Today these four authors are here on my blog talking about the music they listened to while writing their books - also another of my favourite subjects! I hope you enjoy reading it, and do check out some 9+ fiction if you haven't already - it really is fantastic!
Character playlists and music our authors listened to while writing their books.
All stories have sounds – they’re often in the background but they create mood like the soundtrack of a film...
I write historical books so background noise is going to be different from today – no cars, planes, phones, TV. Lots more tweeting birds, whirring insects, rustling trees for two reasons: there was more nature round about, and the natural sounds wouldn’t be drowned out.
But my latest book, Temple Boys, is set in Jerusalem, 2000 odd years ago so I had to ask questions like, what sound does a camel make? If there’s no background noise of cars, maybe you’d be able to hear a metal worker in a workshop hammering out a copper bowl - or angry crowd from a long, long way away.
And the last element in my soundtrack are the noises coming from the Great Temple of Jerusalem: bleating goats and bellowing cattle waiting to be sacrificed; holiday crowds; hawkers; and music. You’d hear chanting, harps, and I think, at various times of day, huge instruments like Alpine horns would be blown.
When I was writing Temple Boys. I tried to keep all those sounds playing in my head and when I wanted a bit of peace of quiet, I’d play Hawkwind (very dodgy psychedelic old rockers) VERY VERY LOUD.
Making playlists for stories – for my own, and for other people’s – is one of my dorkiest habits (and I sometimes make little suits for action figures, so that’s saying something). I’m the sort of person that always listens to/reads the lyrics of songs, and I love finding resonances with books and films and TV shows. If I had more time and didn’t need money I’d probably spend my days doing nothing but making fanvids. I mean, Modern Man by Arcade Fire makes me think about Iron Man 3 and that’s ridiculous and I don’t care.
So, of course I have songs I associate with Mars Evacuees. In fact, if I haven’t got a song for a character or a storyline, I get kind of edgy and have to go looking for them, and sometimes the songs I find actually influence my writing. For a while I was a little embarrassed that I was trying to match my stories to imaginary fanvids and then I thought “wait, I’m responding to other forms of art. That’s what’s supposed to happen.”
One of the characters, Josephine, is my idea of what a twelve-year-old female Sherlock Holmes of the future would be like. Holmes has his violin, so Josephine needed an instrument too – especially because I loved the idea of music being played for the first time under the skies of Mars. But her instrument had to be something small and portable enough for her to be able to keep it with her even when she’s trekking around Mars and being attacked by space locusts, so I settled on a harmonica. And I think we often think of the harmonica as a bit of a joke instrument, but when I researched I found how beautiful it can be. At one point she plays Clair de Lune on Mars and it would sound rather like Larry Adler playing it here.
I had to include Muse’s Knights of Cydonia since it’s “about” the area of Mars where the children are sent, and Two Planets by Bat for Lashes resonates for me for the two settings of the book, Mars and Earth. Accident and Emergency by Patrick Wolf has this energetic poppy-but-frantic quality that I really like for the whole book, but particularly the bit when the adults disappear and everything gets kind of chaotic. And Let Your Heart Hold Fast really reminds me of a moment when the children are stranded in the Labyrinth of Night on Mars and are close to giving up.
My whole Mars Evacuees playlist is on Youtube here. And if you want clues to where the sequel’s going, you can check out the playlist I’m building for it here. There are only four songs so far but I’ll probably add more.
Sometimes, when I write, I will play a particular album to help set the mood for what I’m working on. For example, my first novel was written partly to a backdrop of Eyes Open by Snow Patrol and some of the ideas and lyrics crept into the narrative. Similarly, for my second book, I had the Thunderbirds soundtrack on from time to time, as it suited the material.
For The Sword of Kuromori, it was different because I don’t have a lot of Japanese music to hand, although I will say that while I was there I did listen to my share of J-Pop. There is Japanese dance, rock, rap, blues, punk, bubblegum - you name it. All of the familiar Western styles have been adopted, alongside more traditional forms such as enka, which is a form of ballad.
I do have a CD of taiko drumming, which got a few spins. Taiko are traditional barrel-shaped drums, some of which are enormous, and these are played at festivals. I also listened to the soundtrack of The Matrix Reloaded, particularly the car chase sequence and the fight in the chateau, and Read All About It by Professor Green had a bearing on the penultimate scene.
As for my characters, I can definitely see Kenny listening to heavy rock, such as AC/DC, Metallica, Ministry and Guns N’ Roses. Kiyomi is more into techno and dance.
Although I can’t write while listening to music (too distracting!), there’s often a piece of music going round and round in my head – something that evokes a character or a place or a formative moment in the story.
Finlandia, Opus 26 by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius This orchestral piece is full of drama. A powerful, brooding beginning gives way to a gentler passage that feels like a small, troubled soul caught up in something big. In my head, it’s my character Moss, unwillingly playing her part in the spectacular horror of an execution on Tower Hill.
Blind Faith by Chase & Status
The best I can do now is dance with the devil
I keep my soul sane
I wont waste this time and space
So I know I need this sweet sensation
The soaring melody and lyrics of Blind Faith are a way into Moss’ state of mind as she feels the pull of the treacherous river and the wild, free sensation of being outside the Tower for the first time.
Misty Mountains by Howard Shore from the film The Hobbit This haunting, fireside song is dwarf legend, a remembered time, loaded with longing. But our own histories are fallible. As Nell in my book says, ‘Stories. Memories. Who’s to say what’s true and what’s not?’
Pastime with Good Company by King Henry VIII A wildly popular song in its day, its meaning is basically ‘let’s party!’ Henry’s lyrics justify a carefree life of hunting, singing and dancing. One of my scenes is set at a massive party in Hampton Court Palace and I imagine this song blasting the rafters of The Great Hall.
Walk on By by the Stranglers All about the raw pain of lost love, what makes the Stranglers’ Walk On By so memorable for me is the angry way it’s sung. My character Moss feels the pain of rejecting her father very deeply. Gradually her anger at his lies subsides, giving way to the realization that his actions were out of love.