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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 apocalyptic thriller author Josh Malerman @JoshMalerman
Soundtrack by Slumber Party Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby, The Fog, Creepshow, Beetlejuice, Danny Elfman, John Carpenter, birdsong
I think Bird Box was written in a trance… a glorious madman’s marathon that most writers are gunning for… the uninterrupted completion of a rough draft that didn’t see a single day’s work end in a question mark. There wasn’t any writing myself-into-a-corner (I’m more likely to do that here, writing this, than I was on that run), no cold sweats, no freak-outs. What a month! Bird Box was written in 26 days. But the awesome bedbug-tapping of the keys and the way I talk to myself as I write weren’t the only sounds that propelled it.
At first, it wasn’t my own. Wasn’t any that I owned, I mean. And some of it wasn’t really music at all. Here’s what I mean.
I’d rented the third-floor attic (former servants’ quarters?) of a mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood. The owner of the home, a musician, a woman, occupied the rest of the house. But I had my corner; a kitchen up there, a bathtub, a bedroom. And birds. Finches. Five of them. I couldn’t bring myself to keep them caged so they flew freely about the space (a thing that ended poorly for some, but was really nice while it lasted.) I had an idea for a book. A different kind of monster. Fuck vampires, I used to think. And fuck the blues. Both so boring! Gimme something new. A monster burst forth! Splitting the idea-ether, lopping the head off the self-governor quickly. It was infinity, personified, the incomprehensible standing on the front porch, swinging on the porch-swing. Yes! Infinity would chase my Malorie through the foggy black and white world of Bird Box as the birds in my rooms sang out, seven o’clock in the morning, flying from one bookshelf to another.
And how their voices spurred me on.
I bought an album, Birds of North America, to play in the intervals, those rare times when the finches grew tired and simply stared, didn’t sing. The sing-song sounds of wild birds spun on the record player, giving my rooms a new feel, and a wider landscape to the book. When Malorie turned her blind head toward the trees, the limbs stretched out farther than they used to. The sky was higher. Room, you see, for all these birds. And there was more. Yes! More music! The landlady played classical guitar downstairs, attempting to revisit a lost passion of hers… writing dreamy-fantastic songs, though she hadn’t written a batch in so long.
Ah, what a place of inspiration! And who would stop there? I’d discovered, for myself, the magnificence of mood, the way an album could influence the words on the page, actually making its way into the work of art. How had I not known it before? How could I have listened to talk radio while typing the rough drafts that came before Bird Box?
Can you hear it?
Can you hear the opening of the Creepshow soundtrack in Bird Box? Can you hear it in my book? I can. It’s in there. No, not at the beginning of Bird Box, not where it appears in the movie Creepshow, but all over the place… as if the book is beginning once again… over and over… letting you know something is starting something is starting I thought it’d already begun but something is starting.
How about the soundtrack for John Carpenter’s The Fog? That ought to be easier to locate. What with the fog that inspired Malorie to leave her house, one might simply point to the page and declare, I hear it! I hear the atmospheric synth sounds of John Carpenter, the Made Man of horror.Yes, as my collection of horror movie soundtracks ballooned (it’s flat out awesome now), so did the story of the book, most pages colored by Slumber Party Massacre, Rosemary’s Baby and Beetlejuice (if you can’t write to Danny Elfman then… then nothing…then I guess you can’t write to Danny Elfman… )
I had no reservations replaying these soundtracks over and over as the birds sang and the homeowner strummed downstairs.
Twenty-six days isn’t long enough to go through too many phases. You get into certain music… certain tracks… and live ‘em for a month.
And yet, the attic scene needed something more.
I wish I could cite the songs used for that frantic scene, but I can’t. I’d have to call radio stations, talk dates and times, extricate one piece from another. Because, for the attic, I wrote to two songs playing at once. As the local classical music station bellowed, the horror movie soundtracks spun on the table by the radio. Oh, the glory of two unrelated pieces sounding at once.
How can I locate a link for such a sound? Maybe we can try. Go ahead and turn your computer speakers as loud as they’ll go. Then play any song you’ve got on there. Absolutely any song. Now turn on your radio and turn it to the classical station. Blast that fucker, too. Situate yourself somewhere in the middle. Sit down where the twain shall meet and begin typing.
Are you into horror? Do you like writing freaky stories? Are you looking for a new thought… a freshie… something you think you aren’t capable of inventing? So am I. Always. And one place to find it is in music. Impossible music… abhorrent combinations.
