Friday 30 August 2013


Some authors find it difficult to work with music in the background. Sophie Hannah recently stated on Twitter that she had to switch off John Denver so she could write, and I've heard that Erin Kelly favours silence too.

In my own case, I find the opposite to be true - not only do I prefer having music on, I find it very difficult to work without it.

Before we go any further, it's probably worth pointing out that my music tastes are a little... different. Most of what I listen to is instrumental, so there usually aren't lyrics to distract me. Far from being off-putting, the playlists on my iPhone have become an important creative tool.

Naturally, I use different pieces of music to invoke different moods and emotions. If I'm writing a dramatic scene, I want something that fills me with energy, something that gets my pulse racing and keeps the sentences short. If it's a more thoughtful, or introverted moment, a more ambient piece helps me to find that mind-set and work within it.

One of the characters in my books is a lonely man, struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife, and I built a playlist of beautifully evocative, mournful tracks for him. Listening to this really helped me to get inside his head, and feel what he was feeling. I think that he was so emotionally draining to write because of the music that underscored him, but I'm sure that it helped make his chapters feel more authentic. The same process works for places too - walking through a city with something sinister in your ears will allow you to see your surroundings in a different way. It's like being 'on the set' of your story, with the soundtrack transforming mundane reality into the location you imagined.

So music helps to find the mood, but I believe it goes beyond that. Having distinct playlists for the different narrative perspectives helped to give the characters contrasting voices. It anchored each of my protagonists, helping me to find them again when I was jumping back and forth from one viewpoint to another.

It also helped me with one of the big challenges in my own writing routine - interruptions. Holding down a full-time day job means I have to be an author in my spare time, during evenings and weekends. Sometimes, days pass between the end of one paragraph and the start of another, and it can be tough to just pick up where you left off. Here, the music comes into its own, acting as a sort of mental bookmark - as long as I don't listen to a track during the intervening time, hearing it again will take me straight back to the mind-set I had when I was last writing to it.

So what do I listen to? Well, as you might expect, there are tracks from film and TV, such as Broadchurch (Ólafur Arnalds), Inception (Hans Zimmer), Monsters (Jon Hopkins), Tinker Tailor (Alberto Iglesias) and White Oleander (Thomas Newman). One particular song, The Moment I Said It (Imogen Heap) served as a mood-board for my female lead in book two, and I can no longer hear it without tasting that fear and doubt that she lives with through the story. Mostly though, I've relied on albums from artists like Deaf Center, Helios, Loscil, Christina Vantzou, and particularly A Winged Victory For The Sullen - if you want a sense of what my characters are feeling inside, look no further.