Music for writing

06/06/2014 10:59

I was happily bopping along to Pharrell William’s “Happy” this morning and then started thinking about the music that I write to, so you’re getting a thoughtful post on “How I Write” this morning…

I do listen to music as I write; it’s not something I necessarily need, but I do like having it. Music, for me, is background and mood. I like having something that I know already, and can safely ignore: listening to new music tends to throw me off when I’m writing, because I can’t tune it out, and it pulls me out of the story. I also usually go for vocal stuff, as opposed to instrumental: however, the one exception to this is Ludovico Einaudi, who I love, but does only work in specific situations. I know some of my friends can only cope with background noise or something like rain noise – which drives me completely mad, as I can’t ignore it! I guess that if I used it more often, it would be something that I could ‘tune out’ as I do with music, but at the moment I don’t have the inclination to bother.


I have two paths for listening to music. The first is random: I’ll sometimes have the radio on – usually Absolute Radio (unless it’s before 10am, because I absolutely detest Christian O’Connell), because Absolute plays the sort of music that I can safely ignore. I’ll also occasionlly put my iTunes playlists on random, although this does occasionally get dangerous because I have some absolute rubbish on there, and it can get quite jarring! This tends to be what I go for if I’m not exactly sure what I want to work on, or I have odd ideas that I want to get down rather than write a chunk.


The second path is much more specific. I have certain playlists for different worlds, and the music on them corresponds to the “mood” in which I write. The lists do change over the months as I find new music and delete old stuff, but they do tend to keep a core.

Shadows has artists like 30 Seconds to Mars, Coldplay, Keane, The Killers, Stereophonics, Bastille, GooGoo Dolls, Lifehouse, Counting Crows, The Lumineers, and then some more specific tracks – The 1975 ‘Sex’, Avicii ‘Hey Brother’, The Script ‘Hall of Fame’, Toad The Wet Sprocket ‘Something’s Always Wrong’…

Greensky has a slightly different mix: along with Augustana, Imagine Dragons, Bastille, Gin Blossoms, Noah & The Whale, Toad The Wet Sprocket and some Coldplay, I’ve got The 1975 ‘Chocolate’, Armin van Buuren ‘This is what it feels like’, The Wallflowers ‘One Headlight’, and I’ve just added Coldplay ‘A Sky Full of Stars’. Essentially, Greensky is a lighter and more joyous mix than Shadows – which does show in the subject matter!

I also write to individual tracks, if they catch my imagination. Salt Winds was mostly written to John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home/Country Roads’ (don’t ask), and I think Heights & Horizons is likely to be written to Coldplay ‘A Sky Full of Stars’. It doesn’t often work, as I do get sick of tracks eventually, but for some individual ones it really does work well!

I do have a couple of other playlists – including one named ‘Random’, which should tell you everything you need to know – but I don’t tend to write to these. One of my favourites at the moment is my ‘Singing’ one, which has a lot of music I love, but I do sing along to it – and that obviously isn’t particularly helpful for writing as I’m trying to concentrate on two things at once. I haven’t yet written lyrics into my stories by accident, but I don’t want to start!


The side benefit of having certain playlists is that if I’ve listened to them enough, I can simply put that list on and be transported to that world: so even if I’m not entirely in the mood for writing, that can sometimes be enough to get me working. It obviously only works after a certain amount of time, but I’ve found that even months later, the effect is still there – and it’s a very useful shortcut into ‘writing mode’.

I also noticed that it works the other way around when I started reading other people’s writing. I read my friend Logic’s high fantasy book to Mumford & Son’s ‘Babel’ on repeat, and I’ve just read a magic/urban/apocalyptic series to Celldweller ‘Wish Upon a Blackstar’. They both seemed to fit the tone of the books, and particularly with Logic’s ones, I find that when I listen to the album it conjures memories of his characters. Interesting, eh?


So – anything I should listen to? Any good music suggestions that might fit into what I listen to already? What do you listen to when you’re writing?

NSFW: writing erotica and creative exercises

02/06/2014 21:04

This is your advance warning: don’t read this if you’re at work, in an environment that doesn’t cope well with swearing or erotica, or you don’t want to read about it. I’m not going to discuss personal experience but I might be using some of the words – so please leave now if you’re going to have problems later!

Continue reading “NSFW: writing erotica and creative exercises”

A character and a story

01/06/2014 16:18

It’s pretty rare that I put real people in my stories…although I did a post on characters, my characters tend to be a mish-mash of traits and personalities and whatever falls out of my head onto the page. I don’t put my friends into my stories (at least, in any overt sense) because they’re too real – I would never be able to get the complexity and character of someone that I know in real life onto the page, and usually I don’t even try. I know parts do come out in my writing, but that is mostly unintentional.

However,  I met someone over the weekend who I know is going to stay in my head and come out as a character. Because it was the first time I have met her, I got an immediate first impression: she’s fascinating, complex, insecure and passionate, with a quiet reserve and then sudden deep cracks of intensity, and smile that absolutely lights up her face. She’s so unlike most of the people I meet (who are all very nice and interesting, but don’t necessarily grab my attention in the way this person did) that about an hour after I met her, she came and sat next to me and started talking about buying yellow shoes, and I simply said, “you’re going in one of my books. I don’t know how or who as, but I have to write about you.” And so far, she’s still talking to me, so I think she’s ok with it…

I was thinking about it on the train, and decided that she doesn’t really fit into any of my current books or plots: she would be a central character, someone who pulls everything else around her. In real life, she works in an antique map shop…and bing! goes my head. Mapping. That fits in with the Victorian-era discovery urge; that fits in with Obak and Iilde, who are exploring the seas; that fits in with the Fliyers and the new technology and the expansion of travel.