Why… I’m listening to something like that now… as the door to the office balcony is wide open, the birds sing outside, my girl Allison dribbles a basketball in the driveway… and the soundtrack for Under the Skin spins beside me.
Can you write a novel without music? Of course. But have you tried it with it? Listen closely… you can hear the scope of your story expanding, the boundaries stretching outward, out… until they are as invisible as the medium itself…
Oh, fear not as the music writes the story for you. You are only a conduit. The machine by which those frightening tones will become words… those words sentences… but not before being born as letters. Letters first. Just like the individual notes of the songs that propel you.
Josh Malerman is the author of Bird Box and the singer/songwriter for the rock band the High Strung (whose song The Luck You Got can be heard as the theme song to Showtime’s hit show Shameless). If you’re in the US, you can see him interviewed by @Porter_Anderson (the very first Undercover Soundtrack guest) at the Writer’s Digest Novel-Writing Conference in August. Find him on Twitter as @joshmalerman and on Facebook.
apocalyptic, authors, Beetlejuice, Bird Box, birds, birdsong, classical music, Creepshow, Danny Elfman, Desert Island Discs, Detroit, drama, entertainment, future, futuristic, High Strung, John Carpenter, Josh Malerman, literary novels, male writers, medium, music, music for writers, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Rosemary's Baby, Roz Morris, Shameless, Slumber Party Massacre, speculative fiction, The Fog, The High Strung, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, wild birds, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week says his novel was written in a trance. He rented an attic from a musician, who he could hear practising in the rooms downstairs, brought along a cageful of finches and set them free to fly around him as he typed. You’ll see from the title why they seemed like a good idea. These avian muses were also treated to the soundtracks of several movies – Rosemary’s Baby, The Fog and Creepshow – which doubtless helped them get further into character. When he needed to crank up the intensity, there would be two songs howling at once – the radio at one end of the room, classical music at the other. My guest reports that sometimes his birds got tired and stared at him. This endearing aural vandal is Josh Malerman, his novel is the post-apocalyptic thriller Bird Box, and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
apocalyptic, authors, Bird Box, birdsong, classical music, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, future, futuristic, Josh Malerman, literary novels, male writers, music, music for writers, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, speculative fiction, The Undercover Soundtrack, thriller, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, wild birds, writers, writing, writing to music
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 science fictioneer-turned-historical-murder mystery writer David Penny @DavidPenny_
Soundtrack by Tinariwen, Neil Young, Joe Satriano, Grace Potter, Counting Crows, John Hiatt
I’m a frustrated musician. Many writers I talk to wish they were musicians (yes, we know who you are, Mr Rankin) but, when I talk to musicians they often want to be writers. Or actors. As for the actors, well…
For me writing is a constant striving to achieve the same visceral punch I get from great music. It’s hard because writing is a different medium, but every now and again, for a brief moment, I like to think I’ve almost attained that ambition.
I use music to inspire me, to turn off my analytical mind and don a cap of imagination. While writing my first new book for over 35 years (don’t ask) I used music as inspiration, but also as a wash of sound through which my hands drifted across the keyboard.
That book, The Red Hill came to me complete in less than a second, the entire idea and thread for a multi-book series. Then it took two years to write. The protagonist, Thomas Berrington, is an Englishman a thousand miles from home, a surgeon working in the final years of the Moorish caliphate that has ruled Spain for over 700 years. For much of that period the Moors were a beacon of civilisation in a Europe shattered by invasion, war and ignorance. They were cultured, scientific, and curious about the world. While the Vikings invaded the north, the Moors were inventing flying machines (1100), algebra, the clock, and studying the stars and medicine. In the book Thomas uses the techniques and instruments invented by the Moors – many of which have developed into those now used in modern operating theatres. His life is settled, deliberately constrained, until a man he can’t refuse asks a favour that could get him killed.
Below is the music that inspired me in the writing of the book, but more importantly music that just inspired. What more is there?
This is how I see Thomas dressed in The Red Hill. It’s also here because I listen to Tinariwen when I need to get into the emotional world of the Moors before they came to Spain, the world they carried with them. I can hear this music – without the electric guitars, but the Moors did have lutes and some even believe they created the acoustic guitar – being performed in al-Hamra at the time The Red Hill is set – the music rhythmic, dense, ululating. And the performers – you can see their lives etched deep on their faces.
