did a U-turn and decided he wanted to be a professional musician. He completed his music technology A-level in just one year (instead of the usual two), alongside a traditional A-level; after which he gained a place at the University of Hertfordshire to study for a B.Sc. in commercial music composition and technology. During that time he discovered a love for writing film music.  He always enjoyed listening to it, but it was during his time at university when he decided that it was the career for him. Tim left Hertfordshire with a 1st Class Honours degree.

Despite fierce competition in the world of film composition Tim managed to write for a few adverts and other jobs when he started out, but in light of how tough it was to get hired he decided he should continue his education. He was accepted into the Royal College of Music to study Musical Composition for Screen under Francis Shaw.

Along with a good friend, Konstantine Pope, Tim was the first student to be allowed to use the main concert hall for a live electronic concert, with full orchestra, rock band, electronics and a cinema screen with visuals.

“They obviously saw enough potential in me. The experience was incredible and I learned a colossal amount, about how to write good music, about the industry, about networking and communicating with musicians… respect for musicians and their talents.”  ~ Tim Johnson

Since then, Tim has written music (or created sound design) for AAA games, trailers, movies and of course, for The Virtuoso!

The Brief

I explained to Tim that I wanted a unique theme with a classical feel to it, perhaps a little Beethovenesque (due to his part in the novel), that would serve three aims: to dramatise the story, give the listener an idea of Isabelle’s character and also a musical experience of the overall essence of The Virtuoso.

After we recorded the music Tim told me about how he initially struggled with the concept of a virtuosic piece, and the idea of playing notes for the sake of playing them. He confided in a respected colleague; the conductor and film composer, Nic Raine, who advised him that just a single note can sound virtuosic; it’s how the musician plays the note that matters, it’s their interpretation that makes the difference. He said that Tim should concentrate on a memorable theme. His advice clearly paid off!

Tim has done that and more, with a divine melody that Adelia has brought to life on her 18th Century Lorenzo Storioni violin, crafted in Cremona.

Adelia's Storioni Violin

Adelia’s Storioni Violin

As an aside, I recently learned that Arnold Steinhardt (the leader of the legendary Guarneri Quartet), also plays on a Storioni violin.

The Music

The theme has three distinct parts, akin to the novel. The beginning has a very upbeat feel. You immediately hear Isabelle’s virtuosity on the violin, as well as a sense of her personal struggle, culminating in a flurry of semiquaver passages ending with the dramatic chords synonymous with her terrible accident. It then proceeds in a minor key with the most heart rending melody. This is my favourite part of the composition.

Adelia plays this movement incredibly soulfully. Her performance is laden with powerful vibrato and a profound palette of emotional colours, reflecting the time of deep sadness, devastation and introspection for Isabelle; delivered with flawless intonation in a smooth legato style. The tone she gets from her Storioni is so full and resonant.

The finale returns to the opening theme and changes key into C major. There are some incredible semibreve and minim high notes (she makes her Storioni sing, even at the top of the fingerboard in 8th position), which has the effect of fully immersing the listener in Isabelle’s fateful journey before ending on a similar note to the novel.

The Recording

Adelia in action2We got together over the May Bank Holiday to record it. I’m full of admiration for Adelia; both as a person and as a musician. She had the difficult task of playing a demanding piece alongside a backing track with a large microphone in front of her. To play normally is one thing, but to play so beautifully and at a fast tempo wearing chunky headphones is quite another!

Eat your heart out Jascha Heifetz!

As a much in demand concert violinist, her energy and enthusiasm during the recording process – and indeed for the whole project – has been nothing short of miraculous.

“I am grateful to have met Virginia and to have been part of Isabelle’s story through music. Her novel, The Virtuoso is powerful, beautiful, and very human; and sure to touch many hearts like it did mine.” ~ Adelia Myslov

I couldn’t imagine anyone else telling the musical story of The Virtuoso quite like Adelia does.

We were able to take sections of the score and make sure we were happy with the result before moving on to the next phrase. Tim, in his sound wizardry, was able to take all the best bits and put it together in this finished version.

The Official Soundtrack

In a few weeks the official soundtrack to The Virtuoso will be available to purchase on Amazon and iTunes alongside the novel.

I put together a You Tube video to showcase the music, but please do support the artists by purchasing the track if you like it as much as I do!

When I started writing The Virtuoso I could never have imagined that Isabelle’s theme would be so exquisite and encapsulate so perfectly the story I have written. Bravo Tim and Adelia!

I’m so grateful to them for working with me and sharing their immense talents on The Virtuoso.

I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the music, please do leave a comment or get in touch. I know it would mean a lot to Tim and Adelia as well.

