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On the Purple Blog this week there’s a science fiction flavour to my post. And my guest here will continue the theme with the music that helped her write her debut, also sci-fi. She says she uses music to create a consistent space to sink into a book, and for this is must be music she knows by heart. She draws on tracks that have been favourites since she was a teenager because they still make her believe anything is possible – which is a rather excellent way to start the creative day. She is Chele Cooke and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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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 it’s my turn on the decks – with the Undercover Soundtrack for Lifeform Three
Lifeform Three is a fable in the tradition of Ray Bradbury, set in the near future, where global warming has shrunk the landmass and the countryside has been sacrificed for buildings and roads. One valley remains, of woods, trees and meadows, and is now kept as a theme park – The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall. My main character, Paftoo, is a groundsman there. He’s the odd one out; the only soul who’s uneasy in a world that everyone else accepts. You could say he lives in a utopia – but to him it’s a dystopia.
I knew the emotional beats of Lifeform Three before I knew the story. They came to me as pieces of music, a chain of albums and tracks that suggested the landmarks of the novel. I would load them into my MP3 player and take them running, puzzling over them as I pounded out the miles.
Paftoo is a bod – an artificial human who’s programmed to do menial tasks. To keep him efficient, his memory is regularly wiped, but he has inklings of other memories. We meet him after such an event (known as a ‘sharing’). My first beat was that state of newness, a world shining and fresh where you go out and do your tasks, content with simple instructions. In the beginning, Paftoo doesn’t even know his own name until he realises the sole of his boot has a number – 2 (his name is an alphanumeric, short for Park Asset Field Redo Bod 2).
Boards of Canada’s album Music Has The Right To Children told me the innocence of new, eager eyes, especially this track, An Eagle In Your Mind.
The novelty doesn’t last long. There’s a wildness in Paftoo and by the end of his first day, he’s made the others wary of him. He’s also frustrated. But worse is to come when night falls. While his companions go dormant and lifeless, Paftoo starts to dream.
Again, the idea came as a feeling from music – Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ suggested a tingling in the nerves, a meaning that must be grasped.
First he hears sounds; urgent and deep, like a heartbeat in the ground
The dream sequence was choreographed to that album. It starts with a sense of unease, then that beat gallops in like the thing you knew was coming.
Horses, flashing across the green hills in glorious gallop. Necks reaching, tails streaming. Riders on their backs, urging them faster.
Paftoo opens his eyes, shocked. He knows he’s not supposed to dream. He also knows that nobody rides horses now. They’re untamed animals in the fields (and known as Lifeform Three). But at the same time it makes perfect sense in his restless soul. From that moment, Paftoo has a mission. Every night, he goes looking for clues that might explain why he has these dreams and what happened to him before his mind was wiped. By day, he struggles to hide his true nature in case he’s wiped again.
In a small way the story is autobiographical. In winter 1995 I acquired a horse, which had been an ambition since I was a kid. Like the horse Paftoo later befriends, my horse was enormous, black and alarmingly excited to be alive – especially with the frost nipping his clipped skin. I was laughably incompetent on his back, especially when trying to stop him. While sceptical (and wise) folk waited for me to give up and sell him, I was determined to persevere. If I couldn’t handle my dream, what did that make me? That first winter, Enya’s Anywhere Is was in the charts. I wasn’t a fan of her music, but when I came to write Paftoo’s attempts to tame a horse I listened to Enya to capture that time. For some reason Caribbean Blue with its waltz rhythm brought back the sense of a wondrous adventure, the tentative courtship of a wild creature and the sense of being alone on a dumb-headed quest for something inexplicable and ideal.
A song called Caribbean Blue that takes me back to an English winter, riding horses? Like dreams, Undercover Soundtracks have a logic of their own. Or I take no notice of lyrics.
During the writing, my soundtracks had to become a time machine. Those first days with my oversized horse were, as you can probably see, long ago. Reader, I kept him, and he was now reaping the arthritic rewards of a vigorous life. I was having ghastly conversations with the vet because if her treatments didn’t work it was time for the gun. I clung to those music tracks to help me give his glory days to Paftoo while the real situation seemed so hopeless. Thankfully, he rallied and we gallop on (on a good day).