I love everything about Neil Young when he plays electric guitar this way. His acoustic, Harvest Moon period, I can take or leave, but when he performs like this it sums up how I feel about writing. The music is on the edge, barely constrained, constantly threatening to tip over into chaos and feedback, always pulling back from the brink. I love his uncompromising nature. I understand it’s also what turns people off his music, but the point is he doesn’t care. He does what he does, what he must do. Whether you like it, love it, or loath it, it is what it is. The struggle to write something possessing this raw power and emotion is what keeps me coming back to the keyboard over and over again. It’s an unattainable dream, but that’s all right, because it means I never need to stop. Just like Neil. And take time to listen to the words.
Also there is this cover of Cortez the Killer by Joe Satriano and Grace Potter. Written by Neil, of course, but included for a couple of reasons – the main one being the dichotomy between the slight Spanish vibe and the words. And it tells the result of the victors in the battle the Thomas Berrington series is about. I can’t help wondering how different the world would be today if the Moors hadn’t been defeated.
Another band I can’t get enough of, another singer who wears his heart on his sleeve. My wife and I – kids too – have seen this band more than any other, and every time they’re different. Some people don’t like that, wanting things to sound just like on the album. Us? No – we like different. This song, A Long December, contains one of my favourite lines: about oysters and pearls… listen… Also listen to Miller’s Angels – stark, haunting, beautiful.
This song, Have a Little Faith in Me, has nothing to do with The Red Hill, other than I listen to John Hiatt all the time. It isn’t my favourite song of his (that’s another guitar blow-out, but I’ll spare you), but it is his best known and most covered. John Hiatt it the best unknown singer-songwriter in the world. No, don’t disagree – he is. He just is. And again, listen to the words and bow down to the man…
I first saw John Hiatt at the Hammersmith Apollo in the 90s and at the end of a three-hour show that blew my socks off he said something that sums up exactly how I feel about writing: ‘Hey, thanks y’all for coming. If you weren’t here we’d still be playing this stuff, but we’d be doing it in our garage.’
Also try Cry Love. I’ve included this because Immy from Counting Crows is on mandolin (plus it’s brilliant).
David Penny is the author of four science fiction novels and several short stories published during the 1970s. Near-starvation led him down the slippery slope of work, which distracted him from his true calling. He has now returned to writing and The Red Hill, a Moorish mystery thriller, is out July 13 2014. He is currently working on two new books: the follow up to The Red Hill, and a thriller set in the world of industrial espionage. You can find out more about David and his writing at his website and you can connect on twitter @davidpenny_
authors, bass, Counting Crows, crime, David Penny, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, Grace Potter, guitars, historical crime, historical fiction, historical thriller, Joe Satriano, John Hiatt, literary fiction, literary novels, lute, male writers, Moors, murder, murder mystery, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Neil Young, playlist for writers, protagonist, Roz Morris, Spain, surgery, The Red Hill, The Undercover Soundtrack, thrillers, Tinariwen, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week describes his writing as a constant state of striving – to achieve the same visceral punch of great music. His books come to him that way too – protagonist, thread and plot in one hit. In fact I’ve actually seen this thunderbolt descend; I was with him on a course one day when he told me he’d just seen an entire plot and its characters in an instant. After that comes the hard work, of course, and music helps him return to that state of fever. The novel he is talking about this week is the first in a crime series, set in the final years of Moorish rule in Spain, and its soundtrack is full of sweat, guitars, lutes and bass. He is David Penny and he will be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, bass, crime, David Penny, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, guitars, historical crime, historical fiction, historical thriller, literary fiction, literary novels, lute, male writers, Moors, murder, murder mystery, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, protagonist, Roz Morris, Spain, surgery, The Red Hill, The Undercover Soundtrack, thrillers, undercover soundtrack, writers, writing, writing to music
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 magical realist author Rohan Quine @RohanQuine
Soundtrack by Sinead O’Connor, Dead Can Dance, Suede, Lana Del Rey, Kim Wilde, Soft Cell, This Mortal Coil, Roxy Music, Madonna, The Orb, The KLF, Ministry, Genesis, Marc and the Mambas, Marc Almond, Kode9 and the Spaceape, Bronski Beat, Donna Summer, Erasure, Bauhaus, Bryan Ferry
Since women are a bit cooler than men, I’ll start with the women in the following cast of principal characters – a cast loosely spread across all five published tales (The Imagination Thief and four novellas – The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong). Aptly here, Alaia Danielle is a singer. She’s morally upright and somewhat high-tension, with cool good taste and a large, cerebral compassion. Her dignity and the humanity beneath her seriousness were partly conjured up by the majesty with which Troy by Sinéad O’Connor builds up, from controlled quietness into a world-bestriding anger that’s just as controlled. Performing, Alaia emits a wordless song with the viscerality of Diamanda Galás and the ethereality of the Cocteau Twins; but the best single suggestion of her was the sublime The Host of Seraphim by Dead Can Dance.
