It was the summer I turned sixteen, the summer my secondary school education crawled to a graceless conclusion, the summer I dreamed of a future cloaked in the murk of ambiguity.
At least it wasn’t that summer, the summer in which my first romance exploded so many of the boyhood myths, the experience of which I can only describe as an emotionally exhaustive A – Z through so much unmarked territory. Inevitably disappointment soon followed, the break-up, the hand ringing, the constant playing of the same damned records over and over again, a ferocious hammer blow dealt to a soundtrack of self-pity and wailing histrionics. My soul searching often segued from Heavens Know I’m Miserable Now to Enjoy The Silence, and my eventual resurgence a backdrop of Sidewalking and Severina.
No, thankfully, it wasn’t that summer.
But it was the summer my internal soundtrack sought some authenticity outside of the pop charts, the year I realised Jan Hammer and the Miami Vice soundtrack weren’t doing it for me anymore, the year that Rod Godwin’s music for the film adaptation of Alistair Maclean’s novel Where Eagles Dares could only take me so far with my writing. Musically and aesthetically I was stagnating like only a sixteen year old boy could.
I was still several years away from finally ditching the black embroidered waistcoat in which my friend Corrine said I resembled a mournful child waiter. I’d yet to explore the arcane pleasures of couture, which in time would proclaim itself to me as a black leather jacket with matching tasseled sleeves, a purchase diametrically opposed to everything my waistcoat had once signified. The long hair that would later cascade over reinvented shoulders, The Cure t-shirts, the paratrooper boots that flapped one loose sole like a protruding tongue, jeans off the market washed through so many times the fibrous strands had started to disintegrate like atoms splitting, ragged holes for the kneecaps, were all but a short sprint down the road for that sixteen year old kid. Yet at that age, that summer, it might as well have been reachable only at unimaginable speeds through a worm hole.
It was also the summer I went to see The Housemartins at Liverpool’s Royal Court, of which I’d confidently informed myself was arguably a musical epiphany not to be bested. Two years later I was hurtling about under the sweat slicked ceiling of Planet X to The Exploited chanting “Maggie, Maggie…”, the broken smoke machine belching an impenetrable fog as The Melvins’ took to the stage.
Yes, light years away.
No, this was the summer Alan Howarth and John Carpenter announced themselves with a couple of synthesizers and a string of genre busting films forever tattooed themselves into my teenage memories, the summer Bernard Herrmann somehow penetrated the curtained inner-sanctum of my bedroom with any number of classic Twilight Zone episodes, the summer that music, especially that of cinema, wedded itself inextricably to my writer’s soul.
It was the year I submitted my first story to Fear Magazine. It was the year I stayed awake to catch late night episodes of American TV shows that had been in perpetual circulation since the late 1950’s. It was the year I saw Patrick McGoohan as The Prisoner trying to escape Number Two, The Village and possibly himself.
It was the last year of my naivety about everything.
Blame film composer Franz Waxman, not me… that was the line I’d originally decided to start the article with, my excuse for indulging in memories of the kinds of soundtracks I used to listen when writing as a teenager. But two stories and an interview from me was already enough. It was overkill.
Which was why I decided it had to be a lot more fun to contact a whole range of authors working in the genres today to see what musical influences they might use as an aid when writing.
As you can see, I abandoned the idea of an article on the subject and instead wrote a sentimental piece for the introduction. I hope it sets the pace, and if it doesn’t, the people you’re about to read, do.
Stephen Lawssteve laws
First of all, I should emphasise that I’ve been a massive fan of music for the movies from a very early age indeed. Always being sensitised to the effects that music could have in the television shows and movies I saw as a kid way back in the late 50’s and early ‘60’s – I recall that the year 1963 in particular played a pivotal part in my love and appreciation of it.
Because, back in 1963 I saw (what seemed to be in quick succession) the movies ZULU, 633 SQUADRON and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS – all with superb and thrilling music scores by John Barry, Ron Goodwin and Bernard Herrmann respectively. The music for ZULU had me standing in the cinema aisle with the other kids, overwhelmed with excitement – the theme from 633 SQUADRON was playing all the time on the radio – and Herrmann’s music for JASON was simply thrilling, awesome and awe-inspiring.
From then on, I really became interested in movie music and the composers responsible. Also bear in mind that the 1960’s were the era of great television theme music; and I revelled in Laurie Johnson’s THE AVENGERS, Ron Grainer’s THE PRISONER & MAN IN A SUITCASE, and just about everything that Edwin Astley composed for a whole plethora of (now)cult TV shows. By the time I’d left school, got a job and was earning my living I could then begin collecting LPs and 45s of the music that I loved so much. I’d already used my limited paper round money to purchase EPs like Gian Paul Reverbi’s ROBINSON CRUSOE (a then popular children’s television serial) or 45’s like Nelson Riddle’s western EL DORADO; but now I could afford LP soundtrack albums – and my collecting and appreciation began to escalate. My first LP purchase was MUSIC FOR THE MAN WITH NO NAME (cover versions of themes from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns), ‘The Good the Bad and The Ugly’ topping the charts in the winter of 1968. Imagine my surprise, on seeing the Eastwood movies that the music on the LP was entirely different to the superb music in the films. And my God – the effect of THAT original soundtrack music was profound indeed! So began my love affair with the music of Ennio Morricone (and his conductor Bruno Nicolai) which has remained with me to this day. Morricone is my favourite of all – and it won’t surprise you to know that I have a gigantic collection of his work, amassed over these last 45 years (some of it very rare indeed). Having said that – I must stress that I not only discovered for myself the work of John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Jerome Moross, Basil Poledouris, … (This list could go on and on!) – but have retained that passion and enthusiasm for their work that is still as powerful as it was ‘back in the day’.
At the same time that I was discovering this fantastic music, the Laws family were given a piano by my Auntie Mary and Uncle Tom – which was installed in our back room. In the pre-video days when Sundays were usually long, wet and deadly boring (and ‘Sing Something Simple’ – that mournful and dreary collection of songs on the radio that brought on depression and the realisation that it was school again on the next morning), I would turn my attention to that piano; plucking out single notes and trying to pick out themes and songs from the films (and television shows) that I liked. And that’s when the analogy of ‘The Monkey and The Typewriter’ comes in. What is it they say? Sit a monkey in front of a typewriter for a thousand years and eventually it will bash out the works of Shakespeare. Well – I was one of those monkeys, but it wasn’t a typewriter (although I was indeed rattling out stories on my Dad’s portable Imperial typewriter) – it was a piano. And over the years, I gradually began to see how it worked, what a chord was, how it all fitted together, rhythm, downbeats, upbeats, minor and major chords. I’m afraid that, over time, my Auntie and Uncle’s piano suffered a terrible indignity. By taking off the front board, I could see the hammers and wires on the frame – and by sticking drawing pins into the felt of the hammers, could elicit a loud, sharp ‘honky tonk’ sound that more than compensated for my one-fingered playing. (In retrospect, it sounded just like the cimbalom – the instrument that John Barry uses to great effect in, for example, the main theme of THE IPCRESS FILE). So my investigation and practice continued alongside the soundtrack collecting – and the writing…
Today, I play the piano ‘by ear’ with both hands (that sounds physically rather odd, but I think you know what I mean) and have even done a little composing of my own. I still recall gritting my teeth and signing up for piano lessons when I was about 21 years old. Reading sheet music was bloody hard, and while playing Scot Joplin’s piano rag used in the Paul Newman/Robert Redford movie THE STING for my piano teacher, we both realised that I was still playing the music, but had forgotten to turn the page. We both realised then that the lessons weren’t going well. So I packed it in after only six sessions. (I’d memorise the music by listening to it, then experiment at the keyboard – which is, basically, what I still do).
So then – you have the story behind my passion for film music and how I came to learn piano. I’ve been asked to explain how I use it for my own writing – and I’m pleased to share that with you. (I was very interested to learn that another very famous fantasy writer also listens to Ennio Morricone’s work when he’s working on something. But I won’t mention him by name since he’s famously litigious if he feels his name is being taken in vain. I’m not taking his name in vain – but I’m also not taking any chances!).
All writers ‘learn’ the basics of their craft in their own ways. (In my case, it was from a passion for reading). A grasp and understanding of narrative form, structure, grammar, characterisation, plot arcs, drama – how to sharpen a pencil. In my own dealings with other writers over the years, it’s been very interesting to observe how different the method of working and approach can be. But from my own point of view, there’s a particularly powerful element that I try to engage – in addition to the literary aspects, the basic construction of a story and all the twists and turns you can bring to it. That ‘extra’ factor – is emotion.
As well as the hard slog of writing – I often listen to music; not to ‘wind-down’, but in a peculiar way – to ‘wind up’. For instance, at regular points during my writing day, I’ll take a break – play the piano, or listen to a particular piece of music. As I free-associate on the piano, this ties in with the emotional aspect of what I’m writing at that time, so the emotion I’m feeling in that section of writing will tie in to whatever it is that comes to mind while I’m playing. There’s also a very ‘tactile’ experience for me here – fingers on a piano keyboard/fingers on a typing keyboard. So, whether that section of writing has love, hate, anger, physical confrontation – whatever – that’s what will come out as I’m playing – and it most definitely feeds into the creative process I’m engage upon. More specifically, there’ll be a piece of music that I’m eagerly drawn to listen to while I’m working on something that performs the same function. But – and this is an important ‘but’ – it’s always the case that the film music I’ll ‘use’ will have no direct bearing on the actual ‘scene’ that I’m writing. In other words, I could be writing a scene in a madman’s laboratory, but I may find inspiration in music composed for a 17th century period piece about two feuding farmers(!) A particular piece of music composed for the Italian western A FEW DOLLARS FOR DJANGO by Carlo Savina had a particularly powerful effect on a moment that I was writing for my novel DARKFALL. However, you will not find a single gunfighter, native American or herd of cows in DARKFALL. Let me explain a little clearer. The old adage that ‘you should write what you know about’ is true – up to a point. But I’ve never explored the Pacific sea bed in deep sea diving gear – and I’ve never stood on the edge of a bottomless chasm. However, I have scuba-dived in a polluted canal, and I have done parachute jumps in my time (as part of research) – so there’s something of the ‘feeling’ of both there. But when it comes to – say – developing the emotional feeling of what it must be like to stand on the edge of a bottomless chasm (as happens in my novel CHASM), then putting the headphones on and listening to Bernard Herrmann’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND main title at loud volume brings just the sense of overpowering danger, grandeur and emotional charge that suffused me to write the scene I had in my mind’s eye. Similarly, in creating the sadness and loss that accompanies the character of ‘Pandora’ from my novel SPECTRE – I was able to find an emotional resonance in ‘Irena’s Theme’ from Giorgio Moroder’s CAT PEOPLE.
Equally, in scouring my inner-self to find music that would go some way to reflecting the anguish and torment of the character of ‘Harry Stark’ in SOMEWHERE SOUTH OF MIDNIGHT, I was drawn to a superb electronic theme from Ennio Morricone’s score for the forgotten/unknown murder movie IMPUTAZIONE DI OMICIDIO PER UNA STUDENTE (‘Murder Charge against a Student’). Not having seen the film, that theme sounded very like a badly wounded cat quietly yowling to itself – and the whole ‘feel’ of it seemed to speak to me of Harry’s wounded soul. (I was interested to see that Quentin Tarantino used music from this film in INGLORIOUS BASTARDS).
I’ve created personal compilation ‘albums’ of themes for projects in development that have helped me in the way that I’ve described above. Powerful themes that spring to mind that were enormously helpful include John Barry’s THE LION IN WINTER, which super-charged me while I was writing about the ‘Demons’ and ‘Angels’ of THE FRIGHTENERS. The elevator shaft scenes from DARKFALL were also helped enormously by the same composer’s ‘First Assault’ section from ZULU. I recall listening to Bernard Herrmann’s ON DANGEROUS GROUND (a crime film from 1951) while creating and writing about my hellish Devil Dogs for THE WYRM. (As I recall, I also drew a picture influenced by this music when I was in my early twenties: ‘Jack O’Lantern Pursued by Daemons’). Mark Knopfler’s ‘Theme for CAL’ (‘The Long Road’) was the piece I listened to constantly while developing the character of ‘Christy’ for THE WYRM.