I now have a book launch to organise! Until the next time folks…

The Path to Publication

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” ~ Virginia Woolf

When I was eleven I had a nasty accident at school. It was positively gruesome. I remember the day vividly; my class had just come back from a P.E. lesson and we were making our way into the changing rooms. I wanted to tell my best friend something (I can’t even remember what it was), and in my haste to talk to her I placed my right hand next to the hinge of the door as she was closing it. Only I didn’t quite have my finger out of the way…

PhotoFunia-The Virtuoso2The ensuing carnage must have been quite a shock for my head teacher, who was greeted by a very pale screaming girl, with the end of her finger missing and copious amounts of blood flowing everywhere.  The trail of blood running from the girls changing room to the classroom must have been redolent of a murder scene. The whole of Bledlow Ridge Primary School knew that something quite grisly had just happened.  He duly picked up the top of my finger and wrapped it up (I never asked what in), and I was driven straight to hospital. The car journey was awful, I was clutching my tawdry severed finger, and as the initial shock wore off the pain grew in intensity.

It wasn’t a clean separation, and I was told that they would try and sew it back on. My mum and my family came to see me before the anaesthetic to reassure me. I had never been under before, and I was terrified I would never wake up again, as the anaesthetist counted down from ten. By the time he reached five I was out cold.

When I regained consciousness my finger was throbbing in agony and I felt groggy. The wonderful get well cards made by my classmates helped to cheer me up in the aftermath of my surgery. The only consolation was that I’m left handed, so it could have been worse, and I got to have quite a bit of time off school.

My mum dug those handmade cards out of her loft recently. They still bring a smile to my face. I remember I couldn’t play netball for months, (which I was absolutely gutted about) and when the bandages eventually came off I was shocked to see that the top of my right index finger wasn’t actually recognisable as a finger. The nerve endings gave me hell in the cold. It was like needle points stabbing my flesh until it went numb.

Needless to say, I have a thing about fingers and doors, and my kids have received several lectures about the dangers of getting a digit caught!

In the midst of my trauma little was I to know that the experience would surface many years later from the depth of my psyche, to provide my muse with inspiration for the misfortune of my first heroine and protagonist of my novel, The Virtuoso.

So you could say the idea has been brewing for a good many years!  Eleven was also the age when I started learning to play the violin. I can’t help thinking that the foundations of the path to publication were laid in 1981…

Stepping Out Onto the Worldwide Amazon Stage

New Kindle Cover

New Kindle Cover

I’m happy to announce that The Virtuoso has now been published on Amazon Kindle today, Monday 15th December 2014 at a launch price of £3.59. There will also be a paperback version available on Amazon next year. (US Link)

I’m sure I’ll feel a certain amount of satisfaction that I made it this far, for persevering over the seven years it’s taken me (on and off) to complete The Virtuoso, so that I can finally say my work in progress is now a work in print!

I’m now at the stage where I’m excited that my work can open the door to other related creative pursuits. I was fortunate to meet and hear the violin virtuoso, Adelia Myslov in the summer. She played a stunning performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. I asked her if she would be interested in playing a specially composed unique ‘theme’ for The Virtuoso, and to my delight she said yes! The music project is still ongoing and I hope it will be composed and recorded in the not too distant future. Eventually it will be available on iTunes and Amazon.

There is also a book trailer that has been produced for The Virtuoso by 13Media Arts in Daventry. Along with my voice, words and pictures, and Kevin and Darren’s digital jiggery pokery (I mean expertise), I am hoping it will prove to be a successful team effort!

During these years I’ve battled my demons of self-doubt that I could actually be a writer, and a half decent one at that. Well, I’ll leave the judging to my readers (I do hope I have some soon), after all, my daughter Emily is telling everyone she knows: ‘my mum is an author.’

The path to publication hasn’t always been like the yellow brick road! At times I had so many other ‘distractions’ beckoning for my attention; mainly life happening around me. But I found that the more time and effort I put into it,  the more I got sucked into my characters’ world of make-believe, and the more I felt as if I was becoming a proper writer.

“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King

Guarneri (del Gesù), Stradivari and Nagyvary – The Debate over Ancient Violins vs. Modern Masterpieces

“’Tis God gives skill, but not without men’s hand: He could not make Antonio Stradivarius’s violins without Antonio.” ~ George Eliot

When it comes to the value of violins, (and for that matter violas and cellos); provenance matters. The allure of such revered names is enough to send any stringed player into a frenzy…

Ultimately, the quality and rarity of Amati, Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins will render them more expensive than their modern counterparts, no matter how good and comparable the modern violins may be. With only around 600 Stradivarius instruments left in the world not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to play on one, (at least all of the time), let alone own one. And of course, the provenance greatly affects the asking price. Who has owned it, and when, who has played on it, what music has been written for it, the condition, these elements all add to the mystique and desirability of the instrument. Much like a work of art, a painting is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. And in many instances they pay millions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPaganini’s violin, the priceless ‘Il Cannone’ was made by a contemporary of Stradivarius; Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri of Cremona, in 1743, and is famed for its power and resonance. Interestingly, when it needed maintenance and repairs, these were undertaken by luthier Jean Baptiste Vuillaume in Paris, who constructed a replica violin so precise in every detail that even Paganini could not distinguish one from the other! Eventually he came to recognise the slight differences in tone, and was able to tell the original by sound. The violin and its replica are kept on display in Italy at the Genoa Town Hall. Occasionally it’s lent to performers.