Pippa Vail is a sweet, depressive dreamer who sits on her high-rise tower-block balcony in silence, while her rich inner life seeps out across the town spread below her; her prominent green eyes look wet and hurt, as if she’s been crying, though there are no tear-stains. Evoking the swell of silent beauty she hears in the sky, from within the unending loneliness of her high-rise balcony-grave, many early tracks by Suede influenced my creation of her. Two amazing examples are Still Life and – appropriate for her high-rise location – High Rising.
Evelyn Carmello is sunny, tough, sassy and social, looming large in her small home-town of Asbury Park, near New York. Lana Del Rey’s 2012 album fed into her, but Evelyn is lighter. Starcrazy by Suede was useful as a very Evelyn example of another kind of Suede heroine: joyously functional in the real world, she’s a dirty-sexy streetwise party-girl, although that scene is mostly now in her recent past. I can also hear in Evelyn an echo or two of that cool-eyed, dirty-city classic Kids in America by Kim Wilde.
Ravens in the tower
Constant in the Chocolate Raven is a yearning for the everyday external world to transcend its qualities of dullness and flatness, to attain the colours and lights living in her mind. The music that helped create her, therefore (especially when she’s on that Dubai skyscraper terrace, creating the tower in the mountains from convulsive blasts of energy she fires across the night-time desert), was music that radiates a transcendent beauty undercut by regret that such beauty will always be up against such a deadweight. Salient examples were Song to the Siren by This Mortal Coil and To Turn You On by Roxy Music. The Chocolate Raven’s creation of the Platinum Raven is in itself a song to the siren.
In that nightclub tower where the Platinum Raven presides, events of the brightest darkness, decadence and beauty occur. The dance-floor is a cat-walk where every night those anorexic models float past us, beautifully drugged-out and weak and untouchable, forever down the runways of their airport lanes, expressionless in damage through the night-lit clouds with their make-up flashing soft in the lights, like perfection, clad in shreds of lightest silk that conceal the needle-marks. The album Erotica by Madonna was in the mix here, being steeped in this heightened feeling of darkness beneath legendary nightclub fabulousness; yet this album’s world-class attitude and sass are permeated by a simple, universal sense of the sadness and longing that enrich even the wildest pleasures and highest achievements we’re capable of while alive. The title track Erotica is a fine example – as is the track Deeper and Deeper, beneath whose easy hedonistic surface lies a perfect evocation of the natural evanescence of your every past joy and your every future joy.
The Platinum Raven’s conspirator in that tower is a DJ named Amber, whose infernal nature and allure reflect the fact that he happens to be the continuation of Rutger Hauer’s psychopathic character in the film The Hitcher. Soundtrack-wise, however, he’s evoked by what he might spin: late in the main room, Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb; then later still in the VIP room, something from the legendary album Chill Out by The KLF, such as the track 3am Somewhere Out of Beaumont.
Damian West is a gangster whose gauntness of expression indicates much danger and paranoia. The sound of the inside of Damian’s head was well suggested by the colossal charisma of The Fall by Ministry. Another contribution was made by the claustrophobic immensity of that slick little slice of hell, Mama by Genesis.
Angel Deon (in some novellas called Scorpio) is an androgynous creature whose spiteful sleek depraved face radiates decadence and damage from its sharp beauty. He is shadowy, effete, both unhealthy and luminous; his head is a fantastically dark cavern of jagged riches, and musically he’s pure Marc and the Mambas, plus tons of the darker output of Soft Cell and of Marc Almond solo. To locate my creation of Angel, I’d pinpoint somewhere between two stunning Mambas tracks: The Animal in You; and My Former Self.
