Inspiration: Music

I’m just going to take a moment, I think, to talk about how important I find music to be when I write.

I was brought up in a house full of music – and not just one kind of music. My mum likes Prince, 70s disco, but also a lot of motown and old jazz (Billie Holliday was a favourite); my dad likes R.E.M., The Lightning Seeds, Jeff Buckley, Marc Cohn, opera, Oasis, U2… the list goes on. I don’t remember a time as a child that I wasn’t listening to music. To me, the concept of people ‘not listening to music’ is a very strange and confusing thing.

I think it’s because I heard so much music as a child that I began to sing. And the songs I liked to sing were the songs that told stories. Lyrics are very important to me – so when a song’s lyrics are banal, or insincere, I almost automatically switch off. Here is where the heart of a song lies, for me. In the words. As a result, I don’t think it’s a surprise that when I first started writing I would turn to music as an inspirational tool.

Some people can’t physically write when there’s music on, I know. It confuses the words, it ruins the flow, it distracts. I find it equally frustrating to write when there is no music on.

At first, I would listen to the radio. I would hear a variety of songs, old and new, all with different sentiments, and from these I discovered new songs that made me have more complete creative thoughts.

The first song that did that, for me, was Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know.

I was already writing my first novel at the time, but the lyrics hit me with a familiarity. It was as if they’d written that particular song for my novel. Imagine! But the longer I listen to music for, the more I discover these creepily accurate songs (I could name many, but at the moment it stretches between Twilight of the Innocents by Ash, all the way through to Kings and Queens by 30 Seconds to Mars). I listen to music in order to push plots, to form characters… there is something transient about music that allows the brain to do these kinds of things.

I firmly maintain that if it wasn’t for 30 Seconds to Mars’ This is War album, the final seven chapters of my longest and most epic novel to date would never have been written. I believe that without The Guillemots Red album, my Space series would probably have never been the same. I owe an awful lot to music. Most of my dedications include lyrics from a particular song that spoke to me when I was writing – I am definitely going to be paying a lot of money out to people to use them if they are ever published, but I think it’s worth it.

At the moment, I’m writing a more adult novel, entitled only Circle, in which most of the action takes place in a grotty bar with an enigmatic singer. Every chapter has the name of a song beneath it. The idea is that people listen to the song, or find the lyrics, and place them beside the action. The songs here are mostly featured on Biffy Clyro’s album Only Revolutions and Lostprophets A Liberation Transmission. Some are even by spoof band Tenacious D. But I think the music is what makes the story come alive.

I engourage your comments here. If you feel up to a discussion, please go ahead. How important is music in any creative process? And how do you feel about music and novels coinciding?

  1. esmelc said:

    Pink Floyd are that kind of band – they make soundscapes that you can create in. Brilliant band!

  2. Music is an important part of the creative process for me, but not while I’m writing. I play piano inbetween times, which helps me focus on nothing but the music, so that when I am ready to write, my brain is clear of all that chitter chatter that can be so distracting.

    • esmelc said:

      I play the piano too – I do think it brushes all of the cobwebs away!

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