Extract from The Gradual

I grew up in a world of music, in a time of war. The latter interfered with the former. After I became an adult, a composer, many pieces of my music were stolen, copied or rehashed by a plagiarist. I lost my brother, my wife and my parents, I became a criminal and a fugitive, I travelled among islands, I discovered the gradual. Everything affected everything else, but music was the balm, the constant. When I went in pursuit of my tormentor, I became an inadvertent traveller in time. Time is a gradual process – like ageing, you do not notice it happening.


Gradually the succession of ships bore me southwards into vivid sub-tropical seas. The temperature rose with the passing of every day, the sun glaring down from a sky that seemed to act like a concentrating dome of reflection. The waters were calm and metal-bright. Currents and tides stirred beneath the surface but each stretch of the journey was a stealthy, calming voyage through untroubled seas.

I protected myself from the steadily increasing hot weather by wearing a long linen robe and a broad-brimmed hat, both of which I bought from a stall on the deck of the ferry between Gannten and Derril. I covered my face and arms with barrier cream. After the first day away from home I stopped shaving and soon I grew used to the appearance of my new-growing beard.

Music returned to me. Every island had a different note. I leaned on the rail, crossing the sea, staring at land. The music sounded in my head and resounded in my body: the vessels’ movements through the water, the slow rocking of the ships with their mechanical, unidentifiable sounds from deep within their hulls, the distant murmuring of the engines, and the steady vibration. Islands never failed me. Seabirds hovered and swooped in the wake of the ships and everywhere there were glimpses of fish and other swimming animals, surfacing intermittently, perhaps curiously, to see us churning past. Islands released their notes. With the sudden blasts of sirens and horns, the close encounters with other ships in the narrows between islands, I felt rhythms starting up, syncopations. When we passed between two islands I did not know on which side of the deck to be first.

Where once before I would have sought discordance, challenge and surprise in the music that I dreamed about, now I whistled tunes quietly to myself, tapped my foot as a rhythm came to me. I would stand close to the prow of every boat, responding to the slow rise and fall as we moved across the swell. Much of the time I had my eyes closed as I reacted to the sounds in my mind, or I stared away across the water to the nearest island, not focusing, just looking. Passengers on passing ships waved across intersecting wakes – soon I became one of them, joining in and waving back, loving this marine adventure, this journey into unknown zones, not only of the vast, island-crammed ocean, but also into the new musical impulses, lighter, happier, that were rising from my soul.