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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is cyberthriller author Ian Sutherland @iansuth
Soundtrack by John Barry, Vangelis, Ennio Morricone, Elgar, Moby, Leftfield, Underworld, The Smiths
I write to music; never to silence. For me, music is essential. It rapidly gets me in the zone and allows the creative juices to flow freely. Right now I’m listening to the movie soundtrack of 500 Days of Summer. I love it when the two tracks by The Smiths come on.
There’s a pragmatic purpose to my use of music. As most people appreciate, writing is one of the most solitary professions there is. And one of the reasons I procrastinated so long in my life before finally publishing my debut novel was my desire to balance time for my family and friends (oh, and work). And even more so when my daughters left home for university, leaving my wife and me with the proverbial empty nest. The only way I could write was to relocate myself to the living room (and be in the same vicinity as my otherwise lonely wife) and wear headphones to drown out the noise of the TV!
My debut novel is a thriller called Invasion of Privacy. When I first started it three years ago, I mostly played orchestral movie soundtracks while writing. There were two reasons. The first was practical: at the time I believed hearing songs with lyrics would be distracting (I’ve since overcome that). And the second was because soundtracks follow the tempo of the movies they represent, and pairing different soundtracks to the types of scenes I was writing helped.
For quieter more reflective scenes, my favourite choice is John Barry’s Dances With Wolves, the slow pace of the rather long movie suiting perfectly. For higher tempo, more action orientated scenes, I often selected 1492: Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis. Especially the title piece, which features a chamber choir singing rousting Latin hymns with massive crescendos.
These soundtracks directly influenced my characterisation in the novel and were referenced explicitly. The main protagonist is a computer hacker who, whenever he starts a hacking session, chooses a movie soundtrack to accompany him:
‘Brody selected his favourite movie soundtrack playlist, set it for random with the volume high and pressed play. The opening bars to John Barry’s Dances With Wolves boomed from floor-standing Bose speakers either side of the huge wall-mounted television. Then, like a concert pianist about to perform a solo, he rested his fingers on the keyboard in front of him.’
A hacking session later in the book is, of course, accompanied by 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Ennio Morricone’s The Mission also makes an appearance in the novel. It had to, given the number of times the novel’s author listened to it during the book’s writing.
Unbeknown to me, my editor Bryony Sutherland (no relation!) had studied music at the Royal Academy of Music. She picked up on the large number of musical references in the novel, starting with the opening scene where Anna Parker, the soon-to-be-first-victim, reflects on her journey towards becoming a cellist:
‘A childhood spent observing her school friends through the living room window playing forty-forty, kerbie and later, kiss-chase, while she practised her scales over and over, her bow movements across the strings becoming autonomic as muscle memory took over, the melodies becoming more complex and harmonious.’
Bryony appreciated the background and characterisation this short description provided, but also commented on how accurate the musical description was. In the scene, Anna auditions for a role in the orchestra of the Royal Opera House. She plays Elgar’s Concerto in E-Minor, a perfect choice for a solo cellist performance:
‘She took two more deep breaths, drew back the bow and launched into the concerto, her favourite piece. The music, as Elgar had planned, came slowly and hauntingly at first. Within a few bars she was lost to the stately rhythm of her part.’
As the novel headed towards its dramatic conclusion, the pace naturally picked up in the writing style. To help me maintain a faster pace during writing, I began to play the soundtrack to the movie The Beach on repeat. High tempo electro beats by the likes of Leftfield, Moby and Underworld were perfect to maintain concentration and a high pace. I also noticed that I set the volume in my earphones much higher as well, drowning out everything except me and the words on my laptop screen.
And I’m finishing writing this very post on a cheerful high. 500 Days of Summer has now looped a few times, but I write these last words to the quirky and breezy song, Mushaboom. Always guaranteed to leave anyone in a good mood! Give it a listen if you’ve not heard it before.
Ian Sutherland is a British crime thriller author. Leveraging his career in the IT industry, Ian’s Deep Web Thriller Series shines light on the threats we face from cybercrime as it becomes all too prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Invasion of Privacy is his debut. Ian lives near London with his wife and two daughters. Find him on his website, Twitter as @iansuth and on Facebook.
GIVEAWAY Ian is giving away 1 copy of Invasion of Privacy, either print or ebook. To enter the draw, comment here and share the post. Extra entries if you share on multiple platforms – and don’t forget to note here where you shared them so we know to count you!
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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by award-winning author Jane Rusbridge @JaneRusbridge
I’d love to be able to write in a crowded room like D.H. Lawrence, but I need silence and solitude. The early stage of Rook was a very noisy exception. Cello music, volume up high, accompanied me most of the day, as did the cellists I watched on Youtube, over and over again: YoYo Ma, playing Saint-Saens, The Swan; Jacqueline Du Pre playing Elgar’s well known Cello Concerto in E minor, especially the Adagio.
