The Undercover Soundtrack – Annalisa Crawford

redpianoupdate-3The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where 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 prizewinning short story writer and Costa Awards finalist Annalisa Crawford @annalisacrawf

Soundtrack by Cherry Ghost, REM, Gary Jules, Queensryche, Colin Hay, Fort Atlantic, The Shins

I envy songwriters—it’s such a wonderful gift to be able to say something important so concisely and memorably. I’ve tried it, and it’s really hard. I’ll leave that to my singer-songwriter husband, and all the other talented musicians out there.

the-undercover-soundtrack-annalisa-crawford1Music inspires me, allows me to delve into realities I never knew I could create, and elicit the deepest of emotions. The melodies flow into my writing and I have a penchant for repetition and alliteration, which I edit into more manageable pieces for the final draft.

So far, I’ve had a lot more success with shorter fiction. A lot of the time one song hits just the right note for that particular piece—either it’s there at the beginning, guiding me along, or I’ll hear it while struggling with a certain scene or character, and it’ll make sense of my story. Isn’t it strange that whenever a song takes on a special significance, you hear it everywhere you go?

Our Beautiful Child

In 2013, I wrote two stories that were set in the same town, featured the same pub, and contained characters that leapt from one to the other. I was trying to write a third story, because I knew they’d work perfectly as a trilogy, but that third story was being elusive.

One of my favourite songs was False Alarm by Cherry Ghost. Every time I heard it, I had a very heartwarming feeling, like arriving at home after a hard days’ work or snuggling up with my husband. I knew there was a story within those chords—I could sense it, I could feel my fingers tingling.

The first verse talks about being dragged down, and I had the image of a woman submerged in a river or lake. I was commuting a lot at that time, an hour’s journey each way, including a 30-minute walk, and inevitably I’d hit this song during the walking part—I remember muttering to myself, “There’s a story here, I know there’s a story.” (Luckily there was never anyone around!)

But it hung in the air, just out of reach.

One morning, I stopped mid-stride because I had it. And, oh it was perfect. I went home that night and the story fell into place, evolved, became something so exciting, and the submerged woman was the centerpiece of it all. In my head, this story and this song are inextricably linked. Our Beautiful Child became the title story, and definitely one of my favourites out of everything I’ve ever written.

Everybody Hurts by REM

I don’t mean to write sad stories, but my characters are usually broken in some way. Everybody Hurts could be the soundtrack to most of my stories. I once described it as the soundtrack to my own life! I see it as an uplifting song, that we all have times when we suffer, but there are people who will help.

There are two stories that were inspired by this—one directly, one indirectly.

In Omelette (from That Sadie Thing and other stories), Josie’s friend is gravely ill and she’s in need of support. She’s hurting, her friend is hurting, and a waitress—by doing nothing more than offer her an alternative to her usual lunch order—gives that comfort. I wrote Omelette, listening to this song, with tears running down my cheeks. I could imagine Josie sitting at her table, listening intently to the song on the radio, singing softly to herself.

The indirect story is Cat and the Dreamer. Julia hurts, enough to attempt suicide, which fails. The book is about her life afterwards—the refrain about holding on is just so perfect for her, because around the corner everything changes, she just needs to wait just a little bit longer.

the-undercover-soundtrack-annalisa-crawford2

The Girl who is Good (That Sadie Thing and other stories)

I grew up listening to—and loving—the Tears for Fears original of Mad World, but some of the covers have a more emotional impact. The Gary Jules version, used on the Donnie Darko soundtrack, is the one that resonates with the main character, the unnamed girl in the title. She’s torn between being the person her parents want her to be and the person she wants to be—she’s completely overwhelmed by her own reality. All around her, there are definitely familiar faces, but she stares at them as though they are strangers, isolated. At one point in the story, she’s looking at the reflection of herself and her parents in a window, and doesn’t recognize them.

Mad World, in all its incarnations, has a dreamy, surreal feel—try to listen past the lyrics and allow yourself to float away with the tune. The ending of this story would not exist without this song. I didn’t know where I was going with it, writing myself into a dead end. Then suddenly The Girl did something completely unexpected, but totally fitting for this track. You’ll have to decide what happens for yourself, though.

Beth

Some of my characters just need a hug, and Beth is definitely top of the list. Silent Lucidity by Queensryche is the musical equivalent. Right from the opening lines and with a voice that reminds me of melted chocolate.

you-i-us-eb-cov_for-webBeth’s life is preordained, she wanders through the big moments, not really taking part. She marries her first boyfriend, and has three children with him—but her affair is unplanned, and changes her life in ways she couldn’t possibly imagine.

Again, this track has a surreal quality, drawing the listener along into a crescendo. Reading the lyrics for this post, I realised how perfect they really are. Beth wants to fly, it’s all she ever wanted—to soar high and achieve her dreams—and this song carries her.

You. I. Us

Finally, recently I published my fourth short story collection, You. I. Us. I wrote the first draft of these stories very quickly and spent most of the time listening to all the best songs from the TV show How I Met Your Mother—fast, upbeat, quirky, they perfectly fitted the short vignettes I was writing. Two of my favourites are Let Your Heart Hold Fast by Fort Atlantic and Simple Song by The Shins. As they’re more upbeat than the rest of the songs I’ve featured, I’m going to finish with them. If you’re a fan of the show, you know exactly which scenes these tracks come from, don’t you?

