The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by prolific YA novelist Nicola Morgan @nicolamorgan
Music and I have an odd relationship. If I say “There was no music in my life until I was eleven”, you’ll think I’m being melodramatic or metaphorical. No. My extremely unusual childhood was full of amazing freedoms, but no music. Or rather, we didn’t listen to it at home, ever, and since home was school, I didn’t listen to it at all. There was a school choir and I sang in it, but that, being for chapel, was somewhat narrow in its tastes. Anyway, it wasn’t till I went to boarding-school that music appeared, and by then I lacked the musical parts of my brain. (Confirmed when I tried to learn the oboe as an adult.)
Yet, if I’m writing fiction, there must be music. And I’m pedantic about the choice. It has to be just right for that piece of writing. Once I find the album, I play it over and over. And over. Sometimes I have to play it through headphones because my family shout, “NOOOO!”
A kick in the heart
It’s not background music. It’s not just to block out the real world – though it must do this, too. But it must be more invasive. It needs to kick me in the heart, make me sing – sometimes literally. It needs to take me to a place where fiction dwells and worlds can be created.
What music? The word my family use to describe the music I write fiction to is “anthemic”. They will suggest a new band or album and say to me, “You could write to that.” It must have powerful melody, rhythm and emotion, in both the music and the words. And there must be words. I think as well there must be colour. And music with colour – an aspect of synaesthesia – is something that’s hugely a theme of Mondays are Red.
Losing my religion – in yellow
So, exactly what is on my Undercover Soundtrack? When I was writing The Passionflower Massacre (Hodder, 2005) it was R.E.M., mostly Around the Sun, though in fact I quite wanted to call the book Losing My Religion. R.E.M.’s music is rich and golden, warm and vibrant, mysterious and with odd meaning. And The Passionflower Massacre is a book like that. I think the book is more yellow, more summery than R.E.M., though, but the Around the Sun track is perfect.
Sleepwalking (Hodder 2004) was Sting. Sting and the Police are cold, thin blue, the wail of a heartless future. That’s how Sleepwalking feels to me. The Highwayman’s Footsteps (Walker 2007) was Franz Ferdinand, rich with reds and blues and excitement; The Highwayman’s Curse (2008) was Franz Ferdinand again and The Kaiser Chiefs, harsh, cruel, jangly, angry, steel grey and blood red with the horror of religious hatred.
Wasted was a strange mixture: Belle and Sebastian, Muse (Uprising – love it!) and Beautiful South. With smatterings of REM again. It’s not a violent book, more thoughtful, and if it had a colour it would be an impossible blue lilac disappearing at all its edges. (For your interest, the main character is a girl with music-colour synaesthesia.)
Everything I want for a dark book
And the novel I’ve just finished, Brutal Eyes, is pure Coldplay – mostly Viva la Vida but with the recent revisions written to Mylo Xyloto, especially the phenomenal Us Against the World and Every Teardrop is a Waterfall. Those two songs are everything I want in music for a dark book. You can hear every rasp of Chris Martin’s breath, every squeak of finger on string. You can hear his eyes close, his shoulders move. It has enormous emotional heart. I’d like to hope it lends some of that to the book. Funnily, Brutal Eyes doesn’t have a colour for me.
What did I write Write to be Published to? Nothing! I couldn’t possibly write non-fiction while listening to music!
Nicola Morgan is an award-winning author, with around 90 published titles, and a growing list of self-published titles. She is well-known to aspiring writers for the honest advice on her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher! and a book – Write to be Published – published by Snowbooks. Notable works include her famously gruesome novel Fleshmarket; the Aventis shortlisted Blame My Brain: The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed; and Wasted, which was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and won or was shortlisted for many awards. Mondays are Red was originally published in 2002 and Nicola has now created a new edition for ebook format, including some extra material such as creative writing by school pupils. This time, she is publishing it herself, with the help of her agent. Follow her on Twitter @nicolamorgan