But it’s not only film music that can provide such emotional inspiration, I should add. Chris Rea’s song ‘Joys of Christmas’ played a lot while I was creating the character of Jimmy Devlin for DARKFALL. Robert Plant’s ‘Heaven Knows’ was the principal inspiration behind my vampire novel GIDEON (Indeed, it became my unofficial theme for Gideon while I was writing). Again, I hasten to add – not ripping anything off here; just responding emotionally to the music in a very personal and instinctive way that could supercharge me to create my own fiction.
There’s a sequence in CHASM where Gordon Tranwell, the self-taught guitarist who is the same Monkey and Typewriter as myself – faces up against a horde of the Undead by playing his guitar AT them, in a last-ditch attempt to prevent his friends from being overwhelmed and devoured. The anger, passion and purity of his playing manage to drive them off. I knew, when preparing for this scene, that it was going to be a hard act to pull off – and I couldn’t find music anywhere that could approximate the emotional response I wanted to engender. Gordon’s guitar music was a kind-of mosaic of my appreciation and understanding of instrumental themes composed by Morricone, Nicolai, Nico Fidenco, Francesco De Masi and others. But none of it was hitting the ‘chord’ inside that I needed. So – I composed my own theme, over time, on the piano. And it was this that I used when writing the sequence I’ve described. (I had the pleasure of playing it once at a Fantasycon).
Over the years, I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing on stage many of the people who were massive influences on me. In some cases, that resulted in ongoing friendships. On the film music front, I got to know Ron Goodwin in his later years and – in particular – Hammer music composer James Bernard became a good family friend. (He was moved to tears by my daughter Eve’s love of his music for SHE). I’ve already written about my appreciation for James’ music (a piece on one of my favourites, Hammer’s ‘The Plague of the Zombies’ appears in CINEMACABRE edited by Mark Morris). But I don’t think I’ve mentioned the fact that while I was working on my novel CHASM, I told him that I was using his theme ‘Defeat of the Aliens’ from QUATERMASS 2 while creating scenes of The Vorla ‘on the move’ (a living, evil black ‘sea’). James was thrilled by it, and his full endorsement meant a great deal to me. So – if you’re reading CHASM – and you come to sequences where The Vorla is chasing people – please listen to ‘Defeat of the Aliens’. I like to think that this would please James, God rest him.
JAMES BERNARD – Chasm
Before becoming a full-time writer, I spent many years working as a Committee administrator in local government, working with local Councillors (taking minutes of Committee meetings, arranging meetings etc). On one occasion at a Civic function at South Shields Town Hall, a booked pianist had failed to turn up for the engagement (playing the usual cocktail lounge stuff). I was there with colleagues in an official capacity and someone jokingly suggested that I could do it. I took up the offer – and tinkled the ivories for the remainder of the evening in my black suit and tie while the local authority figures dined and mingled. At one stage, the Lady Mayoress came up and asked me what the lovely music was that I’d just been playing. Imagine my great pleasure then, in being able to inform her that the last three pieces were:-
The Love Theme from WITCHFINDER GENERAL by Paul Ferris;
Michael Lewis’ main theme from THEATRE OF BLOOD; and
Francesco De Masi’s main title from Barbara Steele’s Italian horror movie THE GHOST – sequel to THE TERROR OF DR HITCHCOCK.
No wonder promotion wasn’t forthcoming in local government …
Also, Fans of James Bernard’s music should check out the German DVD release of THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES which contains, as an extra, my interview with him at the Manchester Festival of Fantastic Films.
Stephen Laws is a full-time novelist, born in Newcastle upon Tyne. Married, with three children, he lives and works in his birthplace. The author of 11 novels, numerous short stories, (collected in THE MIDNIGHT MAN) columnist, reviewer, film-festival interviewer, pianist and recipient of a number of awards, Stephen Laws recently wrote and starred in the short horror movie THE SECRET. The Official Website is here: http://www.stephenlaws.com/
I don’t write to music. I did sometimes when I was younger, especially in my teens, but after that I generally found it too distracting, although I do remember sometimes in my 20s getting myself psyched to write by listening to something in the mood that I hoped to achieve in my story. The only definite instance I can remember now is when I was nearing the end of my first horror novel — FAMILIAR SPIRIT – I kept playing the soundtrack album to “Sorcerer” (film by William Friedkin, music by Tangerine Dream) which had an evocative, spooky vibe — and it was playing when I wrote the last pages of my novel.
Lisa Tuttle is the author of over a dozen novels such as Windhaven (with George R R Martin), Familiar Spirit, The Pillow Friend and The Silver Bough. She is also the author of such collections as A Nest Of Nightmares, Ghosts and Other Lovers and My Pathology. She has written four non-fiction books, Children’s Literary Houses, Encyclopedia of Feminism, Heroines: Women Inspired by Women and Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction. She won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1974 and the BSFA Award for Short Fiction ‘In Translation.’
Dennis Etchison dennis etchison
When I first started writing short stories I was in my early teens. It was the 50s and what’s now called “Tiki Music” was popular on certain FM radio stations — Martin Denny’s “Exotica” albums, Arthur Lyman’s and the like — and I got the albums and played them a lot on the VM (Voice of Music) portable record player in my room. They put me in a dreamy, fantasizing state of mind, which seemed to help. One of my first attempts (never published or even completed) was even entitled THE EXOTIC LAND. I also loved movies (still the central passion of my life) and listened a lot to the soundtrack albums for “The Man With the Golden Arm” (Elmer Bernstein), “Picnic” (George Dunning) and a few others; they meant a great deal to me and still do. But the Tiki Music phase was my only real attempt to write while drawing inspiration from music actually playing as I was writing. Since then of course I have drawn much less-direct inspiration from music, classical and jazz primarily. But I’d like particularly to thank Paul Buchanan and The Blue Nile, whose albums have provided the soundtrack of my life for the past thirty years. May they live long and prosper.
Dennis Etchison is an American author of such collections as The Dark Country, Red Dreams, The Blood Kiss, The Death Artist. His novels include, Darkside, Shadowman , California Gothic, Double Edge. As an editor, Cutting Edge, Masters of Darkness, Masters of Darkness II, Lord John Ten, Masters of Darkness III , The Complete Masters of Darkness, MetaHorror, The Museum of Horrors, Gathering The Bones (Edited with Jack Dann and Ramsey Campbell). He has won numerous awards, including the British Fantasy Award three times for short fiction, and the World Fantasy Award for his work an editor. He has also written the movie tie-ins of The Fog, Halloween II and Halloween III (written as Jack Martin) and Videodrome.
Thana Niveau thana niveau
When I was younger I could write to anything, but my favourite backgrounds for writing fiction were always natural ones and my thunderstorms CD (back then a cassette tape!) was my favourite. I also had ocean waves, howling wolves, loons and a rainforest one with spooky birdcalls.
Time passes, technology changes and now I have all those things on my computer, sound design at the touch of a button. The thunderstorms still occupy the #1 spot in my “music to write to” playlist, and there are a few other always-reliable scores in there too. Ennio Morricone’s LE MANI SPORCHE / MIO CARO ASSASSINO is one of my absolute favourites, along with IMAGO MORTIS (Zacarías M. de la Riva), PAN’S LABYRINTH (Javier Navarrete) and absolutely anything by Christopher Young. Recently the score for the MANIAC remake (by “Rob”) has crept in there too.
Different stories have different musical landscapes. If I want dreamy weirdness, bring on the Italian horror and giallo scores! That means Fabio Frizzi, Bruno Nicolai, Goblin and of course Morricone. 80s synth stuff also works well for me and it adds that touch of nostalgia, since they just don’t make film scores like that any more (MANIAC being the brilliant exception). I love Simon Boswell’s DELIRIA and Tangerine Dream’s FIRESTARTER.
Sick and disturbing? That would be SESSION 9 (Climax Golden Twins), THE SHINING (Wendy Carlos) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (Tobe Hooper and Wayne Bell – although Steve Jablonsky’s score for the remake is quite nice). Full marks go to Dane Davis and Christopher Young for their truly nightmarish sound design score for SINISTER, which introduced me to several experimental bands and dark ambient music artists. (Aghast’s “Sacrifice” track, played during the “Sleepy Time” segment in the film, is exceptionally disturbing.)
One of the very best things about film scores is that the music can stand on its own. Some favourite scores are from films I don’t like, don’t think are particularly good or scary or which I haven’t even seen. The music creates its own story in my head. HOSTEL 2 (Nathan Barr) is a good case in point. I didn’t think much of the film but the music is absolutely sublime. Likewise Christopher Young’s THE UNINVITED. Richard Band’s lyrical music to THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW outshines the mediocre film it’s in, as does Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent score to STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. And my beloved LE MANI SPORCHE is apparently just some made-for-TV Italian drama, not even a horror film.
Other favourites: DRESSED TO KILL and THE HOWLING (Pino Donaggio), THE AWAKENING (Daniel Pemberton), FRIDAY THE 13th (Harry Manfredini), THE RING remake (Hans Zimmer), BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (Marc Wilkinson), BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and THE NINTH GATE (Wojciech Kilar), A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (Byung-Woo Lee), LET ME IN (Michael Giacchino) and THE DESCENT (David Julyan).
Top three pieces? Oh, that’s a tough one. But if I were forced to, I’d pick LE MANI SPORCHE (Morricone), PAN’S LABYRINTH (Javier Navarrete) and HELLRAISER (Christopher Young).
Thana Niveau is the author of numerous short stories collected in such publications as Death Rattles 4, The Eighth Black Book Of Horror, The Seventh Black Book Of Horror, The Mammoth Book Of Best New Horror, Terror Tales Of The Cotswolds. She is also the author of the collection, From Hell To Eternity. Her website can be found here: http://thananiveau.com/category/stories/
Christopher Fowler christopher fowler
I can’t work with anything too vocal on, but today I’m editing the manuscript to my new thriller ‘PLASTIC’, and I’m listening to a mix of minimalists and others, including: Michael Nyman, Wim Mertons, Mr Untel, Lemongrass, 17 Hippies, Beirut, De-Phazz, Voile, Rouge, and French and Spanish film soundtracks.
Christopher Fowler is the author of over thirty novels and collections, including such novels as Spanky, Disturbia, Roofworld, and the Bryant & May novels. His website can be found here: http://www.christopherfowler.co.uk/blog/
k a laity
Music is my haka. If you’ve ever experienced New Zealand’s All Blacks perform theirs as a pre-game ritual, you know the power of it. They chant, grunt, and move as one in aggressive postures, slapping their chests and thighs while contorting their faces into grimaces pulled to intimidate their opponents.
It often works.
The right music does the same thing for me. It calls forth my warrior: who are my opponents? The blank page, my lizard brain, the weight of apathy every creator faces. And on my team? The muses, my ambition, the sheer joy of creation.
‘Listening to music while writing’ needn’t always be that. I just need it to get me to that sweet spot, what Poppy Brite calls, ‘falling through the hole in the page” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies as “flow”. We all know the state: it’s the drug whose lure keeps us writing in the face of failure, rejection or the worst of them all, the blank wall of indifference. It’s the Wonderland that catches us as we fall—timeless, boundless, rich with possibility. The mundane world falls away and your only concern is the struggle to type or scribble fast enough to capture the wonders unspooling before you.
You are immersed, excited, alive in a way this vegetable world cannot match. You realise genius is not a quality, but an activity, one you have to work to earn. Music helps you get there because it bypasses the lizard, the logic and the doubt. Just dance: the trance, the movement, the beat—they all conspire to lift. Try to imagine any celebration without music. Like drinking or other mind-altering chemicals, it suppresses the inhibitions and allows us to play, but it leaves us coherent enough to remember it all. It’s joy in motion.
Trust no one who refuses to dance.
For a long-term project, music can provide the path back to the same muses who got you started. Instead of a jumble of disconnected parts, you can have a cohesive whole. The monkey mind, who leaps eagerly for the next shiny thing, can be wooed back to the path you’ve selected with the right kind of music.
