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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 historical action/adventure novelist Dianne Greenlay @DianneGreenlay
Soundtrack by Carl Orff, Dvorak, Poitin, Immediate Music, Samuel Barber, Moby
Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest is an adventure set in the pirate-infested waters of the West Indies, 1717. The story opens with William, a young man who is searching for his older brother and his father, both of whom have not returned from the pub the night before. When I write, I usually have a scene playing out like a movie in my head and I know that my word choice is strongly influenced by background music.
Therefore, wanting this first scene to be one of ominous and rising tension in the chill of the pre-dawn semi-darkness, I listened to Carl Orff: Carmina Burana, O Fortuna. It provided the perfect musical setting for the sense of building panic which begins in Chapter One and which peaks in an unexpected incident at the end of Chapter Two. And like the title of the music, with that incident, William’s fortune is about to change forever.
My main protagonist – Tess Willoughby – a young woman from a privileged home in London, is the daughter of a well-to-do physician, who unexpectedly witnesses the murder of an old seer. Coming into possession of the dead woman’s odd ring – an ancient Spinner ring, known by the locals as the Ring of Prophesy, she is wrongly accused by her father of having stolen the ring, and soon, by her father’s arrangement for the family, she becomes an unwilling passenger on a merchant ship bound for Port Royal, Jamaica.
For Tess, this is the beginning of a coming-of-age nightmare unfolding in a world that is completely foreign from everything that she knows. The daring sea journey begins, and Dvorak’s Fourth Movement from The New World Symphony painted the background for me as I captured the events along the brave, yet hazardous journey.
There will be dancing
William, meanwhile, also finds himself on board a ship and at the mercy of a sea-hardened captain and crew. In my research about the lives of sailors and pirates in the eighteenth century, I’d read that dance was a way in which the sailors coped with boredom at sea, and presumably, I thought, the copious amounts of grog that they drank gave their feet wings, if not rhythm. Dance was an activity of fellowship, and at times, a competition and a way of showing off.
The challenge given to William by his captain is to provide an evening of entertainment that is meant to lower the dangerous level of mounting tension between two acrimonious sailing crews forced to share one ship. The song, The Congress Reel, is an old Irish reel meant for the flute, fiddle and drum. That was a perfect, almost mandatory accompaniment for writing this scene, as those were the instruments that would have been available to the crew members. Although there are many versions of The Congress Reel, the frenzied tempo as used here by Poitin was just as I envisioned the sailors’ dance to be sounding like.
As I wrote the dance scene, the music filled my head and, spurred on by the song’s rhythm, my typing fingers flew over the keyboard. I could feel the sailors’ tensions dissolving and much to my surprise, during this dance scene, Mrs Hanley, another favorite character – a cheeky, middle-aged woman – showed an unexpected flirtatious side to her that came to have great significance in the plot later on.
A rhythmic splash
A pivotal point in the story is the sea battle in which the merchant ship that Tess and William are sailing upon is overtaken by a brutal pirate crew. The pirate ship’s approach is one of stealth until the last moment:
There it is again! A rhythmical splash, not unlike the ocean’s melody, a soft regular swish as their ship sliced through its surface, but this sound lagged ever so slightly, as though it were a half a beat behind their own.
And then it hit him. At first it was just an uncertain whiff. A faint tendril of pernicious stench, full of human decay, rot, and unwashed flesh. His nostrils flared involuntarily and he swallowed back his stomach’s attempt to empty.
William’s heart began to pound so hard in his chest that it felt as though it was knocking the air right out of him. He whirled on Smith. “Sound the alarm!” he hissed.
I needed some commanding music as explosive as the desperation of the life-and-death ensuing battle that I was next writing. To me, there is nothing more powerful than a full orchestra backing an enormous choir singing in Latin and Immediate Music’s Lacrimosa provided that. I could hear the roar of cannon firing, could smell the gunpowder, could feel the burn of the salty sea spray on my lips and in my eyes, and could hear the courageous screams of the men in battle, as the details appeared on my computer screen.
Further into the story, I was writing a softer scene in which characters and readers alike were forced to say a sad farewell to Da’, William’s much beloved father. Adagio For Strings by Samuel Barber played in the background, bringing me to tears as I wrote. I believe that my choice of words touched my readers as deeply, as I have since received comments from readers such as this: ‘This book kept me on the edge of my seat. It even made me cry.’
However, not all is heart pounding action or melancholy in Quintspinner. A happy ending is my preferred ingredient for every successful story and this tale is interspersed with laughter, folk wisdom generously and wryly doled out by Mrs Hanley, and life lessons gained by all. As I was wrapping things up, I needed to hear something that was upbeat but not frilly, and yet something that hinted to me that the story was not quite finished, that there would be much more adventure brewing in Tess’s and William’s future, and I composed my last few chapters while gaining inspiration from the urgency of the beat and melody of Extreme Ways by Moby (which has since been chosen to be the closing theme music for the Bourne movies).
All in all, these music pieces transported me to a magical time and place and provided me with the vivid images and emotions that I needed to capture the story. Music was indeed the magical ingredient.
Dianne Greenlay is a debut author. Her historical action/adventure Quintspinner series has proven to be wildly popular with readers on Wattpad. Greenlay is also the author of The Camping Guy, which is available as both a short story and a one-act comedy (live theater script). Although she lives most of the year on the land-locked Canadian prairies, Greenlay enjoys traveling and frequently can be found in tropical climates hiking, cave spelunking, snorkeling, and sailing while researching historical sites in preparation for her writing. Her website is here, and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter @DianneGreenlay.Dianne is a member of the League of Extraordinary Authors.
