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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’s post is by romance novelist and Novelicious founder Kirsty Greenwood @kirstybooks
Soundtrack by Jeff Buckley, Fairground Attraction, Phoenix, Carole King, John Grant, Grease 2, George Fenton, Color Me Badd, Bobby Helms, Skeeter Davis, Rosemary Clooney, Duke Ellington, Stacey Kent, Best Coast, Stevie Wonder, Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, George Gershwin, Rufus Wainwright, Ella Fitzgerald, Toni Braxton, Ani Difranco
I always intended to have a career in music. Encouraged by musically minded parents, my sisters and I spent much of our teenage time singing in harmony. We were cool that way. Known for our rendition of The Andrews Sisters’ Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, we performed in local pubs, at karaoke, family birthday parties and such. We still get asked to perform Boogie Woogie, but it’s not quite so adorable now we’re in our 30s. At 22 I studied music at college, sang, learned to play the guitar and wrote whimsical/folksy pop songs. I won a ‘Song of the Year’ award and wrote and sang for a local bhangra/pop producer. Music was my everything. Shortly after getting my degree, I was hit with a period of bipolar depression that lasted for over a year. I stopped performing and lost all interest in pursuing music professionally. During my recovery I started to write romantic comedy – writing fiction is remarkably similar in process to writing songs (both crafted in terms of story, rhythm, theme, timbre, pace and texture) – and found it to be hugely enjoyable as well as restorative.
A creative place
I use music to quickly access a creative state, particularly if I’m procrastinating on a book or I’m having a day when I don’t feel like writing jokes. So before a writing session I’ll listen to songs that buoy my spirits, energise and inspire me. Jeff Buckley (Mojo Pin, Vancouver and So Real are all shortcuts to a mood lift), John Grant’s Queen of Denmark album, Carole King’s Tapestry, Eddi Reader, Phoenix, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, Rufus Wainwright, Ella Fitzgerald, plenty of 80s power ballads and, er, the Grease 2 soundtrack which just straight up makes me laugh.
When deep into writing I love the easy companionship of music, but find anything lyrical too entertaining and end up singing along. I’ll listen to classical music and film instrumentals, particularly Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, George Gershwin and George Fenton, whose You’ve Got Mail soundtrack really helped me to get into a jaunty, ‘romcom’ mind-set for Yours Truly, as well as making me think about Nora Ephron and how I need to try harder.
Back to the 90s
My debut novel, Yours Truly, gave me a legitimate excuse to listen to lots of 90s pop. My leading man, Riley, has a thing for the supremely cheesy band Color Me Badd (they had one hit song, it was called I Wanna Sex You Up), and there’s a sex scene set to Toni Braxton’s extra randy You’re Making Me High. Music was used to bond the main characters, as it does so much in real life. Riley, an amateur musician, sings little off-the-cuff ditties to Natalie in order to woo her, and she is constantly amused by his willingness to expose his 90s pop ‘fanboying’.
I’m now writing my second book. It’s called The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance (published June 2014 with Pan Macmillan) and is the first in a series. One of the central characters, Matilda Beam, is a 77-year-old writer who can’t let go of her 1950s glory days. When my protagonist, Jess, meets Matilda, she’s sitting in a grand, cluttered room, listening to a Bobby Helms record on repeat. I find the melodies of most of his songs melancholy and the hefty reverb used on his voice makes it sound otherwordly and creepy. I wanted to provide a soundtrack for the scene that would give the audience an immediate insight into Matilda’s state of mind and also to freak out the thoroughly modern and lively Jess.
I have a dedicated Spotify playlist for The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance. These are the songs I’ve listened to in order to connect with characters and emotions, or to help me get to the ambience of a scene more clearly. The most often played tracks on there are:
End of the World (Skeeter Davis): Hauntingly beautiful, lonely and lost. A soundtrack for Matilda Beam in 2013.
Sophisticated Lady (Rosemary Clooney, Duke Ellington): Sultry and smoky, this song perfectly embodied the young Matilda Beam as a socialite and writer in the 50s. When I listen to this, I think of her being spun across the dance floor at some fabulous New York party.
Wishin’ and Hopin’ (Ani Difranco): I saw a tongue in cheek video for this song on the opening credits to My Best Friend’s Wedding and it mirrors the way Matilda Beam believes women ought to behave in order to find love. Its ludicrousness always makes me laugh and Ani Difranco’s raspy voice sounds so damn sexy in it.
This Can’t Be Love (Stacey Kent): The main romantic relationship in The Vintage Guide to Love and Romance is kind of screwball in nature with fast dialogue, disagreements and a touch of slapstick. This charming little song always puts me in mind of that.
Up All Night (Best Coast): I don’t know much about this band, but I stumbled upon this song on YouTube before I began work on the book and immediately felt it was a perfect fit for the character of Jessica Beam. It’s bursting with youthful longing and excess. I listen to this on repeat before working on emotionally charged Jess scenes.
And there you have my Undercover Soundtrack. Thanks so much for having me, Roz!
Kirsty Greenwood is an author of comedy romances, founding editor of Novelicious.com and director of the Novelicious Books imprint. She likes American TV, green clothes, Point Horror, Kristen Wiig and funny stories. She doesn’t like the Ironside theme tune or the phrase ‘nom, nom, nom’. Yours Truly is out now (Pan Macmillan). Find her on Facebook and tweet her on @Kirstybooks
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Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is scientist, writer, Russian speaker and aliased musician Grigory Ryzhakov @GrigoryRyzhakov
I write in silence. It helps me to dive into the world of a story. Some people listen to music while they write; I listen to it before I write. I also listen to music when I walk to and from work through the streets of Fulham, south-west London, while plotting just another scene. Music replenishes my creative energy for writing and for science.
