I’m a music geek. Until I got married I was that character from ‘High Fidelity’, endlessly scouring Crouch End record shops for the most obscure stuff I could find. And for as long as I can remember, music has played a major part in my writing.
Long before I ever finished anything as long as a novel, I conceived of a grand concept: a novel with its own soundtrack, perhaps contained in an attached CD. My dream is still unrealised (because I can’t compose) but even now, when I write, I find myself constructing a soundtrack to the story out of songs and tracks that I happen to be listening to at the time.
It all began when I was writing a (terrible) fantasy novel as a teenager, when for some reason or other I was heavily into The Eagles. I was listening to one of their tracks ‘Journey Of The Sorcerer’ (better known as the theme tune from ‘The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’) when suddenly the plot came to me, crystal clear, in one blinding flash. The fact that it was a bad plot hardly matters now. I’d discovered that music could lead me places I might never find on my own. Even now, when I play that Eagles instrumental, I think not of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect but of that unpublished fantasy novel.
These days I do it deliberately. When I have a new idea, I start hunting around in my CD racks for ‘that song’ which might capture its mood. When I have it, I might look for other tracks to orchestrate other key scenes. These imaginary soundtracks are inevitably cheesy – subtlety doesn’t work in this context. Until recently, I couldn’t stand the band Coldplay. Suddenly, heaven help me, I found an entire album of theirs (X&Y) which seemed to reflect the atmosphere of my book-in-progress. As a result, I had to play it constantly. At the same time, by way of contrast, a track by the progressive heavy metal band Dream Theater got straight to the heart of the book’s climactic scenes (if anyone is curious, that track is ‘The Ministry of Lost Souls’ from the album ‘Systematic Chaos’. And no, it sounds nothing like Coldplay).
It’s bizarre, this hard-wired link between my musical ear and my writing hand. But it has its uses. I know that a cure to writer’s block lies only as far away as the nearest record shop.