Tag Archives: writers and music

Typing in the Rhythm Section

Narrelle Harris tells us about her love of writing to music.




I like listening to music when I write. Not all the time, of course. Sometimes you need the sounds of silence so that the difficult words have somewhere to line up and make their own rhythm.  But generally, and especially during first drafts, I like building up a soundtrack to the world I’m building.

I have eclectic tastes in music: my collection contains classical, light opera and new age albums right next to alternative rock, pop punk, folk punk and the occasional heavy metal band. I like to discover new bands and new styles, though not everything is to my taste. I’m open to persuasion, though. I’m always chasing after the corollary to Sturgeons Law.

(Sturgeon’s Law being that 95% of everything is crap: the corollary therefore being that the other 5% is worth looking out for. One day I’ll find the 5% of yodelling that works for me.)

Music has been a long love of mine. I learned piano as a child, played the recorder at school and on and off over the years I’ve attempted songwriting. I co-created a Blake’s 7 filktape back in the 80s (writing lyrics mainly, though also one piece of music, and I even sang on one track.)  I’m better at lyrics than melodies, though, and sadly my vocal range is limited and kind of nasal – but the call of music is always near.


In fact, for me, music and writing are never far apart. My crime novellas, Fly by Night and Sacrifice, are about two musicians. I’ve written lyrics for some of my stories, and music is often referenced in my books. It seems perfectly natural to me to develop a soundtrack for each book I write.

By ‘soundtrack’ I don’t mean ‘playlist’. I’ve compiled a playlist or two to accompany books I’m working on, but often once I’ve done so, I don’t listen to it. I tend to pick songs that reflect aspects of the plot or


character development, but then I find that in the writing, things move and change; they subtly change or veer off, and songs I might have liked while I was working on the first draft of chapter five are no longer right by the time I’m at chapter 25. By the second or third rewrite they may not be relevant at all. Worse, the song might be subconsciously pushing me in a particular direction which lacks subtlety or that truthfulness which is so important and getting to the heart of the character or their story.

I suppose a playlist focuses too much on the lyrics, which can be detrimental. Soundtracks are more about the general rhythm and atmosphere of the aural landscape that contributes to the mood and setting.

So playlists don’t usually work for me – but I do definitely have soundtracks that go with my writing. When I wrote Fly By Night and Sacrifice, I spent a lot of time listening to REM and About Six Feet (my brother in law’s band – he allowed me to use the lyrics to some of the songs in the book). When I wrote Witch Honour and Witch Faith, Loreena McKennitt, Clannad and Enya got a lot of air time.


The Opposite of Life had a more eclectic soundtrack of alternative rock, but by the time I got to Walking Shadows, I was steeped in pop punk and the likes of Fall Out Boy, though more recently the soundscape WS-Rough-front-207x300consisted of Shinedown,, The Matches and Florence and the Machine.

The artists listed for each book are of course not the only ones I listen to while working. My choices can be fairly wide-ranging and include quirky lounge music (like The Real Tuesday Weld), show tunes from Cole Porter as well as music selected for its ambience.

It’s not completely random, though. The choice of the right bands, the right kinds of songs, the right mood and tempo, can be important in getting my head into the right space.  I work full time in day jobs to pay the bills, with only ten or so hours a week to write, so choosing the right background sound can act like a mnemonic  trigger (or Pavlovian response) and switch my brain from corporate-writer-mode to creative-writer-mode faster than I can sometimes achieve on my own after a day in the office.

Sometimes it’s too much. If I have a tricky scene, or something

intense, I need silence. Then the music goes off and it’s just me and the tyranny of the blank page. Often, though, the aural queue helps slot me into the imagined world I’m writing, unlocks the imagined people, and off I can go.



I may not have pursued music through the piano (and a short lived attempt at the guitar, abandoned when I broke both bones in my forearm a month later); I may only attempt to write songs in a haphazard fashion; I may be half-hearted and fickle about the use of playlists; but music is an essential part of how I write and the worlds I create.

And I’m open to suggestions. Does anyone have any bands to recommend? After all, I do have a new book to write.

What’s your favourite vampire-related song and why?

Catch up with Narrelle on GoodReads.

Catch up with Narrelle on Twitter  @daggyvamp

Narrelle’s Web Page.




Filed under Australian Writers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries

Meet Gareth Powell …

I have been running a series of  interviews with female fantasy writers to redress a perception I came across – that fantasy was a bit of a boy’s club. It really isn’t like that here in Australia. We have many wonderful fantasy writers who just happen to be female.

Today I’m interviewing Gareth Powell because he has a wonderful new book out, and also I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male writer.







Q: (Disclosure here) We’re both published with Solaris Press. Your latest book, The Recollection, was launched in August. It’s been compared to Iain M Banks and Alastair Reynolds. From the blurb it seems to contain a mystery, parallel worlds/time travel and political intrigue. What themes are you exploring?