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My guest this week has a taste for the adventurous. Her novel is set in the pirate-infested waters of the West Indies in 1717, and her characters are unwittingly pulled into a hazardous sea journey. The music that sustained this imaginative voyage is epic and foreboding, but not without its lighter elements. My guest discovered in her research that sailors used dance to ward off boredom on the interminable days at sea, so she wrote a scene to the soundtrack of a reel. But it became more than dance; when the characters shrugged off their tensions they began to behave in unexpected and delightful ways. In case you’re imagining it’s all lace, beards and cutlasses, though, there’s a distinctly modern note at the end: Moby makes an appearance (no, not the whale). The author is Dianne Greenlay (one of my co-conspirators at the League of Extraordinary Authors) and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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My guest this week sees his novel as a fantasy action movie in his head. He says his musical choices were long favourites before he drew on them to create a fast-paced adventure story on a planet far from Earth. He is DM Jarrett and he’ll be here on Wednesday for a fast-paced whirl through his Undercover Soundtrack.
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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 guest is scientist, writer, Russian speaker and aliased musician Grigory Ryzhakov @GrigoryRyzhakov
I write in silence. It helps me to dive into the world of a story. Some people listen to music while they write; I listen to it before I write. I also listen to music when I walk to and from work through the streets of Fulham, south-west London, while plotting just another scene. Music replenishes my creative energy for writing and for science.
At times, I can’t find the right music, so I compose my own. My first self-published novelette Usher Syndrome was inspired like that: I wrote Cabaret Song, in which my character Agie describes her transformation from man to woman in a cheeky manner.
A year after it was written I attended a London concert of a M-F transsexual gospel singer My Lady J and bought her album. When I embarked on writing Pumpkin Day, a comic adventure sequel to the first Agie’s story, I really needed to be in Agie’s quirky spirit. So I listened a lot to My Pink Prada Purse by My Lady J at the time.
Music was also very important to me when I first started writing fiction seven years ago. My so far unpublished and untitled Russian-language sci-fi novel contains several episodes of gripping action. I listened to the Inception film soundtrack by Hans Zimmer to get myself in the mood for writing them. Thumping drums and basses associated in my mind with escalating threat of peril, I could feel the adrenaline rush as if I was at my character’s side. This music affected the way I wrote those action scenes: with shorter sentences, rhyming syllables, like gunshots. No room for reflection.
On the other hands, some parts of this book were quieter. In one chapter I introduced a secondary character, an international singing sensation and the opera diva Dez. When I wanted to describe her lofty performance on stage, I thought about what music would she sing. I listened to many pieces of Russian classical music and surprisingly my choice fell on Alexander Skryabin’s Poem of Fire.
I imagined vocal parts Dez would sing. She was like a tiny pure raindrop fighting the forest fire, I imagined the modern arrangement of Skryabin’s music, its mysticism, its symbolic meaning (the poem is also called Prometheus), and I thought just how well it suited Dez, her own mysterious aura. You may think the result would be a cacophony, but in my head it worked really well.
Right and Wrong
My upcoming book Mr Right and Mr Wrong, which I completed writing at the beginning of March, is a romantic comedy with elements of science, like all of my writing. Since it belongs to a rather light rom-com genre I listened to songs of Will Young and the Love Actually film soundtrack to get into the right mood. In Mr Right and Mr Wrong the heroine Chloe meets two men individually on the same day, she likes both of them and has trouble of choosing her Mr Right with all the funny and not-so-funny consequences following.
One of them is a DJ and songwriter, and some of the scenes occur in the nightclub. I’m not a regular clubber, so I was glued to the UK top 100 chart. Club music can be quite aggressive, while my story is a light-hearted comedy, so I tried choosing tracks with quirky, satirical lyrics. There is no space to name dozens of songs I listened to: my favourites are Thrift Shop by Maclemore, Black Heart by Stooshe and maybe I Fucked Up, a melancholic synth-pop track from Madonna’s new album, which I use as my phone’s ringtone. You can imagine the look on people’s faces when I receive a call.
In some alternative reality I am not a scientist or a writer, but probably a rock-singer like my idols David Bowie and Radiohead’s Tom Yorke. A vain thought it may be, but what the heck, any thought is useful if it fuels our writing.
Currently dwelling in the cosmopolitan ecosystem of London, Grigory is a Russian molecular biologist who communicates his love of science through his fiction and blogging. In addition, he makes/performs music using an alias Grisha McArrow and deposits it on Soundcloud. His books are Becoming Agie, Usher Syndrome and Pumpkin Day. Mr Right and Mr Wrong is scheduled for launch soon. Find him on Twitter (@GrigoryRyzhakov) and at his blog www.ryzhakov.co.uk
GIVEAWAY Grigory is giving away 5 copies (Kindle or epub) of his two-part novelette Becoming Agie to commenters here. Leave a note to enter – and if you tweet or share on Facebook, G+ or other media, be sure to mention because that counts as extra entries too.
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‘I needed music to drum up those teen feelings about life, adventure, and parents who didn’t understand’ – Kevin McGill
My Undercover Soundtrack guest this week is Kevin McGill – one half of my favourite books podcast, Guys Can Read. To write his epic adventure fantasy Nikolas & Company, he needed to get back in touch with his early teen self – but his book’s soundtrack goes way beyond mere angst. There’s music for magic, mythology, mayhem – and even, ahem, ‘girl scenes’. I’ll let him explain all that, and more, here on Wednesday
- The Undercover Soundtrack is a series where writers - and occasionally other arty folk - reveal how music shapes their work.
- It began as a companion to my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, and now thrives as a creative salon in its own right. Pull on your headphones and join us.
- If you're curious about the novel that started it all, click the image below.
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
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2020. Nothing may be reproduced without my express permission in writing beforehand. Photography: Bonnie Schupp Photography, gcg2009 and Roz Morris
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'