Posts Tagged Morrissey

The Undercover Soundtrack – Deborah Andrews

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 award-winning theatre practitioner Deborah Andrews

Soundtrack by Pulp, Oasis, Blur, Massive Attack, Portishead, The Cranberries, LTJ Bukem, Leftfield, Tricky, Goldie, The Verve, Bjork, REM, The Stone Roses, Morrissey, Tracy Chapman, Billy Bragg, Kate Bush, Nick Cave, Sufjan Stevens

The further I write my way into my second novel, the more I realise the extent to which my debut novel, Walking the Lights, is drenched in music. Music is at the emotional heart of the novel. It initially speaks of Maddie’s relationship with her absent father – the songs she remembers him singing to her – and it goes on to illuminate her relationships with her friends, her lovers and, ultimately, with herself.

undercover-soundtrack-deborah-andrews-1Personal and political

Walking the Lights is set in 1996/97. I was looking for connections between the personal and political – and a time that would echo Maddie’s emergence – and the culture and climate around the general election of ’97, along with the lead-up to devolution in Scotland, fitted perfectly. To help re-create the period, I read archive copies of newspapers; watched movies and read books from the era; and listened to music: Pulp, Oasis, Blur, Massive Attack, Portishead, The Cranberries, LTJ Bukem, Leftfield, Tricky, Goldie, The Verve, Björk…as well as to music that Maddie would’ve listened to as a teenager: REM, The Stone Roses, Morrissey, Tracy Chapman, Billy Bragg.

Music plays a large role in my life. As a child, I wanted to be a dancer and I trained in dance for ten years. To me, dance was a way of giving music physical form, of being a conduit for emotion. As an adult, I love listening to music as well as singing and playing the mandolin. I can’t write while listening to music though – my attention will be drawn away and my emotions pulled by what I’m listening to. I enjoy walking and mulling over what I’m working on, and will often put my earphones in and spend time getting inside my characters’ heads and hearts.

Inside out

There were two key tracks that really helped me to get to know Maddie from the inside out. The first of these was Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy. The song relates to a carefree time in Maddie’s life when she used to go out clubbing with her friends, Jo and Roger, and it reappears – after a few dark years – with the prospect of a new romance with visual artist, Alex. I find the track hopeful yet full of longing, and I wanted to reflect something of the swelling strings in Maddie’s feelings of anticipation.

The second track was The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony. This song helped define Maddie at the end of the novel: she’s been seeking love and validation, often looking in all the wrong places, and she’s been searching for her father, leading her to uncover family secrets and testing her hold on reality. She’s in recovery, and she’s reconnecting with her work in the theatre and her sense of purpose. Again, the hopefulness of the melody was important, the string motif, but also the lyrics: being held in one body while playing many parts aligns nicely with the life of an actor.


I could wax lyrical about music in the book, but in terms of music behind the book three main tracks come to mind. In 2011 I was busy rewriting, changing the novel from first person present tense to third person past tense and experimenting with free indirect speech. This was particularly important to help me create some of some of the larger, political canvases, and to take the reader close in to Maddie’s breakdown without causing confusion as to what was going on. I went to see one of my favourite musicians, Sufjan Stevens, touring The Age of Adz at the Manchester Apollo. In I Want To Be Well I heard the chaos and fighting spirit that I was looking to portray in the third part of my novel. The gig itself was significant too – the massive hallucinatory spectacle, that became increasingly wild, and ended with a shedding of costumes, fancy lighting design, video and performance theatrics for a beautiful and tender acoustic rendition of ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’. This was the kind of spectrum I wanted my writing to encompass, and the kind of emotional adventure I wanted to take my readers on.

The second track, Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting, arrived as part of a compilation from a friend while I was editing my novel. I hadn’t heard the song in years and it had a big impact on me. Again, it really resonated with what I wanted my novel to achieve, both in terms of storyline – becoming an adult and coming to terms with the loss of a father – and in terms of emotion: the sense of struggle, strength, fight and defiance. I found the power of the cello, the rising voices, the drums, the layering in the track, like a call to action. I spent several train journeys with the song on repeat, and I think it helped me find the determination to make the novel as good as I could, as well as providing true north for Maddie’s trajectory.

walking-the-lights_coverfrontThe third track, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ There She Goes My Beautiful World, served a similar purpose. The lyrics are poetic and talk of literary figures and inspiration – the sentiment, tune and arrangement are really kick-ass. Daft as it might sound, this track also helped me get ready to let go of my manuscript and my characters.

