Tag Archives: research

Research: Music Folklore and History

With Kitty and Cadaver book scheduled for a June release, I thought I’d share some of my reference books on music that I dip into for it. (And will continue to use for a sequel!)

Apart from the medieval research I did for “Hoorfrost” (which is in the Scar Tissue and Other Stories collection) and my reading on water-related British folklore (that’s for the as yet unwritten second K&C book), I need from time to time to refer to music-related folklore that I might adapt for the history of the band, as well as more practical references to musical instruments and trends throughout the ages.

Music Through the Looking Glass is a kind of modern lexicon – perhaps it can be seen as ‘folklore’ if you squint. It’s “a very personal dictionary of Musician’s jargon, shop-talk and nicknames, and a mine of information about musical curiosities, strange instruments, word origins, odd facts, orchestral players’ lore and wicked stories about the music profession’.

For example, there is a condition called “cellist’s nipple’ (cured through the use of a more padded bra) and “flautist’s chin” (an allergic reaction to the silver) and “fiddler’s neck”, which can look like a love bite.

Apparently “domino thumper” was a 19th century music hall slang term for a pianist and “licorice stick” was an American nickname for the clarinet.

The Larousse Encyclopedia of Music is a much more sensible book, and I got it so I could look at more historically accurate elements of music when I’m writing stories set during the band’s 700 year history. I haven’t had to use it much yet.

I’m more fond of Troubadour’s Storybag, as I’m looking for folk tales that I can adapt as having a “true story” involving a band with the magic gift of the Minstrel Tongue.

The stories retold come from all over the world – Nigeria, Greece, New Zealand, Japan, the US and Turkey, among others. The Dancing Shoes are there, and The Pied Piper, but also stories of singing bones, magic fiddles, nightingales and flutes.

All in all, I wish I’d had more call to dip into these research books. Perhaps I need to randomly select entries and use them as prompts for some short stories set in the Kitty and Cadaver universe.

Do you have any favourite musical folklore to share?

Research: Mapping the Past

London, 1270

While not always possible, it’s definitely good if a writer gets to tread the ground we write about. Some details, like the ambient sounds, the scents, the ineffable feel of a place, are best captured by experience, even to a small degree.

Some places exist primarily in the past, however, are beyond our reach to capture: at least until I get my own TARDIS.

Until then, the best tool at hand is access to old maps. They are excellent comparisons with the present, to see what still exists, and they are a window into places long past, yet which still lie just below the surface.

When I was writing “Hoorforst”, the Kitty and Cadaver origin story that appears in Scar Tissue and Other Stories, I needed to see what 13th century London looked like. Luckily, when I visited London earlier in 2018, the British Library came to my aid. (My Reading Room card is still my favourite souvenir of all my London visits!)

Medieval historian Christopher Brooke was my particular saviour on this point, providing a fantastic overview of the city’s culture and economy over several centuries. His work included pages of maps, showing change over time. 

I used his map of London in 1270 (above) to chart William and Thomas’s progress through the old walls, across the frozen city to old London Bridge on the Thames. Some of the places on his map still exist today – St Paul’s and churches, mainly.

Melbourne, 1852

I have written various stories set in 19th century Melbourne as well. That city’s landscape changed a lot in a short time, thanks to the 1851 gold rush and the later economic crash of the 1890s. 

The State Library of Victoria has a great map collection that assists with charting modern Melbourne against its history but one of the handiest I found when I was writing “Virgin Soil” for the And Then… anthology was this 1852 map showing the inner city layout and the streets just north of the city grid, along with a few of the major buildings of the time.

Let’s face it, old maps are fantastic in and of themselves, and I’d gaze on them avidly any day of the week. But they’re especially wonderful for helping to give shape to locations that remain only as ghosts under the skin of the present.