Lucan Abayomi is a charismatic gang-leader, drug-dealer and Angel’s boyfriend, whose smile spells trouble, violence, sex and danger. He was partly born from that dubby bass in lots of dubstep from around 2006, redolent of nocturnal high-rise housing estates, lonely concrete spaces and bass speakers booming out of car windows. We can hear part of his origins in two by Kode9 and the Spaceape: Nine Samurai; and Sine.
Shigem Adele is an effusive, flamboyant nightclub host, a lovable and neurotic survivor, whose warmth can illuminate a roomful of people. He was born somewhere between two classic electronic dance tracks: the haunting anguish and defiant beauty of Why? by Bronski Beat; and the iconic sensuality of I Feel Love by Donna Summer.
Kim Somerville is newly in love with Shigem, being quiet, observant and loyal, with a tinge of thoughtful pessimism:
In an absent way he sings along to the lyrics of the track playing quietly on the club’s sound system; and I am struck by his voice, which is clean, vanilla, supple, pure and filled with earnest beauty. It’s a voice of great wholesomeness, picturesquely sad and honest, redolent of goodness – and a little white lie, I think.
That was inspired by the voice of Erasure’s Andy Bell, always to be heard with Vince Clarke’s keyboards, as in the beauty of two representative Erasure tracks: the grandeur and exuberance of Run to the Sun; and the sombre grandeur of Crown of Thorns.
Finally, my narrator Jaymi Peek. Most of the time he’s subtle or elusive in nature, being a humorous clear lens and benign observer. In his broadcasts, though, he becomes a charismatic and empowered face who projects himself addictively into the imaginations of a global audience – the assaultive power of which is suggested in Double Dare by Bauhaus, whose message never dates. (I hereby stake a musical claim: the first 15 sentences of the long paragraph at the bottom of this page, narrated by Jaymi, constitute what must be the most precise verbal description ever written, by anyone silly enough to try it, of the exact sound of the first 40 seconds of Double Dare.) As with the Chocolate Raven’s projection of the Platinum Raven, one of Jaymi’s missions in his wildly varied projections is perhaps to help himself (and us) to transcend all that needs transcending. Echoing the Song to the Siren that I mentioned above for her, I shall therefore end here by returning to that song for Jaymi too – but this time it’s Song to the Siren by Bryan Ferry, from 2010. This is a sound so rarefied by its own expensive exquisiteness that its surface feels laminated and sterilised from all reality, residing forever in some elite suite of perfection above us, with nowhere higher left to go before the air would run out altogether…
Rohan’s novel The Imagination Thief and four novellas – The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong – aim to push imagination and language towards their extremes, to explore and illuminate the beauty, horror and mirth of this predicament called life, where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time. He’s on Twitter at @RohanQuine and has a website www.rohanquine.com
authors, Bauhaus, Bronski Beat, Bryan Ferry, Chocolate Raven, contemporary fiction, Dead Can Dance, Desert Island Discs, Donna Summer, drama, entertainment, Erasure, Genesis, horror, Kim Wilde, Kode9 and the Spaceape, Lana Del Rey, Madonna, magic realism, male writers, Marc Almond, Marc and the Mambas, Ministry, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Platinum Raven, playlist for writers, Rohan Quine, Roxy Music, Roz Morris, Sinead O'Connor, Soft Cell, Suede, The Imagination Thief, The KLF, The Orb, The Undercover Soundtrack, This Mortal Coil, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, urban fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week writes urban fiction imbued with magic realism and horror. His characters are drawn directly from soundtracks, from music that expressed their desperation, loneliness, fragility and streetwise sass – Sinead O’Connor to Madonna; Dead Can Dance to Suede and Soft Cell. He is Rohan Quine and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, contemporary fiction, Dead Can Dance, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, horror, Madonna, magic realism, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Rohan Quine, Roz Morris, Sinead O'Connor, Soft Cell, Suede, The Imagination Thief, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, urban fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
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 spiritual fantasy author Laura K. Cowan @laurakcowan
Soundtrack provided by Eduards Grieznis, Brahms
When I first played the Brahms Intermezzi Opus 117 on the piano, I felt a sadness I couldn’t explain. My music teachers at the Interlochen Center for the Arts where I studied each summer in high school told me the first intermezzo was a lullaby, sung by a woman to her child after being abandoned by the father. It spoke to me in a way I couldn’t explain, the sadness of the abandonment, the beauty of the piece. I never forgot it. When I quit classical piano performance to return to my secret first love of writing in college, I thought music was over for me. I moved into a phase of my life in which I didn’t know how to reach my dream of being a writer, nor could I go back to the music. I was desperately unhappy, chronically ill even.
