With truth being stranger than fiction in recent months in the UK The War in the Dark by Nick Setchfield seems to me the perfect book for us all to read and I am delighted to be part of its launch celebrations. I’d like to thank Lydia Gittings at Titan for inviting me to participate, especially as I have a fabulous guest post from Nick all about the soundtrack that inspired his writing of The War in the Dark.
Published by Titan on 17th July 2018, The War in the Dark is available for purchase here.
The War in the Dark
A genre-defying page turner that fuses thriller and speculative fiction with dark fantasy in a hidden world in the heart of Cold War Europe.
Europe. 1963. And the true Cold War is fought on the borders of this world, at the edges of the light.
When the assassination of a traitor trading with the enemy goes terribly wrong, British Intelligence agent Christopher Winter must flee London. In a tense alliance with a lethal, mysterious woman named Karina Lazarova, he’s caught in a quest for hidden knowledge from centuries before, an occult secret written in a language of fire. A secret that will give supremacy to the nation that possesses it.
Racing against the Russians, the chase takes them from the demon-haunted Hungarian border to treasure-laden tunnels beneath Berlin, from an impossible house in Vienna to a bomb-blasted ruin in Bavaria where something unholy waits, born of the power of white fire and black glass . . .
It’s a world of treachery, blood and magic. A world at war in the dark.
The War In The Dark – The Original Soundtrack
A Guest Post by Nick Setchfield
I suspect all books have soundtracks and all writers are their own Tarantinos, raiding crates of vinyl to match music to the images in their head. Some of these playlists will be deliberately curated as writing triggers: tracks that cue action beats or conjure mood or bring your emotions just a little closer to the page. Others will be the unconscious playlists we all accumulate: the music that seeped into our bones across the years, shaping the stories we tell and the way we tell them, maybe without us ever quite realising their impact on our choices. If writers are sensory vampires then music is one of life’s great blood banks.
I found music endlessly inspiring when I was writing The War in the Dark. Given it’s a ‘60s espionage tale – albeit one with bone magic and rather more demons than is entirely healthy for national security purposes – it’s no wonder that the sound of John Barry was a key inspiration. Barry’s scores for the classic James Bond movies capture the romance of shadows and the glamour of secrets like no other composer. They can be lush and heart-filling – Flight Into Space from Moonraker belongs in a cathedral, frankly – or coiling with serpentine menace (much of the Thunderball soundtrack sounds like a sinister, globe-threatening masterplan in orchestral form). I would listen to Barry’s sweeping, scene-setting cues and the places I’d created in my mind would begin to feel more real, more resonant, cities and landscapes I could touch and inhale and explore. If I played a faster, more pulse-troubling piece then my action sequences seemed to edit themselves.
Barry also scored The Ipcress File, another ‘60s spy film but one that was very much the inverse of Bond. Its nicotine-stained world of surveillance and street corners was also a big influence on The War in the Dark, and there’s a pinch of Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer in my hero, Christopher Winter. If I listen to the title theme I’m standing there in a charcoal-shaded post-war London, keeping watch as dusk falls, just like Winter on page one. The very DNA of spycraft is in that piece of music – and I hope it transferred to the page.
It’s not only movie soundtracks that fuelled my story. Pop music was just as vital. My lifelong god David Bowie inevitably casts a skinny but significant shadow across the book. “Heroes” – his true, essential Berlin album – helped to ground the scenes set in that city, bringing its nervy gloom of border guards and bombed-out buildings into focus. Sons of the Silent Age – track four on “Heroes” – was especially inspiring, with its eerie, oblique lyrics about men who “just glide in and out of life” so pregnant with secret meanings that the code-breakers of Bletchley Park would have had a field day.
Bowie’s dissolute warlock persona from the mid-‘70s was also an influence on the character of Hart, another fey Englishman dabbling in the darkest of arts. Listen to Station To Station – the majestically ominous opening to the album of the same name – and you’ll catch a little of Mr Hart’s chill and power (“Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff from where dreams are woven”…). In fact there’s so much Bowie embedded in the book that I ended up anticipating him for the only time in my life: the Blackstar video has a bejeweled saint’s skull, just like the one that plays a crucial role in a later chapter.
Beyond Bowie I took inspiration from Kate Bush, whose song Hounds of Love took inspiration in turn from Jacques Tourneur’s horror-noir Night of the Demon (“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”), a tale of tweed suits and demonic runes that fed directly into The War in the Dark. Inspirations are cannibals, that’s the beauty of them. John Foxx’s Europe After The Rain – which I stole the word “colonnades” from – and Ultravox’s Vienna were also fixtures on my internal playlist, both songs in thrall to that deeply early ‘80s idea of Europe as some glamorous, marble-cool fantasy land, the perfect backdrop, perhaps, to a tale of spies and magic…
And finally: Michael Caine by Madness. The song that rose to the top of my Most Played list as I wrote the book. There’s the obvious Harry Palmer connection, of course, but it’s a glorious, underrated song that nails the loneliness and melancholy of espionage as much as it hymns the tight-suited cool of The Ipcress File. If Hart’s embedded in Station To Station then you’ll find Christopher Winter within its heroic chords and paranoid words.
But this is my soundtrack to The War in the Dark. Inevitably you will have your own, just as you’ll conjure your own faces for Christopher Winter and Karina Lazarova and the mysterious Mr Hart, just as you’ll explore your own Berlin and Vienna and Skeleton Coast.
I’d love to hear your playlist.
(Oh. I do hope blog readers will come back and tell us after they’ve read The War in the Dark, Nick.)
About Nick Setchfield
Nick Setchfield is a writer and features editor for SFX, Britain’s best-selling magazine of genre entertainment in film, TV and books. A regular contributing writer to Total Film, he’s also been a movie reviewer for the BBC and a scriptwriter for ITV’s Spitting Image. The War in the Dark is his first novel. He lives in Bath.
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