When I was writing my shamans vs. aliens novel (yes, really) Owl Stretching I realised that I had fallen into the habit of listening to a lot of drumming music: Glen Velez, Layne Redmond, Gabrielle Roth, various collections of world music focused on percussion and drumming. I played drums and percussion with a chanting group, too, at that time. Unlike my previous novels that took slow and torturous fits and starts, this one hummed along with relative ease (though never as fast as I wanted it to go).
I discovered, too, that music formed a kind of lifeline. When the goddess Inanna descended to the underworld, she asked her women to play the drums to bring her back. After her ordeal, Inanna was left disoriented. The steady beat led her back to the surface like a light in the darkness. Some days we need that when we are drunk on the words, lost in the worlds, yet our lives demand we return to the waking world. Music can ease that transition. The bridge between the dreaming and the mundane gives us time to notice the chasm and know we walk with peril, yet assure us there is a way back when we are at leisure to return.
We can lure the needed muse with the proper music, like a mouse to cheese. I have a double CD set of German techno music that I never listen to (or even dance to) but play whenever I have a loathsome project (which may well have begun life as a delightful assignment that has since become burdensome because of deadlines or an evaporation of inspiration or the lure of other projects). The physical effects are immediate: an increased heart rate, alertness, adrenaline. Combined with pomodoros it’s an unbeatable technique for that last sprint to the finish line.
Since turning to crime I have found that the muse muttering in my ear is usually The Fall. I don’t know why, but the lyrics of Mark E. Smith coupled with the hypnotic music has fueled so much of my writing in that genre that I have begun to suspect that I am possessed. The bard of Salford may have captured me to use as a mystical conduit for his writing ambitions. I hear a song and I know a story; I see a line of lyric and the world unfolds before me. I manufactured a drug—mandrake anthrax—but Smith had already created it, so I can take no credit except in the theft. The music provides a deep well I drink from regularly. I feel a tug of superstitious fear even writing of this—muses are notoriously shy and inclined to disappear when too much light catches their shadows—but then I have blathered on at length via social media about my obsession, so it ought not matter that much to name it now.
I will make burnt offerings just in case.
Then again, I am also promiscuous as all artists must be with their muses. I have crime stories that sprang from other bands: “Losing My Religion” and “Kiss Like a Fist” (which is wrong anyway, it’s “with” but that’s not how it came out of my head as opposed to Florence’s). It’s a wide tradition. There are countless books titled from songs (Norwegian Wood, Exit Music, You Must Remember This, Crazy for You) and the favour has been returned with bands taking their names from books (The Doors, Steely Dan, The Velvet Underground, Veruca Salt, THE FALL!). All arts intertwine at some point.
Music: a drug, a lifeline, a cheering section, a haka. Freud hated music, but Nietzsche wrote that, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” I know without music I would still be staring at the blank page, despairing and lost. The beat goes on.
K. A. LAITY is the author of the Chastity Flame series, The Claddagh Icon, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams and many more books of various genres. Her stories appear in Drunk on the Moon, Spinetingler, Near to the Knuckle, A Twist of Noir, Pulp Metal Magazine, Shotgun Honey, ACTION: Pulse Pounding Tales and in Otto Penzler’s Kwik Krimes. She divides her time between New York and Dundee. See a complete list of her publications at www.kalaity.com
Steve Rasnic Tem steve r tem
When I was young I used to listen to rock&roll when I wrote–The Stones, The Pretenders, The Blasters, etc. I imagined it added energy to the work. I’m not sure that was a great strategy in terms of its effect on the quality of the writing, but I just liked the idea of it.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered I’m a lot less adept at multi-tasking, so I rarely listen to music when I’m writing first drafts unless I need to mask some exterior sound. For that purpose it’s likely to be cello music since I love the cello, and I have hundreds of cello music files. But when writing the final drafts of my novel Deadfall Hotel I listened to cello music constantly simply because it felt consistent with the tone of that book.
That’s actually not an unusual strategy for me for later drafts of anything. I often like to do things to my environment while writing later drafts in order to pick up and use additional sensory clues. For example, if the story is set in cold weather I might write in a cold room or under dress for the ambient temperature. Or I might hold off writing that snow scene until there’s actually snow on the ground I can see outside my window. And music sometimes plays a part in that. Recently I wrote a snowy story and I played Pete Seeger’s “Snow Snow” constantly during that. And for a story set by a wheatfield I actually went out and watched a wheatfield “in action” for a time, and while writing the story listened to Celer’s “Pockets of Wheat.”
When I write some of my Appalachian stories I’m likely to listen to a great deal of Iris Dement. And while writing my Icelandic story “Burning Snow” for Exotic Gothic 2 I listened to a great deal of Sigur Ros.
And when doing some lighter weight editing, like when editing proofs, or when writing various “collateral” bits such as author’s notes or PR materials I sometimes listen to an eclectic mix of music. Right now that mix consists of work by Tallest Man On Earth, Graham Parker, The Unthanks, Evan Dando, Anne Briggs, Imogen Heap, Arcade Fire, Robbers on High Street, and Songs: Ohia.
Steve Rasnic Tem is the author of the novels Excavation, Daughters (with Melanie Tem, The Book of Days, and Deadfall Hotel. He is also the author of the collections, Fairytales, Absences: Charlie Goode’s Ghosts, Beautiful Stranger (with Melanie Tem), City Fishing, The Far Side of the Lake, The Hydrocephalic Ward (poems). He is also editor of The Umbral Anthology of Science Fiction Poetry and High Fantastic: Colorado’s Fantasy, Dark Fantasy and Science Fiction .
Stephen BaconStephen Bacon
Why Feleena Meant More To Than Mina Harker
I suppose I’ve always considered music to be just another way of telling a story. I blame my parents. As a child I was exposed to a great deal of music that would now be thought of as safe or mainstream or conservative in nature. Come to think of it, it was probably viewed as such back then in the late 70s and early 80s. Stuff like The Carpenters, 10CC, The Beach Boys, etc. And plenty of soft country music. We’re talking Don Williams, Marty Robbins, Tammy Wynette and the like (I know, I know).
So you can probably tell why, as a child, music didn’t feature much on my radar. However I was a huge film fan. From the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes pictures, through most of Hitchcock’s output, veering across the Hammer horror films, right up to contemporary hits like The Thing and ET, I was hooked. These films all had a great deal of visual splendour, but equally the music played a key part. I used to set up a microphone next to the television speaker and record the audio, just so I could relive the scenes later in my head (this was prior to my Dad’s success in convincing Mum that we could afford to rent a toploader VHS recorder from the Rumbelows shop on the high street). We lived a simpler life back then.
But one thing the soft country and easy-listening records did impress upon me was a sense of story. Whether it was Jimmy Dean’s Big Bad John or Godley & Creme’s Under Your Thumb or Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue or Marty Robbins’ El Paso, I found myself thinking about the broader picture. Here was music that was about more than simply love. You felt like the song was a snapshot of something much larger. The song’s narrative hinted at real characters with proper backgrounds and real feelings. This really struck a chord with me (no pun intended).
Of course I loved fiction; especially horror fiction. But some of the classics were so old they felt oddly detached from my modern life. Too remote for me to relate to. Maybe that was just youthfulness on my part. We were a typical working-class family – I shared a room with my brother in our two-bedroomed terrace house in a South Yorkshire mining village. The characters that prowled the gothic Victorian novels that I borrowed from the library may have sent shivers down my spine as I lay huddled in bed at night, but I couldn’t relate to their literary lives nor understand their motives. However, a cowboy embarking on an illicit affair with a Mexican waitress, risking his life for the her love – well somehow that seemed to make perfect sense. It felt almost as if the songs were the audio equivalent of a short story.
Over the years I’ve always been on the lookout for songs that had such narratives (Stan Ridgeway’s Camouflage springs to mind). As my personal tastes developed, I began to listen to bands like The Cure and The Smiths and REM – where quite often more serious themes or real-life issues would be the subject. I pored over the lyrics of Disintegration and marvelled at the array of emotion on display. When I tentatively began my own attempts at fiction writing I would listen to the album and use it almost as a touchstone; a map of the human heart, pinpointing places that I wanted to visit. These songs kick-started my desire to write about things like fear, alienation, loneliness, isolation, regret, redemption, guilt – emotions that are prevalent in contemporary horror fiction. You only have to browse the track list of Disintegration to recognise how it might be the table of contents from a horror anthology – Plainsong, Pictures of You, Closedown, Lovesong, Last Dance, Lullaby, Fascination Street, Prayers for Rain, The Same Deep Water as You, Disintegration, Homesick, Untitled.
Certain artists tend to be evocative to me. Joy Division, Bruce Springsteen, The Smiths, Editors, U2, The Doors, Arcade Fire, REM, The Cure – I can listen to their music and become inspired by the lyrics or the tone, or sometimes just by the song’s title. Here are a few short stories that I’ve been fortunate to have had published – Forever Autumn, Catch Me If I Fall, Home By the Sea, Peel Back the Sky, I Am a Creation of Now – all stolen from either song titles or snatches of lyrics. Some people might suggest that I’m just rubbish at naming my stories (or simply lazy) but I prefer to think that I’m taking inspiration from the music and lyrics.
I work a regular day-job so that means I’m only able to write in an evening, or in the mornings before I start work. Consequently – and this differs from many of my writer friends – I don’t actually write while listening to music. I’ve conditioned myself into blocking out distractions (which mainly refers to the television that my wife might be watching), including resisting the urge to dicker around on Facebook. But as any writer will tell you, physical writing is only a small part of the writing process; for a while before I begin to commit pen to paper (or, more accurately, typeface to laptop screen) I think about what I’m going to write. I think about the tone and the tense and decide which viewpoint will best serve the story. I decide whether I want the prose to be short and punchy, or more eloquent and poetic in an effort to create something more lyrical. Preparing my brain. I get myself in the mood to be able to write. And the way I do this is to listen to music in my car during my daily commute to work. Usually it’s film soundtracks. Again, my tastes are rather mainstream – Thomas Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Hans Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Michael Giacchino, Ennio Morricone. Stuff like that.
What I like about most film scores is that they’ll convey every strand of the film’s emotion in them. You’ll go on the same journey while you’re listening to the soundtrack. And then there are those key scenes that linger long in one’s mind – the strings from Bernard Hermann’s score for Psycho still raises the hairs on my neck, the crashing percussion from his North by Northwest score evokes the thrill and excitement of Roger Thornhill’s chase. John Williams’ theme from The Poseidon Adventure mirrors the determination and heroism of Rev Scott as he strives to overcome catastrophy. Hans Zimmer’s dense, brooding music to Inception reminds us of Dominic Cobb’s sense of loss and regret. Thomas Newman’s aching soundtrack to The Green Mile brilliantly captures Paul Edgecomb’s impossible quandary in the face of a difficult job. My favourite piece of music ever is the track Coffey on the Mile from this score. It brings a tear to my eye every time I listen to it. And who can think of Roland Joffe’s film The Mission without bringing to mind the wonderful score by Ennio Morricone?
I suppose film scores are the closest modern equivalent to classical music, certainly in terms of a mass audience. Music can move us in ways that help us understand what it’s like to be human. It can reveal the honesty and weakness that we recognise in ourselves and others. It can provide the catalyst to inspire love, fear, hatred, laughter, sorrow. But to me, music highlights the emotional complexities that make up the human condition. I’m a writer so, as well as using fiction as a method of catharsis, I write about what interests me. Characters with recognisable emotion. I try to weave these characters into stories, in an effort to create fiction that will hopefully engage the reader.
And, to paraphrase Stephen King, fiction – like everything that is good in art – should show us the truth within the lie.
