Music – the Food of Inspiration?

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote anything for this blog as I’ve been trying to focus on my new project, a group of interlinked stories under the working title: The Mother and the Ghost.

billy_joel-until_the_night_sThen Billy Joel’s Until the Night came on the radio this morning and I found myself reliving the delicious tension between anticipation and patience of a drive through Friday night traffic, dazzled by street lights and headlights, drawing gradually closer to the special someone I’d been yearning for all week. Then I began to think about how much I use music as an inspiration for my stories and I wanted to write about it.

I don’t mean highbrow music – I’m confused and overawed by the great composers. I admire the classics from a respectful distance, but I simply don’t understand the language.  Besides which, I’m a words person. To be seriously stirred, I need lyrics with my melodies and I’m happy to admit that I’m most in tune with those genres that are accessible and ‘popular’.

i-dont-want-to-play-in-your-yardI’m aware that I often use pop music as a background to my stories: a selection of Beatles and John Lennon hits in Belvedere Road or a quick mention of Katie Melua in Room 516 (both from The Woman Who Never Did). I’ve also used music to create atmosphere, in a scripted version of The Dolls’ House (The Pow-Wow Book of Ghost Stories) the old music hall song I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard was just what I needed to build up the creepiness quotient.

But even those stories that don’t feature a specific track or singer in the final version usually have a song hidden inside them – something that moved me and helped me find a particular mood, or even sparked the idea in the first place. For example, I have pages of notes and a very rough first draft that evolved from listening to Taylor Swift’s The Lucky One after reading a classic French fairy tale.

roberta-flackThe story I’m working on at the moment (one that will eventually be a part of The Mother and the Ghost) has its emotional roots in Roberta Flack singing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Carly Simon’s version of I’ve Got to Have You, further encouraged by this recording of Kiki Dee singing Amoureuse.

So thank you for the inspiration, Roberta, Carly and Kiki. Thank you Taylor, Katie, John, Paul, George and Ringo. Thank you to all the ladies I found on YouTube singing I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard. And thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU to Billy Joel for reminding me how much I owe to you all.

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7 thoughts on “Music – the Food of Inspiration?

  1. Loving your inspirations. Got me thinking. Many an evening ended with a dance to The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin. I find it’s not just music that inspires me, but scent too. Both very powerful at evoking memories. Am looking forward to reading The Mother and the Ghost.

  2. Thanks, C Barrett.
    Ooooooo Nights in White Satin, that’s an evocative one! And a great memory of that last dance at the end of the disco – would it be with the right boy?
    I agree with you about the power of scent, great for building atmosphere and interesting as the same smell can mean such different things to different people. Lavender, for example – is it the calming smell of a spa or granny’s underwear drawer?
    You may have a while to wait for ‘The Mother and the Ghost’, I’m really enjoying the planning and the writing, but it’s proving quite a task and lots of other interesting things keep coming up. Such as another open mic Upstairs at The Globe in Warwick later in the year. Sometimes I find it very hard to stay focussed.

    (By the way, when I was little, I thought ‘Nights in White Satin’ was about a procession of knights, all dressed in white satin, snaking across the hills until they disappeared into infinity….)

  3. Heard Bobby Goldsboro’s Summer the First Time recently. It took me straight back to dancing in a field, on a hot summer’s night, lit by stars. Ah, memories!
    It’s funny how we all hear different things in the same song. I’m not sure how I heard “Bar bar choclit, nanny nanny wool ha”, aged 3, but I had my priorities right – chocolate first. Just need to separate my sheep from my goats.
    Lavender for me is always linked to the sound of bees. Talking of granny’s drawers… could never bring myself to eat palma violet sweets.
    Please let us know as soon as you can about the open mic at the Globe. Are you hosting again?

  4. Thanks for asking about the open mic. It’s on Thursday 24th November, Upstairs at the Globe in Warwick. Tickets £3. I’ll put some publicity out (flier, social media etc.) over the next couple of weeks.
    It was a great evening last time around, such a variety of talented writers in very different genres. I’m really delighted to be hosting again.
    Hope you can come along!

  5. What a wonderful post, Jenny. I too am touched by lyrics and they often lead my imagination to many fantastical places. With regards to writing, last week I did an exercise (from The Art of Character) where I had to select a favourite piece of music and allow it to form a mental impression of a character. I then had to place that character into a scene I’m currently working on and see what happens – how do other characters who I’m already familiar with react etc? It was interesting as it changed the mood of the scene. The new character forced a change in the scene which in turn revealed characteristics of my protagonist I hadn’t known before. Also, over the summer I did an online course and we had to listen to a piece of music with our eyes closed, then write down what scene it conjured up. It was a moving moment for me: it dredged up long suppressed (yet happy) memories and enabled me to come up with an emotionally charged scene. I look forward even more now to reading your latest draft as the music you refer to is simply divine.

  6. Thank you Sophie.
    The book you’re studying sounds fascinating – would you let me know the author?
    I’m struggling with a couple of characters who seem to have become rather two dimensional, and I think some of those exercises would be really useful.
    I had to turn the radio off today, though. Too many distracting trains of thought – at this rate I won’t get that latest draft finished at all!

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