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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 magical realist author Rohan Quine @RohanQuine
Soundtrack by Sinead O’Connor, Dead Can Dance, Suede, Lana Del Rey, Kim Wilde, Soft Cell, This Mortal Coil, Roxy Music, Madonna, The Orb, The KLF, Ministry, Genesis, Marc and the Mambas, Marc Almond, Kode9 and the Spaceape, Bronski Beat, Donna Summer, Erasure, Bauhaus, Bryan Ferry
Since women are a bit cooler than men, I’ll start with the women in the following cast of principal characters – a cast loosely spread across all five published tales (The Imagination Thief and four novellas – The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong). Aptly here, Alaia Danielle is a singer. She’s morally upright and somewhat high-tension, with cool good taste and a large, cerebral compassion. Her dignity and the humanity beneath her seriousness were partly conjured up by the majesty with which Troy by Sinéad O’Connor builds up, from controlled quietness into a world-bestriding anger that’s just as controlled. Performing, Alaia emits a wordless song with the viscerality of Diamanda Galás and the ethereality of the Cocteau Twins; but the best single suggestion of her was the sublime The Host of Seraphim by Dead Can Dance.
Pippa Vail is a sweet, depressive dreamer who sits on her high-rise tower-block balcony in silence, while her rich inner life seeps out across the town spread below her; her prominent green eyes look wet and hurt, as if she’s been crying, though there are no tear-stains. Evoking the swell of silent beauty she hears in the sky, from within the unending loneliness of her high-rise balcony-grave, many early tracks by Suede influenced my creation of her. Two amazing examples are Still Life and – appropriate for her high-rise location – High Rising.
Evelyn Carmello is sunny, tough, sassy and social, looming large in her small home-town of Asbury Park, near New York. Lana Del Rey’s 2012 album fed into her, but Evelyn is lighter. Starcrazy by Suede was useful as a very Evelyn example of another kind of Suede heroine: joyously functional in the real world, she’s a dirty-sexy streetwise party-girl, although that scene is mostly now in her recent past. I can also hear in Evelyn an echo or two of that cool-eyed, dirty-city classic Kids in America by Kim Wilde.
Ravens in the tower
Constant in the Chocolate Raven is a yearning for the everyday external world to transcend its qualities of dullness and flatness, to attain the colours and lights living in her mind. The music that helped create her, therefore (especially when she’s on that Dubai skyscraper terrace, creating the tower in the mountains from convulsive blasts of energy she fires across the night-time desert), was music that radiates a transcendent beauty undercut by regret that such beauty will always be up against such a deadweight. Salient examples were Song to the Siren by This Mortal Coil and To Turn You On by Roxy Music. The Chocolate Raven’s creation of the Platinum Raven is in itself a song to the siren.
In that nightclub tower where the Platinum Raven presides, events of the brightest darkness, decadence and beauty occur. The dance-floor is a cat-walk where every night those anorexic models float past us, beautifully drugged-out and weak and untouchable, forever down the runways of their airport lanes, expressionless in damage through the night-lit clouds with their make-up flashing soft in the lights, like perfection, clad in shreds of lightest silk that conceal the needle-marks. The album Erotica by Madonna was in the mix here, being steeped in this heightened feeling of darkness beneath legendary nightclub fabulousness; yet this album’s world-class attitude and sass are permeated by a simple, universal sense of the sadness and longing that enrich even the wildest pleasures and highest achievements we’re capable of while alive. The title track Erotica is a fine example – as is the track Deeper and Deeper, beneath whose easy hedonistic surface lies a perfect evocation of the natural evanescence of your every past joy and your every future joy.
The Platinum Raven’s conspirator in that tower is a DJ named Amber, whose infernal nature and allure reflect the fact that he happens to be the continuation of Rutger Hauer’s psychopathic character in the film The Hitcher. Soundtrack-wise, however, he’s evoked by what he might spin: late in the main room, Little Fluffy Clouds by The Orb; then later still in the VIP room, something from the legendary album Chill Out by The KLF, such as the track 3am Somewhere Out of Beaumont.
Damian West is a gangster whose gauntness of expression indicates much danger and paranoia. The sound of the inside of Damian’s head was well suggested by the colossal charisma of The Fall by Ministry. Another contribution was made by the claustrophobic immensity of that slick little slice of hell, Mama by Genesis.