Stephen Bacon lives in South Yorkshire with his wife and two sons. His short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies like Black Static, Shadows & Tall Trees, Crimewave, The Black Books of Horror, Murmurations – An Anthology of Uncanny Stories About Birds, Horror For Good, the final three editions of Nemonymous, and Screaming Spires Publishing’s charity anthology, When Darkness Calls. His work has been reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year. A debut collection, Peel Back The Sky, was published by Gray Friar Press in 2012. Forthcoming in 2014 is a chapbook, The Allure of Oblivion, to be published by Spectral Press. His website can be found here: www.stephenbacon.co.uk
Brian EvensonBrian Evenson
I’ve almost always written to music, and have a tendency to listen to the same thing over and over again while I’m working on a particular piece. For my novella Dark Property, I remember listening to Einstürzende Neubauten’s album Tabula Rasa the first day I worked on it and found myself listening to it again and again. I think I must have listened to it several hundred times, and the song “Sie” ended up winding itself through the writing of that book in a very real way. Other stories or novels have been tied to very different albums or songs. With one novel, I listened almost exclusively to David Bowie’s album The Man Who Sold the World. I have a story pretty directly tied to Bob Dylan’s story “Isis”—it’s more or less a reinterpretation of that song. I have other stories that try to pick up a mood or an intensity of a song: one story I wrote tried to capture something I really admire about the Talking Heads song “Memories Can’t Wait.”
I’m currently obsessed with a half dozen seconds in a song by Sunburned Hand of the Man called “Every Direction.” Or, really, the whole song, but especially those three seconds when things shift. I wanted to use the lyrics of those half dozen seconds as an epigraph, but that didn’t feel quite right: ideally, I’d want to reproduce those half dozen seconds. Or figure out a way to translate them into a novel.
I can listen to almost anything while I’m writing—doesn’t matter whether it has words or not—as long as it’s something I know relatively well so that, over time, it can start to fade into the background or become, in a way, almost subcutaneous. And I also don’t think that you’d necessarily be able to guess what song is entwined with what piece. It can be almost anything, ranging from Low’s “Silver Rider” to Robert Plant’s reinterpretation of “Silver Rider” (the combination of those two was important for me for a particular story), or from Sunn’s Black One to Brian Jonestown Massacre to Ligeti. I think music has a real effect on the rhythm and mood of my writing and repeated listening tends to help me (or at least I tend to believe it does) to bring the story together. In that sense, music is intensely important to me, as a writer and as an artist.
Brian Evenson is the author of a dozen works of fiction, most recently Immobility (Tor 2012) and Windeye (Coffee House Press 2012). His novel Last Days won the American Library Association’s Award for Best Horror Novel of 2009, his story collection The Wavering Knife won an International Horror Guild Award, and his novel The Open Curtain was a finalist for an Edgar Award. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island where he works at the university on which Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University is based.
Darrell SchweitzerDarrell Schweitzer
I have to admit that I do not listen to music while writing anything more demanding than letters. I have sometimes based stories on traditional ballads, but that is another matter, and more about the story-situation than the actual music. I have heard of writers who can only write with the earphones on and rock & roll blasting, but I can’t do that.
As for stories based on ballards, I haven’t done it in a long time, but I can think of three examples. “The Hag” (in WE ARE ALL LEGENDS elaborates “King Henry.” This is the medieval story of the loathly lady (there is a variant in Chaucer too) in which the hideous crone demands all sorts of outrageous things from the knight (or king) which he, out of chivalry must grant. What I added to the mix is her back story, and why she is doing this. “Silkie Son” (in THE GREAT WORLD AND THE SMALL) is “The Great Silkie of Skule Skerry” from the point of view of the mother, who has a really terrible husband. “The Phantom Knight” (WHISPERS 14, uncollected) is a variant of “The Demon Lover.” In my version the departed lover is not a sailor, but a knight who has gone off on the Crusades and probably died in the East. (All these ballads are in Child’s ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH BALLADS, which is the standard work in this field.) In all cases, these are stories written to fill in what is implied but not stated in the original ballad.
Darrell Schweitzer is the author of three novels The Shattered Goddess, The White Isle and The Mask of the Sorcerer, a dozen collections, among which are We Are All Legends, Transients and Other Disquieting Stories, Refugees From An Imaginary Country, Nightscapes: Tales of the Ominous and Magical (with Jason Van Hollander) and Deadly Things. He is also the author of seven poetry collections, among them Poetica Dementia: Being A Further Accumulation of Metrical Offenses and Ghosts of Past and Future. He is also an editor, essayist and writer of non-fiction. He won the Asimov’s Science Fiction’s Readers’ Award for best poem and a World Fantasy Award. He worked as an editorial assistant for Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine Isaac Asimov’s SF and Amazing Stories from 1982-1986, was co-editor of Weird Tales.
Howard LinskeyHoward Linskey
I like to listen to music while writing but my choices are limited because I just cannot write while anything with a lyric is playing. I am so interested in writing of any kind that I become too easily distracted by other people’s words to write my own. As a result, I am usually restricted to tuning into Classic FM, so most of my gritty, contemporary crime stories are written while the music of long dead composers plays gently in the background.
Music does feature in my books. I figured David Blake, my white-collar gangster anti-hero would spend a fair bit of time in night clubs, so I researched the kind of music that would be played in them these days and was quite surprised to pick up a taste for R&B along the way. I found myself driving around with Rihanna and Black Eyed Peas CDs in my car and Flo Rida or Neo blasting out of the radio. Down with the kids? No, it’s more of a guilty, private pleasure. If I attempted to bust some moves to Rihanna, I’d look like one of those embarrassing dads trying to dance at a wedding.
If I’m really looking for a bit of inspiration to get the words flowing or to drag me away from the twin, distracting evils of Facebook and Twitter, I’ll play a film score. I’ve always been a film fan and my writing is more influenced by films than books if I’m honest. I love soundtracks and these days, with the advent of YouTube, it’s even easier to find obscure scores from long forgotten movies or TV shows. I’m a fan of Ennio Morricone, particularly his score for ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ and John Barry’s themes from, ‘The Ipcress File’, ‘The Persuaders’ and the Bond films never seem to diminish with age. Hans Zimmer, composer of ‘Gladiator’ amongst others, writes some stirring stuff to help gee up the word count and it doesn’t get more atmospheric than Trevor Jones soundtrack for ‘Last Of The Mohicans’.
I’ve never been able to pick up a copy of my all-time favourite film soundtrack, so I have to summon it up from YouTube whenever I feel the need to hear it again, which is often. The theme for ‘The Long Good Friday’ is simply terrific. Francis Monkman’s pulsating score might sound like it was distinctly of-its-time but still provides the perfect backdrop for London’s top boy, Harold Shand’s arrival at the airport, ten minutes into the film. Bob Hoskins doesn’t even have to emote at this point. The theme tells us everything we need to know about Shand. He’s nails and you wouldn’t mess with him……unless you happen to be the IRA of course, which sets us up for possibly the finest climactic scene of any British film ever. Hoskins face, as he is driven away at the end of The Long Good Friday, to the strains of Monkman’s brilliant theme, lives long in the memory.
A couple of years back, I managed to get hold of the soundtrack for the classic British gangster film ‘Get Carter’, which has a particular resonance for me. My first book ‘The Drop’ has been described as “A Get Carter for the 21st Century”, partly because the two stories share a common gangster theme but primarily because ‘The Drop’ is also set in Newcastle (though the original book ‘Jack’s Return Home’ by Ted Lewis is famously not based in Tyneside). Roy Budd’s soundtrack is one of those scores that’s instantly recognisable. ‘Get Carter’ is a very good film that becomes a terrific one because the incidental music lends it an instant ambience of understated cool. It even makes up for Michael Caine’s ludicrous accent; a Geordie returning to his homeland? I don’t think so, unless the Elephant and Castle is actually a district of Wallsend. Somehow it doesn’t matter and ‘Get Carter’ is still a classic.
When my second book ‘The Damage’, came out, I was interviewed on TV for the first time. The ‘North East Tonight’ reporter asked his cameraman to film me walking up and down the mean streets of Newcastle. I was eager to please but more than a little self-conscious. I didn’t expect much from the end result but was pleasantly surprised when they aired the footage. I was no better looking, cooler or harder than normal – I look like a chubby Peter Beardsley on a good day – but, as I made my way through the dimly-lit, pedestrian tunnel behind Newcastle Central Station they played a bit of background music that I instantly recognised; the theme from ‘Get Carter’. The reporter concluded that, “Forty one years on from Get Carter, Newcastle may have another gritty gangster thriller to define its character in the eyes of crime novel readers.” I don’t do cool; never have, never will but that was……almost cool. So shoot me know. Thanks to Roy Budd’s iconic theme, that short walk, captured on film, was easily my finest hour.
Howard Linskey’s first novel ‘The Drop’ made the Times newspaper’s Top Five ‘Thriller of the Year’ list in 2011. ‘The Drop’ has been optioned for television by Harry Potter producer David Barron. Howard’s new novel ‘The Dead’ was published by No Exit in April. Howard is represented by agent Phil Patterson at Marjacq. Originally from Ferryhill in County Durham, he now lives in Herts with his wife Alison and daughter Erin. His website can be found here: http://www.howardlinskey.com/main/
Mike EversMike Evars
I wouldn’t say I’m a person with an interesting collection of music, nor was I present at great musical events in the past. No, I’ve never made it to Glasto, and no, I wasn’t at those incendiary Pistols’ gigs in 1976. Furthermore, my musical life nowadays seems to be the soundtrack of children’s TV (Waybuloo theme anyone?) and the rather poor selection of music on my car radio. Where are the bold and eclectic radio stations in Yorkshire? Why are they all the same, with their anodyne electro-pop, R&B gubbins on perpetual loops?
Anyway, back to the subject. I wrote the bulk of my contemporary fantasy book The Chaosifier about 5 years ago. It was quite a protracted process and I kept coming back and tweaking the story for quite a while after I’d finished. When I was writing it I more or less played two albums to death on my PC: Carry On by Chris Cornell and Collideoscope by Living Colour. I’d been a fan of Soundgarden since the early 90s and if anything had thought his first solo album Euphoria Morning to be superb, with its raw simplicity and honesty. Carry On carries on (sorry) in this vein and is just as good in my opinion. It also has the theme from Casino Royale, ‘You Know My Name’, which a lot of people hate as a Bond Theme, but I think is one of the best. It manages to be both true to John Barry (soaring strings and parping horns) yet also completely represents of the new Bond in its tempo and delivery. It is furious and full of angst:
“The coldest blood runs through my veins, you know my name…”
Likewise I’ve been a fan of New York rock group Living Colour since uni days. They wrote Collideoscope as a way of dealing with the grief and shock of 9/11. Standout tracks for me are ‘Flying’, which is about a jumper from one of the Twin Towers and ‘Lost Halo’. It is an angry and reflective album full of socio-political commentary and religious symbolism. It’s great. I also associate Take That’s ‘Rule the World’ with writing the Chaosifier, too. It remains my favourite song from the boy-to-man band.
I didn’t really listen to much music when writing the Hopfield Tales. Quite often I was in the local library with a netbook or simply grabbing an hour or so while my toddler son was napping. However, whenever I think of the Battle for Chateau Gaillard in Spirit Archer I always imagine a movie shot of a camera rising above some trees to reveal the castle in the distance. There’s always a sweeping movie score in the background by someone like Maurice Jarre (i.e. like Lawrence of Arabia, but not quite as grand).
Campaign of the Gods sees a group of 9th Century Viking berserkers arriving in a small Yorkshire town to save the locals from the marauding forces of the Norse underworld. In one part the legendary Viking commander, Ivar the Boneless, climbs into a taxi and is baffled by the radio (among other things). Now, I always loved the scene in Three Kings where the soldiers/bank robbers climb into a car and Ice Cube puts on an easy listening classics CD. So they end up driving around and being shot at with Chicago’s ‘If you Leave me Now’ playing in the background. Hilarious. This was my inspiration. I originally thought about a radio station called Easy Listening FM for my Viking warrior to listen to. But, perhaps more appropriately, he selects Heavy Metal FM, which is surely what a Viking would listen to if given the choice.
I’m not sure if I’ve met the brief. I’ve barely scratched the surface and I reckon I could ramble on for hours. Frank has also suggested I do the impossible task of listing my three favourite pieces of music. Instead of my sitting here for hours racking my brains, I’ll just write down three that come to mind:
Lara’s Theme – Maurice Jarre. I love the film Dr Zhivago. Simples.
