Kite Spirit Playlist


Every book is a journey of discovery. In ‘Jasmine Skies’ I got to know a lot about Dubstep because of my character Priya (the dubstep DJ who works out of derelict houses in old Kolkata!) In ‘Kite Spirit’ the music ranges from classical oboe solos composed by Brahms and Britten to Adele and contemporary folk tracks of the ‘Mumford and Sons’ variety. A lot of music savvy festival going friends of my older children drop by my house and I have been struck by how many of them have commented that the ‘Kite Spirit‘ book cover ( I keep on my screen saver) resembles an album cover. The ‘peng’ word has been uttered!


The Oboe Speaks…

I thought I would share with you something of how the oboe, an instrument I have never played but often admired, has become so central to this book.

I am proud to be friends with the wonderful Ruth Bolister who is the Principal oboist for the English National Opera. I have often chatted to her about what goes into her work and was fascinated to hear that she makes her own reeds from scratch. I had no idea, before talking to her, what went into finding a ‘golden reed,’ (one that plays smoothly and beautifully) or what preparation is required before playing (soaking the reed so that it doesn’t become brittle). Before embarking on this research journey I had little understanding of how dependent wind instrument players are on the quality of their reed, which is, when it comes down to it a piece of bamboo cut, filed and scraped into shape and tied together with silk thread or sometimes dental floss!


Yet through this deceptively simple piece of reed the most beautiful notes can emerge. I love the fragility of that process and also the fact that with all the advances in technology the process of making a reed remains essentially unchanged. In keeping with the symbols of natural sculptures in ‘Kite Spirit’ bamboo grows from nature and is used my humans in their artistic endeavour of expression.   


At the time of talking to Ruth about her reeds I was searching for a metaphor to fit my character ‘Dawn’ who tragically fails to speak about how under pressure she feels and takes her own life at her lowest moment. I wanted to explore this silence and the sense of pressure that had built up in my character and then Ruth told me that if the reed doesn’t sound a note when you blow into it oboists say ‘the reed fails to speak.’ She  held one of her reeds up to the light and told me that the words used for the anatomy of the reed are the same as those used for the human body. That was it. I had found my metaphor, not only for Dawn’s playing but for the reed that now, in my mind represents not only Dawn’s voice, but her body…her heart and spine too. This led me to Kite’s obsession with the laying Dawn’s reed to rest. 

You should see how she makes those reeds, Miss Choulty, the look of concentration on her face. I bought her a little box for them on her birthday. It holds three but she only keeps one reed in the box, she calls it her ‘Golden’ one. When she holds it up to the light you can see inside its little bamboo body: it’s got a spine and a heart and everything, that’s what they call all the parts, weird isn’t it, as if it’s a live human body.

Kite Spirit


I asked Ruth what solos Dawn might play as a first Oboe in a good youth orchestra like the one Dawn attends on a Saturday. Ruth suggested that the music of Brahms might fit and sent me off to see a concert (I have only ever been to one other classical concert when I was at school, so the experience was as new for me as it is for Kite). I was entranced by the ritual of the orchestra, their entrance and warming up and I could clearly imagine my character Dawn as the oboist played the ‘A’ note to which the whole orchestra tunes up. As so often happens when you begin a research journey you feel as if you are being led. I glanced down at the programme to read…

 ‘The music of Brahms shows a passionate nature turned in on itself.’
That seemed to me to encapsulate the situation that Dawn finds herself in. Afterwards I was enthusing about the experience to Ruth and she generously offered to play the solos from Brahms Symphony number 1 to me… and you (You can link to her playing below). It was an emotional experience. It’s hard to explain how your characters creep up on you and become a living breathing presence in your life, but by now Dawn was very real to me. As Ruth played I felt the waste of my character Dawn’s life and I pictured this scene from ‘Kite Spirit.’ 



‘Now the conductor was asking Dawn to stand up. She looked mortified but he insisted and the audience kept on clapping too demanding her to take a special bow.

‘Why has he picked her out?’ Kite asked the woman as she thanked her for the tissues and wiped her eyes.

 ‘Because that girl is going to be great.’  


Kite Spirit


After she had played Ruth talked of the sense of community found in youth orchestras and the closeness of the music community in general and I felt even more keenly the loss… that Dawn had not looked to any of her family or friends for help. These details led me to include the characters of the conductor, Esme (the second oboe) and finally Eddie the clarinet player and saxophonist who, unbeknown to Dawn, was in love with her… I like Kite wanted to scream at Dawn at her funeral ‘If only you had known how much you were loved.’  Music is the way that Dawn expresses herself, it’s her way of flying, the way she speaks… and when she feels so low that she can no longer produce a note she folds her hands on her knees, stops playing and gives up. ‘Kite Spirit’ is a story about the terrible tragedy and pain caused by this failure to speak at a critical moment. Dawn could have sought help in her supportive orchestra, in her best friend Kite, in her family and in her school… there were so many people who would have been there to help if only she had spoken out…her silence is deafening in the book and it is only the memory of her music that strengthens Kite.

If you, like me, are unfamiliar with classical music and would like to hear something really beautiful Ruth has generously recorded both Brahms Slow movement and Nacissus and Arethusa from Britten’s Metamorphoses for you. She recorded these pieces because she felt that they would fit with the landscape of the Lake District and the themes of ‘ Kite Spirit’.

Britten makes the following notes on the musical score…

‘Narcissus who fell in love with his own image and became a flower’

‘Arethusa who, flying from the love of Alpheus, the river God was turned into a fountain’

This music will form part of a short film of ‘Kite Spirit’ an installation to be shown at London’s Pop Up Festival In September 2013.

Place Drop Box details here

And Extract from 1st Oboe part of Brahms 1st symphony Slow Movement

‘Narcissus and Arethusa’ From Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid’ 

Played by Ruth Bolister

Recording by Andy Pask

From Classical to Contemporary Folk to Florence and The Machine…

Kite’s father ‘Seth’ is a singer songwriter who plays in festivals up and down the country. He produces two albums in the book ‘The Song of Solomon’ and ‘The Song of Storeys.’ He’s sent up to The Lake District by his record company to write a new album based on the theme of ‘inheritance’ and ends up re-writing some old Cumbrian folk songs. I know the musical tastes of all my characters. It’s a little game I play with myself creating a playlist for each person in the book. In my mind, as well as the Brahms and the Britten all the following tracks could be flowing at one moment or another through the pages of ‘Kite Spirit.’ But it is that 1st Brahms solo that keeps coming back to haunt Kite.



‘She imagined Dawn’s music rising up from where the reed lay lodged between slates, up into the air and travelling through the valley towards her…’


Kite Spirit


The ‘Kite Spirit’ Play List


Country Song – Jake Bugg

Landfill – Daughter

Smother - Daughter

Summer Time Sadness – Lana del Rey

Indigo home /Know Me Well/ Silver Moon - Roo Panes

I Say A little Prayer – Aretha Franklyn

Back To Black  - Amy Winehouse

Set Fire to the Rain – Adele

Diamonds - Rihanna

I will wait - Mumford & Sons 

Papa's Got A Brand New Bag – James Brown

All This And Heaven Too – Florence And The Machine

Angel - Sarah McLaughlin

Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen

Backyard Skulls – Frightened Rabbit

Molly Malone - Sinead O'Connor

No Woman No Cry – Bob Marley

How Soon is Now? - The Smiths 

The Parting Glass - The Pogues

The River - Elbow

Sweet Nothing - Florence and The Machine featuring Calvin Harris

Fairy Tale Lullaby - Bombay Bicycle Club

Green Garden - Laura Mvula

Picking up the Pieces - Paloma Faith