Angel Deon (in some novellas called Scorpio) is an androgynous creature whose spiteful sleek depraved face radiates decadence and damage from its sharp beauty. He is shadowy, effete, both unhealthy and luminous; his head is a fantastically dark cavern of jagged riches, and musically he’s pure Marc and the Mambas, plus tons of the darker output of Soft Cell and of Marc Almond solo. To locate my creation of Angel, I’d pinpoint somewhere between two stunning Mambas tracks: The Animal in You; and My Former Self.
Lucan Abayomi is a charismatic gang-leader, drug-dealer and Angel’s boyfriend, whose smile spells trouble, violence, sex and danger. He was partly born from that dubby bass in lots of dubstep from around 2006, redolent of nocturnal high-rise housing estates, lonely concrete spaces and bass speakers booming out of car windows. We can hear part of his origins in two by Kode9 and the Spaceape: Nine Samurai; and Sine.
Shigem Adele is an effusive, flamboyant nightclub host, a lovable and neurotic survivor, whose warmth can illuminate a roomful of people. He was born somewhere between two classic electronic dance tracks: the haunting anguish and defiant beauty of Why? by Bronski Beat; and the iconic sensuality of I Feel Love by Donna Summer.
Kim Somerville is newly in love with Shigem, being quiet, observant and loyal, with a tinge of thoughtful pessimism:
In an absent way he sings along to the lyrics of the track playing quietly on the club’s sound system; and I am struck by his voice, which is clean, vanilla, supple, pure and filled with earnest beauty. It’s a voice of great wholesomeness, picturesquely sad and honest, redolent of goodness – and a little white lie, I think.
That was inspired by the voice of Erasure’s Andy Bell, always to be heard with Vince Clarke’s keyboards, as in the beauty of two representative Erasure tracks: the grandeur and exuberance of Run to the Sun; and the sombre grandeur of Crown of Thorns.
Finally, my narrator Jaymi Peek. Most of the time he’s subtle or elusive in nature, being a humorous clear lens and benign observer. In his broadcasts, though, he becomes a charismatic and empowered face who projects himself addictively into the imaginations of a global audience – the assaultive power of which is suggested in Double Dare by Bauhaus, whose message never dates. (I hereby stake a musical claim: the first 15 sentences of the long paragraph at the bottom of this page, narrated by Jaymi, constitute what must be the most precise verbal description ever written, by anyone silly enough to try it, of the exact sound of the first 40 seconds of Double Dare.) As with the Chocolate Raven’s projection of the Platinum Raven, one of Jaymi’s missions in his wildly varied projections is perhaps to help himself (and us) to transcend all that needs transcending. Echoing the Song to the Siren that I mentioned above for her, I shall therefore end here by returning to that song for Jaymi too – but this time it’s Song to the Siren by Bryan Ferry, from 2010. This is a sound so rarefied by its own expensive exquisiteness that its surface feels laminated and sterilised from all reality, residing forever in some elite suite of perfection above us, with nowhere higher left to go before the air would run out altogether…
Rohan’s novel The Imagination Thief and four novellas – The Platinum Raven, The Host in the Attic, Apricot Eyes and Hallucination in Hong Kong – aim to push imagination and language towards their extremes, to explore and illuminate the beauty, horror and mirth of this predicament called life, where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time. He’s on Twitter at @RohanQuine and has a website www.rohanquine.com
authors, Bauhaus, Bronski Beat, Bryan Ferry, Chocolate Raven, contemporary fiction, Dead Can Dance, Desert Island Discs, Donna Summer, drama, entertainment, Erasure, Genesis, horror, Kim Wilde, Kode9 and the Spaceape, Lana Del Rey, Madonna, magic realism, male writers, Marc Almond, Marc and the Mambas, Ministry, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Platinum Raven, playlist for writers, Rohan Quine, Roxy Music, Roz Morris, Sinead O'Connor, Soft Cell, Suede, The Imagination Thief, The KLF, The Orb, The Undercover Soundtrack, This Mortal Coil, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, urban fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
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
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).
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 as 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.
authors, Clannad, contemporary fiction, contemporary romance, Craig Armstrong, Desert Island Discs, drama, Enigma, entertainment, Jan Ruth, Kings of Leon, Midnight Sky, Morrissey, music, music for writers, music for writing, musical muse, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, North Wales, North Wales Yes, playlist for writers, romance, Roxy Music, Roz Morris, Sarah Brightman, Silver Rain, Snowdonia, The Long and The Short Of It, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Wales, Welsh writers, White Horizon, Wild Water, Women Writers, 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.
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- All content copyright Roz Morris 2011-2022. 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
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