Posts Tagged The Shins

The Undercover Soundtrack – Annalisa Crawford

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 prizewinning short story writer and Costa Awards finalist Annalisa Crawford @annalisacrawf

Soundtrack by Cherry Ghost, REM, Gary Jules, Queensryche, Colin Hay, Fort Atlantic, The Shins

I envy songwriters—it’s such a wonderful gift to be able to say something important so concisely and memorably. I’ve tried it, and it’s really hard. I’ll leave that to my singer-songwriter husband, and all the other talented musicians out there.

the-undercover-soundtrack-annalisa-crawford1Music inspires me, allows me to delve into realities I never knew I could create, and elicit the deepest of emotions. The melodies flow into my writing and I have a penchant for repetition and alliteration, which I edit into more manageable pieces for the final draft.

So far, I’ve had a lot more success with shorter fiction. A lot of the time one song hits just the right note for that particular piece—either it’s there at the beginning, guiding me along, or I’ll hear it while struggling with a certain scene or character, and it’ll make sense of my story. Isn’t it strange that whenever a song takes on a special significance, you hear it everywhere you go?

Our Beautiful Child

In 2013, I wrote two stories that were set in the same town, featured the same pub, and contained characters that leapt from one to the other. I was trying to write a third story, because I knew they’d work perfectly as a trilogy, but that third story was being elusive.

One of my favourite songs was False Alarm by Cherry Ghost. Every time I heard it, I had a very heartwarming feeling, like arriving at home after a hard days’ work or snuggling up with my husband. I knew there was a story within those chords—I could sense it, I could feel my fingers tingling.

The first verse talks about being dragged down, and I had the image of a woman submerged in a river or lake. I was commuting a lot at that time, an hour’s journey each way, including a 30-minute walk, and inevitably I’d hit this song during the walking part—I remember muttering to myself, “There’s a story here, I know there’s a story.” (Luckily there was never anyone around!)

But it hung in the air, just out of reach.

One morning, I stopped mid-stride because I had it. And, oh it was perfect. I went home that night and the story fell into place, evolved, became something so exciting, and the submerged woman was the centerpiece of it all. In my head, this story and this song are inextricably linked. Our Beautiful Child became the title story, and definitely one of my favourites out of everything I’ve ever written.

Everybody Hurts by REM

I don’t mean to write sad stories, but my characters are usually broken in some way. Everybody Hurts could be the soundtrack to most of my stories. I once described it as the soundtrack to my own life! I see it as an uplifting song, that we all have times when we suffer, but there are people who will help.

There are two stories that were inspired by this—one directly, one indirectly.

In Omelette (from That Sadie Thing and other stories), Josie’s friend is gravely ill and she’s in need of support. She’s hurting, her friend is hurting, and a waitress—by doing nothing more than offer her an alternative to her usual lunch order—gives that comfort. I wrote Omelette, listening to this song, with tears running down my cheeks. I could imagine Josie sitting at her table, listening intently to the song on the radio, singing softly to herself.

The indirect story is Cat and the Dreamer. Julia hurts, enough to attempt suicide, which fails. The book is about her life afterwards—the refrain about holding on is just so perfect for her, because around the corner everything changes, she just needs to wait just a little bit longer.


The Girl who is Good (That Sadie Thing and other stories)

I grew up listening to—and loving—the Tears for Fears original of Mad World, but some of the covers have a more emotional impact. The Gary Jules version, used on the Donnie Darko soundtrack, is the one that resonates with the main character, the unnamed girl in the title. She’s torn between being the person her parents want her to be and the person she wants to be—she’s completely overwhelmed by her own reality. All around her, there are definitely familiar faces, but she stares at them as though they are strangers, isolated. At one point in the story, she’s looking at the reflection of herself and her parents in a window, and doesn’t recognize them.

Mad World, in all its incarnations, has a dreamy, surreal feel—try to listen past the lyrics and allow yourself to float away with the tune. The ending of this story would not exist without this song. I didn’t know where I was going with it, writing myself into a dead end. Then suddenly The Girl did something completely unexpected, but totally fitting for this track. You’ll have to decide what happens for yourself, though.


Some of my characters just need a hug, and Beth is definitely top of the list. Silent Lucidity by Queensryche is the musical equivalent. Right from the opening lines and with a voice that reminds me of melted chocolate.

you-i-us-eb-cov_for-webBeth’s life is preordained, she wanders through the big moments, not really taking part. She marries her first boyfriend, and has three children with him—but her affair is unplanned, and changes her life in ways she couldn’t possibly imagine.

Again, this track has a surreal quality, drawing the listener along into a crescendo. Reading the lyrics for this post, I realised how perfect they really are. Beth wants to fly, it’s all she ever wanted—to soar high and achieve her dreams—and this song carries her.

