If you are looking for a dark, mysterious, brooding read for young teen readers, then this is what you need to get hold of. It is very rare that I am so enthralled by a book that I am compelled to read it in one sitting. But that is exactly what happened with ‘The Ash House.’ It’s a very special story indeed.
The author, Angharad Walker, has very generously shared some of the songs which populated her playlist as she wrote The Ash House in order to help set the tone for writing. There are some very interesting and atmospheric choices. Make sure you take a look (and a listen.)
‘A new boy arrives at the Ash House. He can’t remember his name – or why he’s been sent there.
Given the name Sol, and troubled by a mystery pain that no medicine can cure, he joins the gang of children living in the shadows of the secretive house.
Soon, however, there’s more for him to face: the darkness that descends with the arrival of the Doctor …’
‘A playlist for The Ash House’ by Angharad Walker
Thanks for having me on the blog today to talk about The Ash House and my favourite music to write to.
The Ash House about a boy who discovers a house made entirely of ash and smoke, and a group of children who live there waiting for their beloved Headmaster to return. But all is not as it seems, and the new boy soon discovers just how dangerous life at the Ash House can be…
I always write to music. I like being able to plug into a playlist and be transported to my book world instantly. It lets me write anywhere, so it doesn’t matter if I’m in a quiet library or a noisy café.
Some writers like classical music so the lyrics don’t get muddled in their heads. But for The Ash House, I listened to lots of dark, layered, lyrical music. I liked having all those micro-stories floating through my mind as I created the world.
So here we go: 10 songs lifted straight from my Ash House writing playlist.
1. The Pugilist – Keaton Henson
This is the first song on my Ash House writing playlist, and still when I hear those first guitar strings I’m taken into that world. It’s like a reflex now. Henson writes brilliantly about the experience of being a writer. It’s sparse and haunting, just how I imagine driving up to the Ash House in the rain. And I can think of no better sentiment to start writing a book than:
“I guess that’s the most
Honest thing I’ve written yet.
So here goes…”
2. Strangest of Ways – Lucy Rose
“You see beauty in the strangest of ways” sings Lucy Rose on this track, and that’s exactly how Sol sees the other children of the Ash House. The bass and clicks always have me nodding my head through this song.
3. Sick of Losing Soulmates – dodie
This song always makes me think of Dom. Not to give too much away, but he’s been through a lot by the time Sol arrives at the Ash House. He feels the responsibility for the other children keenly. This song has such a delicate way to capturing those feelings of being afraid to care for someone new after experiencing loss.
4. Maybe I Will Learn – Rhys
When I first heard the lyrics “I don’t like the silence sleeping between us” I think of the friendship between Dom and Libby. She’s fierce and loving at the same time, which is something that comes across in the lyrics.
5. Wolves (Live at St. Pancras Church) – Phosphorescent
I listened to a lot of Phosphorescent when writing this book, but this song is something special. It’s 10 minutes long and, in my mind, worth every second. It’s utterly haunting. In this live version, the vocals layer and soar until at the end it sounds like a pack of wolves (or Shucks?) howling against the walls of St. Pancras Church. Spine chilling.
6. Smother – Daughter
This song sounds to me like walking through the woods of the Ash House grounds. It’s about metamorphosis, and the images in the song have always stuck with me.
“All my layers can become reeds,
All my limbs can become trees,
All my children can become me.”
7. Heart Hope – Oh Wonder
The Ash House is about hope and courage—I think that’s why this song has always had a spot on my writing playlist. Sometimes courage isn’t loud and aggressive. It’s soft, tender and quiet, much like this song.
8. For You – Rae Morris
Another album I listened to a lot when writing this book. This song builds wonderfully as Rae Morris sings “You’re the meaning of my name.” From its Scottish origins, Rae means Grace. All the children at the Ash House are named after virtues like this, so the song feels especially fitting.
9. Hurt – Johnny Cash
This is a great writing song. It has such momentum. In the last third of the book, when Sol and Dom are facing down the full dangers on the Ash House, Johnny Cash’s version of this song guided me through their hopes and terrors.
10. Yesterday Was Hard On All Of Us – Fink
What a note to finish on. This version is accompanied by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, so dizzying strings and horns follow Fink’s voice as he sings “from ashes to ashes”. This is the song that guided me through the end of the book. The Ash House doesn’t have a neat or tidy ending, partly because my favourite endings are the ones that ask this question: Where do we go from here?
Where do we go from here?
Where do we go?
And is it real or just
Something we think we know?
I was asking lots of questions as I was reading The Ash House, not just at the end. Were the inhabitants of the Ash House members of a cult? Participants in a social experiment? Imaginary? Where was the Headmaster? Why did nobody seem to know the children were there or intervene? And that, I think, is a sign of great writing – it has you asking questions, actively engaging with the story to try and solve its mysteries.
It’s not just the sense of mystery which draws you in though. The atmospheric setting, almost magical elements, and hurt, complex characters only serve to pull you in further. And as for the ending. Well, it gave me goosebumps and made me gasp. I shall say no more!
Highly recommend for confident readers aged 11+
*Many thanks to Chicken House Books for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*