Julie Berry Shares the Magic and Music of Lovely War

by Julie Berry

I first discovered just how much audiobooks are greater than the sum of their parts when my own books found their way to audio. Clearly, I realized, audiobooks are not just a story + a pretty voice. I’ve always loved them—they kept my brain from turning into baby-food mush when I was a young mom, and have done so ever since—but when I listened to Jayne Entwistle’s Odyssey Honor performance in The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, I realized she’d found more in each of the seven young ladies than I’d known was there. She made my books better. Her versatility was again on display as Botille in The Passion of Dolssa, along with a fervent, vulnerable performance by Fiona Hardingham of Dolssa, and a darkly delicious portrayal of Friar Lucien and the other male characters by Allan Corduner. They’re the audio equivalent of a prep team straight out of The Hunger Games. They make my stories sizzle.

Jayne Entwistle

Narrator Jayne Entwistle

Naturally, I was thrilled when each of them joined the Lovely War audio team. Jayne plays Aphrodite, the goddess of love; Fiona plays Hazel Windicott, one of the chief protagonists; and Allan is the overall narrator. Other actors whose talents I’ve long admired joined that lovely lineup: Nathaniel Parker, whose Artemis Fowl performances (among others) are a pure delight, plays Ares, god of war; Steve West, whom I first heard in the audiobooks of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series, plays James Alderidge, a British soldier; Dion Graham, narrator of many Dave Eggers titles, voices Apollo; and John Lee gives dignified, formidable, er, life to Hades, the god of death. It’s a dream team. My hope in writing Lovely War was to offer the world a romantic, poignant, heartbreaking story of love and war. It’s this roster of talent that picked up where I left off and finished the job.

One part remained in summing up the whole of Lovely War on audio—the music. Ragtime, jazz, and classical music are integral to both the plot and the setting of the novel. This performance, I believed, needed a soundtrack. Director Robert Kessler and producer Orli Moscowitz (a dream team on the other side of the microphone) agreed. We wanted to evoke the smooth nightclub sound of the 1940s as well as the bouncy ragtime of the 1910s music-hall era. We also needed African-American spirituals, classical snatches of Chopin and Liszt, mournful requiems for the dead, and the dissonant sounds of trauma. (Those aren’t spoilers in a book about war, right?) I knew just whom to call.

Aubrey Edwards, one of the four main characters, is a ragtime pianist and composer and a member of the Harlem Hellfighters regiment in World War I. He has a knack for taking any melody, however serious, and flipping it into a rag on the spot. I didn’t invent this superpower. Aubrey’s musical skills are based on those of a good friend of mine, pianist and composer Benjamin Salisbury. Our families are close, and he’s a frequent guest in my home. We call him a Living Jukebox, but his talents far surpass playing popular tunes on demand. He writes and composes across musical genres, and he can “rag” anything from “America the Beautiful” to “The Hallelujah Chorus” to “Single Ladies” on a moment’s notice. (I’ll cook dinner anytime for someone who can do that.)

Lovely War Piano

Pianist and composer Benjamin Salisbury

I’d written a fun scene where Aubrey rags classical pianist Hazel’s performance of the Adagio cantabile movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 8 (the Pathétique). He declares himself to be “fixing the mistakes” in Beethoven’s “pathetic” piece. I could perfectly imagine Ben doing just that. And he did, when I asked him to compose a Lovely War soundtrack. Ben calls the results the “Not So Pathetic Rag.” Aubrey also rags the morning reveille tune, the trumpet wake-up call then in use in the army. Ben’s “Reveille Blues” is one of my favorite musical interludes in the audiobook. Altogether Ben wrote, transcribed, and performed nearly thirty musical pieces for this audiobook. Only a handful are known repertoire; most are original compositions. It was marvelous to collaborate with him, discussing what musical colors and moods would best fit the mood of key story moments, and which would provide smooth segues to whatever came next.

I’m more or less giddy about the finished results of my dream team’s work. I know I’ll be listening to it over and over again, and I wrote it, for heaven’s sake. I know all the spoilers. A glittering ensemble of talent has added glamour and panache to a book I wrote in sweatpants. I mean, to my tale of four star-crossed, war-torn lovers, and the meddling gods who shape their lives. The glorious whole is worth far more than the sum of its parts. I knew it would be, and I was not disappointed.


Lovely War

They are Hazel, James, Aubrey, and Colette. A classical pianist from London, a British would-be architect-turned-soldier, a Harlem-born ragtime genius in the U.S. Army, and a Belgian orphan with a gorgeous voice and a devastating past. Their story, as told by goddess Aphrodite, who must spin the tale or face judgment on Mount Olympus, is filled with hope and heartbreak, prejudice and passion, and reveals that, though war is a formidable force, it’s no match for the transcendent power of Love.

“Scheherazade has nothing on Berry…An unforgettable romance so Olympian in scope, human at its core, and lyrical in its prose that it must be divinely inspired.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Poignant…will make readers, by turns, laugh, cry, and swoon.”—The Horn Book, starred review

Meet the Cast of Lovely WarMeet the cast of Lovely War and listen to audio clips!