The Undercover Soundtrack – Jonathan Pinnock

for logo‘It’s never a bad thing to let the reader feel a bit uneasy’

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 fiction and non-fiction writer Jonathan Pinnock @jonpinnock

Soundtrack by Richard Thompson, The Adverts, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Asha Bhosle

I very rarely listen to music when I’m writing because it seems to play havoc with the creative bits in my brain, so with one exception – which we’ll come to later – none of the music that inspired the stories in “Dot Dash” was actually in the background when they were being written.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat said, there is a lot of music lurking behind Dot Dash. A couple of the stories were inspired by two of my favourite Richard Thompson songs: The Amazing Arnolfini and His Wife by The Great Valerio, and Piss and Patchouli by Beeswing. The Great Valerio wasn’t a direct influence, I guess, but I think it planted in my mind the idea that a tightrope walker – or indeed a tightrope-walking couple – could make for a powerful metaphor as well as being able to induce a sense of vertigo in the reader. It’s never a bad thing to make the reader feel a bit uneasy, and if you’re going to stage an argument, halfway across Niagara Falls is as good a place as any.

Beeswing – one of the most poignant songs ever written – has a closer relationship to my story, in that both are about a relationship with a self-destructive free spirit, and the choices to make between settling down and cutting loose. In the end, I gave John Martyn a namecheck in the story rather than Richard Thompson himself, probably because Thompson’s still a bit of a geek’s idea of a folk singer. I remember spotting a reference to him in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and thinking to myself that it was absolutely spot on.

The first full-length story in the book, Convalescence, owes a lot to Gary Gilmore’s Eyes by The Adverts, taking the premise of that song – what if you were given the eyes of a serial killer? – just a little bit further. The wonderful thing about punk was that it not only gave anyone permission to pick up a guitar and play, but that it also gave them permission to write a song about almost anything and this is an excellent example of that.

There’s one story in the book, Unfinished Symphony, that is actually about a piece of music – a beautiful, minimalistic piece deriving from nature that reduces an audience to tears. The problem is that the piece I’ve described in the story could never really exist! However, I think the composer that comes closest is probably Einojuhani Rautavaara, who wrote the extraordinary Cantus Arcticus, a concerto for Birds and Orchestra.

9781844718825The one time that I did specifically listen to a piece of music for inspiration was when I was writing Mr Nathwani’s Haiku, when I wanted – somewhat presumptuously – to locate an Asian voice. So I put on a wonderful Asha Bhosle compilation, The Golden Voice of Bollywood, and by the time the CD had finished playing, I had the bare bones of the story down.

Jonathan Pinnock leads a dual life. In one half, he runs a software development company. In the other he is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. His Scott Prize-winning short story collection Dot Dash is published by Salt. His novel, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens is published by Proxima Books. Find him on Twitter at @jonpinnock and on his website and blog.

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  1. #1 by philipparees on May 22, 2013 - 12:55 pm

    Gifts of both Beeswing and the sublime Cantus Arcticus more than a body can bear! Thank you both.

    • #2 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on May 22, 2013 - 8:22 pm

      Hi Philippa! Aren’t they a delight? I keep reading Beeswing as Bee-swing, and love the mental double-take it gives me. And the idea of a concerto for birds and orchestra… and then what Jonathan did with it.

  2. #5 by Julie Eberhart Painter on May 22, 2013 - 2:05 pm

    It’s okay to make the reader ucomfortable as long as we don’t drive them off. I don’t listen to anything when I write, it influences my mood. Having a good tonal memory helps me play my own version of an iTune track and orchestrate my own story.

    • #6 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on May 22, 2013 - 8:24 pm

      Hello Julie! I used to think I couldn’t write if I could hear music. Then I had to write a book set in the hot, sultry landscape of south India – and a piece of music transported me there. From then, I became firmly addicted to music as a writing aid. But there are plenty of writers I approach who find it too distracting.

      • #7 by Jonathan Pinnock on May 27, 2013 - 9:39 pm

        I think my problem is that I’m too suggestible where music is concerned, so I’ll only use it if I have a very specific need.

  3. #8 by Peter Domican on May 22, 2013 - 2:42 pm

    Songs sit behind most of my flash fiction but I find listening when writing quite distracting too.

    • #9 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on May 22, 2013 - 8:25 pm

      Hello Peter! You said you were looking forward to Jonathan’s track – thanks for leaving your calling card. I understand what you mean, but in fact I find the distraction is a positive effect rather than negative.

      • #10 by Peter Domican on May 23, 2013 - 8:19 am

        In flash specifically, once I’ve got the idea of what I’m going to write, I’m looking to get the whole thing done in one session i.e. writing and a first edit, often writing to a specific word count which is typically <500words. There's enough going on in my head.
        Most of the time I'll have music or the TV on the background.

  4. #11 by Andy (@DecodingStatic) on May 22, 2013 - 8:12 pm

    A small world! Thanks for the introduction to The Adverts, great song. Whilst Richard and Linda Thompson are folk experts. I am opposite to you where music plays an important part in unlocking my creativity, it is interesting to hearing of it playing havoc your creative thoughts. Cheers

    • #12 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on May 22, 2013 - 8:26 pm

      Hi Andy! I welcome the havoc that music plays with my creativity. It’s like giving oneself over to a spirit.

      • #13 by Jonathan Pinnock on May 27, 2013 - 9:42 pm

        Of course, Andy is a wonderful example of what can happen when you do allow music to influence you! “Living Room Stories” is a perfect companion piece to Olafur Arnalds’ “Living Room Songs”.

  5. #15 by Katie Cross on May 23, 2013 - 12:07 am

    There were several great lines in here, advice to a new girl on the block like me. I also can’t write with music in the background, at least, not consistently. Sometimes I write because OF the music in the background.

    The greatest soundtrack/music for my writing and inspiration is daily life moving around me. I do my best writing while cooking dinner.

    • #16 by rozmorris @NailYourNovel @ByRozMorris on May 23, 2013 - 8:30 am

      Ah Katie, you’re another hands-free keyboard-free writer! I think I do some of my best writing in my head. Everything flows so easily…. thanks for visiting and commenting!

      • #17 by Jonathan Pinnock on May 27, 2013 - 9:44 pm

        I, too, do a lot of writing in my head, although sometimes it doesn’t realise crystalise until I sit at the keyboard. That’s the point at which I know when something’s going to work, and it’s also the point at which unexpected other things tend to emerge.

  1. ‘It’s never a bad thing to make the reader feel a bit uneasy’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Jonathan Pinnock | Nail Your Novel
  2. Undercover Soundtrack and other stuff : Jonathan Pinnock’s Write Stuff

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