Summertime – George Gershwin. It’s been in my head all day. And why not.
War Pigs – Black Sabbath. Ozzy manages to rhyme the word ‘masses’ with ‘masses’. Ivar Ragnarsson’s choice.
Mike Evers is the author of three urban fantasy novellas, The Chaosifier, The Spirit Archer and Campaign of the Gods, which will also be collected in Hopfield Tales later this year. A fourth novella, Mark Of The Legion, is due for publication very soon. His website can be found here: http://mountain-lord.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/spirit-archer-campaign-of-gods-now.html
Sam MillarSam Millar
As a wee lad growing up in Belfast, two things were infinitely more important to me (apart from girls, of course) than life itself: books and music. In my adolescent years, I went through numerous stages of reading and music tastes. My reading consisted mainly of American comic books and graphic novels, especially anything with the names Stan Lee and Jack Kirby attached to them. My music, however, was more of a pendulum, swinging from pop, to rock ‘n’roll, depending on my own changing moods. Yet, I could never find the perfect niche to rest my wary ears inside. The Beatles or The Stones? Eric Clapton or James Taylor? The list was endless. Then one day I heard a sound on the radio. I was spellbound. Hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck time. Momentary struck dead, I never caught the name of the tune, or the singer. For the love of me, days after, I still couldn’t get the song out of my head. Eventually, with a bit of help – and moaning – from my big brother, I finally discovered both title and artist. Sittin’ On The Dock of The Bay by the great Otis Redden. Man, what a voice! Before long, I had become an Otis junky, needing my fix hourly. Every one of his songs were, in my mind, a classic. From Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa: (Sad Song), to my all-time favourite, Try A Little Tenderness. He died tragically, at 26, but continues to live forever in my heart but especially my soul. When I write, late into the night, feeling tired and just a little depressed looking for the perfect word for the perfect sentence, Try A Little Tenderness is never too far away. It always seems to get me over that mental-block hurdle. Man, what a voice!
Sam Millar is the author of the novels Dark Souls, The Redemption Factory, The Darkness of Bones, Bloodstorm: A Karl Kane Book, The Dark Place: A Karl Kane Book, The Dead of Winter: A Karl Kane Book, Small Town Killing. He is also the author of the play Brothers In Arms. He is also the author of the internationally acclaimed memoir On The Brinks. A winner of the Brian Moore Short Story Award in 1998 he has also been short-listed for numerous other literary awards including the Martin Healy Short Story Award and The Cork Literary Review Award.
Paul D BrazillPaul D Brazill
In our post-Tintin Quarantino world, the typical film soundtrack is like a rebellious jukebox knocking out a scattershot, mish-mash of hits and non- hits. And because of that, many songs are automatically associated with specific films: Little Green Bag – Reservoir Dogs, Be My Baby- Mean Streets, In Heaven (The Lady In The Radiator) – Eraserhead, Words Get Stuck In My Throat – War Of The Gargantuas, Sweet Talking Candyman –Beyond The Valley Of the Dolls.
So, when I write, I don’t listen to soundtracks with actual songs because of the strong connotations that lasso me back to the film that they featured in.
But there are plenty of great film scores that I listen to, though. That help create the atmosphere that I need for my yarns. Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver, Elmer Bernstein’s Walk On The Wild Side, Ennio Morricone’s The Thing, John Barry’s Séance on A Wet Afternoon, Tom Wait’s Night On Earth, John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13.
Some songs have directly inspired my writing mind you. Drunk On The Moon, the story of Roman Dalton, a werewolf PI, was completely inspired by the Tom Waits song. And the follow up, Before The Moon Falls came from a song by The Fall. Sometimes. I just use the title such The Friend Catcher – The Birthday Party, Guns Of Brixton – The Clash. My story Life On Mars? was actually included in an anthology of short stories based on song titles – Off the Record – edited by Luca Veste.
And there are tunes all over my writing, as there are in my life. The Roman Dalton stories feature Duffy’s Bar and its Wurlitzer Jukebox.
Paul D. Brazill was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, Polish and Slovene. He has had short fiction published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books Of Best British Crime 8 and 10, alongside the likes of Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman and Lee Child. He has edited a few anthologies, including True Brit Grit, and is the author of Guns Of Brixton, Gumshoe, Death On A Hot Afternoon, and 13 Shots Of Noir. His blog is here: http://pauldbrazill.wordpress.com/
Simon Kurt UnsworthSimon Kurt Unsworth
I don’t listen to music the way I used to. When I was a teenager, music was a thing of albums and rare records, of vinyl and gatefold sleeves, of listening to the ten or eleven or twelve album tracks in order and then deciding on favourites and least favourites, picking the ones that meant something to me and the ones that were mere fillers, of reading the lyrics and peering at the pictures on inner sleeves; it was a thing of obsession and grace, of substance and beauty. I bought new records each week, yet it was only rarely bought new; instead, it lived in places like Kingbee Records in Chorlton, or the stalls in Manchester’s Corn Exchange (before the IRA blew it up and it was rebuilt as a soulless, stylish shopper’s paradise) or in Affleck’s Palace, where it nestled alongside books by Robert Anton Wilson, old shirts and jackets, hair dye and badges and belts and studs and boots and second-hand flotsam and jetsam. It also lived in my friends’ record collections, was delivered to me on C90 and C120 cassettes, most often by my mate Steve, who used to put an album on one side of the cassette and then fill the other with random tracks he thought I might like, or that he liked and thought I should like. I discovered Killdozer that way, and Rapeman and Big Black, and the soundtrack to Dogs in Space, and The Rose of Avalanche and Hole and The Fields of the Nephilim and Bobby Gentry, and Otis Redding, and a thousand others. Some of it I loved and some I hated (Crass are just rubbish, aren’t they?), but all of it mattered.
And then there was the stuff I found for myself, records I liked the covers of and took a chance on, or read reviews or articles about, or saw as supporting acts at concerts and liked enough to buy the records after: Jane’s Addiction, Mary My Hope and Swervedriver, Suede, An Emotional Fish, Miss World, Liquid Jesus (don’t bother, they were rubbish). I was a Sisters of Mercy fan, and a Cure fan, and a Guns N Roses fan, and I still hated Crass but loved the Sex Pistols and the Damned. It never ended, the music: it went on in the morning and went off at night, and sometimes not even then. I remember once waking up to hear the same side of the LP playing that had been playing as I went to sleep; I’d left it on repeat on my old stereo, and it had gone round and around all night, and my mum wasn’t best pleased. Music held my hand and owned my heart, and I couldn’t imagine that it would ever be any different.
Even now, looking back, I don’t know what happened.
As I finished university, I seemed to suddenly just … stop. I started work, and music seemed to go away, and I turned in on myself and became something smaller and more closed off. I threw away my Walkman, put the tapes back in their boxes and the boxes back on the shelf, and that was it. It wasn’t deliberate, and it didn’t happen with anything else; I still loved movies and collected videos obsessively, and books more so, piling my shelves with paperbacks and hardbacks and fiction and reference, refusing to ever get rid of anything even when I’d read them and didn’t think I’d ever read them again. But music? No. It slipped, dwindling to something small and unimportant. I mean, I bought (or was bought) a very occasion CD (usually old albums I wanted to replace – I remember buying The Chameleons’ Strange Times during this period and it was like I’d rediscovered magic for a few hours afterwards, listening to it in the kitchen as I cooked and washed and tidied), but most of the time, music gathered dust and was ignored. If I listened to anything, it was talking books and comedy shows. Most often, though, I had the radio on in the background or I went around in silence. Something in my head felt like it had locked, that it wasn’t going to let anything in, and that was the way things stayed for a while.
Somewhere after getting married, I started to listen to music again. Not in the same way, but I began to dig out those old tapes and to buy more CDs. I was happier than I’d been in a few years, and I think that helped; I was remembering how music could lift me and hold me. It was still something that I did whilst other things happened, and it never re-established its overall importance to me, but music did gradually re-assert itself in my life, clawing its way back to have a place in my days. We reached an equilibrium, me and music; neither asked too much of the other but we were happy. I went to the occasional concert (Neil Diamond, Mudhoney, Space and Barry Manilow twice – sadly not all at the same time, as that would have been a hell of a gig!), and bought a gradually increasing number of CDs (I became entirely obsessed by BabyBird in this period, buying their entire back catalogue – this was the only flash of my previous attitude to music and musicians. I’m pleased to say my BabyBird obsession continues to this day…). And so it continued.
But what, I hear you ask, has this got to do with my writing? Well, in a weird way, quite a lot. To explain, a small piece of history: I started writing as a way of coping with a lengthy daily commute on trains, and initially I didn’t listen to music. Eventually, however, the sound of coughs and sniffles, of other people’s phone conversations, of the inane chat and the moaning and the sneezing and the general background noise started to really, really piss me off and I bought a cheap MP3 player.
My initial plan was to put three of four key albums on it (my selection limited because at this point because, although I actually had accumulated a lot of CDs, the MP3 player’s memory was tiny and could only fit about 6 albums on it) and use them as a way of avoiding contact with the real world. I had the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands, Massive Attack’s Greatest Hits, a couple of Jane’s Addiction albums, and that was it. The problem was, those CDs (great though they all are) quickly got boring. I’m not ashamed to admit, I moaned and groused about this quite a lot (it wasn’t a particularly good MP3 player, either, and constantly glitched and faulted, which caused me to gripe even more incessantly). I think the final straw may have come when I was nominated for a World Fantasy Award and decided to go to the awards ceremony in Calgary – I was due to have two 13 hour flights within a week, and I wondered out loud (long and volubly) how I was going to cope with them. My wife, bless her heart, through a mix (I suspect) of self-preservation and kindness, bought me an early Christmas present.
An 80gb iPod classic.
A whole new world opened up, one in which all my albums were stored in this little black simple to use box of brilliance and, perhaps more importantly, it had this fantastic function: shuffle.
Having an iPod has completely changed how I listen to music. Firstly, it’s rekindled my absolute love of music. When I write now, I always do it to music, whether I’m at my desk at home, on a train, at work; wherever I am, the music’s with me. It’s made transporting my songs everywhere as simple as picking up my fags (when I was a smoker, obviously; not now, no. Not me). The iPod itself is a thing a matte beauty, smooth and tactile and intuitive, and it’s made the act of turning the music off and on quite, quite lovely.
The second thing is a function, entirely unexpected, of the wonderful shuffle button. Shuffle. Ah, Jesus, it’s like my entire life is now a grand, ever-changing mix tape, created just for me! I rarely listen to full albums these days, preferring instead to let the gods of capricious fate and random iPod track ordering choose the soundtrack to my typing. Where before, and assuming that first MP3 would obey me, I’d try and choose music that suited the mood I thought I needed to create the piece I was working on, now I almost always allow the choice to be made by the iPod’s tiny electronic brain, and I am at its mercy. It throws up some odd bedfellows, to be sure; Manilow followed by the Clash, Tori Amos kitty-cornered with The Fatima Mansions, but it’s never less than interesting, never less than fun. And if some stuff I don’t like, well, so be it; I just skip the track and see what comes up next.
Of course, sometimes my weird little personality tics take over, and I make odd rules for myself: when writing my story for the Edge Sherlock Holmes horror anthology Gaslight Grotesque, I decided for some reason that I could only listen to BabyBird, and whilst I can’t explain why, I genuinely think it’s a better story for having made that decision and then stuck to it. Several chapters of my novel were written to particular artists because it seemed right; Jon Boden’s Painted Lady informed at least three chapters, and another of his incarnations (Spiers and Boden) certainly underpinned another couple. I remember thinking that the soundtrack to The Thing was good editing music, and that it was oddly fitting that I finished writing the novel with Bellowhead roaring in my ears. I’m currently writing a story set out in the wilds of Morecambe Bay, dealing with shipwrecks and ancient gods, and although I’m still using shuffle, I’m tending to skip the jauntier songs and hunting out the slower, grimmer stuff as my soundtrack. That’s the way it is; sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn’t. Depends on the day, the mood and the weather, and possibly the flight of birds and the laying of the entrails. When I’ve worked how to understand or predict it, I’ll make sure I pass the information on. Until then, I’ll just have to roll with it.