Fast forward 10 years, and I was doing it. I had faced the fear and rebuilt myself emotionally, even gone through treatment for childhood trauma that had tied me up in the first place. And then, the intermezzo returned. I was writing a novel called Lone Cypress about a former ballerina named Shana who was running from an abusive marriage and experiencing nightmares and blackouts while trying to figure out if she was possessed. Guess what I found in my research of relevant ballets for her to have performed? The Brahms. The second intermezzo, not the first, but that first lullaby began to weave itself through my story, through my character’s mind. She had been abandoned by her father. And her mother. And her husband. And herself. And the music became not just my soundtrack for this novel but Shana’s own, for a new ballet she wanted to choreograph but couldn’t until she faced her fear.
It’s not uncommon for me to compose short themes on the piano to help me understand the right moods for different pieces of my novels, an undercover soundtrack in its own right, but Lone Cypress is unique in that the music that inspired the story not only helped me with its creation but wove itself through the entire book. With Lone Cypress I learned how to walk away from my own past and into the present. The book will be out in July, and I can already feel a piece of my younger self is putting itself to rest with its publication. That’s what the Brahms is to me: the meeting of the past and present in a resolution more beautiful than I could have written for myself. Through writing this novel with the lullaby woven through it, the Brahms (played here by Eduards Grieznis) finally taught me that the most important thing is to find our way back to ourselves.
Laura K. Cowan writes imaginative stories that explore the connections between the spiritual and natural worlds. Her other novels are The Little Seer and Music of Sacred Lakes, and her first short story collection is The Thin Places: Supernatural Tales of the Unseen.Find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @LauraKCowan
authors, ballet dancer, Brahms, Childhood piano lessons, Christian suspense, classical pianists, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, Eduards Grieznis, entertainment, grief, Interlochen Center for the Arts, intermezzo, Laura K Cowan, Lone Cypress, lullaby, Metaphysical Fantasy, metaphysical fiction, music, music for writers, music for writing, Music of Sacred Lakes, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, occult, pianists, piano, pianos, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, sadness, spiritual novels, spiritualism, supernatural, The Little Seer, The Thin Places: Supernatural Tales of the Unseen, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music
Johannes Brahms reportedly referred to his third intermezzo for Opus 117 as ‘the lullaby of all my grief’. This week’s guest was studying music in summer school when she first encountered it, and was overwhelmed by its sadness. Life events interrupted her dreams of becoming a musician, but years later, when she was writing a novel about a ballet dancer, her research led her to the Brahms. She remembered the imaginative journey she had taken when she used to play the piece, and now it guided her creation of the main character and her story. She is Laura K Cowan and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, ballet dancer, Brahms, Childhood piano lessons, Christian suspense, classical pianists, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, grief, intermezzo, Johannes Brahms, Laura K Cowan, Lone Cypress, lullaby, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, occult, pianists, piano, pianos, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, sadness, spiritual novels, spiritualism, supernatural, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music
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 Yasmin Selena Butt @YasminSelena
Soundtrack by Jeff Buckley, Death in Vegas, PiL, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, Nine-Inch Nails, Skunk Anansie, Garbage, Portishead, The Cure, Interpol, Cocteau Twins, Editors
If I hadn’t have become a novelist with a 36G chest, I would have been a rock star. I’m serious. You try learning electric guitar when you can’t see the strings, it’s dead tricky. Music is huge for me, HUGE. When I was 15, I made a decision not to live abroad because you couldn’t buy Smash Hits in Pakistan. Music back then was the only thing keeping me alive. It fuelled me. I couldn’t risk losing it.
It was a huge, creative fuel when penning my debut, Gunshot Glitter. The title might be familiar to you if you’re a fan of the singer, Jeff Buckley. If you’re not, it was a bonus track released on his posthumous album Sketches for my Sweetheart the Drunk. I loved the song, and, if I’m honest loved the title more. The song itself is lo-fi, distorted, wobbly but utterly impassioned.
