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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
My guest this week writes urban fiction imbued with magic realism and horror. His characters are drawn directly from soundtracks, from music that expressed their desperation, loneliness, fragility and streetwise sass – Sinead O’Connor to Madonna; Dead Can Dance to Suede and Soft Cell. He is Rohan Quine and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, contemporary fiction, Dead Can Dance, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, horror, Madonna, magic realism, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Rohan Quine, Roz Morris, Sinead O'Connor, Soft Cell, Suede, The Imagination Thief, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, urban fiction, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week says she writes about love and hope – and that her writing is in thrall to songs about finding or losing love. She describes her novels as urban fantasy for anyone who longs to discover they are extraordinary, and her musical companions are a soulful, heartfelt ensemble – Joni Mitchell, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Leonard Cohen. She is Kim Cleary, she has published her first novel Path Unchosen, and she’ll be here on Wednesday with her Undercover Soundtrack.
Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, fantasy, Joni Mitchell, Kim Cleary, Leonard Cohen, love songs, music for writers, music for writing, musical companions, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Path Unchosen, playlist for writers, Ravenswood, Ravenswood series, romance, Roz Morris, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, Women Writers, writers, writing, writing fantasy, writing to music
My guest this week sets his novels in a place that is playful and unsettling – a dark, broken place full of clang and clamour. Most suitable for this spooky time of year. He credits this atmosphere to the influence of two musicians – Zoe Keating and Tom Waits. Music seeps through the book’s pores: in a character name (‘Strumgut’), the title (Ghoulish Song), and the mad, sorcerous physics that ensure a bridge does what a bridge should do. He is US National Book Award winner William Alexander and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his impish Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, broken place, drama, entertainment, fantasy, Ghoulish Song, ghouls, goblins, Halloween, male writers, music, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, playlist for writers, Roz Morris, spook, spooky, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, US National Book Award, William Alexander, writers, writing, writing to music
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by award-winning urban fantasy author Leah Bobet @LeahBobet
Before I was a writer, which feels like eleventy billion years ago at this point, I was a musician. I played classical piano, guitar, and French horn, but my real instrument was voice, and my ambition, all through high school, was to get into the Performance Music program at University of Toronto and become an opera singer.
Obviously, this didn’t happen. Memo to future aspiring mezzo-sopranos: Do that theory homework or else. But it built an intimate relationship between music, and lyrics, and making for me. From the day I sat down at the keyboard and started messing around with fiction, I’ve never written without music — and never without the right music for the mood and cadence of a scene. And that music slowly became intertwined with every word I put to paper.
Above‘s roots are tonal. It started with a Matthew Good song.
Well, it started with a lot of things: A book of essays on living as a queer, blue-collar person with a disability; a nagging desire to pick a fight with the 1980s Beauty and the Beast; wanting to write a story where the people with the disabilities were the heroes, instead of the assistants; and the question of when you stop trying to save someone and just let them fall. But the thing that clicked all those thoughts together was Matthew Good’s The Fine Art of Falling Apart, and an April night when it just set me off bawling.
If this song I’d heard a thousand times was suddenly making me burst into tears, there was a story inside it. So I had to find out why.
Metaphors that find you
They grew together almost immediately: I have a habit of pulling ideas or metaphors from lyrics, ones that don’t quite explain themselves, and then explaining them into story. The second verse of The Fine Art of Falling Apart quickly turned into Ariel, a furious-frightened girl who turns into a bee, and whose wings change back last – in some ways, the linchpin for the whole novel.
Its grave, mourning resolve set the tone for her relationship to Matthew, Above‘s narrator and protagonist; the reason they stayed together came clear when I heard Gregory and the Hawk’s Boats and Birds on Internet radio a few weeks later.
Above‘s antagonist, and the people its protagonists risked becoming, appeared the moment I attached PJ Harvey’s Who Will Love Me Now? to the soundtrack.
But most of the book was written to the Ghosts album: Nine Inch Nails’s first instrumental. It came out while I was writing, and the sombre, melancholy, softly haunted halls of the opening tracks fit perfectly with the abandoned asylum halls and sewer tunnels and histories Matthew and Ariel navigated together. I spent the spring waiting until nightfall, lighting a candle on my desk, turning out the lights, and writing to Ghosts I. Its mood, its regret and acceptance, slowly nudged the tone of the novel into shadowier places. It made the book a different kind of music.
