Music for Writing

I can hear music. Not just a brilliant track by The Beach Boys (and also nicely covered by The Ronettes), but also a statement of fact. Why? Because generally I write fiction to a musical backdrop. 

When I work on a novel I use different types of music to get into the mood of a scene. Classical music and jazz (especially Chet Baker) are favourites but sometimes an individual track will capture the essence of a moment, or complement a section of dialogue. As my Spy Chaser owes a debt to Raymond Chandler, I find anything with a noir feel to it opens that magic door to the active imagination. 

A haze of smoke lingers and I see shadows beyond it where Thomas Bladen is waiting for me, leant against a faded brick wall, looking at his watch. He glances over and nods to Karl McNeill who is standing by the opposite wall and eating a bag of crisps. A haunting bassoon lends a melancholy tone to the steamy night air… And then Miranda Wright strolls along the alleyway, doing her slinky walk for Thomas’s benefit even though her eyes are fixed on that doorway where I listen to her approaching steps. She pauses, just ahead of Thomas and Karl, facing me down. Her lips part, breaking the streetlight glint, and then she takes a breath. I hold mine in anticipation  and she smiles momentarily before bestowing her wisdom. “Maybe if you stopped pissing about so much you’d get the book finished?” She raises an eyebrow and then turns, her heels tapping out a sensuous beat that recedes into the night. Thomas and Karl follow in her wake.

Miranda has a point.

It’s been a funny old year. An illness and then a death in the family, bloodshed on Britain’s streets and a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of tragedy, politics and other bad news. Oh yeah, and I took a short holiday for the first time in two years. Sometimes the page reflects with near perfect clarity, even if no one else can see it.

But the thing is, writing doesn’t always have to change the world, or make things better – even for ourselves. Writing is about the story – the characters, the dialogue and the pulsing heart of it. So I’m back now, cocooned by music to dissuade me from leaving the confines of my writing desk. Well, I say confines but really it’s the stepping off point. 

And speaking of music…

Before Standpoint was published I put together a soundtrack of the book, selecting music to accompany the film. Now that it is published, I’m still rather fond of those original choices.

I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible!

I’d open with I Specialise by Christine Collister & Clive Gregson. Who couldn’t love Christine’s powerful voice, conveying cynicism and indifference. Another option would be Someone’s Looking At You by the Boomtown Rats.

I have several tunes for Thomas and Miranda, depending on how things are between them: 

I Can Hear Music by The Beach Boys, Will You by Hazel O’Connor, Here with Me by Dido
and Kiss the Rain by Billie Myers.

One song always make me think of Thomas and his trips to Whitehall is The Queen and the Soldier by Suzanne Vega. 

When it comes to Thomas being back amongst his family in Yorkshire (and confronting his father) it has to be The Story of the Blues Pt 1 byThe Mighty Wah. 

It’s Bridge of Spies by T’Pau when Thomas is alone, on the North Yorkshire moors, heading off to confront the bad guys.
And the final tracking shot, as the dead are counted along with the cost? I Saved the World Today by Eurythmics.

Readers of the sequel, Line of Sight, will know that Karl has a theme song, sort of, which is another story altogether!

Do you write books and what importance does music play in the process?

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