A Musical Story for Empathy Day

For EmpathyDay on 10th June this year, the amazing team at EmpathyLab have put together a Family Toolkit of fantastic empathy-based activities you can do with your whole family. One of the activities is called ‘Musical Shorts’: you read a short story (brand new free stories on the EmpathyLab website!) and then choose a piece of music to go with it. It’s surprisingly difficult!

I read all the stories and decided that ‘Beginnings’ by Eloise Williams was the one that really spoke to me on a personal level. The story is about a girl moving to a new neighbourhood and not getting off to a very good start with the grumpy lady who lives next door. Eventually they bond over feeding the birds in the garden, and I loved the way something so simple as bird feeding could bring two unhappy people joy and a sense of solidarity.

I’ve always loved the music of The Corrs – to be fair I’m a sucker for Irish music in general – and their song ‘Little Wing’ isn’t one of their best known. It’s actually a cover of a Jimi Hendrix song! But The Corrs’ version is wistful, sad and hopeful, which I felt matched the tone of Eloise’s beautiful story. It’s a contemplative piece, with surreal lyrics:

Now she’s walking through the clouds
With a circus mind
That’s running wild
Butterflies and zebras
Moonbeams and fairytales
All she ever thinks about is riding with the wind

When I’m sad she comes to me
With a thousand smiles
She gives to me, free
‘It’s all right, it’s all right’ she says
‘Take anything you want from me

Fly little wing
Yeah, yeah

Fly little wing
I want her to fly

EmpathyLab asked me to create an image that included the title of the story and the title of the song. I could have done it on the computer but I really love painting and I wanted to have a go at painting some garden birds. I began by painting the whole canvas in a mixture of pinks, purples, blues and whites. When it dried I drew repeated images of a circus tent, a cloud, the moon, fairytale books, butterflies and zebras. Then I painted in vivid realistic colours the two garden birds (a robin and a blue tit) and the plate that appears in the story. The girl adds seeds; her neighbour adds apples and nuts.

I’m really pleased with the final piece. It took me quite a long time but I wanted to be able to get the feel of both the song and the story across in a single image.

Music is very important to me as a writer – and as a human. I learned to read music from a young age and played various instruments and composed pieces over the years. As a writer, I often have film soundtracks or classical music playing in the background while I write, and I think of my writing as having a musical rhythm and flow. I can feel if a paragraph is disjointed in the same way that a wrong note jars on the ear.

The Musical Shorts activity is a really lovely, fun one to do with your family – you could even apply it to your favourite books. What piece would suit Charlotte’s Web? Kid Normal? The Firework-Maker’s Daughter?

Teacher and Blogger Ben Harris decided he’d WRITE a song to go with his choice of Musical Short! – check out his wonderful blog post about the relationship with words and music (along with some very kind words about my book JELLY) which you can read here.

Do check out the Family Toolkit here and have a fantastic Empathy Day on 10th June!


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