Singer Gareth Dunlop and author Emma Heatherington's novel new partnership

Belfast singer-songwriter Gareth Dunlop has teamed up with Tyrone author Emma Heathington to come up with a new single to accompany her latest novel, Rewrite the Stars. Jenny Lee meets up with the pair and asks them if, like the characters in the book, they have any ‘what if..?' moments themselves?

Writer Emma Heatherington with musician Gareth Dunlop, who wrote a song to accompany her latest novel Rewrite The Stars. Picture by Mal McCann

WE’VE all looked back on our lives and reimagined important moments unfolding in different ways. These 'What if...?' moments make us wonder what paths our life would have taken if we had made different decision.

Tyrone author Emma Heatherington’s latest novel, Rewrite The Stars, is a will they? won’t they? tale, set in Dublin and featuring the story of a young woman called Charlotte Taylor and a budding songwriter, Tom Farley.

A key theme in the book is Charlotte’s love of music, and her desire to fulfil her passion of songwriting. This is a dream shared by Emma, who wrote her first "cheesy pop songs" on her synthesizer at the age of 12.

"I always loved music. It's in my family – my cousin Vivian Campbell plays in Def Leppard and we grew up watching his band rise to fame. I was a complete groupie as a teenager, waiting outside the King's Hall to see Marti Pellow and Bros.

"I always dreamed of being a songwriter in Nashville, but family circumstances just didn't let me because my mummy died when we were all so young and I couldn't leave home as I needed to help look after my siblings. I don't have any particular regrets and I love being a novelist, but I always wonder, what if things had been different?"

While working on Rewriting The Stars, Emma had the idea of the book having it's very own accompanying song, which readers could download.

"I was coming up to this particular scene where Tom was singing a song on an arena tour about Charlotte, who is in the audience hearing it for the first time. I wanted the song to be one of those goosebump moments in the book. As much as I love writing lyrics myself, I thought the book deserved something a bit more polished."

In recent years Emma has penned the biographies of country singers Philomena Begley and Nathan Carter, and she has also co-written Derek Ryan's song Break Your Heart, but when it came to someone to write the song for her book, Gareth Dunlop was top of her list.

"I originally thought of using Gareth's song Dwell On My Soul, but was delighted when he suggested writing a brand new song. You is a beautiful, mesmerising and moving song, and even better than I could ever have dreamed of."

The poetic vulnerability in his songs and his soulful voice have led to Gareth’s music being featured in numerous television shows, commercials and films including Suits, Lucifer, Bones, Nashville and the movie Safe Haven. His songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists ranging from rap star TI to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

"I have 'What if..?' moments all the time, because in music crazy things happen all the time – where strange coincidences can lead to something else," says Gareth, whose musical direction took a twist after fate played its part in a chance meeting with Dianna Maher, president of Moraine Music Group, one of Nashville's leading independent publishers.

"I got an opportunity to go out to Nashville in 2010 for the first time, through the Belfast-Nashville Songwriters Festival and I played a few shows – one was at the Bluebird Cafe. I ran into a girl that night who asked me if I had any publishing experience? I didn't even know what that was," he laughs.

"It was a miracle she was actually there that night in Bluebird as she doesn't normally go there, but was trailed along by someone else. I've been with her ever since, as well as with other publishers, and ended up getting about eight songs in the Nashville TV series."

And how does one go about writing music for film, television or even novels?

"I would get a brief with character references, a bit of a back story, the storyline for which the song is needs and a note on things not to talk about," explains Gareth, whose dream is to work with US singer-songwriter Tom Waits.

I spoke to the Belfast man before he caught a plane to the States for meetings, showcases and gigs in both Nashville and Los Angeles. I asked him if it was difficult combining both sides of his career.

"It's a game of pennies and pounds – some months you are thanking your lucky stars and other months you are pulling your hair, wondering, why the hell did I get into this?

"'ll be out in the States five or six times a year – it used to be a lot more. I've two kids and we've all been out there together spending time deciding whether it would work out living there, but for all it's madness, I'm much more attached to home," says Gareth, who is also working on his latest album.

"It's due to come out February or March. You is the first single and I hope to release something for Christmas. Sonically it's going in a different direction. I think that gets influenced by what you are listening to and I'm listening to a lot more electronic music. I've been doing the acoustic troubadour thing for a long time. I'm certainly not bored with it, but I'm going to try something else."

For Emma, having moved across to HarperFiction, the commerical fiction imprint of the publishing giant, whose writers include Cecelia Ahern, she also has ambitions for her work to feature on the big screen.

"With Rewrite The Stars the main theme is about being true to yourself. The biggest lesson I learned while writing Charlotte Taylor's story was that we aren't here for very long and so there's nothing like the power of the 'now'. We should never be afraid to take risks and make the chances we need to, to be the person we want to be.

"I've a new agent in London who have a specialist film section, so those opportunities are there now for both this book and my previous one, The Legacy Of Lucy Harte."

And who would she like to cast as Tom and Charlotte in Rewrite the Stars: The Movie?

"I picture Tom as a Keith Urban type. And Saoirse Ronan would make a perfect Irish Charlotte," she laughs.

Emma has almost finished working on her next novel – an intergenerational friendship between a young man on community service and an older eccentric woman from New York, who is living in Northern Ireland.

"Their paths cross and it's about what they learn from each other. All of my writing is about life-affirming lessons. Novel writing is very similar to songwriting – it's about themes in life and emotion. And if you can move someone with a song or a story that's when you've done a good job," adds Emma

:: Rewrite The Stars is published by Harper Collins and released on October 17. Emma Heatherington will be chatting about her writing career in Dungannon Library on October 17 at 12.30pm as part of Book Week NI. She and Gareth Dunlop will be performing and doing a book signing at Cafe No47 in Donaghmore on November 2 at 8pm. Admission to both events is free. You by Gareth Dunlop is available to download now.

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