Composing for Aubrey


Please Note:

I’ve included the recording of the latest musical work-in-progress below this article.


As editor Kendra Guidolin has been reading the novel, she’s consistently expressed a desire to know more about Aubrey Holloway, the young woman who has written the manuscript which Constable Phil Owens is reading to search for anything that may shed light on her suicide three days earlier.


Originally, pre-website, I had an Aubrey storyline created, and in this storyline, as well as being a writer, Aubrey was also a pianist with a passion for composing but had abandoned her music for a reason still unknown to me.  A fortnight before launching the website, I axed Aubrey’s thread with the pretext that it cluttered up a story already flip-flopping between two main storylines, the modern (with Phil), and the Victorian (with Aubrey’s ancestors in the manuscript Aubrey has written).  And after all, it can be irritating for an author, even a dead fictional one, to stand in the way of her story.  The best way to come to know a writer is through their characters, is it not?


And yet, even before I’d heard Kendra’s request to know Aubrey beyond her role as Writer of the Manuscript, I’d ached a little every time I thought of Aubrey lying cold in the mortuary adjacent to the police station where Phil is reading.  And I wasn’t aching solely for the fictional fact that Aubrey was another bright light gone too soon by way of her own hand, I was aching because of all the characters in this saga-in-progress, deep down I knew that Aubrey, as the writer of the Victorian manuscript, was the most autobiographical, the most like me.  And if she’d truly given up her music, as was the case in the axed storyline, she was even more like me.  And if, as Kendra requested, I was to bring Aubrey to life, I’d have to begin exploring why she gave up music.  To explore that, I’d have to delve into why I had given it up. And that would be painful because it would mean a close examination of why we give up dreams, those things we thought were a given when we were eight, nine, ten years old.  It was easier to keep Aubrey locked away, half-frozen in the mortuary, and let her characters speak on her behalf.


This past autumn, once a good part of the novel was posted on the website, and with Kendra’s request becoming a mainstay in my mind, I sat down and wrote an honest account of my creative journey, with a focus on writing and music.  It was important for me to shift that journey out of memory and onto the page.  Once I did that, I opened the piano lid for the first time in many years, sat down on the bench, and began to play around, seeing if I could find a melody somewhere in the keyboard.  To my surprise, I found one fairly quickly, and kept working away at it for the following couple of weeks.  If you scroll back to “Composing Music for an Interdisciplinary Novel”, the first article on this MUSIC section of the website, you can hear those autumn compositions along with a recording of me playing one of my adolescent creations at the age of sixteen.


Around the same time, I began to tackle the Aubrey storyline in the novel.  This meant I was writing in the day and playing the piano at night.  And then, the unexpected happened: the more I practised the piano, the more I came to see that Aubrey Holloway hadn’t given up her music at all; she’d been composing right up until her death.  The more I excavated the music buried in myself, the more it became part of Aubrey’s identity now, not in the distant past.  At the hour of her untimely death, she’d been both writer and composer.  I also realised that in composing music for her, I was, after a quarter of a century, composing again for myself.


And let’s be clear.  This music that’s surfacing from me isn’t concert-hall material.  My recordings are still amateur and the piano itself, a 1936 Chappell Grand, insists on defying the piano tuner with a squeaky pedal and a buzzing harp.  But, if you end up reading the novel, you’ll see that one of the key themes in the story is the resuscitation of the artistic voice suffocated, sometimes by valiant causes, other times by tragedies or the insecurity-born cruelty of others, but more often than not, by the daily grind of an ordinary life.  With that in mind, these first compositions, still unpolished and imperfect, like the novel-in-development, are not just for Aubrey Holloway, they’re also for myself, and, of course, for you if you should happen to hear them.