So, that’s me and music. Music underpins everything I write, sometimes a direct influence but more often a more pervasive, subtle thing. It’s a way of blocking out the world, a way of travelling to new places, a way of reaching back inside myself and finding something to hold onto that’s both anchor and kite string, securing me and letting me soar at the same time. It’s not just the music of my formative years that I listen to now either; rediscovering my love of music has done a great service for me because it’s opened the insides of my head again and helped me to remember what finding new artists is like, and how exciting it can be when those new artists are great, or fun, or magnificent. I heard Bellowhead for the first time in 2011 on Mike harding’s Radio 2 Folk Show and they tore me apart and then put me back together a folkie, I heard the Bad Shepherds not long after and simply fell in love with them, I found a CD by a group called the Spooky Men’s Chorale in a charity shop, bought it because I liked the name and discovered, to my delight, that they were an Australian chorale harmony group with a genuine sense of wit, and the talent to back it up. My musical horizons have bulged and flexed, widened and changed shape, and I love it. My writing is better because of the influence of everything I listen to, so much so that my current novel is at least in part about folk music and its roots in songs of protest and of stories that are both mythic and powerfully of their time. I couldn’t have written in a few years ago; I’m not sure I can now, but I’m going to damn well try. Ask me now, could I be without music, and the answer would be a resounding, No. It’s that important.
One last thing: I suppose it’s only fair to tell you what I actually listen to, at this point. I mean, my life has a soundtrack, and, it’s pretty much been this: the most frequently played artists on the iPod are Bellowhead, BabyBird, the Bad Shepherds and (the break the conspiracy of ‘B’s), Johnny Cash. Shuffle has thrown up, during the writing of this article, artists as diverse as The Willard Grant Conspiracy, The Mission, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, John Moore, Aztec Camera, The Hair and Skin Trading Company, Jon Boden, Kate Bush, Pilgrim’s Way, The Troggs, Dean Martin, The Mock Turtles, The Auteurs, New Model Army, The Triffids, Crazyhead, BabyBird, Mary My Hope, The Sisters of Mercy, Living Colour, Ice T, Eliza Doolittle, David Bowie, Flanders and Swann, Graham Coxon and many others. I’ve skipped some tracks (I’m not sure how Simply Red got onto my iPod – I presume as part of some compilation CD – but I keep forgetting to delete it and it keeps popping up and I hate it), and loved others. It’s music, my music; I own in a different way than you do, even if you listen to the same tracks from the same albums as I do, and I’m keeping it close. It’s music, and it opens worlds up for me. Whatever comes next, you can be sure of one thing: I’ll be dancing to it.
Crunchy Granola Suite by Neil Diamond has just finished; The Parson’s Farewell from a CD of Elizabethan Street Music has just started, and that seems like a good place to stop.
Simon Kurt Unsworth was born in Manchester in 1972 on a night when, despite increasingly desperate research, he can find no evidence of mysterious signs or portents. He currently lives on a hill in the north of England awaiting the coming flood, where he writes essentially grumpy fiction (for which pursuit he was nominated for a 2008 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story) and annoys his wife and child I(for which pursuit he wasn’t), whilst being tall, grouchier than he should be, and owning a wide selection of garish shirts and a rather fine leather waistcoat. His latest collection is the critically acclaimed Quiet Houses, and his work has been published in a number of anthologies including At Ease with the Dead, Shades of Darkness, Exotic Gothic 3 and Lovecraft Unbound. He has also appeared in four Mammoth Book of Best New Horror anthologies and also The Very Best of Best New Horror. His first collection of short stories, Lost Places, was released by the Ash Tree Press in 2010 and he has further collections due, Strange Gateways from PS Publishing in 2013 and an as-yet-unnamed collection that will launch the Spectral Press Spectral Signature Editions imprint in 2014. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook, or in various cafés in Lancaster staring at his MacBook and muttering to himself.
Ian AyrisIan Ayris
Silence. That’s what I needed in order to write. Absolute. Complete. Silence.
I mean, how was I going to hear the voices and get the visuals right if I had all that racket going on in the background?
And in an empty, quiet, house I wrote my first two books and my first forty short stories.
But then something changed. I was writing my second novel. And I was struggling, struggling to hear the voices. And the visuals, they just wouldn’t come. I was stuck. Right at the end – the pivotal, final, scene.
I paced the room in my empty, quiet, house – waiting for the words.
But none came.
In frustration, I reached for my cd rack – pulled out my Jesus and Mary Chain Greatest Hits album. Forwarded it to April Skies – surely the greatest song ever.
And I carried on pacing. The drums and paced chugged straight in. Jim Reid’s vocals. Those chords. That guitar riff . . .
And it started. Inside my head, the final scene playing out in its entirety – all to the rhythm of that song. I could see it all. No longer was I writing a book, I was watching a film already created. All I had to do was write it down. I played the song over and over again, and each time I played it, the film came closer into focus. I had tears running down my face watching the character’s I’d created play out their lives to the greatest song ever.
Music does that, see. Music connects the unspoken, fills the space beyond words.
I no longer write to silence. I write to the crashing sound of Springsteen, The Clash, The Jam, and any late seventies punk I can get my hands on.
I still need an empty house, mind.
We’ve all got issues . . .
Ian Ayris was born in Dagenham, Essex, in August 1969. Having spent most of his childhood more interested in kicking a tennis ball about the school playground actually learning anything, he managed to leave the public education system in 1985 with but two O’ Levels and a handful of C.S.E.’s. And a love of writing. His academic achievements set him up nicely for the succession of low paid jobs he has maintained to this day. These jobs have included a three year stint as a delivery boy for an electrical company, five years putting nuts and bolts in boxes in a door factory, one day in a gin factory, and three months in a record shop, He has spent the last sixteen years, however, working with adults with learning difficulties, and in the meantime, has become a qualified counsellor.
Ian’s love of writing resurfaced late in his thirties, in the guise of short stories. He has since had almost forty short stories published both in print and online, and is currently studying for a degree in English Literature.
Ian lives with his wife and three children in Romford, Essex, and is a lifelong Dagenham and Redbridge supporter.
Ian’s debut novel – ABIDE WITH ME – was published by Caffeine Nights Publishing in March 2012 and his debut novella – ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF JASON DEAN – was published in November 2012.
Ian can be found online at www.ianayris.com
Paul EdwardsPaul Edwards
Music has always been an inspiration for me. An atmospheric track, or lyric, may provide a spark, a seed from which a story might grow, and as a horror writer it’s dark experimental/instrumental rock, or songs that describe a narrative, that reel the listener in with a story, that appeal to me.
I’m a big NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS fan; listening to ‘THE CARNY’ late one night from the LP ‘YOUR FUNERAL…MY TRIAL’ inspired my story Black Mirror, Mirror Black. Lyrics like ‘And the carny had a horse, all skin and bone, A bow-backed nag, that he named “Sorrow”’ and ‘The three dwarves peering from their wagon’s hind, Moses says to Noah “We shoulda dugga deepa one,” Their grizzled faces like dying moons’ are wonderfully vivid and evocative; ‘THE CARNY’ conjures up a dark, sinister fair peopled by dwarves, dog-boys, half-men, geeks and bird-girls.
Some of the themes from ‘NEON BIBLE’ by ARCADE FIRE influenced my collection Black Mirrors; the craving for fame and adoration held particular interest for me. The track (ANTICHRIST TELEVISION BLUES) tells the desperate tale of a father pushing his daughter toward fame: ‘Oh! My little mocking bird sing! I need you to get up on that stage for me, honey, And show the men it’s not about the money; Wanna hold a mirror up to the world, So that they can see themselves inside my little girl!’
I’ve always been drawn to tales of warped love and broken hearts, which probably explains my enthusiasm for bands and song writers such as THE BLACK HEART PROCESSION, TOM WAITS, BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY and TINDERSTICKS. The first three albums by TINDERSTICKS are wonderful; cloaked in mournful strings, those desolate songs describe rented rooms, crumbling relationships and people struggling to express themselves as the world comes apart around them… The opening lyric to the track ‘UNTIL THE MORNING COMES’ in particular is beautifully macabre: ‘My hands ’round your throat, If I kill you now, well they’ll never know.’ TINDERSTICKS describe passionate, sensitive individuals taken to stark, emotional extremes.
‘LADIES AND GENTLEMEN WE ARE FLOATING IN SPACE’ by SPIRITUALIZED is my favourite album; it’s the sound of a person battling his demons and addictions, a dark and frightening journey through a collapsing psyche. There are passages of white noise (signifying mental disintegration), only for it to fade and be replaced by moments of beauty and sadness: oases of calm amongst all the despair and madness. It’s dark, fucked up, and when I bought the album way back in 1998, the box resembled prescription medicine, complete with a foil blister pack for the CD and dosage advice!
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’s ‘DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN’ is an album littered with broken hearts, false hopes, and shattered dreams. His characters are haunted by failure, unable to fulfil their promise or their true potential. It’s perfect material to draw upon, and Springsteen has this enviable knack of capturing whole lives in the short space of a song; for example, in ‘LONG TIME COMIN’ (a track from another of my favourite SPRINGSTEEN albums ‘DEVILS & DUST’) he writes: ‘Well there’s just a spark of campfire left burnin’, Two kids in a sleeping bag beside, Reach ’neath your shirt, put my hands across your belly and feel another one kickin’ inside, And I ain’t gonna fuck it up this time.’ In those few, emotive lines he’s able to say so much, conveying a tangible sense of regret, hope and redemption to the listener.
Recently, P J HARVEY’s ‘WHITE CHALK’ LP has been a highlight for me: sparse, chilling, and evocative of 19th Century Gothic novels with mentions of ‘chalk hills’, ‘ghostly fingers’ and ‘twisted oak groves’. Wandering around the margins of this haunting, wind-swept world is a sense of rage and injustice that increases the potency of these stark and sombre songs.
Instrumental rock from bands such as GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR, SILVER MT. ZION, MOGWAI and EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY also inspires: their music is intense, downbeat, and punctuated by moments of beauty; some of the pieces, like MT. ZION’s ‘13 ANGELS STANDING GUARD ’ROUND THE SIDE OF YOUR BED’, sound so alien and strange, like it’s been beamed down from another world completely. SILVER MT. ZION’s ‘HE HAS LEFT US ALONE, BUT SHAFTS OF LIGHT SOMETIMES GRACE THE CORNER OF OUR ROOMS…’ and EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY’s ‘THOSE WHO TELL THE TRUTH SHALL DIE, THOSE WHO TELL THE TRUTH SHALL LIVE FOREVER’ are particular favourites; two albums that I can listen to over and over again.
Ever since my teenage years, I’ve been drawn to indie-rock n’ roll. The bands and songwriters I’ve mentioned (along with a whole lot more) help stimulate my own creativity, and contribute to form feelings, emotions and ideas that I use to work with before writing.
I’ll finish up by naming three pieces of music that I come back to, time and time again, that are close to my heart; back when I used to put together compilation tapes, these three would almost always feature…
Hope Of The States – The Black Amnesias
HOPE OF THE STATES only managed two albums before splitting up. A shame as they were talented; tragically, guitarist James Lawrence committed suicide just before the release of their first, and best, album ‘THE LOST RIOTS’ in 2004. ‘THE BLACK AMNESIAS’ is the opening track on that LP: an epic, powerful, cinematic instrumental; it’s immense, and in my humble opinion more albums should begin this way!
