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?

The Princess Bride and other stories

27/01/2014 08:32

When I was young, I used to read. A lot.

I read James Bond, Little Women, Horrible Histories, and Gormenghast (hated it, and haven’t got round to picking it up again since. It is on my grown-up reading list, though). I read Look&Learn, Giles, The Wind in the Willows and all those classic tales, all the classics (Austen, Little House on the Prarie, Worzel Gummidge, Hemmingway and Dickens) that my Mum had on the shelf, all my Grandma’s detective sets (Cadfel and Agatha Christie are still favourites), and a large chunk of my Dad’s thriller collection. I read my way through the Library’s fantasy and sci-fi collections (Pratchett, McCaffrey, David Eddings along with Redwall, Robert Jordan, Asimov) and dipped into the crime and thriller sections (Morse is the one I really took to, but I did read others). So I have read a LOT.

But I never picked up The Princess Bride – I suppose because it’s one of the ‘classics’, it wasn’t in the usual fantasy section of the Library (bad classifying there, Salisbury Library). And I don’t really watch films, so it passed entirely under my radar. I know the famous lines, of course, but didn’t know much about it beyond ‘adventure story’.

Well, one of my dearest friends found this out, and loaned it to me.

And I don’t like it.


It’s jumpy: the intrusions by Goldman are f***ing irritating, and keep pulling you out of the story. In many ways, if Morgenstern’s original text did exist then I’d much rather read that! The characters are shallow, although I admit at least they are all different and vaguely interesting. Buttercup really annoyed me, Inigo also annoyed me (he’d still be the best swordsman after however many years of drinking? I don’t think so!), Westley was ok but cliche, and Fezzik was inconsistent. I never really understood why Humperdinick was trying to kill Buttercup (I mean, there’s enough causes for war without needing as much faffing around) and I didn’t really care about the plot. The only bit I really wanted to go on reading was (ok, I won’t spoil it for anyone else who hasn’t read it) just before they give Westley the chocolate-covered pill. Also, the lead into Buttercup’s Baby – what the hell?!

It does have good bits: some of scenes are impressive (the fight on the Cliffs of Insanity springs to mind) and the fight scene between Inigo and the Count made me laugh (I don’t know if it was meant to, but it did) but the rest – meh. I read it through a sense of “I really need to read this” and I don’t want to pick it up again to re-read. It’s currently still in my bag from my trip away this weekend, and I’m sort of dreading getting it back out because I feel I have to give it a second chance. I’m sure someone’s going to come up with the “but it’s for children! You’re reading too much into it!”. Bollocks. A lot of my favourite books are for children – and they are still readable by adults! Just because it’s stuffed full of ‘adventure’ doesn’t make it good. So yeah. Lame, annoying and not something I want on my bookshelf.


So, what about the film? Is that any better? Should I watch it?