Posts Tagged Arctic Monkeys

The Undercover Soundtrack – Timothy Hallinan

for logo‘A lyric I misheard…’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by award-winning mystery and thriller novelist (and musician) Timothy Hallinan @TimHallinan

Soundtrack by Jack’s Mannequin, Ravel, Tegan and Sara, Fun. , Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Jon Fratelli, Emmylou Harris, Mindy Smith, Lindi Ortega, Over the Rhine

I could not write without music.

With more than 7,000 tracks on my hard drive and the best pair of earbuds money can buy, I can create a distraction-free workspace anywhere in the world.  That’s necessary because I like to write in public, usually in coffee-shops, where there’s already caffeine in the air and I can look up and steal a face whenever I need one.

I work to playlists with different qualities, most of them 400-1,000 songs long.  (My current all-purpose playlist has 1,356 songs on it, heavy on Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Jon Fratelli, Emmylou Harris, Mindy Smith, Lindi Ortega, Over the Rhine, etc.)  Generally, music seals me off from distraction, provides a source of energy, and, depending on what I’m writing and the playlist I’ve chosen, an actual entry point to certain emotions and even imagery.

timcolor.jpg crop smallerI virtually never write without those earphones plugged in.  (I’m listening to Jack’s Mannequin right now.)  About half the time I work to the all-purpose playlist, which changes all the time as I add new stuff and yank the old.  But occasionally a piece of music will emerge and take over the writing of a book.

In my fourth Poke Rafferty novel, The Queen of Patpong, a young woman has leapt from a boat into the dark Andaman Sea near three large rocks called The Sisters.  It’s the middle of the night, rain is pouring down, and the water bristles with sea-wasps, a particularly lethal jellyfish.  The man in the boat has brought her there specifically to kill her.  This is the turning point of the book, and it became the longest action scene I’ve ever written.  A few pages in, Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand kicked in, and I immediately put it on a loop.  I wrote to it for several days.  In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, I wrote:

the chapter when Rose is in the water was written mostly to Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, a piece of music that’s got dark water running all the way through it.

I mention the music I use most at the close of practically every book, and many, many people have emailed me to suggest new artistes.  I get a lot of good music that way.

The forthcoming Rafferty book, For The Dead, is largely about a 13-year-old girl having her carefully constructed and entirely fictional identity ripped from her, revealing her to the kids in her exclusive school as a former street child who’s befriended them under false pretences. Much of it was written to Tegan and Sara, who create great, hooky, irresistible rock about girls and young women.  They were the primary soundtrack for Miaow’s sections of the story.

Fear Artist cov art smallBut early in the writing process, I began to listen to Fun., and their music crystallized certain aspects of Miaow’s story.  At the beginning of the book a phrase from a Fun. song called Benson Hedges, We all float until we sink, keeps running through her mind, and that also song provided the titles of the first two sections of the book: We All Float . . . and . . . Until We Sink.  The third section is Drowning Girls, which is a lyric I actually misheard, but there was no way to drop it because it worked so well, and the fourth section is Aim and Ignite, which is the title of a Fun. album.

Finally, in the new Junior Bender book (due out July 2), The Fame Thief, Junior is hired to find out who destroyed the career (and the life) of a young actress in 1950.  The central section of the book departs from Junior’s first-person to take us back to the 40s and the early 50s, and for this section I listened to pop music from the day, which had a real impact on both the dialogue and the visual landscape.

If anyone who reads this has some recommendations for me, please comment below or email me at thallinan@gmail.com  And thanks in advance.

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar- and Macavity-nominated author of two current series, the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers and the Junior Bender mysteries.  His musical roots run deep: back in the 1970s he was in a band that recorded an album for Universal and which ultimately, minus him, morphed into the gazillion-selling group Bread.  Songs Hallinan wrote were recorded by a number of top artists in several genres. The most recent Poke Rafferty book, The Fear Artist, was named in several ‘ten best’ lists in 2012, and the third Junior Bender, The Fame Thief, will be released this July.  The Bender series has been bought for film by Lionsgate.  Hallinan also wrote six Simeon Grist private eye mysteries in the 1990s and edited Shaken: Stories for Japan, an ebook collection of Japan-themed short stories that raises money for Japanese tsunami relief.  He’s also the editor of the Twenty-One Writers project, a series of books in which writers talk about their craft. He lives in Bangkok and Los Angeles. Find him on his blog and Twitter @timhallinan.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Andrew Blackman

for logo‘For a month, I listened to music to hear my characters’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by award-winning literary fiction writer Andrew Blackman @BlackmanAndrew

Soundtrack by Beethoven, Sibelius, Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom, Birds of Chicago, Arctic Monkeys

Ah, the difficult second novel.