So in a sense writing, for me, is still opera: bits of story brought forward by music, by its tone and lyrics, and then there’s me, writing the recitatives that go between them so this jumbled collection of songs makes a coherent sense. Everything on the Above soundtrack was a found object. What made it into a novel, and the novel that it is, was searching for the way those songs connected, and stringing them together into a symphony.
Leah Bobet’s first novel, Above, was nominated for the 2013 Andre Norton Award and the 2013 Aurora Award. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, where she edits Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, picks urban apple trees, and works as a bookseller and civic engagement activist. Her second novel, On Roadstead Farm — a literary dustbowl fantasy where things blow up—will appear from Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in late 2014. Visit her website, or find her on Twitter at @leahbobet.
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Before she was a writer, my guest this week was a musician. Proficient on piano, guitar and French horn, her most cherished instrument was her own; she yearned to be an opera singer. That didn’t work out, but she says she still feels ruled by the visceral power of music. Her stories come from musical phrases and metaphors that don’t explain themselves. Sometimes she writes by candlelight. She is award-winning urban fantasy author Leah Bobet, 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 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 my guest is urban fantasy writer Paul Anthony Shortt @PAShortt
Music is one of the most vital tools I have as a writer. The visceral feeling when a particular piece strikes me just right is astounding, whether it’s a film score or a favourite song. When I write I picture the scenes as though they were a movie in my head, and for me, the score of a movie is often as important as the acting or the scriptwriting. So it felt completely natural for me to use that response to music to help my writing.
When writing Locked Within, I listened to a very specific selection of music to get me into the right mindset. In addition to my ample collection of film scores for action scenes and keeping both my own pace and the pace of the writing as fast as possible, I used certain tracks to help focus on certain aspects of the book.
A city that doesn’t want to be saved
For the suffering of New York’s clued-in citizens under their supernatural rulers, I used a cover version of We Don’t Need Another Hero by Northern Kings. Their version has hard, heavy guitar riffs and a desperate, pleading chorus that evokes such a sense of passionate resignation. It was perfect for keeping me grounded in a city that doesn’t want to be saved, even though it needs to be so badly.
As my hero, Nathan Shepherd’s theme song, I chose Locked Within The Crystal Ball, by Blackmore’s Night. It has a haunting quality to it that fills my mind with images of warriors in different times. It resonates so perfectly with my story of a reborn hero trying to remember his past lives and stop an evil monster.
Finally, to remind myself of what my hero was fighting for, and to strengthen my mental movie’s closing scene, I kept the final track from Sarah Brightman’s Fleur Du Mal album on my playlist. It’s a march that starts low and builds to a triumphant fanfare, helping symbolise, for me, my hero’s acceptance of his destiny and role as New York’s protector.
Quite simply, I don’t think I could write if I didn’t have music. There are times I wish my readers could hear the music I have in mind for each scene, because part of me wonders if they’re missing out on an element of the story that I just can’t put into the page. When I write, I try to put that emotion, that raw power I feel from music, into the words of my story. If I can bring about those feelings in a reader, even for a moment, then I know I’ve done my job.
A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren’t enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing since he was a child. Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group. He lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. Paul’s first novel, Locked Within, is published by WiDo Publishing. The sequel is out later this year. Find him on his blog, Facebook and Twitter @PAShortt
authors, blackmore s night, Blackmore's Night, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, evil monster, fantasy, gaming, guitar riffs, Irish writers, Locked Within, male writers, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, New York, Northern Kings, Paul Anthony Shortt, playlist for writers, roleplaying, Roz Morris, Sarah Brightman, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, WiDo Publishing, writers, writing, writing to music
My guest this week says he’s often wished his readers could hear the soundtrack he has in mind while he’s writing. For his urban fantasy Locked Within, that was a stack of movie scores, but also some surprising cover versions and a piece by Sarah Brightman that would send any red-blooded writer charging into battle. He is Paul Anthony Shortt and he’ll be here on Wednesday with his Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, cover versions, Desert Island Discs, drama, entertainment, fantasy, grunge, male writers, music for writers, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel, Paul Anthony Shortt, playlist for writers, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, urban fantasy, writers, 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.
- 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'