Annalisa Crawford lives in Cornwall UK, with a good supply of moorland and beaches to keep her inspired. She lives with her husband, two sons, a dog and a cat. Annalisa writes dark contemporary, character-driven stories. She has been winning competitions and publishing short stories in small press journals for many years, and is the author of four books, Cat & The Dreamer published by Vagabondage Press, That Sadie Thing and other stories, Our Beautiful Child  published by Battered Suitcase Press and You, I. Us published by Vine Leaves Literary Press. She won 3rd prize in the Costa Short Story Award, 2015. Find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter @annalisacrawf

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  1. #1 by Alex J. Cavanaugh (@AlexJCavanaugh) on October 19, 2016 - 11:39 am

    A Queensryche song – nice!
    I’m a musician and even I find it’s a challenge to write music. I can appreciate and enjoy a complex tune though and many have also led me to a story.

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on October 19, 2016 - 7:28 pm

      Hi Alex! I used to write music as a teenager and found it easy. But in case that seems grossly arrogant, it’s probably because I was blissfully unaware of what I didn’t know. Now I’ve grown up to be a writer and I find writing hard… Thanks for stopping by.

    • #3 by Annalisa Crawford on October 19, 2016 - 7:39 pm

      There are several songs from the Empire CD that could inspire stories, I should listen to it again. I imagined you listening to music from morning to night.

  2. #4 by hilarymb on October 19, 2016 - 1:39 pm

    Hi Roz and Annalisa … can see why you get hooked into these songs … I’d never heard of Cherry Ghost, REM … I do know, as too Mad World … but I’m listening to the tune …, I hadn’t heard of Queensryche … melted chocolate … perhaps!, Fort Atlantic .. now that one I enjoyed .. but Simple Song – nope … desperate!!! Yes one could laugh .. good for a story though – cheers to you both – Hilary

    • #5 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on October 19, 2016 - 7:27 pm

      Thanks, Hilary! I usually lay out these posts late at night and early in the morning, so the authors’ music choices stay mulling in my brain. I’ve made some wondrous discoveries. Do drop by again.

    • #6 by Annalisa Crawford on October 19, 2016 - 7:42 pm

      I love Simple Song in conjunction with the How I Met Your Mother episode it’s featured in, but I agree the video puts a different twist on it. I’m glad you enjoyed some of my choices.

  3. #7 by Tyrean on October 19, 2016 - 10:11 pm

    I used to make up songs for myself as a kid (just singing, not writing) and those songs went with my stories, but most of the time I write in the hubbub of every day noise. Recently, I wrote a short story to “This is how you remind me of” by Nickelback, but I found myself included a few of the words in the story so I had to turn it down to a barely audible to finish the story.

    • #8 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on October 20, 2016 - 6:21 am

      Ho ho, Tyrean, that’s the first time I’ve heard of a writer needing to do a ‘songb removal’ edit!

    • #9 by Annalisa Crawford on October 20, 2016 - 12:27 pm

      Lol, I’ve had to remove Chuck Palahniuk from my prose before, so I know how other people’s words/style seep in, uninvited 🙂

  4. #11 by Christine Rains on October 20, 2016 - 2:27 am

    Great music here. I’m a big REM fan. I admit, I’m one of the few folks that don’t listen to a lot of music. My head needs silence to be inspired.

    • #12 by Annalisa Crawford on October 20, 2016 - 12:28 pm

      REM are really great – their music seems fresh even after all these years.

  5. #13 by Sandra Cox (@Sandra_Cox) on October 20, 2016 - 6:19 pm

    Great review.

  6. #15 by Annalisa Crawford on October 20, 2016 - 6:33 pm

    Thank you for having me here, Roz. It’s interesting to hear how other people respond to music.

  7. #17 by Theresa Milstein on October 21, 2016 - 10:03 am

    Interesting to hear your musical influences. I often listen to music, but I can’t think of too many times when a song has inspired a manuscript or poem. Love the Gary Jules version of Mad World.

    • #18 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on October 22, 2016 - 6:55 am

      Thanks for stopping by, Theresa!

    • #19 by Annalisa Crawford on October 22, 2016 - 1:45 pm

      When it happens, it catches me off-guard, it’s a gut feeling that grabs hold and refuses to let go. I’ve been singing Mad World to myself ever since I wrote this post – it’s not letting go again, maybe it will inspire something else?

  8. #20 by mrb on January 23, 2017 - 1:00 am

    Hi Annalisa,

    Such driving aspirational songs, and some new musicians for me, Cherry Ghost was a find. Then Everybody Hurts – a song of multiple emotional planes. Cracked up about how words sometimes seep into writing. Glad you heard the expressive poetics in Mad World. For me, it came with Adam Lambert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXGBWQdHsyQ – though a star from American Idol, I used to work with his father in the Telecommunications industry.
    As for the Shins, my song is Phantom Limb – such optimism about the experience of an amputee. I discovered them after Natalie Portman dropped her headphones on Zach Braff in ‘Garden State.’
    Thanks for giving your musical testimony – mrb

  1. ‘A song that makes sense of my story’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Annalisa Crawford | Nail Your Novel

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