So I have a new book to start: a book that looks at the idea of wanting to explore the world, to understand and to map. I can follow the trade routes across the deserts; I can bring my flying squadron back from the war with Aleric, so old characters can join with the new ones. I can bring Catter in, with his links to Toru and his interest in the archives. I can get my explorers to follow the paths that are being spread across the worlds by the electricity lines, to want to see what’s over the next horizon and then commit that to paper, to return and slowly fill in the gaps in their world.

Tentatively titled “Heights and Horizons” – I want another word at the beginning but can’t think of one, so I’ll stick with that for the moment!

On the naming of books

25/05/2014 07:33

Well, I met up with Sammy, my publisher and editor, on Tuesday to go through some preperation and plans for the Green Sky series – very exciting, but very nerve-wracking as well! I will do another post with some more thoughts on the changes she’s asked me to make, but she has also asked me to rename Changing Winds 1 and 2. I’ll admit that this is fair – I have been thinking about doing it ever since I split them into two books, but simply hadn’t sat down and thought about a name, so it was just the kick I needed!


The names I have at the moment are…

– Green Sky & Sparks

– Empty Skies & Sunlight

– Salt Winds & Wandering

– Desert Sands & Silence

“Green Sky & Sparks” came out of the fact that the world has green sky – simply because I wanted to be different at some point when I origially started writing (oh, teenagers…) and it stuck. The sparks refers to the electricity, but I also realised that it could refer to the relationship between Catter and Toru, and the fact there’s a love story at the centre of the book. So it’s a nice twist. I also liked the format of duh duh-and-duh, so I kept that for the next few titles…

When looking at the rest of the titles, I liked the idea of having the first part as a description, and the second as having a double meaning. Sparks refers to the love story; empty skies & sunlight has the idea of freedom and searching for something; salt winds & wandering is again freedom, searching, salt = tears (hence the move between salt winds and salt water that you may have spotted in the early posts); the silence in DS&S is both the desert and the main characters and the diplomatic situation.

I feel rather pretentious, putting extra meanings in my titles – it smacks of the English Lit stuff of “well, this is the author’s double meaning and this is the hidden message behind the words…” which I hated. But it is there; I do like having the double meanings and ideas. So meh to English Lit.


I need two more titles. Changing Winds 1 deals with a siege; Changing Winds 2 is much more an open battle and the diplomatic consequences. I sat down and brainstormed words, and then Jon trundled in to help…

The below are directly transcribed from my scribbles:

Lonely seas – Grey Cliffs & – Dance & defences – attack / retreat – lessons – changing tides – grey seas & – shadows- games – dark lands – conquest – endless plains – divided paths – grey waves – raids – swords / steel – storms – stone


And the eventual titles that we’ve come up with…

Grey Stone & Steel

Steel – metalwork, armour, imprisoned, fighting, military

Grey – dull, trapped

Stone – fortification, defences, hard


High Flight & Flames

High flight – freedom, uncontrolled fall, leap into the unknown?, technology, planes

Flames – fighting, burning, danger


There you go! I’ll be changing the titles shortly.

Some thoughts on characters

11/05/2014 21:04

News first: I’ve passed by six Green Sky stories on to my editor/publisher for reading – she’s already given me thoughts on Green Sky (can someone remind me to do a post on them?) but I’ll get thoughts on the rest back in a few weeks – scary!


So, characters. This came about because I was talking to a friend today who has problems writing characters: he has the world, but struggles to put people into it. Although my advice earlier wasn’t quite as coherent, I’ve had time to think, and here’s my list of things I can think of that could help:

– Write someone real. Pick a scenario, and drop them into it: pick a friend, put them in a box, and see what they do. Our variation was “what would happen if X found themselves locked in a house?” Answers included have an argument, hide in a corner, decide on a sensible course of action then do the opposite, and smash a window – any of which would make a good story!

– Write fanfiction. The characters and the world are already there: pick a side character, and write their voice and their story.

– Write yourself. If you’re not sure your life is exciting enough, write something you want to happen – write that date with your crush, write the journey you want to make, write that day you want to have. Write yourself as the hero, write yourself as perfect, write what you really want to say and do even if you’d never really do it. The important thing isn’t writing a good story or an exciting story or even a story that you’d show to anyone else. The important thing is to be writing.

– Write a scenario. For example…a deserted campsite. Where is it? Why is it deserted? If there’s dead bodies all over the place, why? And then drop a character into it: if I suddenly walked out of the woods and into this campsite, what would I do? What would [pick random action hero] do? What would [film character] do? What would you do?


And this got me thinking: how do I write characters? I tend to have two methods. The first is to start with the character, usually based (vaguely) on a real person. The second is to start with a snapshot, an image, and then work who the character is from there. 

I admit, I find it hard to use real people: I don’t know exactly what they’d do or say or think, no matter how well I know someone. My friend also argued that he didn’t like the idea of manipulating someone, even in his mind. However, if you’re not happy making up characters, use someone real at least to start with. They will change and mutate based on your story: I keep an image of someone in my mind, even if I don’t conciously try to write them – they somehow come through, and the voice somehow works (don’t ask me exactly how), but I don’t aim to write the person themselves. And then I drop them into my world, and see what they do! In Catter’s case, he fell in love; in another case, my character killed people. Both are in-character – if extreme – for the person they were based on.

Writing a scenario is closer to the last option on the list above, except I usually have a person already involved. Desert Sands is a case in point: my starting image for the story was of someone, running through the desert. So who are they? Why are they there? What are the running from, or for? Which world is it? Where do they fit in to the rest of my plot and storylines? I admit I have the luxury of already having a world and plot up and running, but the snapshot image is as good a story-starter as any other.


I’m not sure how coherent the above is. Thinking about how I write, and how to help other people write, isn’t really something I have done much until recently! It tends to make my brain hurt…