Crime drama morality tale
In my novel, Gunshot Glitter is the name of an infamous London burlesque club. How would I describe the story? It’s the genre-bending story of an incinerated boy who never quite goes away; a morality tale, broadly a crime drama. I was thrilled it was shortlisted as a self-published read by The Guardian last year, along with the tome of my kind blog host Roz Morris. (Thanks! – Ed)
This year, I hope to give it the launch it deserves. It hasn’t had that yet for good reasons. Last year, I almost died of anaphylactic shock at a club on the launch of the print edition. It was a surreal way to discover you now possess a lethal shellfish and nut allergy. This year I hope to do the novel justice.
While writing it, I used mainly alternative music as a fuel to take me to the places where the characters go, especially Celine, the protagonist. And some of the songs I played also feature in the novel. When I listened to them, I got so immersed in the music, the songs become little stories within themselves, almost like an operetta with tragedy and pathos in spades running riot in my head. I made two CD compilations ‘Black Glitter’ and ‘Angry Glitter,’ depending on where I needed to go creatively, each featuring 18 songs. Black Glitter was achingly emotional, gut wrenching and tender.
Bands featured on Angry Glitter included Death in Vegas, PiL, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Skunk Anansie. Garbage’s Vow from their debut album is amazingly powerful. I played this song literally on repeat when writing some of Celine’s pivotal scenes when she made some of the darkest decisions of her young life. Portishead’s incredibly sexy Strangers ended up featuring in a bittersweet memory for Cornelia:
She had been obsessed with Strangers with its melody full of dark, sexy suggestion. It turned her on. She even choreographed an examination piece to it. Cornelia put it on and, when it kicked in with its sleazy, dark electronic riff, she winced. Now she hated it. It reminded her of all she’d lost. It’s just music, she said fiercely through gritted teeth, ‘just music!’ Music could never punish her like her own guilt could.
The Cure is a band that bonds lovers Anis and Celine. I played Disintegration heavily when writing their more intense scenes. And Interpol’s Narc rears its head in the aftermath of their sex, like a shadow in the background on the wall. Other songs such as Blind, Dumb Deaf by The Cocteau Twins, was just powerful, no intelligible words as Liz Fraser doesn’t use them, but you can’t help but feel a strong sense of foreboding when you hear it, and, when I was getting inside protagonist’s Cornelia Friend’s twisted head this track made me think of her. It made me think of someone splintering on the inside, as did Editor’s Munich.
There is a darkness, intensity, danger, sorrow, passion and fury that dominates the music that literally leaches out onto the pages. When you have great music, fuelling your fingertips, you’re almost obliged to create an impressive result to justify the privilege of what you’re listening to.
When you read the behemoth or listen to the soundtrack, I’ll let your ears and eyes decide if the fifteen year old girl who grew up to write that novel, made the right call to coming home to grow up in London. I hope you believe that she did.
Yasmin Selena Butt was born and lives in London. She has worked in the Maldives as an English language trainer, freelanced in marketing and been published by The Times as a music writer. She has also written over a thousand poems, exhibited her fiction and photography and performed her debut reading at Proud Galleries in Camden. She adopted ‘Selena’ as her middle name in 2000, after meeting a concierge who told her the story of the naming of his own daughter, Yasmin Selena. She has since repaid the favour by naming a character in Gunshot Glitter after him. Gunshot Glitter is available from Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords and in print from her website. Tweet her as @YasminSelena
authors, Black Glitter, burlesque, Cocteau Twins, contemporary fiction, crime fiction, crime novelist, crime novels, Death in Vegas, Desert Island Discs, drama, Editors, entertainment, Facebook, Garbage, Gunshot Glitter, Interpol, Jeff Buckley, London, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, near-death experience, Nine Inch Nails, PiL, playlist for writers, Portishead, rock star, Roz Morris, Skunk Anansie, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure, The Pixies, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music, Yasmin Selena Butt
My guest this week swears that if her chest hadn’t obscured her view of her guitar, she’d have been a rock star. Some of her early life decisions were dictated by the need to be connected to music, and when she wrote her crime novel set in a London burlesque club, she had two flavours of playlist – angry and dark. Fiction nearly became reality when she had a near-death experience at her book launch – which I was startled to hear because I remember when her cheerful invitations were circulating on Facebook. Thankfully she lived to tell the tale. She is Yasmin Selena Butt and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, burlesque, contemporary fiction, crime fiction, crime novelist, crime novels, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, Facebook, Gunshot Glitter, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, near-death experience, playlist for writers, rock star, Roz Morris, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing to music, Yasmin Selena Butt
- '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'