Posts Tagged MG fiction

The Undercover Soundtrack – Catherynne M Valente

‘I look for clever, lyrical music with a twinge of melancholy’

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 multi-award-winning author and New York Times bestselling author Catherynne M Valente @catvalente

Soundtrack by Carl Sagan featuring Symphony of Science, Loreen, Ke$ha, Milla Jovovich, Yann Tiersen, Florence + the Machine, Mumford and Sons, The Decemberists, Anais Mitchell, Orenda Fink, Anna Ternheim, Pogo, Sufjan Stevens, Nobuo Uematsu, Tom Waits, Seanan McGuire, Andrew Bird, Circus Contraption, Antje Duvekot, The Innocence Mission, Rilo Kiley, Jason Webley, Neutral Milk Hotel, DJ Earworm, Ru Paul, Lady Gaga, S.J. Tucker

Exeunt on a leopard

Music and Fairyland go hand in hand. I can’t write without music – it’s an intimate part of my process. So often I start a novel by making a playlist for it, songs that say something about the subject and have a beat conducive to writing. Anything too aggressive and I get distracted, too soft and gentle and I get sleepy. There’s very much a sweet spot to find! With the Fairyland novels, the playlist is called Exeunt on a Leopard and it evolves with every book.

Fairyland is a novel about travel and magic, about growing up, about figuring out the world is a more complicated place than you thought. It’s whimsical but it has a bite. A lot of the songs I like to listen to seem like they could be sung in the voice of my protagonist, September, who is carried away from her home in Nebraska by the Green Wind (who rides a Leopard) and finds her way to Fairyland, a kingdom full of wyverns, witches, marauding herds of wild bicycles, and a very wicked Marquess who has inflicted some very human cruelties on the magical world. Fairyland is both an adventure story and a prodding—sometimes gentle, sometimes sharp—of the whole tradition of children’s literature. So I look for clever, lyrical music with a twinge of melancholy – all stories about fairies have a little melancholy in them.

Song to start the muse

I start out every writing day with Symphony of Science’s gorgeous song A Glorious Dawn. It makes me feel so optimistic about the world! After that, the heavy hitters are Florence + the Machine’s new album Ceremonials, Mumford and Sons’s Sigh No More, The Decemberists’ Her Majesty and Picaresque, Anais Mitchell’s folklore opera Hadestown, Orenda Fink’s Invisible Ones, Anna Ternheim, especially Shoreline, which seemed to be just written for September, Pogo’s Alice songs, Sufjan Stevens’s Illinoise and Michigan albums, Nobuo Uematsu’s phenomenal soundtrack to Final Fantasy VII and VIII, Tom Waits’s sad and sweet musical version of Allen Ginsberg’s poem America, Seanan McGuire’s Hugo-nominated album Wicked Girls, the title track of which actually makes a quick, subtle cameo in the climactic scene of the novel, Andrew Bird’s Scythian Empire, Circus Contraption’s melancholy carnival album Grand American Traveling Dime Museum, Antje Duvekot’s Black Annis, Yann Tiersen’s fabulous music wherever I find it, The Innocence Mission for a little early 90s awesomeness, Rilo Kiley, Milla Jovovich’s surprisingly lovely song Clock, Jason Webley’s Ways to Love, Neutral Milk Hotel’s King of Carrot Flowers and In an Aeroplane Over the Sea.

And cheese

When writing scenes heavy on action, I will admit with only a little blushing that I like some cheesy club pop music – DJ Earworm’s mashups that remind you how meaning can be so fluid, Ru Paul’s Glamazon, Lady Gaga’s Fame Monster album, Ke$ha’s Tik Tok (there’s a strong clock theme in Fairyland!) and I’m completely in love with Loreen’s Eurovision winner Euphoria as I’m working on the third book in the Fairyland series. Sometimes the silly stuff makes me feel free to be ridiculous and whimsical in my work–not everything has to be serious and elegant all the time. This is an important lesson for a fantasy writer, I think.

Finally, I can’t talk about Fairyland and music without mentioning S.J. Tucker. She’s an extraordinary singer, and I have her last two albums Sirens and Mischief on a loop when working. But she’s also done three albums based on my books, and a fourth, based on Fairyland, will be coming out soon. So I listen to September’s Rhyme and Wonders quite a bit–they remind me what I mean to say with my books, and why I started this whole crazy business to begin with.