Novels can take years from first fragments to publication. I started writing scenes for what became Walking the Lights back in 2007. Playing a musical instrument reminds me that the basics are important, to build strength and improve technique: a lifelong development of craft. I’m always looking for my writing to have musicality – rhythm, flow, timbre, texture, growth, counterpoint – and at least one stage of my editing process involves reading my work aloud. The doubt I often feel when I start work on a new tune reminds me to keep chipping away at my writing, it shows me time and again how commitment and steady work can slowly build something complex and complete and, hopefully, moving and meaningful.

Deborah is an award-winning theatre practitioner turned novelist. Her knowledge of the theatre world inspired her debut novel Walking the Lights, which has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize. She has an MLitt (Distinction) and an AHRC-funded PhD in creative writing from Glasgow University. She now lives in Lancaster where she teaches creative writing. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies and she is currently writing her second novel. For more info. please visit her website and her Facebook page.



, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The Undercover Soundtrack – Jan Ruth

for logo‘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).

05-JanRuth-tightSeeking sanctuary

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 aWild Water LARGE EBOOKs 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.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The Undercover Soundtrack – Joanne Phillips

for logo‘A sense of trying to work something out’

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 women’s fiction novelist Joanne Phillips @joannegphillips

Soundtrack by Morrissey

I’m one of those writers who needs absolute peace and quiet to concentrate. Birdsong is fine; distant lawnmowers are okay; total silence is better. Anything I can ignore won’t interrupt my peace, but I can’t ignore music so I never listen while working. Music has always affected me deeply; I discovered Radio 4 during a difficult period in my life when the most innocuous song could trigger an attack of the blues.

Joanne PhillipsBecause I haven’t studied music I lack the vocabulary to explain precisely what it is that reaches inside and yanks out strings of emotion. I know there’s an amorphous sense of longing, of trying to work something out, and it’s this feeling, produced only by a beautiful tune or resonating lyric, that I aim to recreate in the reader when I’m writing. Great music and good fiction should transport you in some way, and no artist is better at evoking this response in me than Morrissey.

Conflicted and empowered

Morrissey’s lyrics have often inspired ideas for characters’ inner conflicts and turmoil. In The Future When All’s Well – a beautiful, upbeat song full of hope – is behind Stella’s blind faith in The Family Trap. As I listen to this track I feel empowered to take risks, to be my own person, and I gave this motivation to Stella, who is often quite infuriating but to me she carries this sense of hope and positivity with her always. There is a ‘definiteness’ to Morrissey’s music, a challenge, an invitation to take it any way you choose. Stella’s character embodies this – I prefer to write characters who are challenging, perhaps not immediately likeable but all the more real for it. And on a more general note, if I’m ever flagging or feeling low, listening to this track will always give me a lift. (Who says Morrissey is depressing?)

Last year, while I was writing The Family Trap, we were lucky enough to see him live in Manchester. There is so much passion in his music, and in the response from his fans, as you can hear during this clip (Every Day Is Like Sunday). And listen to those first two lines. It’s a beautiful, evocative image that prompts the questions: Who stole them? What happened next? The use of the word trudging is perfect. When I’m trying to pin down a piece of narrative, to reduce it to its core, I reflect on the use of song lyrics to set up a scene or emotion so economically. It really helps.

TFT coverMy way

Not only do I listen to Morrissey for inspiration and ideas, I often use his music to reconnect to my own passion for writing, to be reminded that it’s fine to do things the way I want to, that I don’t have to follow strict conventions just because I write in a particular genre. Morrissey is the master of emotional manipulation and one of his key techniques is to contrast lyrical content with musical style: heart-rending, near-suicidal lyrics set to an upbeat, jaunty tune (I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris). While both my novels are contemporary women’s fiction, they are not light and fluffy by any means. Both explore fairly dark themes for the genre – losing everything you own, materialism, the effect of having a parent in prison, the possibility of paternal abandonment – and I think these themes are all the more powerful for being set in a more humorous context.

Of course, I do listen to artists other than Morrissey! But he has provided the soundtrack to my life, and influenced my emotional responses to music and writing in ways that even I don’t understand. If I can evoke just an echo of that in my readers I’ve more than done my job.

Joanne Phillips is the author of contemporary women’s fiction novels Can’t Live Without and The Family Trap, both available in ebook and paperback from Amazon. She is studying for a masters in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and works part time as an indexer. Joanne blogs about writing and publishing and you can follow her on Twitter  @joannegphillips and Facebook 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,