Notes between the Lines
Anne Maria Clarke introduces The Call of the NIGHTINGALE and shares some of the behind the scenes story of how it was created
The Call of the NIGHTINGALE was the first story I ever wrote in this genre. It was an initiation of sorts, drawing me into the enchanted world of myth, legend and fairy -story and it changed the course of my life forever – but somehow it was never fully completed and its component parts - story, music and illustrations lay half forgotten in various dusty attics, suitcases and archives for over 15 years...this is the story of how we re-discovered, reassembled and finally brought it to fruition.
There are always stories within stories, like Russian dolls hidden one within another and who can really say which is the main doll – the one on the outside maybe, the one that everyone sees, or the one in the middle or the tiniest most unseen, nestled deep inside?
So let me see if I can tell you about this particular story from the inside out – or at least from the most internal place I am aware of.
As far as I can discern, it began with a dream. I found myself in a medieval cloister that looked out over a lovely garden with a sparkling fountain at its centre. The sun was rising and I saw the figure of a woman looking out, watching the light changing. She wore a long, deep hooded cloak – I couldn’t see her face at first – though as I came near she turned and met my gaze and I saw then that I was looking at my younger self.
Somehow I knew she made her way by story and I asked her,
“What stories do you know?”
“The Nightingale, of course!” She replied.
“But I thought that was my story!”
Then she smiled a twinkly sort of smile and she raised her eyebrows playfully, coaxing me to share the obvious silly side of my question - then I woke up.
Next day my husband and I went up to our attic to search for old versions of the story. It had been put to one side you see, many years ago. We were young and busy getting married and bringing up children and other stories somehow gained precedence. But before that happened – before it was all packed away – it had become beloved by several dear friends and colleagues. One especially, Kate B had lovingly taken the text, edited it and created a beautiful hand-bound book, another dear soul Kate R, fell in love with the story and painted several lovely illustrations that Kate B re-printed in her book. Not content with this Kate B, who had a few years earlier composed the exquisite music for our Six Swans adaptation, also now turned her hand to the composition of another piece, especially for Nightingale.
She recorded it with David our sound engineer (without whom none of our tales could have been created) and we roughly spliced it together – to be completed at a later date. What I am realising now is just how much Kate B put into this story – to get it off the ground so to speak (pun intended) but sadly the timing – as is so often the case with these things – it needed to be right – and it just wasn’t, for whatever reason.
Anyhow, as a final leap of faith and before the project was finally put to one side, Kate had approached the animator Sam Moore and asked her to join us in a joint bid for a short story animation film award. Sam agreed and created a full storyboard of sketches with notes as to how they would translate into her favourite animation medium of oil on glass – and to cut a long story short – this is what my husband and I found in our attic in - the joint application we had created together as writer, musician and animator – all beautifully bound in a dusty, black faux leather file – and most curiously - shoved inside the inner sleeve – was a photo of the younger me - with the same playful twinkle in the eye – that I’d met in the dream the night before!
‘Curiouser and curiouser, - I couldn’t help but feel.
We were not successful in our bid back then and we all went our separate ways. Each had copies of their own work which they archived in their own way. What I now know for sure is that Kate’s beautiful music lay on an old cassette tape in a suitcase under her bed for many years and before that it had travelled with her as she moved around the UK and Europe.
Time passed as they say - I hardly dare say how much - by now Sam Moore was a seriously successful senior lecturer in animation studies, Kate B was living and working in Norfolk, Kate R who had been a young art student at the time – was now an art teacher living up north, with two small children and lovely partner. The only person I had remained in contact with was David.
Yet now, all these years later ....pouring over Sam’s sketches and Kate R’s sweet illustrations and re-reading the story, together with the impetus of the dream, I felt excited to take it forward, to breathe new life into the disparate elements, to give it the life it never quite achieved and to send it forth off into the wide world, were it was meant to go....Phew.!
