Music To Write By
“Music has charms to sooth the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
These words were written by playwright, William Congreve. Born in Yorkshire in 1670, his family relocated to Youghal, in County Cork, Ireland, when William was only four years old. He was educated in Dublin and London and went on to write five plays. The lines above come from his 1697 play, The Mourning Bride. They are as true today as they were all that time ago.
To twist the meaning of Congreave’s lines a little, there can be no breast more savage, in the screaming tantrum sense, than that of an author whose words have flown into the darkness of outer space, and refuse to come back. You can coax, bully, beg , eat chocolate , give your computer a sneaky little punch , but blank screens stay blank , and lost words remain absent without leave . Shutting down your laptop, and hiding it in the back of the press you are always meaning to clear out, helps for a little while, but you can still feel the tyranny of the blank screen and sense the missing words just out of reach. A meet-up with friends will distract you for a time. A long trek up- hill, so steep you cannot think beyond your next gasping breath, is sure to do you good. But sooner or later, you are going to have to take this problem on. And that is when the wisdom of Congreave’s words become apparent.
Having written eight novels, I believe that each has a rhythm of its own. It can be judged by the pace at which the plot unfolds. This also involves the style of the writing, how long or short the sentences, how much of the prose is dedicated to descriptive passages and how much to moving the action forward. Dialogue too, changes the rhythm, so that each individual novel contains many distinct tempos. Words take flight and screens remain blank when you lose the rhythm of your writing. And this is where I made one of my most comforting discoveries as an author – there is a world of music waiting to lift you out of your unproductive phase.
While writing my first novel, Parting Company, I was working full time as a Laboratory Technician, caring for my family, and also trying to squeeze in some writing time. As anyone who has tried to juggle work, home and writing will know, one of the most difficult aspects, aside from trying to carve out some time, is letting go of all your other responsibilities when you open up your novel file. The list of ‘to dos’ can keep nagging you for attention while you are struggling to take your mind into your work of fiction. It took me some time , and many false starts , before I found the rhythm of Parting Company , but when I did , I knew my Andrea Bocelli CD, Romanza, echoed all the emotion I was trying to inject into the story. Also the first track, Con Te Partiró (Time To Say Goodbye), a duet with Sarah Brightman, evoked all the heartbreak of the goodbye my main character had to say before the novel end. As soon as I played the music, it banished the ‘to do’ list and brought me directly to where I needed to be – in the fictional world of Parting Company.
My second novel. As Easy As That, was written in a panic. I had signed a three book contract with Poolbeg Publishing, without having any idea whether I could ever write another word, let alone a novel. This book involved some dodgy characters, white collar criminals, who bent, if not broke the law. Infertility, alcoholism and adultery also featured, so that the rhythm of this book was fast changing and varied. I found the musical match in a compilation –The Classical Album 2005 - , with Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson, Haley Westenra and others. That CD helped me keep the rhythm going to the end. I finished that book with a huge sigh of relief!
And so it went with my next novels. Each one found its pace and then its matching piece of music. Time And Tide, published in 2012, is about climate change and how it affected a small community on the West coast of Ireland when hurricane force winds and swollen seas destroyed their village. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was the only choice of music for that. I loved to play it loudly as I wrote – provided I was alone in the house. Cymbals clashed in the music while waves crashed on shore in the story, destroying homes and lives. There was a symbiosis between words and music. All I had to do, to be immediately immersed in that fictional, storm battered, village was to play my Vivaldi CD. The same is still true today.
So far so good. Seven novels, seven pieces of music and not a writer’s blank in sight. And so I started my eighth novel. I knew this was going to be a challenge because it was my first thriller. As usual, I did not set out to write in a certain category, but because one of my characters was a serial killer and another, a victim of that killer, it had to belong in the crime genre. I researched extensively and then tip-toed into the manuscript. And yes, it did find a rhythm and pace, but it never found its soulmate music. I tried many different types, including Tubular Bells (Mike Oldfield). My thinking there was that it had been the theme music for The Exorcist, the most terrifying film I have ever seen, so it would suit Thicker Than Water, which was the most terrifying book I had ever written. But I was wrong. There was no musical match for Thicker Than Water, not even Freddie Mercury. The only sound was the click of the keyboard as the story rolled out to its conclusion. It seemed to me then that my music had been another victim of the serial killer
I am very grateful to wonderful Nikki for hosting me today and thanks also to Lucy Felthouse for organising my visit here.
Below is an excerpt in the voice of the killer from Thicker Than Water :
Autumn is my favourite time of year. It’s a deceitful season , on the surface all red and gold and lush with berries, while underneath its fetid breath strips trees of leaves, fields of flowers and the skies of light. And yet I find something comforting about that season’s gloom. There are autumn days when I imagine I can reach up and draw the low lying grey clouds around me to protect and strengthen me in my purpose. And here is the secret autumn and I share. We are both dedicated to righting the wrongs brought on by fecund spring and brazen summer. We balance things out – the autumn and me. We lay things bare and uncover the true nature of what lies in the heart of a gaudy flower. Or a bejewelled whore.
They are very active now – the dreams that tell me how much work I have yet to do, the subconscious scanning of crowds, the laying of a plan of action, the stirring in my gut of the energy to power my mission, the voice that tells me to rid this world of tramps, whores, prostitutes or whatever name you want to give those whose calling it is to cater to the basest instincts. And, no, I’m not insane. The voice I listen to is not delusion. It is my own.
Blurb for Thicker Than Water:
When local teenager, Keira Shannon and her father, business man Gerard Shannon, go missing, the town of Ballyderg unites to search for them.
As the search continues rumours of domestic violence, extramarital affairs and criminal behaviour are rife. The crisis causes families and lifelong friends to doubt each other.
The only certainty left is that the town has been visited by evil. Or has it? Could it be the evil one has always lived there sharing history, laughter and tears? And if so, who could it be?
Amazon buy links: http://authl.it/3st
Tirgearr Publishing: http://bit.ly/1J6E7ZV
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/1RpGnhf
Mary worked many years as a Laboratory Technician. Her hobby, her passion, has always been writing. Busy with family and career, she grabbed some moments here and there to write poetry and short stories. She also wrote a general interest column in a local newspaper.
As the demands on her time became more manageable she joined a local creative writing class. It was then, with the encouragement of tutor Vincent McDonald, that the idea of writing a novel took shape. She began to expand on a short story she had written some years previously. It was a shock for her to discover that enthusiasm and imagination are not enough. For the first time she learned that writing can be very hard work.
Mary now has six traditionally published novels, nine eBooks and hopefully more to come, inspiration permitting.
Social Media Links
Please visit my web page at: http://www.maryosullivanauthor.com
Chat to me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/authormaryosullivan
Follow on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/authorosullivan
Make sure to follow the whole tour—the more posts you visit throughout, the more chances you’ll get to enter the giveaway. The tour dates are here: http://www.writermarketing.co.uk/prpromotion/blog-tours/currently-on-tour/mary-osullivan/http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/8b9ec5be150/?