At times, I can’t find the right music, so I compose my own. My first self-published novelette Usher Syndrome was inspired like that: I wrote Cabaret Song, in which my character Agie describes her transformation from man to woman in a cheeky manner.
A year after it was written I attended a London concert of a M-F transsexual gospel singer My Lady J and bought her album. When I embarked on writing Pumpkin Day, a comic adventure sequel to the first Agie’s story, I really needed to be in Agie’s quirky spirit. So I listened a lot to My Pink Prada Purse by My Lady J at the time.
Music was also very important to me when I first started writing fiction seven years ago. My so far unpublished and untitled Russian-language sci-fi novel contains several episodes of gripping action. I listened to the Inception film soundtrack by Hans Zimmer to get myself in the mood for writing them. Thumping drums and basses associated in my mind with escalating threat of peril, I could feel the adrenaline rush as if I was at my character’s side. This music affected the way I wrote those action scenes: with shorter sentences, rhyming syllables, like gunshots. No room for reflection.
On the other hands, some parts of this book were quieter. In one chapter I introduced a secondary character, an international singing sensation and the opera diva Dez. When I wanted to describe her lofty performance on stage, I thought about what music would she sing. I listened to many pieces of Russian classical music and surprisingly my choice fell on Alexander Skryabin’s Poem of Fire.
I imagined vocal parts Dez would sing. She was like a tiny pure raindrop fighting the forest fire, I imagined the modern arrangement of Skryabin’s music, its mysticism, its symbolic meaning (the poem is also called Prometheus), and I thought just how well it suited Dez, her own mysterious aura. You may think the result would be a cacophony, but in my head it worked really well.
Right and Wrong
My upcoming book Mr Right and Mr Wrong, which I completed writing at the beginning of March, is a romantic comedy with elements of science, like all of my writing. Since it belongs to a rather light rom-com genre I listened to songs of Will Young and the Love Actually film soundtrack to get into the right mood. In Mr Right and Mr Wrong the heroine Chloe meets two men individually on the same day, she likes both of them and has trouble of choosing her Mr Right with all the funny and not-so-funny consequences following.
One of them is a DJ and songwriter, and some of the scenes occur in the nightclub. I’m not a regular clubber, so I was glued to the UK top 100 chart. Club music can be quite aggressive, while my story is a light-hearted comedy, so I tried choosing tracks with quirky, satirical lyrics. There is no space to name dozens of songs I listened to: my favourites are Thrift Shop by Maclemore, Black Heart by Stooshe and maybe I Fucked Up, a melancholic synth-pop track from Madonna’s new album, which I use as my phone’s ringtone. You can imagine the look on people’s faces when I receive a call.
In some alternative reality I am not a scientist or a writer, but probably a rock-singer like my idols David Bowie and Radiohead’s Tom Yorke. A vain thought it may be, but what the heck, any thought is useful if it fuels our writing.
Currently dwelling in the cosmopolitan ecosystem of London, Grigory is a Russian molecular biologist who communicates his love of science through his fiction and blogging. In addition, he makes/performs music using an alias Grisha McArrow and deposits it on Soundcloud. His books are Becoming Agie, Usher Syndrome and Pumpkin Day. Mr Right and Mr Wrong is scheduled for launch soon. Find him on Twitter (@GrigoryRyzhakov) and at his blog www.ryzhakov.co.uk
GIVEAWAY Grigory is giving away 5 copies (Kindle or epub) of his two-part novelette Becoming Agie to commenters here. Leave a note to enter – and if you tweet or share on Facebook, G+ or other media, be sure to mention because that counts as extra entries too.
adventure, Alexander Skryabin, authors, Beach Boys, Becoming Agie, club music, contemporary fiction, Desert Island Discs, DJ, drama, entertainment, Grigory Ryzhakov, Grisha McArrow, Hans Zimmer, Maclemore, Madonna, male writers, male-female transsexual, Mr Right and Mr Wrong, music, music for writers, music for writing, musicians, My Lady J, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Pumpkin Day, romantic comedy, romcom, Roz Morris, Russian language, Russian writer, sci-fi, science fiction, scientist, Stooshe, The Undercover Soundtrack, transsexual, transsexual singer, undercover soundtrack, Will Young, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week tackles a range of narrative styles – comedy, action sci-fi and romcom. He uses music to tap into the right mood for a character or to find the right rhythm for the prose. He also composes and performs music under an alias, so when he hasn’t been able to find a suitable soundtrack for his writing, he creates his own. He is Grigory Ryzhakov and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
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- 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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Kobo featured book, London Book Fair 2013
Seal of Excellence for Outstanding Independent Fiction, Awesome Indies 2013
Underground Book Reviews Top Summer Read 2012
League of Extraordinary Authors Top 10 Indie Elite 2012
Multi-Story Pick of the Month March and October 2012
Alliance of Independent Authors Book of the Month, January 2013
Email merozmorriswriter at gmail dot com
- 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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- 'Some of the sharpest writing I've read in a long while'
- 'The feel of a modern-day witch trial with a tense romance'
- 'Clever when you think about it afterwards; haunting and engrossing while you're reading'
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