Catherynne M. Valente is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen works of fiction and poetry, including Palimpsest, the Orphan’s Tales series, Deathless, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Own Making. She is the winner of the Andre Norton Award, the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award and the Lambda Award. She has been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards. She lives on an island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, and enormous cat. She blogs at and tweets @catvalente

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Nick Green

The Undercover Soundtrack is a weekly series by writers who use music as part of their creative process – special pieces that have revealed a character to them, or populated a mysterious place, or enlarged a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by children’s author Nick Green

Soundtrack by Jon and Vangelis

I wonder if, with the rise of ebooks, we’ll soon be enjoying novels with their own soundtracks. In the case of my first children’s novel, The Cat Kin (Strident Publishing), the soundtrack actually preceded it. In terms of the story, I was going for something like the TV dramas I used to love as a child, where each episode would push you nearer the edge of your seat, and your heart further into your mouth, before hitting you with the end titles and theme music. So I looked around for the kind of theme tune that my imaginary show might have, and heard an obscure track online which seemed to fit. (For the ultra-curious, the track was Barracuda by the computer demoscene composer Dr Awesome, aka Bjorn Lynne. Told you it was obscure.)

A year later, I set to writing the follow-up to The Cat Kin, Cat’s Paw. My first problem was the challenge of all sequels: what do my characters do now? For those who don’t know (and I believe that’s most of the population) The Cat Kin is about children who develop the powers of cats, by practising an Ancient Egyptian martial art called pashki. And inevitably, because this is a story, they meet some terrible villains against whom these new skills come in handy.

But I didn’t want to send my heroes on one adventure after another. They were never supposed to be ‘superheroes’ – their everyday lives were always more important to me. Nor was I interested in dishing up baddie after baddie just to fill pages. For me, each story has to spring from an emotional seed, or I’ll lose the will to write it. In the case of the first book, it was cruelty to animals that kept me suitably enraged. But when it came to the second story, I had no ideas at all – or rather I had no feelings, no single burning emotion to spark things off.

Then I heard an old song: I’ll Find My Way Home by Jon and Vangelis. I’ve long been a fan of Jon Anderson’s (his band, Yes, dominate my CD towers) but was only vaguely familiar with his Vangelis albums, which always sounded to me like the music you might hear in Atlantis, in the lifts. But I had to admit, I loved I’ll Find My Way Home – a simple, heart-wrenching melody, and a lyric that can resonate with anyone. Something clicked.

In The Cat Kin, I’d explored the drama of humans becoming like cats. But there was one celebrated feline power that I’d had no cause to use in that story. Cats are said to have a mysterious instinct that can guide them safely home if they get lost. As an idea it had possibilities, and more importantly the kind of emotive force I was looking for. Could I use it in Cat’s Paw?

My savvy 13-year-old heroes were unlikely to get lost in London – no homing instinct needed here. But the stories of cats’ abilities get more mysterious than that. There are also tales, some of them well founded, of cats tracking down former owners who move away, often across many miles. I don’t know whether this is really true or not, but this didn’t matter. Suddenly, I had the core element of my story. The children’s pashki teacher, Felicity Powell, disappears at the end of book 1, and Tiffany (one of the two main characters) desperately misses her. What if she managed to learn the feline trick of following her? Of course – of course she would.

With this feeling at last taking root, I had my story. Soon more elements fell into place. Ben, the other protagonist, comes from a broken home, and must now divide his time between his mum’s home and his dad’s. We encounter a sinister band of juvenile, homeless outcasts. There is a villain whose madness stems from being snatched from his home as a small child. That single idea, home, became the pillar of the whole book – all thanks to Jon and Vangelis and I’ll Find My Way Home. As a sort of credit, the song even finds its way into the story, though it’s not mentioned by name. Listen out for it.

As a child, Nick Green landed a tiny part in a TV drama series, and wondered about an acting career. Sadly, that was his acting career. He did not become a musician either, despite the best efforts of his musician father, and his doctor mother successfully persuaded him not to become a doctor. He took up writing fiction at university, as a cheaper alternative to going out. His published novels are The Cat Kin and its sequel Cat’s Paw, but several more are lurking in the wings.

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