The horse awakens Paftoo’s sense of the natural world, which humanity seems to have lost. Again, music already contained what I needed to say. Vangelis’s Pulsar was the thrill of galloping feet
‘gathering up the miles and throwing them out behind’.
Electromantic La Baletta No 2 – by the Hungarian composer Gabor Presser had feisty, fertile joy, like a primitive spring ritual. It smells of untamed hair and corduroy. And whoever said electronic music lacked a soul? Both these tracks are entirely electronic, made from circuits and wave generators, yet they bound and leap like wild animals.
But there’s a lot more to Paftoo’s quest than riding and nature. They are merely the beginning; the gateway to a profound discovery of his own past and the people and creatures he loves. Now I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but I can say that the more he recovers, the more he stands to lose and the more desperate his day life becomes. This impossibility was exquisitely insisted in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending.
The piece was written in 1914 and 1920, in an England changed forever by the first World War. That period would also be the heyday of Harkaway Hall, the mansion that used to stand at the heart of the Lost Lands, where Paftoo now struggles to keep his memories. The Lark Ascending seems to say that what will be lost is more than just the loves of a few souls in a little story; it speaks for the loss of time, grace, of fallen walls in overgrown woods, bumps under the turf in an empty field. That violin seems to be shrilling from the skies: it won’t last. We won’t last. And how can Paftoo save it?
Roz Morris is, of course, your host on The Undercover Soundtrack. Find out more here, connect on Twitter as @Roz_Morris and on the writing advice blog Nail Your Novel. Her first novel was My Memories of a Future Life (Soundtrack here) and Lifeform Three is now available in all formats, including print.
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My new novel isn’t set in the world of music and none of the characters are musicians. It’s a quirky take on the future dystopia/utopia, with a smattering of Arcadia too – misty woods, abandoned towns, a forbidden life by night; the scent of bygone days; and an enigmatic door in a dream. Behind the scenes, though, music did all the early work for me. The first, rough outline came to me from favourite tracks by Boards of Canada, Peter Gabriel, Vangelis, Enya, Ralph Vaughan Williams and the Hungarian electronica composer Gabor Presser. As I built the story I listened to them repeatedly, and now each of them represents a landmark on my main character’s journey. Join me here on Wednesday, when I’ll explain the Undercover Soundtrack for Lifeform Three.
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My guest this week sees his novel as a fantasy action movie in his head. He says his musical choices were long favourites before he drew on them to create a fast-paced adventure story on a planet far from Earth. He is DM Jarrett and he’ll be here on Wednesday for a fast-paced whirl through his Undercover Soundtrack.
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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.
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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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My guest this week says all her major characters have their own theme song. For the first novel in her post-apocalyptic romance series she drew inspiration from the queen of Victoriandustrial music Emilie Autumn – and if that flavour of music is new to you (it was to me) here’s a crash course. The novel is Silver: Acheron, the author is Keira Michelle Telford and she’ll be here on Wednesday talking about her Undercover Soundtrack. Corsets optional.
entertainment, Keira Michelle Telford, music, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, post-apocalyptic romance, romance series, Roz Morris, science fantasy, science fiction, Silver: Acheron, The Silver Series, undercover soundtrack, Undercover Soundtrack. The Undercover Soundtrack, Victoriandustrial, writing to music
My guest this week says he needs the noise and bustle of life to help him settle to writing. No silent writer retreats for him. Songs are special talismans for his central characters, providing the innocent wonder of an embryo examining the world before he’ s born, the numbness and gravitas of a girl who has lost all hope. He’s a poet, too, and some of his key pieces have a secret counterpart in the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto. He is Dwight Okita, his novel The Prospect of My Arrival was a finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2008, and he’ll be here on Wednesday talking about Undercover Soundtracks
2008, ABNA, Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Dwight Okita, entertainment, literary fiction, literature, male writers, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Roz Morris, science fiction, soft science fiction, The Prospect of My Arrival, The Undercover Soundtrack, writing
- 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.
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 2011-2021. 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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- 'My Memories of a Future Life is a poignant story steeped with melancholy, edged with a desperate hope, and twisted throughout with darkness and humor'
- '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'