Thursday, 4 March 2010

Music and Lyrics

Good morning everyone! Come in, today I am organised and have real coffee and Pain au chocolat...oh wait. Had pain of chocolat, the eight year old found then first. Still, please do sit down while I pour you a cup.

Long ago I was the manager of a lovely little bookshop in London Bridge. There were two good things about that job, the big launch parties the publishers used to throw before money got tight - going to those parties was the only way I didn't starve to death living in London on slave wages - and getting to see proofs of new book long before they were published, which always made me feel ever special.

One morning I got something rather different, It was a novel by Isabelle Allende. I'll be honest I can't remember the title anymore, but what was different about it was that it had a CD inside the cover. Music was a central theme in the book and Isabelle had decided that a CD of the relevant pieces of classic and operatic music should be included so that the reader could listen as they read. Sort of early multimedia if you like.

A few years later when I was studying for an MA in creative writing, our tutor Sue Gee brought in a writer friend of hers to talk to us. Now I am ashamed to say I can't remember his name either, remembering things is not my best thing you will have gathered by now. He was a man who love musicals, and he had written his book in the form of a musical, complete with brass bands and dance numbers, hoping to create a score in his readers head. If you know the name of this book and author you get ten bonus points. He liked, I seem to remember, the idea that each reader would create a different musical.

And when I was eighteen I remember reading Howard's End for the first time and that wonderful passage where Foster describes the images and visions inspired by Beethoven's fifth and the profound effect it has on the impulsive and impressionable character of Helen. Panic and Emptiness, Panic and Emptiness! I think that was the first time I understood that a book be about more than simply telling a story.

And of course there a book like Nick Hornby's brilliant High Fidelity which make music an integral part of the prose.

For me, music is often present in my writing, all though often in a much more oblique way. The most obvious example I can think if is at the end of my first novel Growing Up Twice, the main character takes to the stage to sing 'Aretha Franklin's Respect! Sometimes I will find myself writing song lyrics into dialogue which on the whole is not really allowed, most notably there is a line from a Gershwin tune, set deep in the prose of my fourth novel, The Baby Group which simply would not go away, it was the perfect description for that particular moment and I couldn't bring myself to take it out. I like the fact that I know its there and wonder how many other people, if any, have ever spotted it. For my Ruby Parker books I created a whole fictional musical called 'Spotlight!' and wrote and recorded two songs from it which can still be heard on MySpace if you look very carefully! Often as I write I hear a sound track in my head - music that influences what I'm writing but in no way makes an appearance on the page.

So my question to you, dear racers is in two parts. Do you have a favourite 'musical' novel? And do you write music into your prose?

15 comments:

Rowan Coleman said...

I tried to get this to post at midnight tonight, but failed - which is why it is up so early. Sorry Kevin - your instructions were clear, I am just rubbish, obviously!

Leatherdykeuk said...

I will take advantage of your earliness and post an early reply.

I love music, I just don't write with music in mind. I have, though, written two novels inspired by the same song (which is never referenced in either one). I also don't have 'soundtracks' to my novels, which seems all the rage these days.

Rachel (an old hand at scheduling blog psots and sometimes has a monthsworth loaded up).

Graeme K Talboys said...

Music is essential to my fiction. The Charlie Cornelius books begin with a song and then play out to the soundtrack of my life. I reference song titles a lot, and use the rhythms and themes presented by lyrics to feed into the complexity of what I write.

Karen said...

Is it too late in the day for a pain au chocolat??

If I want to write a really emotional scene I find that playing a certain piece of music really helps, and I have referenced songs in my novel, but generally I need peace around me when I'm writing :o)

LilyS said...

Theres a song by Jack Pinate which I listened to over and over when I was writing the emotional scenes in my first draft. I must try it with angry music and see what I write. Could be interesting..

JJ Beattie said...

Hello all, I can't write to music that I love as it gets in the way of my thoughts. If I'm in Starbucks they have a music on and while I might sometimes know the songs, I seem to be able to filter out the tunes I don't know.

Music, while I like it, isn't crucial to my life. I often just forget to put my ipod on and when I do it's mostly for 'talk.'

I've never thought of reading or writing needing a soundtrack, which I'm sure is my loss.

Debs said...

I will listen to a piece of music to put me in a certain mood, ie cheerful, heartbroken and so on, but I don't write with any music in mind. At least I don't think so!

Cathy said...

I love writing with music on.

Although I didn't set out to, I found myself referencing some music tracks in my novel as a way of pinning down the timeline for the reader.

Chris Stovell said...

Interesting one! Like Debs, I listen to music to mood or set the tone for a scene, but I can't listen to anything with lyrics when I'm writing.

As for music in my books, well, my characters sometimes sing - but that raises the whole problem of referencing song lyrics. As I understand it, permissions are something of a legal minefield. If anyone can explain or knows a website that does, please feel free to point me in the right direction!

CC Devine said...

I can't say that I write music into my prose but it certainly plays an important part in getting me in the right mood for a fun/heavy/emotional scene. I tend to write with my favourite music playing but if my concentration wanes then I might switch to some classical music. If I'm really struggling to get on with writing then the music goes off until I'm in the groove and the words flow.

p.s. Rachel - am in awe of your forward blogging organisation!

Helen said...

One of the final scenes in my novel, which I have yet to write as I'm only 4000 words in, has a particular song attached to it. Every time I hear the song I think of my character and what is happening in that scene. The whole book is working up to that one piece of music.

liz fenwick said...

I can't write the first first draft with music but I do like to rewrite to music and I found when I rewrote August Rock last spring it developed its own soundtrack which helped me to focus onto the core issues.

It's an interesting topic as everyone is so different.

Sorry for my absence lately have been a snowed under.

lx

Annieye said...

Like Cathy, I think it can help evoke an atmosphere of a specific era. I always write with my Ipod plugged into my ears, but I think that is just because I like to completely switch myself off from my surroundings when I write.

Captain Black said...

I love music too much to work with it playing. I concentrate on it too much, you see, and don't get on with what I'm supposed to be doing. I therefore envy people like Annie who can work plugged-in.

When I was writing fiction, music titles figured largely in my projects. To name a few:

Crime thriller novel: Blood on the Rooftops (from a Genesis track on Wind and Wuthering).
SF novel: The Bridge Across Forever (from a Transatlantic song on the album of the same name).
Thriller novella: Fugue in D Minus (musical play-on-words for the title).
Also On the Edge and Stranger in a Strange Land, two episodes from my Kim & Mark serial, are taken from songs by Spock's Beard.

I cannot imagine a world, fictional or real, without music.

Denise said...

This has really got me thinking, because I can't think of a novel I've read that particularly featured music. Either that or I didn't notice!

I tend to write in silence, but I might try having some music on to see if it helps to write a certain mood. I'm easily distracted though, so I can see myself settling back and just listening to it!