Slint – Good Morning Captain
‘GOOD MORNING CAPTAIN’ is a song set to a ghost story. It’s sparse, with no vocal melody, and the guitar never plays during the narrative verses. It explodes into the violence at around the 06:40 mark when the narrator screams ‘I miss you’… A torrent of pain, frustration, and raw, ugly despair. With lyrics such as ‘Let me in, the voice cried softly, from outside the wooden door’ and ‘From behind the edge of the windowsill, There appeared the frightened eyes’ ‘GOOD MORNING, CAPTAIN’ (inspired by Coleridge’s poem, Rime Of The Ancient Mariner) is deliciously eerie indeed.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Ship Song
I never tire of hearing this song, and it’s probably my favourite of all time. It’s beautiful, tender, touching, and makes me think of my daughters; the line ‘When I must remove your wings and you, you must try to fly’ reminds me there’ll be times when my girls are going to stand on their own two feet, make their own decisions (and mistakes), and I find it quite an emotive moment in this song; however, extending the lyrics to ‘Your face has fallen sad now, For you know the time is nigh, When I must remove your wings and you, you must try to fly’, it could also be interpreted as someone letting a lover go in a relationship…which possibly may have been what Cave intended (There’s usually a dark undercurrent to anything Cave writes). Even so, it’s a beautiful song by a band that have captured my imagination and inspired my writing for a very long time now.
Paul Edwards was born in 1976 in Bristol. To date he’s had over 50 publications in a wide range of magazines, anthologies and webzines, and has had 2 honourable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. One of his stories, ‘A Place the Night Can’t Touch’, was made into a short film by students at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design. In May 2012 his first short story collection – ‘Black Mirrors’ – was published by Rainfall Books, and in February 2013 his second collection – ‘Now That I’ve Lost You’ – was published by Steve Upham at Screaming Dreams Press. When he’s not writing, he enjoys drinking local cider, spending time with his family and watching horror movies late into the night…
WHAT IS THIS THAT STANDS BEFORE ME?
One afternoon back in 1971, or possibly 1972, my school (Stradroke Secondary Modern, an eleven-plus failure training camp deep in the beautiful wilds of Suffolk, seemingly set-up to churn out farm workers, building workers, shop assistants and secretaries,) was visited by a theatre-in-education troupe who performed an abridged, modernised and very compelling version of Macbeth.
I was completely absorbed in the re-telling of that beautifully dark story. But my sense of wonder and burgeoning love of the dark and fantastical, was heightened by the theme music the troupe used to top and tail the play and to cover each scene change. It was rich, dark and somehow dangerous. The lyrics, growled and howled by its tormented vocalist (rock bands never had singers, only vocalists – can anyone explain the difference?) hooked themselves deep into my psyche. A part of me knew then that this and other songs like it would form the soundtrack of my own fascination with the dark. So much so, that during the post-performance question-and-answer session my own query was not about some subtlety of the plot or the life led by the members of the troupe but: “What’s that music you used?” Sniggers and rolling of eyes from my compatriots.
“Black Sabbath,” someone answered. “It’s the name of the band as well.”
Black Sabbath, could anything have been better? The name, faintly blasphemous, dangerous, not the sort of album my Dad would readily allow into our house. Black Sabbath and Macbeth. I think a door opened that afternoon, and through the gap I saw for the first time, the shadows I had been aware of but unable to fully comprehend. I loved the darkness and what was to be found in there and I wanted to go inside and take a look.
A few weeks later I bought Volume 4, closely followed by the Paranoid album and the wonderfully titled Masters of Reality (how science fiction is that?) and finally their first release, Black Sabbath. All were smuggled into my bedroom and secreted in the shallow depths of my very slight record collection, somewhere between Slade’s Slayed and Alice Cooper’s Killer.
So much for the beginning of my love of music, what about my life-long (so far) relationship with the written word?
I was already an avid reader. First it was comics such as Valiant, Buster and Eagle (already a venerable and distinguished periodical by the time I got to it – I’m not that old!). After that came Commando war comics, closely followed by western novels, lent to me by an elderly chap who was eager to encourage my reading habit.
Then someone lent me a pile of very different books and I found what I was looking for.
The first of these that I read was by the intriguingly named A E vanVogt and was called Slan. I’ve never re-read it. I daren’t, because I hold that novel in great affection. I want it to stay that way, frozen in my memory as a little voyage of wonder I took on a rainy Saturday afternoon, a long time ago when Saturday nights still meant Wrestling, Star Trek and being allowed to stay up late to watch Match of the Day (presented by Jimmy Hill ). I wasn’t old enough for pubs and going on dates.
I started writing around about that time. I crammed my stories into A5 sized notebooks, those ones with weights and measures printed on the back. Somehow, I always managed to organise the plot so that the story ended on the last page. The first of these was Dinosaur Island, based loosely (okay, I confess, based heavily) on the film version of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.
At 16, however, writing suddenly became uncool, something to be embarrassed about. So I stopped and didn’t re-start for another nine years, around the time I married my first wife. In one sense, that was probably a big mistake (the lack of writing I mean) and set me back far enough for my name not to be a household one (although, of course, the chances are it probably wouldn’t have been one anyway, I’m many things, but not deluded!). In another sense, however, it was time spent at the University of Imaginative Writing. I got a job as an apprentice electrician, picked up a religious faith (which I subsequently lost, although the tender spots are still there and its influence lives on), and soaked myself both in books and in music.
I read, voraciously; Bradbury, Ballard, Brunner, Dick, Jakes, Heinlein, Simak, Niven, Anderson, Farmer, Silverberg, Moorcock and more Moorcock, Asimov, vanVogt, Kuttner, Harrison, Shaw, Laumer, Sheckley etc ec etc. And on the twilight side of the road was James, Blackwood, Herbert vanThal and his legendary Pan Books of Horror Stories, E F Benson’s The Horror Horn and the collected works of Clark Ashton Smith, released by Panther in the mid ‘70s.
And I listened to music. Hawkwind, Sabbath, Zeppelin, Purple, Yes, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Pink Floyd, Genesis and so on and on. Nothing surprising there. At that time it wasn’t just background music. I listened properly. I listened to the lyrics and the soundscapes. I listened to the stories they told.
Sometimes they were overt – Genesis; The Return of the Giant Hogweed, Get ‘em out by Friday and The Battle of Epping Forest. Black Sabbath; War Pigs and Into the Void. Peter Hammil’s Faintheart and the Sermon. Sometimes they were surreal, obscure but still ripe with imagery. Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Karn Evil 9, for example featuring a list of curiosity exhibits which included a blade of grass and the heads of bishops arranged in jars. Yes, with The Gates of Delirium and Close to the Edge. Pink Floyd’s dream voyage; Echoes, Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir and epic Achilles’ Last Stand , the intro to which still raises the hairs on the back of my neck. And, of course, Hawkwind’s Space Ritual live album, a wall of sound that takes the listener on a journey simultaneously into inner and outer space. I fell into the songs and they fired my imagination.
Beyond this were some very strange places indeed. German jazz rockers, Can, who released a double album called Tago Mago, full of shifting, hypnotic soundscapes from which their vocalist Damo Suzuki whispered and screamed, playing the part of lost soul wandering through this particular vision of Hell. Tangerine Dream, Van der Graff Generator, Soft Machine and the lyrical (and song title) oddness of The Blue Öyster Cult (I mean, Harvester of Eyes, Wings Wetted Down?).
More recently, a work colleague has introduced me to 1960s psychedelic music and what a rich vein of imagery and imagination that has opened. Forget the twee nonsense used for television advertising. True psychedelic music holds real power behind the softly sung velvet glove. It was written at a time of real revolution, of the anguish of the Vietnam War, the cranking up of racial tension in the US, of violent street protest in Paris, and of a genuine search for some sort of spiritual enlightenment, and a different way of living. I was stunned by the starkness of the message, particularly in a song called In the Arena by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, in which an announcer is advertising the mass public execution of anyone remotely “un-American” in the same vein as a sports announcer would advertise a forthcoming football game.
Let me make one thing clear here, I’m not talking about substance-enhanced musical journeys. I did not indulge. I didn’t need to. I am fortunate to suffer, and I don’t think suffer is the right word here, from something called synaesthesia. It is a cross-connection between senses so in my mind’s eye (and it literally is an eye) thoughts have a colour and form. A is orange, B is black, C is blue, D is dark grey, London is black and white, Newcastle is green. “The” is yellow, “and” is red. I think in pictures and every word you say or sound I hear conjures up an image, usually too brief to describe, but there, momentarily vivid and brightly-hued. Perhaps everyone thinks in this way. I don’t know. What I do know is that as a result of all this inter-sensory madness, music is an extremely powerful stimulant to my imagination.
I’m a grown-up now, allegedly. There are plenty of people who would dispute that fact and I think it is important for writers not to grow up too much. Anyway, because of this attainment of white-haired wisdom and sombre maturity, I have added grown-up music to my collection; namely jazz and classical, with a little country and folk thrown in. Note, added. I still retain my love for 1970s rock music and always will. How can anyone ever turn their back on the soul-wrenching guitar work and ragged voice of Rory Gallagher or the sledgehammer riffs of those long-ago Welsh heavy metal wizards, Budgie?
I’ll let jazz speak for itself, especially the latter day unleashing of Miles Davis, the heartbreakingly beautiful A Love Supreme by John Coltrane and the fragile brilliance of Thelonius Monk, and move on to classical music.
I love the extended flights of imagination to be found in the classical symphony and concerto. Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme from Paganini for example is full of desolate landscapes, overlooked by a vast alien moon and riven by bursts of volcanic fury. Mahler’s Symphony No.1 begins in a forest, beautiful, summer-blessed, but haunted by shadows. Shostakovich’s Symphony No.15 is redolent with war and brutality, and false glory. I see tanks and armies moving towards an apocalyptic battle. Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique is a journey through a decadent party, The Masque of the Red Death perhaps, towards a judgement announced by the dark tolling of a bell.
A few years ago, BBC 1 showed a documentary about the relationship between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. It was, I believe, an attempt to prepare the public for the forthcoming coming-out of their relationship and, as it turned out, marriage. The documentary was an hour or so of mindlessness , in which a number of awfully plummy people were interviewed and the story told. I was too tired to switch it off and there was nothing else of interest on that night. Such are the wicked entanglements of fate…
The story of Charles and Camilla would not be complete, of course, without reference to Charles’s first wife, Diana. And suddenly, in the midst of it all was a moment of pure strangeness, poignancy and foreboding, heightened to an almost unbearable pitch by a snatch of the most haunting music I had ever heard.
It was a shot of that 1981 Royal Wedding. The viewpoint was from the roof of Westminster Abbey, looking down on Princess Diana as she moved up the aisle towards her waiting bridegroom. The train of her dress was splayed out into almost perfect symmetry. The shot itself was disconcerting. But it was that music, a melody that, I concluded, must have been written by Titania, Queen of the Faerie Folk herself, that gave the image its immense power.
Finding the title and composer was not easy, not least because the tune was impossible to hum or whistle. Then, one night I heard it played on my car radio and thanks to the Classic FM DJ who spun the disc, found out all I needed to know. The reality was somewhat disappointing. The melody was called The Aquarium of the Fishes and was one of the dozen-or-so little tunelets that form Saint-Säen’s Carnival of the Animals. I have come to love Saint-Säen’s music, especially the wild swirl of the Bacchanal from his ballet Samson and Delilah and the driving energy of his Symphony No.3 which would give Deep Purple a run for their money. However I find Carnival of the Animals a very irritating piece, redeemed only by the Aquarium and by the moving beauty of The Swan.
That isn’t the point, however. The Aquarium of the Fishes instantly fired up the story engine. It had immediately painted images of faerie folk and strange creatures and landscapes in my mind. But it wasn’t going to be easy. The resulting novella evolved through several unsuccessful (and dire) incarnations and finally emerged, in true butterfly style, as The Places Between (Pendragon Press). This story is, for me, then, a physical manifestation of a piece of music, a direct translation of its structures onto the page.
