‘The planes, the explosions, the dust, the calm’
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 guest is award-winning YA author and creative writing tutor Kerry Drewery @KerryDrewery
Soundtrack by Radiohead, The Streets, The White Stripes
Music has always been an important part of my life. Growing up the television was never on until after teatime, yet the radio always was. Born in the ’70s, I remember singing along to my parent’s new Blondie album, going to Radio One roadshows in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, and listening to chart run-downs on hurried Tuesday lunch-times in school (as it was then).
My brother’s music choices of heavy metal would pound through the house, and perhaps had some influence on my turn from a Buck’s Fizz and Duran Duran fan to teenage goth listening to bands such as The Cure, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cult – I listened for the lyrics, but even more so the mood.
My goth years are waaay behind me now and I’ll listen to any genre, yet it’s still the feel and the mood of the music that’s more important to me rather than the lyrics, and that’s mostly how it affects and ties in with my writing.
Unfortunately I’m not one of those writers who can listen to music as they work (I wish I was!) because I find my brain latches onto the lyrics and instead of thinking about what’s happening in my novel, I start singing along, much to the disgust of anyone in earshot.
However, when I leave the computer at the end of the day, when I go for a run, when I’m in the car or reluctantly doing housework, or even when I’m planning, the music will go on and the volume will go up. If I’m listening on my iPod, I’ll find myself skipping through tracks to find the ‘right’ one – ‘right’ being whatever provides the correct mood.
I was doing this when writing A Brighter Fear, and latched onto Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees. It reminded me of the novel; it made me feel the mood of it. The track begins very quietly, Thom Yorke’s voice lilting with some melancholy accompanied by acoustic guitar, yet as it progresses a crescendo builds, his voice more forceful, higher and with electric guitar, before fading away again.
For me this mirrors the bombing scenes in the novel – the quiet and calm beforehand, slowly building as fear spreads throughout the communities, then the sounds of planes overhead, followed by the bombs exploding around them sending rubble, bricks, homes to pieces, before finally the dust settles, the planes disappear and calm, quiet, returns.
It was never the lyrics, but on listening now, I’m aware of the repetition of a phrase talking about being worn out by what’s happening, which is exactly the mood of my character struggling to survive this.
Another song that helped me to write A Brighter Fear, but in a different way, was The Streets, Dry Your Eyes. Although this again gives the perfect mood and places me as a writer in exactly the right frame of mind, it’s far more about the lyrics – and for a very particular scene where two characters who’ve become supportive friends, are forced to part.
The whole song is a story of a girl breaking up with a boy, and the lyrics are very directional, telling how he moves his hands towards her to touch her face, or how she turns away but takes one last look back, and this allow you, the listener, to see exactly the scene the writer intended. I encourage you to listen, to close your eyes and let the picture form in your head of precisely what’s happening between this distraught couple. That’s what I wanted to do with the scene I was writing – I wanted my reader to see it as I saw it in my head; this showed me how effectively it can be done.
I could bleat on all day about tracks that have affected, helped and supported me as a writer, but I think they’d fall under the same category as these – putting my head in the right mood, or showing me how well something can be done. To finish on one that is different, though, and takes me to my second novel – A Dream of Lights…
This novel saw my character going through some tough times in North Korea, and there were days when the research got to me (I discovered some truly shocking things), and there were times when stepping away at the end of the day and leaving it in my office rather than letting those things stay in my head, was difficult. This track though, with the volume high and my eyes closed, would melt all that away on its guitar; it helped me smile at the end of the day or face the next chapter afresh. I love it…The White Stripes, Ball and Biscuit.
Kerry Drewery is a YA writer of the novels A Brighter Fear and A Dream of Lights (published by HarperCollins). A Brighter Fear is about a teen growing up in Baghdad when war breaks out in 2003, and was short-listed for the Leeds Book Award. A Dream of Lights follows a teenage girl in North Korea as she discovers the truth about her country and struggles to survive with her family. It was awarded Highly Commended at the North East Teen Book Awards and nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. Kerry lives between the countryside and the sea in the north of England in a house full of books, films and dogs. She’s a Patron of Reading, creative writing tutor and co-organiser of UKYAX. She’s currently walking around with tape over her mouth as she has news of her new novel but isn’t supposed to tell yet… She’s repped by Jane Willis at United Agents. Find her on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter @KerryDrewery