A: There’s a lot going on in The Recollection. The main characters are all—in one way or another—torn from the comfort of their everyday lives and thrust into dangerously unfamiliar territory. They have to fight to survive; they have to adapt and make decisions they didn’t know they were capable of making. At its heart, though, I think it’s the relationships between these characters—and the significance those relationships hold when measured against vast swathes of time and distance—that drive the book.

Q: I see you are an interviewer and reviewer of CDs for Acoustic Magazine. Did you study an instrument? Did you belong to a band when you were in your teens? Are you one of those writers who makes up a different play-list for each book and uses it to get into ‘the zone’?

A: Although I appreciate music, I can’t lay claim to any inherent musical talent. As the old saying goes, I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Nonetheless, I do find that music plays an important role in the writing process, and I often listen to orchestral or instrumental music while working. The music screens out external distractions, and it helps with the rhythm of the sentences. While writing The Recollection, I listened to a lot of film soundtracks, especially the iconic Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis, and Clint Mansell’s haunting score for Moon.

Q:  You are also a prolific writer of short stories. (For a review of Gareth’s short stories see here).  You have a collection, The Last Reef.  Writing short stories is an art, especially with SF and F, when the writer has to set up the world as well as tell the story in less than five thousand words. Your short story Ack-Ack Macaque (try saying that fast five times!) won the Interzone Readers’ Poll for best short story in 2007.  Do you find the urge to write short stories interrupts the flow of your novel writing?

A: Short stories don’t so much interrupt the flow of my novel writing as plug the gaps between novels. They make a good playground within which to test new ideas and concepts; and their length makes them a refreshing change of pace after the long haul of a novel.

Q: Your previous title, Silver Sands, appears to be an SF mystery. The world sounds quite noir – ‘a world of political intrigue, espionage and subterfuge; a world of retired cops, digital ghosts and corporate assassins’. Are you a film noir fan?

A: I have long been a fan of films such as The Maltese Falcon and LA Confidential, and have dipped into the world of the hardboiled detective through short stories and novels by Raymond Chandler and the like. However, I think I owe my real love of “noir” to the “tech-noir” look and feel of films such as Blade Runner, The Terminator, and Aliens; and the literary worlds explored by the Cyberpunks in the late 1980s—especially William Gibson’s “Sprawl” series of novels and short stories, including Burning Chrome and Neuromancer.

Q: I see you work as a PR manager for a disabled children’s charity. What a wonderful job, to be able to do something really worthwhile! My aunt has lost three children to Cystic Fibrosis so we’ve lived with the routine of constantly treating and medicating a child. Did personal experience lead you to apply for this job?

A: The charity I work for offers specialist play sessions to babies and pre-school children with disabilities and additional complex needs. I came onboard because I had experience in marketing and PR, and they desperately needed someone to boost their visibility, in order to attract donations. I work for them two days per week, and my job is to get them in the local paper as often as possible.

After a decade spent in corporate software marketing, it feels good to be doing something that has a clear and immediate benefit. I know that the money I raise through my efforts goes to support local children and families who really need it.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

A: A few years ago, Aliette de Bodard and I collaborated on a ten thousand word novelette  for Shine, an anthology of optimistic science fiction from Solaris Books. We had a lot of fun writing it, but I can’t say I noticed any difference in our approaches. We were just two writers doing what we enjoyed doing.

Based on that experience—and on conversations with many other female authors—I don’t believe that there is a difference in the way that men and women approach the craft of writing genre fiction. If there is a difference between the sexes, it’s in the reception their writing receives. The latest figures I’ve seen seem to indicate that men and women are fairly evenly represented when it comes to the number of authors currently writing genre fiction; however, the male writers seem to get more reviews and more exposure than the females, which is obviously grossly unfair—especially in genre that prides itself on its open-mindedness—and the probable root of the false perception mentioned in your question: that fantasy is a boy’s club.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

A: There may be many reasons for me to pick up a book, but none of them involve the sex or gender of the author.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

A: Firstly, I’d go back to the late 1980s and spend the day with my father. He died when I was eighteen, and I never really got the chance to know him as an adult. Now I’m a father myself, I think we’d have a lot to talk about.

After that, I’d probably go further back. I quite fancy seeing Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece in all their splendour. En route, I might stop for cocktails in New York in the 1920s, before the Wall Street Crash.

After that, I’d skip ahead a few centuries, then jump right to the end of the universe, to find out what happens—like flicking to the back page of a book, just to see how the story turns out.


Catch up with Gareth on Facebook.

Catch up with Gareth on GoodReads.

Catch up with Gareth on Google+.

See Gareth’s articles here.

Follow Gareth on Twitter. @garethlpowell

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Filed under SF Books, Writing craft