My main character, Nora, had to be a cellist so, knowing nothing at all about the cello, I needed to observe technique, as well as listen. I bought CDs and played them in the car and in the kitchen, until my husband complained. He’s more of a BBC Radio 5 Live person. I read Mstislav Rostropovitch: Cellist, Teacher, Legend by Elizabeth Wilson, a book which lead me the Bach Prelude in G major and helped me fall a little in love with Rostrapovitch and his spark of genius.
Wrestling with ferocity
A friend teaches at the Royal Academy so I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit in on some lessons. These had a profound effect and were inspirational in terms of understanding my central character. One gifted young student, Cecilia Bignall, played cello music I’d never heard, such as Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1 and the Martinu cello concerto no. 1. To observe, at close range, a cellist play such vigorous, powerful music in a relatively small room was electrifying. My whole body reacted; the sound vibrated through my spine, ribs and jaw-bone. It raised my pulse. Cecilia is petite. Her body language while playing gave the impression she and the cello were wrestling with ferocity over the music.
Influenced by Jacqueline du Pre’s tragic life story, I’d been under the misconception the cello was largely a romantic, melancholic instrument. While music like Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei still plays a vital role in the novel, discovering the cello’s gutsy side was a revelation, and led to the development of Nora’s corresponding passion and strength of mind. Though she’s been knocked sideways by what happened to her, she’s feisty.
Wild and feral
Not long after my Royal Academy visit, I went to a university conference on the Uncanny. In one seminar session, we discussed the ‘wildness of being’ which exists beneath language. We talked of the fear of wildness, about feral children and the wildness of giving birth. In my notes at this point is a drawing of a light bulb – my private shorthand for eureka moments – followed by a few frenzied scribbles about Nora, my main character.
‘Harry sees her playing ‘wildly’. Martinu. She feels exposed. Ashamed.’
Nora, a professional cellist, has abruptly abandoned her career, her reasons gradually revealed as the novel progresses. Our discussion about the fear of wildness that day helped things fall into place: Nora’s memory of certain events has been repressed. Trying to ‘tame’ her spirit, she no longer allows herself to play with the abandon she once did. If the wildness resurfaces, her memories could be too painful to bear. Ideas about wildness and taming also tied in with the story of the baby rook Nora finds and nurses back to health. I wanted both the rook and Nora to be able to ‘return to the wild’ at the end of the novel.
‘holds the cello close, fingers flat on the wood, the flecks and ripples of varnish, the intimate flaws in the gleam of the cello’s surface, the strength of its body’s curve against her hip and breasts’.
This scene, where Nora plays the Martinu cello concerto no. 1 ‘with the urgency of long deprivation’, is a turning point her recovery.
Natalie Goldberg talks of the ‘wild mind’ of the writer, a phrase which I use in preference to the ‘unconscious’. Through the discovery of the wild side of cello music, I found parallels between my creative process and Nora’s relationship to her cello, essential to my understanding of her character and motivation. And the trailer for Rook has just gone live. The music was composed especially by Aiden O’Brien of Shadowboxer, and inspired by photographs Natalie Miller (my daughter) took of rooks when we were rooking together. If you like, it’s the other side of the coin – music growing from the writing process.
Jane Rusbridge is the author of The Devil’s Music, long-listed for the 2011 International IMPAC Literary Award, and Rook, one of the launch titles for exciting new imprint Bloomsbury Circus. She is the recipient of the Philip Lebrun Prize, and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester, where she was Associate Lecturer in English for more than 10 years. She lives and works in West Sussex. She has a blog Jane Rusbridge and can be found on Twitter @JaneRusbridge
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- 'Constant murmur of pouring rain, piano chords and a stormy sea'
- 'A spellbindingly good yarn'
- 'Simple, beautiful - gripping'
- 'So original it's in a class of its own'
Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
- Carol is a concert pianist until an injury threatens her career. Desperate for a cure she discovers her future incarnation - or is he a psychological figment? And can he help her recover?
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- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
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What is The Undercover Soundtrack?Sleeve notes here
For the soundtrack of My Memories of a Future Life, you'll need Chopin's Sonata in B Minor, Rachmaninov preludes, lashings of Grieg's piano concerto in A minor and The Clash's Rock the Kasbah (they go together well).
You'll also need Samuel Barber's Dover Beach on piano, although that doesn't actually exist so do the best you can.
And the novel's undercover pieces. You can find them here
- What's on their soundtracks? Zip down to the footer and you can search by artiste or composer. See who shares your taste in inspirational music
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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'