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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’s post is by contemporary romance author Jan Ruth @JanRuthAuthor
Music and books; possibly the best combination for legitimate daydreaming. Loosely speaking I’m in the ‘romantic genre’. I always balk at this description, it is so restricting and has been my downfall in the past when submitting to agents and so on. ‘It’s… not quite romance is it? And why are you writing it from the male point of view half the time?’ Well, like my musical muse, I like to mix it up a little. From the emotional scenes, from the windswept Celtic landscapes (Enigma, Clannad, Craig Armstrong, Sarah Brightman); to the drama of arson, relationship conflict and fast cars, (Morrissey, Kings of Leon).
I think I began using headphones as a buffer to block out those bloodcurdling screams of children playing nicely, or of husband making a noisy clatter in the kitchen (all devised to make me feel guilty for sitting at the typewriter). Of course, as this process developed, I began to get choosy as to the exact soundtrack. When I began to write Wild Water I used Roxy Music as a shameless buffer to domestic chaos. Don’t laugh, this was 25 years ago and it was the only cassette that worked in the machine. I’d like to make a point here that Bryan Ferry has nothing to do with my fiction, and in no way has he influenced the story but his crooning voice and the sheer volume was a combination which worked for me at the time, and in fact led to a whole new area of inspiration.
Now of course, I am so much more sophisticated, with my tiny earpieces and my subscription to Spotify.
I can drift into a trance merely be selecting the required track and outside noise does not penetrate my concentration. I am distracted instead now by the internet. I received an email once from my husband, who was apparently, standing on the doorstep holding his finger on the doorbell and clearly very cross indeed as he had forgotten his keys, and was I DEAF?
I find music a rich source of inspiration. I can listen to the same track and get back into a scene, almost like hypnosis. If I had to pick one single artist it would have to be Enigma. My story settings are Celtic; not that I write in a historical genre but all my settings are rooted in Snowdonia. Someone once described my backgrounds as separate characters in their own right – and I find Enigma dovetails very nicely into this concept with their spiritual chanting and long instrumental pieces which, although described as ‘new-age’, cross frequently into other genres, much like my writing!
I live in the perfect landscape for love. The endless complications of relationships form the basis of my stories and I think the challenge as a writer is to bring a fresh perspective to what can only be described as the well-worked themes of romance; although I do like to throw in the odd spot of domestic violence and arson, so maybe not your average visit to North Wales.
Are lyrics distracting? I tend to prefer instrumental pieces but then Sarah Brightman’s Gothic album Symphony has been a rich source of visualisation for me too; dramatic and haunting, her vocals are awe inspiring. Midnight Sky was very influenced by this album. The dark track Sanvean fitted the bereaved mood of the main male protagonist perfectly. I think I listened to it more than 200 times, and I still get goosebumps from the intro. Her mix doesn’t suit all scenarios though, and if I’m writing from a male viewpoint I am frequently drawn to The Kings of Leon – who isn’t? A rock buzz can be very helpful for fight scenes or maybe driving fast cars in an agitated state. The problem with this one is that frequently, it is me who is driving a not-very-fast-car, in an agitated state. Playing my ‘writing music’ in the car brings heaps of trouble; as soon as I step away from the keyboard and drive begrudgingly to the supermarket, I am besieged with ideas and snippets of astounding dialogue, all of which I try to remember or scribble down on the shopping list as I browse the shelves and yes, I usually end up scowling at the top ten paperbacks in there too.
My work in progress is about a 50-year-old clown of a man with a fixation for Morrissey. In the book, his fixation adds to the downfall of his marriage.
…For less than a minute she’d glared at his carefully guarded face, then suddenly made a lunge for his old guitar and slung it through the open bedroom window. Some of his Morrissey records followed, shimmering like black Frisbees down the garden.
That was the last straw, and she knew it.
My husband loathes Morrissey too…
Jan Ruth has written three full length novels; Wild Water, Midnight Sky and White Horizon, plus a collection of short stories, The Long and The Short Of It. She is a regular contributor to North Wales Yes magazine and is currently writing her fourth novel, Silver Rain. Find Jan on Facebook, Twitter and her website.
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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’s post is by contemporary women’s fiction novelist Joanne Phillips @joannegphillips
Soundtrack by Morrissey
I’m one of those writers who needs absolute peace and quiet to concentrate. Birdsong is fine; distant lawnmowers are okay; total silence is better. Anything I can ignore won’t interrupt my peace, but I can’t ignore music so I never listen while working. Music has always affected me deeply; I discovered Radio 4 during a difficult period in my life when the most innocuous song could trigger an attack of the blues.
Because I haven’t studied music I lack the vocabulary to explain precisely what it is that reaches inside and yanks out strings of emotion. I know there’s an amorphous sense of longing, of trying to work something out, and it’s this feeling, produced only by a beautiful tune or resonating lyric, that I aim to recreate in the reader when I’m writing. Great music and good fiction should transport you in some way, and no artist is better at evoking this response in me than Morrissey.
Conflicted and empowered
Morrissey’s lyrics have often inspired ideas for characters’ inner conflicts and turmoil. In The Future When All’s Well – a beautiful, upbeat song full of hope – is behind Stella’s blind faith in The Family Trap. As I listen to this track I feel empowered to take risks, to be my own person, and I gave this motivation to Stella, who is often quite infuriating but to me she carries this sense of hope and positivity with her always. There is a ‘definiteness’ to Morrissey’s music, a challenge, an invitation to take it any way you choose. Stella’s character embodies this – I prefer to write characters who are challenging, perhaps not immediately likeable but all the more real for it. And on a more general note, if I’m ever flagging or feeling low, listening to this track will always give me a lift. (Who says Morrissey is depressing?)
Last year, while I was writing The Family Trap, we were lucky enough to see him live in Manchester. There is so much passion in his music, and in the response from his fans, as you can hear during this clip (Every Day Is Like Sunday). And listen to those first two lines. It’s a beautiful, evocative image that prompts the questions: Who stole them? What happened next? The use of the word trudging is perfect. When I’m trying to pin down a piece of narrative, to reduce it to its core, I reflect on the use of song lyrics to set up a scene or emotion so economically. It really helps.
Not only do I listen to Morrissey for inspiration and ideas, I often use his music to reconnect to my own passion for writing, to be reminded that it’s fine to do things the way I want to, that I don’t have to follow strict conventions just because I write in a particular genre. Morrissey is the master of emotional manipulation and one of his key techniques is to contrast lyrical content with musical style: heart-rending, near-suicidal lyrics set to an upbeat, jaunty tune (I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris). While both my novels are contemporary women’s fiction, they are not light and fluffy by any means. Both explore fairly dark themes for the genre – losing everything you own, materialism, the effect of having a parent in prison, the possibility of paternal abandonment – and I think these themes are all the more powerful for being set in a more humorous context.
Of course, I do listen to artists other than Morrissey! But he has provided the soundtrack to my life, and influenced my emotional responses to music and writing in ways that even I don’t understand. If I can evoke just an echo of that in my readers I’ve more than done my job.
Joanne Phillips is the author of contemporary women’s fiction novels Can’t Live Without and The Family Trap, both available in ebook and paperback from Amazon. She is studying for a masters in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and works part time as an indexer. Joanne blogs about writing and publishing and you can follow her on Twitter @joannegphillips and Facebook
a parent in prison, absolute peace, authors, blind faith, Can’t Live Without, contemporary fiction, definiteness, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, inner conflicts, Joanne Phillips, materialism, Morrissey, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, mysterious place, Nail Your Novel, paternal abandonment, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, The Family Trap, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, upbeat song, Women Writers, Women's fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
- '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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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'