I’d written a manuscript of 100,000 words, sent it to my agent, and was feeling good. I met him at a pub in Camden, ordered a pint of Guinness, and sat on a bench outside in the watery spring sunshine, expecting a conversation about how large my advance would be.

IMG_0459Instead, I got something else. Something I wasn’t expecting. I got criticism. The voices didn’t work, he said. I’d told my story as a serial first person narrative, with a different character picking up the tale in each chapter. But they all sounded the same. One was an 80-year-old granddad, another a young woman from California, another a cynical 20-something furniture salesman. But they all sounded the same. They all sounded like me.

When I got home, I did what every writer does after receiving helpful, constructive criticism: I took it as an attack on my ability as a writer, went to bed and turned off the lights and felt like never getting up again. The manuscript I’d been so proud of that morning now seemed to me like worthless junk, a waste of two years of my life. It’s lucky I’d made multiple digital copies, otherwise I’d have burnt the thing.

After indulging in a weeklong orgy of pathetic self-pity, I grew up, accepted that he was right, and went to work.

Changing the voice of all seven different narrators is no simple task. It’s easier to write new scenes or even a new ending. Changing narrative voice means going through every line of the novel and rewriting it. But first it means defining what the different voices are going to be. As I’ve done many times before when in need of inspiration, I turned to music.

I created a different mood for each character, based on my idea of who that person was. The Beethoven and Sibelius I’d listened to while writing my first draft was fine for Granddad, but not for young, idealistic Marie from California. She listened to Laura Marling, Joanna Newsom and Birds of Chicago. As for Jon, the furniture salesman, he was an Arctic Monkeys man. I listened, and I tried to hear their voices in my head. I did this for all seven characters. For a month I didn’t write a thing. I just spent time with my characters, listening to the music they liked and trying to hear them speak the sentences I’d written.

Doing this helped me see just how much my agent was right. My 20-something furniture salesman referred to a smelly minicab as being ‘like a full-bodied wine, releasing more varied and subtle aromas with more time and attention’. With classical music playing, that had actually sounded OK. With the Arctic Monkeys blasting out, I realised just how ridiculous it was. I changed it to:

Another click and we were locked in. Hot and clammy suddenly, choking on nicotine and pine … At a red light, the fizz of a can, loud slurping, the metallic stench of Red Bull. Behind it all, a strange, burnt aroma…

A Virtual Love CoverI did the same with every character, line by line, word by word. I changed the vocabulary, I changed the cultural references, I changed the rhythm of the sentences. Jon, with his guitar-charged indie rock, spoke in a choppy, broken English, while Marie with her contemporary folk was more florid, elegant and occasionally long-winded.

By the end, I couldn’t tell whether I was choosing music to fit the character, or whether the character was being shaped by the music. And the best part was that it didn’t matter. I was listening and writing in different voices. I ended up with 29 chapters written by seven different characters, and there’s nothing in the chapter title to indicate who the narrator is. The voices are, I hope, so distinctive that you can tell within a few sentences who you’re listening to. It’s only possible because of the time I spent with my characters, listening to their music and letting their voices enter my head.

Andrew Blackman‘s second novel A Virtual Love is in bookshops now. His debut novel On the Holloway Road (Legend Press, 2009) won the Luke Bitmead Writer’s Bursary and was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize. He’s a former Wall Street Journal staff writer, now converted to fiction. More information available at his website, or you can connect with him via Twitter.

GIVEAWAY Andrew is offering a signed copy of A Virtual Love. For a chance to win, leave a comment here or share this post on Twitter, Facebook, G+ or anywhere else (and don’t forget to leave a note here saying where you shared it).

 

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