The Devils’s Violinist (trailer) – A film about Paganini, played by violinist David Garrett:

Jazz violinist Regina Carter recorded an album on his beloved ‘Il Cannone’ (Paganini: After a Dream). Here is the track After a Dream arranged from Faure’s classic:

The debate over the sound quality of ancient Italian violins compared with each other and mostly to their modern counterparts has endured for years. Virtuosos past and present, such as Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Nigel Kennedy, Midori and Sarah Chang have owned, or played, and in some cases preferred, Guarneri over Stradivari.

Amati violinWho can say exactly what that special ‘je ne sais quois’ is, that elevates the Cremonese creations from all other violins? There are so many aspects to making a stringed instrument, and to me it makes sense that skill in every area of construction affects the finished product.

I think it’s worth making the point that for most musicians it’s the relationship that they develop with their instrument that’s the most important thing. After so many hours of practice and performance the feel and touch and memory of every curve and angle is interwoven into your psyche, and it can feel like part of your body!

My own violin is Hungarian, (late 19th Century), and to me its tone is amazing, considering it’s probably a gypsy violin. That’s why I was so interested in the story of the Hungarian born Dr. Joseph Nagyvary.

As the violinist and heroine of my novel, Isabelle Bryant does get a little caught up in this debate. In my story, she plays the Nagyvary violin that was once played by Yehudi Menuhin.

Here’s a brief excerpt that touches on this subject from chapter 1 of The Virtuoso. The protagonist has just given a masterclass at the Royal Academy of Music:

She made her way south on the underground from Baker Street to London Victoria. The dreary grey sky hung like a heavy cloak over the platform. As the train jolted to halt she quickly found a seat by the window, and nestled her case vertically between her feet and knees. As more passengers entered the carriage she touched the edge of her violin case lightly, smiling with resigned humour as a passing stranger made a joke about her carrying a machine gun.

Her violin represented another limb to her, it was that precious. It felt so natural, like an extension of her body. She gently rubbed her neck which was feeling a little sore. The rough, red patch of skin on her neck just below her jaw was often mistaken for a love bite, when in fact it was what she affectionately referred to as a violinist’s hickey. Many hours of gruelling practise had left their marks.

Her mind drifted to her earlier private viewing of the Academy’s museum, where she had been shown round by the curator in person. She had spent a blissful afternoon paying particular awe and reverence to their recent acquisition of Italian virtuoso Giovanni Battista Viotti’s 1709 Stradivarius, renamed as the Viotti ex-Bruce to honour its British donor, which the Academy extolled as one of the most important and well preserved Stradivarius violins in the world.

She had studied the sheen of the dark, pinky brown maple, picturing the old master craftsman huddled in his workshop in northern Italy; surrounded by the distinctive wooden shapes that would become so valuable over three hundred years later. Sadly there were so few of them remaining.

Her own violin, a modern Nagyvary, was crafted by the eminent Hungarian professor Joseph Nagyvary, who had spent his life studying the craftsmanship of Cremonese violin makers; namely Stradivarius and Guarnerius.

Nagyvary violins were made as closely to those of the ancient genius as possible, and there had been many debates about whether or not they actually sounded as good as those of the master. Isabelle adored its sonorous tonal qualities and projection power. If a Nagyvary violin had been good enough for Yehudi Menuhin to play for fifteen years, then it was good enough for her. Gerry, in his nothing is too much of a challenge for me attitude, had managed to do a deal with Joseph Nagyvary to loan Isabelle the instrument indefinitely.  It was her most precious possession – except that she didn’t own it.

Here is an interesting article in Scientific American

Can you tell the difference?

Dr Nagyvary discovers what preserved the violins from Cremona and Venice:

The Stradivarius Mystique – By Joseph Nagyvary

New York Times Article: What Exalts Stradivarius? Not Varnish, Study Says

Smithsonian: Scanning a Stradivarius

List of Stradivarius Violins and their provenance

Wonderful video from the Library of Congress with Peter Sheppard Skaerved, an award winning British violinist, who has performed on ‘Il Cannone’ five times.

An Introduction to Stradivari:

The mystery and romance of centuries old Italian violins has filtered into film making, with the brilliant 1998 movie, The Red Violin. The actual violin that inspired the Red Violin is Stradivari’s 1721 ‘Red Mendelssohn’, currently owned by Elizabeth Pitcairn, heiress to the PPG fortune, whose grandfather purchased it for her 16th birthday at auction for $1.7 million at Christie’s in London.

And on that note, I will leave you with the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack to the film, composed by John Corigliano and performed by Joshua Bell on his Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius: