‘It began as a buffer to domestic chaos’
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
Soundtrack by Enigma, Sarah Brightman, Kings of Leon, Clannad, Morrissey, Craig Armstrong, Roxy Music
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.