Research for ‘The Piano Player’s Son
‘The Piano Player’s Son’ is a contemporary novel, set mainly in England, and as such you wouldn’t think it needed much research. In some ways, that’s true, certainly in comparison with an historical novel, or a thriller – where you might need knowledge of police procedures – or a novel set in the Amazonian rainforest or the Arctic. But there are certain aspects of the novel where I definitely needed more knowledge of the subject than I already had.
The most significant is probably music. I enjoy listening to music, both classical and popular, but my knowledge and understanding is limited. I also don’t play a musical instrument. I played the recorder years ago at school and scratched away at a violin for a couple of years until my parents took pity on me and let me give up the lessons, but that’s all. I’ve always longed to play the piano (haven’t given up all hope!) and some years ago I had lessons, but the teacher moved away and that was it.
So, I knew that choosing a piano as my object of disputed inheritance was going to create problems for me. On the other hand, the piano was perfect. I didn’t want the argument to be about money or property, or anything that had great significance in financial terms. It had to be something that mattered to all the family, and as their dead father’s great love, the piano is of huge importance.
The piano is also the source of some of the rivalry that has always existed between the two brothers, Rick and George. George is a brilliant pianist, and as such seems to have gained greater closeness to his father. Rick, on the other hand, blames his failure to play as the reason for his father’s apparent lack of affection for him. The dispute about the piano provokes tension all the way through the novel, until the final explosive resolution.
I was helped in my research by my husband, who is a pianist. I plied him with questions about the problems of learning the piano, technique, musical scores, types of piano, the music itself and many more.
I listened to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, a piece of significance in the novel, over and over again to get a feeling of its mood and power. I included other pieces that I enjoy, such as Debussy’s Nocturne. I wanted music to pervade the novel, as this is a musical family, and I needed to have the music running alongside the emotional drama. There’s also some fun music, such as Dolly Parton’s ‘Islands in the Stream’, but I couldn’t include the lyrics I wanted to, as musical copyright laws are stringent.
My other main research involved the novel’s settings. I chose places I know and love, and apart from Ischia, an island in the Bay of Naples (which I’ve been to three times), I revisited all the main places, particularly to identify characters’ homes. I found the perfect house for Rick in Rothbury, Northumberland, although obviously had to create the inside myself! It was gratifying when a book group told me the house seemed so real, they felt as if they had visited it.
I associated Rothbury so strongly with Rick and his family that when a real-life tragedy took place there and I wondered if I ought to change where he lived, I found I couldn’t. I’d planted him in Rothbury, and he definitely didn’t want to leave!
Rick is a keen runner, and I spent ages pouring over maps, plotting the route for his daily run. But I did wonder whether I’d failed in my research when I received this email from a friend: :
I’ve got halfway through The Piano Player’s Son – am enjoying it – but in my irritating way I had to check up on Rick’s jogging route.
He starts from a house on high ground overlooking the river and runs downhill into town. B6341
Runs through village and then out alongside the river and out by Cragside. B6344
Crosses the bridge at 4 miles along route.
Gets to disused railway at 5 miles.
Gets home – 8 miles.
One stride per second concerns me. I don’t know who advised you on this. A second is roughly the time it takes to say one thousand or one elephant etc Quite a long time.
A reasonable jogger will do ten minute miles over an eight mile distance. This equals 176 yards per minute, which equals 3 yards per second.
If he is doing one stride per second, his stride is about 9 feet or 106 inches
A slow jogger will do 12 minute miles which would give a stride length of 88 inches.
A study of Olympic sprinters (the longest striders of all) showed that a 6 foot tall top class sprinter would have a stride length of about 98 inches
If he takes 2 strides per second at a reasonable 45 inch stride, he would be doing just under 12 minute miles which would be tidy for a newcomer over such a distance/terrain/hills etc.
Yes, he is still a friend, but clearly I should have done more research!
After a career teaching English in further and higher education, Lindsay, now works as a writer and creative writing tutor. Her second novel The Piano Player’s Son was published in 2013 by Cinnamon Press after winning their novel writing award. Her first novel, Unravelling in 2010, has won several prizes including winner of the Chapter One Promotions Book Award and second prize in the International Rubery Book Award. Lindsay is working on her next novel, Phoenix. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. Lindsay also writes short stories and flash fiction which have been published and successful in competitions, including Cinnamon Press, Fish Publishing, and the Asham Award.