You. I. Us

Finally, recently I published my fourth short story collection, You. I. Us. I wrote the first draft of these stories very quickly and spent most of the time listening to all the best songs from the TV show How I Met Your Mother—fast, upbeat, quirky, they perfectly fitted the short vignettes I was writing. Two of my favourites are Let Your Heart Hold Fast by Fort Atlantic and Simple Song by The Shins. As they’re more upbeat than the rest of the songs I’ve featured, I’m going to finish with them. If you’re a fan of the show, you know exactly which scenes these tracks come from, don’t you?

Annalisa Crawford lives in Cornwall UK, with a good supply of moorland and beaches to keep her inspired. She lives with her husband, two sons, a dog and a cat. Annalisa writes dark contemporary, character-driven stories. She has been winning competitions and publishing short stories in small press journals for many years, and is the author of four books, Cat & The Dreamer published by Vagabondage Press, That Sadie Thing and other stories, Our Beautiful Child  published by Battered Suitcase Press and You, I. Us published by Vine Leaves Literary Press. She won 3rd prize in the Costa Short Story Award, 2015. Find her on her website, Facebook and Twitter @annalisacrawf




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The Undercover Soundtrack – Rysa Walker

for logo‘Music is my cave, my TARDIS’

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 the winner of the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA), Rysa Walker @RysaWalker

Soundtrack by The Section Quartet, The Jody Grind, John Philip Sousa, Scott Joplin, The Fratellis, Vampire Weekend, The Shins, A Fine Frenzy

I write in a house with two frequently noisy kids and a dog that seems to have missed the memo about golden retrievers being a quiet breed. Music is my writing cave in the midst of that chaos.  I have several carefully trained Pandora channels that keep me supplied with background music, either instrumentals or songs with lyrics I know so well that they cannot possibly distract me.  Instrumental covers of indie rock songs, by groups like The Section Quartet, along with albums I know by heart, like One Man’s Trash by now-defunct 1990s band The Jody Grind — these are the tunes that keep me company on days when I’m editing or revising.  While I don’t exactly hate those tasks, they are often tedious and if presented with any plausible excuse, my mind will stray.  If I listen to anything with lyrics I don’t know, a phrase will catch my ear, then I have to google it, and then I click on something else that’s bright and shiny.  Several hours later, I’m shaking my head trying to figure out where the time went.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn days when I need to actually create something new, however, music isn’t just a cave that shuts out the world.  On those days, music is my TARDIS.  The right song can evoke memories of events and emotions from my own past, and even take me to times and places I could never actually visit and that’s a vital tool when you write about time traveling historians. Sometimes I use period music to help set the mood while I’m writing, but songs from the era also shine light on the customs, social issues, and pop culture of an era, so it’s always part of my research.

The last third of Timebound, the first book in my Chronos Files series, is set at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair.  The Expo was home to the first Ferris wheel, which stood 264 feet high and could carry 60 people in each of the 36 passenger cars.  One of those cars was set aside to carry a full band that played songs like Sousa’s Gladiator March as the wheel rotated.  A bit farther down the Midway, a Broadway producer named Sol Bloom picked out this iconic tune while an exotic dancer billed as Little Egypt prepared to go on stage.  Visitors to the Exposition and the cafes surrounding the fair were also witness to the early work of ragtime great Scott Joplin, whose Maple Leaf Rag would take the world by storm a few years later.  A few recordings from the early 1890s are available online, like this very early rendition of Daisy, Daisy, but they’re all rather hard on the ears, so I relied heavily on covers by later artists.  I won’t claim that any of those songs from the 1890s is in heavy rotation on my iPod, but they definitely helped me get a feel for the era.

TimeboundCoverMusic is also vital for helping me manage another type of time travel.  Timebound is written from the perspective of Kate, who is 17.  When I was 17, many moons ago, I existed on a steady diet of pop music and could name every song in the Top 40 most weeks.  Thankfully, Kate is not autobiographical.  She’s more inclined toward indie artists. This is a very good thing, because otherwise I don’t think we could hang out together.   If I’m writing about Kate’s everyday life — school, friends, family — tunes by The Fratellis, Vampire Weekend, and The Shins help me climb inside her head.

There’s one last song I have to mention because I play it every few days—Borrowed Time by A Fine Frenzy.  I stumbled upon her album One Cell in the Sea when I was writing the second draft of Timebound, back when it was still called Time’s Twisted Arrow.   I love the entire album, but I’m deeply in debt to her for this particular song.  The voice, the lyrics and the music all combine magically to pull me into Kate’s reality every time I play Borrowed Time.

Rysa Walker is the author of Timebound, the first book in The Chronos Files series.  She grew up on a cattle ranch in the Deep South where the options for entertainment were talking to cows and reading books. On the rare occasion that she gained control of the television, she watched Star Trek and imagined living in the future, on distant planets, or at least in a town big enough to have a stop light. When not writing, she teaches history and government in North Carolina, where she shares an office with her husband, who heroically pays the mortgage each month, and a golden retriever named Lucy. She still doesn’t get control of the TV very often, thanks to two sports-obsessed kids. Find her website here, find the Chronos Files blog here, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@RysaWalker).

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