Since then, music has a direct influence on two other stories. The most recent is a short story which appeared in the Autumn 2012 BFS Journal. Titled Romance in D Flat, it is the tale of a former professional harmonica player who has hung up his mojo and now works in a music shop. He keeps his hand in, or lips, every week at the local Thursday night open mic jam sessions. The past is past, best forgotten. The character is soaked in blues, both musical and personal, but it is two classical pieces that provide the musical energy for the story. One of them is the romance of the title, an oddity written by Vaughn Williams for harmonica maestro Larry Adler back in the 1950s. Apparently Williams wrote the piece after a conversation with Adler in which the harmonica-player challenged the composer to write a concerto for the instrument. The resulting piece is haunting and oddly discordant and took several listen-throughs for me to find its structure. The main force of the music, however, is its atmosphere. It is smog-bound London back in the 1950s, redolent with smoky pubs and deserted streets patrolled by lone Bobbies on the beat. There is menace, shadowed and undefined. And that is exactly where the music takes the protagonist in the story.
The other piece of music in this story took me completely by surprise. In fact, shock would be a better word. The harmonica player’s long-gone ex-partner was a troubled soprano whose show-stopping song was Un bel dì vedremo from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. I choose the song for her, almost at random, knowing only that the opera was an emotionally powerful work and therefore the likely source of the sort of heart-wrenching aria I was looking for. All my research named Un bel dì vedremo as the one. I thought that I’d better listen to it before making up my mind, so one Saturday morning, feeling bright and cheerful and not in the least troubled by anything in the world, I searched YouTube and found what I was looking for. A version sung by Kiri te Kanawa
Within moments it had reduced me to tears. Every sadness, every sorrow, every emotional pain I had ever suffered, though carefully folded and locked away, was torn to the surface. I’m not given to easy tears but this was overpowering in the extreme and gave, for me anyway, a bolt of raw emotional electricity to that story.
I love documentaries (and they are usually on BBC 4) about 1970s rock bands. They are, for the most part, fascinating, funny and deliciously nostalgic. However, there is always that bittersweet moment near the end when the band splits, either because of an argument, clash of egos, exhaustion or even a death. The craggy old band members all sigh and smile wistfully and each one says, in some way or another “It was good while it lasted, we were great and we loved each other like brothers and I really miss those guys and the band and the music”.
Such gnarled old rockers feature in my novel Axe (Blood Moon Press). Here be veterans of another time, when music was not just life and death to us dazed and confused, long-haired, denim-clad teenagers, but something much more important. Axe is, I suppose, a moment of glorious self-indulgence. The pub band at its heart plays all those fantastic old rock songs I love so well. But it is in the merging of boundaries between the howling guitar and the scream of demons that the story has its connection with my own musical soul.
The novel is centred on a piece of music simply called The Song. This is a horror story, so The Song is, inevitably a nasty piece of work. It steals not only souls but the flesh, blood and bone that house them as well. It is a doorway to a strange and terrible Place (I seem to like Places) and I think this is a sub-conscious manifestation of how music and imagination meet in my writing. In the novel it is a wound in the universe, through which music and strangeness crash together. In my sub-conscious there is a similar blurring of boundaries. I need books, I need to read and to write. I would go mad if I couldn’t have those two precious gifts. I also need music, running through my life because life isn’t complete without it. Somewhere there is a place where the two meet and meld. Perhaps it is in the whirlpool of my so-called synaesthesia, where there is no distinction because words are music and music is words.
Terry Grimwood is the author of four novels, Demons and Demons, The Places Between, Bloody War
and Axe. He is the author of a collection of short stories The Exaggerated Man and Other Stories. He has also published three performed plays The Bayonet, Tattletale Mary, Tales from the Nightside and one as yet unperformed play Pyewackett and Vinegar Tom. He has had numerous short stories published. He also published The Exaggerated Press which can be found here: http://exaggeratedpress.weebly.com/index.html
Adrian ChamberlinAdrian Chamberlin
One question writers get asked so many times is “where do you get your ideas from?” And more often than not, it’s a tough question to answer for all writers, regardless of genre.
With horror writers, the question is a bit more loaded, because of the implication that goes with it: where do you get your sick, nasty, twisted ideas from?
So when I reply that most of my ideas come from song titles and lyrics, many people assume I’m into death metal or music with bleak, satanic overtones. That goes in hand with the stereotypical image of all horror writers being covered in gruesome tattoos, wearing nothing but black, sunglasses indoors, insane hair styles,etc.
Well, we all know about the misconceptions many people hold about the genre and its practitioners, so now’s not the place to repeat it. I wore a lot of black when I was younger but got fed up with the way it faded after a few washes, and tattoos never appealed. My hair is mental on occasions, but only because I’m a lazy, scruffy bastard who only gets his hair cut every three months.
But the question of musical influences is a very good one. The darkest my musical tastes ever ran to was Iron Maiden and Rainbow, and the cover art of the albums inspired my teenage imagination as much as the lyrics, with Maiden’s horror-themed covers and Rainbow’s more fantastical, sword & sorcery themed imagery. I was reading lots of pulp, gory horror in those days, and like the album covers of Whitesnake, Rainbow, Dio, I found the cover artwork of the NEL paperbacks by James Herbert and Guy N Smith just as inspiring as the words themselves.
But it was during college – and the years afterwards – that I seriously began writing, and my musical tastes had changed. It was the 1990s that really saw my writing take off (in quantity if not market acceptances!) and that went hand in hand with the music of the times.
Yes, I was an indie kid. I never liked the Madchester or “baggy” scene, but the music that really spoke to me was indie rock from the likes of Soundgarden, Faith No More and the Manic Street Preachers.
With Soundgarden and Faith No More, influence changed from album cover art to promotional music videos. Soundgarden’s 1994 “Black Hole Sun” video is an astonishing film, with surreal imagery that made heavy use of the “morphing” digital effects that was in vogue in the early ‘90s, but it wasn’t the special effects that inspired me; it was the religious imagery and the shockingly beautiful black hole sun of the title.
The combination of a sun that sucked people from Earth with religious fundamentalists beckoning to the viewer in a sinister fashion, waving placards with “FAITH SAVES!” led to the creation of my second published short story, “Totality”, published in Graveyard Rendezvous in 2000. I combined religious fanaticism with the idea of the Rapture and turned the theme of Christian salvation on its head, when the black hole sun did its work and took everyone except the members of the cult. I wrote it six months before the total eclipse of the sun and hoped to get it published before the sun vanished in Cornwall in 1999. With a young writer’s arrogance, I wanted people to be thinking of my story when totality occurred, when the heat and light of summer vanished and the primal fear of the dark struck. “Will Chamberlin’s story come true? Is he a dark prophet who can foresee God’s judgement?”
Who’d have thought the day of the eclipse would be an overcast washout and the swallowing of the sun invisible? Not me, obviously. The idea of setting such a story on a sundrenched day when Cornwall and the rest of England basked in an August heatwave shows what sort of a Cassandra I am!
And of course the story was published after the event, so losing it of any immediacy. Still, the story works well and I’m quite pleased with what is a very early piece, and you can see that the theme remained with me for the follow-up tales “Rupture” (published in Dark Side of the Sun) and “The Third Day” (published in Alt-Zombie), both of which continue the story after the Rapture and examine the after-effects of this apocalypse on the survivors of a world God has abandoned – and show that the terror still remains. And it’s all thanks to that song and video from Soundgarden!
There are times when a video to a song destroys the imagery created by the listener’s own mind. Such is the case with Drugstore’s “El Presidente” (sung with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke), released in 1998. This song has a very special place in my heart, because the lyrics inspired my novel The Caretakers. I’ve absolutely no idea what the song is about, but it really doesn’t matter. As soon as I heard the lines
“It came from the skies,
in all shades of green,
With no mercy or disguise,
With their hearts set out in flame,
I know I’ve seen the masterplan.”
I knew then what my novel would be about. The meteorite strike that brings the Green Man to Cambridge still burns in my mind’s eye when I hear that line. Knowing there was a real meteorite strike in 1799 made the job a lot easier, and so I made the genuine life story of farmer’s wife Elizabeth Woodcock integral to the plot – but it was that line from Drugstore’s song that gave the plotline life.
When I researched the novel, I based a lot of All Souls on the Cambridge College of Queens, and Queens is different from most Oxbridge colleges in that the Master of the college’s fellowship/council is called the President rather than the Master. I was going to refer to the head of All Souls by that title, but realised Queens would be very suspicious of the book and think I was basing the whole thing around them. I was worried about potential lawsuits and how it would harm my chances of getting a publisher; not to mention I was twisting too much of the story to reflect the song.
Inspiration for my new novel Fairlight owes a lot to my all-time favourite band, the Manic Street Preachers. My website archivesofpain.com is named after an album track from their third (and arguably darkest) album The Holy Bible. That track itself shares its name with an academic piece on the nature of crime and punishment by French philosopher Michel Foucalt, and shows just how literary the lyrics of the Manics were when Richey Edwards was still with them.
It wasn’t just the literary allusions in their lyrics that really drew me to them, though; rather the combination of these with their sound. My then-girlfriend got me into them, and described James Dean Bradfield as a musical alchemist. Hyperbole? Not really. Richey Edwards was a highly intelligent man, and his writings can be described as very dark poetry, but they were almost impossible to set music to. Not only did Bradfield pull that off, he managed to turn Edwards’s lyrics into stadium-filling rock anthems! How many other bands could hit the top ten in the UK charts with a song about a dead photographer?
Of course, Everything Must Go is the album that shot them into the mainstream, and catharthis is the watchword here; half the songs are from Edwards’s last lyrics with the band, and the Manics were struggling to cope with his disappearance (or suicide, whichever version you believe) when recording it. Bassist Nicky Wire took over as songwriter for the band, with mixed results to be sure.
That’s the period I got into them. Because there was an epic sound to that album, with soaring strings and mainstream-friendly anthems that quite simply blew everyone who slagged them off as a bunch of no-hoper punks from South Wales away. Am I digressing? What has that to do with how they inspired me? Because the epic, sweeping sound of the Manic Street Preachers still fires me when I write. I’m moving more into novels and novella-length works rather than short stories these days, and whenever I feel the pace slacken or self-doubt set in, the sense of the epic inspires me; when a three minute song like “Everything Must Go” plays, it’s like the soundtrack to a 120 minute action film, beautifully condensed, and my fingers flow over the PC’s keyboard in a blur.
All fine and dandy for energy and motion, but what do I play when I need a mood piece? When I’m writing short stories, or an atmospheric scene, I need something to keep me in “the moment”. That’s where film soundtracks work their wonders.
Like a good music video, though, the trouble with film soundtracks is that association with existing imagery – and story – has already been made. It can be difficult to appreciate the music and slip into a zone if the soundtrack brings you into the movie, but it’s surprising how many of these stand alone. George Fenton’s soundtrack to The Company of Wolves, Tangerine Dream’s Sorcerer and The Keep, and Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen III: The Final Conflict really work on both levels: I memorise the films with each section playing, but when writing the music really stands alone and transports me to another place. I’m no expert on these things, but I really think that’s the genius of a modern composer; when they can create a soundtrack that perfectly complements the film they’ve been commissioned to write for and yet works as a separate piece.
This is also why bands who create cinematic albums hold my admiration. Portishead’s stuff is great, really harks back to the ‘60s espionage film soundtracks like The Ipcress File and you can tell John Barry is a major influence on them. (In fact, Barry’s stuff is great listening for a horror writer, because he makes bass brooding and strings sinister; he imparts a sense of dread and tension that you really don’t hear much of these days. If you can, get hold of a copy of the soundtrack to The Black Hole.)
Then there’s Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, but we’ll be here all day if I start talking about that!
The beauty of music as an inspiration to writing is it can be as personal as you make it: when composers and bands write a piece they follow their own vision, even if it’s been commissioned for a separate project, and they may not be aware of just how influential their work is on others who aren’t connected to that commission, and how they shape the visions of writers like myself.
The Devil does indeed have the best tunes…
Adrian Chamberlin is a British writer of dark fiction. He has had short stories published in British, American, Canadian, and Australasian anthologies, and his first novel “The Caretakers” was published by Dark Continents Publishing in 2011 to considerable critical acclaim. He has also edited anthologies for Hersham Horror Books and Wicked East Press, and readings of his work are extremely popular and well-attended. His English Civil War series character Shadrach makes a stunning debut in the Lovecraftian novel collection “Dreaming in Darkness”, to be released at the World Horror Convention in New Orleans later this year.