Thursday, 17 October 2013

Music and Writing

Words are words, right? Fiction or song – both tell a story, both paint a picture. I guess different songs resonate with different people, but we all have songs that fill our minds with image and atmosphere. I remember listening (all those years ago) to David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album for the first time. I found Future Legend quite frightening. It immediately conjured up a dystopian world of death, destruction, and decay. Even now, it makes me think of dark alleys, fractured neon signs, hopelessness and depravity. Bowie created a fascinating world, and it’s one I keep meaning to tap into. It would make a great setting for a novel.

The BBC used Nick Cave’s utterly brilliant Red Right Hand in Peaky Blinders (I know, here I go again!). Although it’s a modern song in a (an?) historical setting, it works. In fact, they couldn’t have chosen anything more perfect. It chills you to the bone, and you immediately know what sort of world you’re entering. And it’s no fairy tale. Here’s the excellently splendid video. As an aside, I used to work at the record label and remember Nick Cave in his druggy days, staggering about the office. He’s turned out rather well!

As I’m writing gangy stuff, I’m also listening to the soundtrack to Rocknrolla. It’s great because it has little spoken clips from the film. Yes, they’re modern day gangsters but, hey, a villain is a villain, so it all helps.

Nine Inch Nails are also good to listen to. Another band I used to work on, and the reason I decided I’d had enough of the music industry – but that’s another story. Whether you like their music or not (and I love them), it’s hugely atmospheric. It’s good for writing angry scenes, although Hurt is quite poignant. In fact, Johnny Cash released a version of it after, I believe, the death of his wife.

Ramin Djawadi’s stuff is good for battle scenes. The splendidly clever Liz de Jager recommended his soundtracks to me. I know she listens to them while writing and boy does she write a good battle!

And smuggling. I’ve always wanted to write a smuggling story. Fingals’s Cave is perfect, as is Peter Grimes.

You can use music as background to create the right atmosphere. You can use music to create images that can turn into stories. You can use music to get you in the right frame of mind, to stir your emotions. And if writing becomes a chore, you can put some music on and dance. Or is that just me? Sugababes anyone?


  1. This is a great post Sue. Recently in one of my classes I played a whole selection of music and asked me students to write whatever came to mind. They then went away and had to pick one of them to make into a full piece. Some absolutely outstanding pieces of work came out of it. Music can be so powerful


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