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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 media doctor and award-winning writer Carol Cooper @DrCarolCooper
While music isn’t always playing while I write, I sometimes need it to get into the right frame of mind to face a blank page. For me, The Beatles are creative Viagra. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band isn’t my favourite album, but its invigorating opening track makes it the one I find most conducive to spilling out words. Though Taxman from Revolver is pretty damn good. Then there’s Back in the USSR from the White Album and Come Together on Abbey Road… OK, so the Fab Four were pretty hot at opening tracks, and they followed up pretty well too.
Some music evokes specific characters in my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. Geoff, Laure, Sanjay and the others are in their mid-to-late-30s so they’d be very familiar with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Preoccupied with his own cancer, Sanjay enjoys listening to artistes who are dead (like Hillel Slovak from the Chilis).
They found a taxi. Geoff glanced at Laure in the half-light. Her face was hard to read, but her warm fingers were interlinked with his. Unprompted, the driver ranted about immigration, or possibly lenient judges. Geoff lost the thread halfway through, but the gist was that the cabbie thought the country was going to hell in a handcart, and everything the government did was tantamount to throwing away all they’d ever fought for during two world wars.
Anything is possible
I find the Chilis incredibly alive, and love them for their offbeat rhythm and their beautifully bonkers lyrics where anything is possible. My favourite album is By the Way. No wonder I found my novel taking strange new directions. The characters did things I hadn’t intended, like jumping into bed with people they shouldn’t. Sanjay’s cancer didn’t progress quite how I’d foreseen either, though maybe as a doctor I should be used to that.
As can happen when visiting Cuba, I felt totally immersed in music, especially son, on a trip to Havana a few years ago. There was live music on almost every corner of Habana Vieja. Many artists have recorded El Cuarto de Tula, but the late Compay Segundo’s version is my favourite. The tune is catchy and the lyrics suggestive. It’s a song is about a young woman’s bedroom being on fire, and it makes a great spur to writing sizzling sex scenes.
Geoff squeezed Laure’s hand experimentally. She squeezed back. He closed in for a kiss as the cab went over a speed bump. They kissed at length as the cabbie went on about not trusting any politician as far as he could spit.
Sometimes lyrics get in way of finding the right words, and I might need an instrumental piece. Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is one of my favourites. Evocative and imaginative, it never fails to put me in the mood for writing. My soundtrack includes a John Williams rendition, but I’ve recently heard the young Montenegrin guitarist Miloš Karadaglić and I can’t wait for his interpretation on his new album Aranjuez. While I’m no expert in classical music, I’ve never known anyone make a guitar sing as he does. Sheer magic.
For those that don’t know, qawwali is the musical version of devotional poetry practised in Sufi Islam. The beat is endless and hypnotic, the lyrics ethereal and repeated. Although the characters in One Night at the Jacaranda aren’t particularly religious – and after all this is a novel about dating – they do have a basic creed which I think qawwali eloquently captures. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is said to be the king of qawwali. Listening to his album Rapture helps unpeel their spiritual layers of my characters, and imbue them with just the right amount of faith and hope.
As a student, Carol Cooper used to write music reviews, which got her into the best gigs in Cambridge. Carol is now a family doctor in London and a journalist for The Sun newspaper. Her latest book One Night at the Jacaranda is a raunchy romantic novel with a heart-rending medical strand. It comes after a string of non-fiction health titles and an award-winning textbook of medicine, co-authored with colleagues from Imperial College Medical School where she teaches. She is now working on a sequel to her novel, taking some of her favourite characters into new territory. Her blog is Pills and Pillow-Talk and she’s on Twitter as @DrCarolCooper.
authors, cancer, Carol Cooper, characters, Compay Segundo, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, drama, El Cuarto de Tula, entertainment, Hillel Slovak, Jacaranda, John Williams, John Williams and BBC Proms, media doctor, medical arts, medical doctors, Miloš Karadaglić, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, One Night at the Jacaranda, Pills and Pillow Talk, playlist for writers, qawwali, raunchy romance, Red Hot Chili Peppers, romance, Roz Morris, The Beatles, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Viagra, Women Writers, women writing women, writers, writing, writing to music
- 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.
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Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
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- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2023. 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'
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- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'
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