These were my private thoughts and I almost didn’t dare own them, afraid that maybe too much time had gone by for anyone to rekindle a passion for a half-forgotten, discarded tale – but I began anyway, first with my part of the story.
I wrote a new introduction, inspired by the dream and I put the whole thing into the present tense. Shortly afterwards I went to the studio and recorded a brand new working version. I then contacted Kate B and asked her about the music and if she still had a copy. She said she would look but was sure David had kept the original. Yet, most unusually he had no recollection of ever having recorded it!
I wish now that I had written this all down in sequence, this new phase of our collective endeavour – and yet it’s only now that it seems so worthy of being set down, for in looking back over the year that has passed since the dream – it’s clear we have been on quite a journey - which even now as I write is not completely resolved....
David and I carried on regardless, tinkering with the voice recording. We worked on the whispers – the parts where the trees speak - and I set to searching for natural sounds – primarily a recording of a real nightingale’s song, waves, woodland sounds and a heavy storm, with fierce cracks of thunder - and I started weaving everything together on my computer with copies of Sam and Kate R’s images.
If the music didn’t materialise – I consoled myself - we would have to be content with the voice, the natural sounds and the images....but of course, speaking of these, I had not yet approached the artists for permission to use them. I felt fairly confident that Kate R would not have any issues as her illustrations had already been featured in The Call of the Nightingale short story book that Kate B had produced – yet Sam’s sketches had been created as proposal ideas for a possible future animation and she may not wish them to be viewed as stills.
What was certain was that we had control over the audio elements – the voice and the natural sounds – or so I thought. Then sometime in April 2015 David reported huge technical difficulties at our studio – all work had to stop until further notice. I still have the brief notes from the session:
Studio problems – wait and keep the faith!
Kate B’s music - wait and keep the faith!
Several weeks of stasis went by then suddenly Kate contacted us to say she had located the old cassette version of the music but no longer had a cassette player to check it through. She had scoured the second hand shops, but had not been able to find one. Thankfully David had one (they are so rare these days) and he sent it to her in the post.
Several weeks later the music arrived and we were blown away – somehow we had all suffered from a kind of collective amnesia with this project and had quite forgotten how hauntingly beautiful Kate’s music was. The cassette itself was so fragile with age that David had to use all his archiving skill to transfer it to MP3 to prevent it being lost forever – but he succeeded and what’s more, the printed details on the cassette gave him a clue as to where the master tapes might be stored in his archives and a few days later he discovered the original, high quality recording.
It turned out to have been recorded on a grand piano at the music centre of our local university where David worked. It had been a mammoth session, with Kate playing a suite of pieces she had composed for the Nightingale, including ones she was only just working out at the time. David had recorded everything using a DAT machine and two AKG microphones pointing into the top of the piano. The result was everything we could have dreamed of – and after David had spent a few hours choosing the best ‘takes’ and editing them together – we were up and away!
Now as I write toward the end of 2015, it feels like we are really getting somewhere. We are busy in the studio weaving the parts together and adding our final touches to the audio recording and I am loving every moment. I can't think of anything I would rather be doing than standing at the microphone - with Kate's piano in my headphones - telling this sweet little tale!
Should we wish to feature Sam Moore's illustrations we now have her permission to do so along with those of Kate Riddles and a newly discovered American artist too, Valerie Claff who has provided us with some beautiful oak tree illustrations.
Not sure yet if we will be ready in time for Christmas - which would be a lovely time to publish - but I don't want to rush - it would not be at all in keeping with story and after all these years - we can allow ourselves a few more weeks if we need them...
So that’s the story so far...from the dream of the young storyteller at the start through the story of how each of the parts have come back to light – some notes between the lines!
Fingers crossed - it will be here very soon!!!
In the meantime,
x x x
ps - the photo below is the one of the younger me - found in the attic
Subscribe to Anne Maria Clarke's YouTube channel
More faerie-stories & adaptations of myths & Legends by Anne Maria Clarke at