authors on music and the writing process

We often wonder what could have happened in the mind of an author while writing his book. We don’t always imagine it was Metallica. Or Charles Mingus. Or Mogwai. Or – as it was either a coincidence or a trend when contacting the writers about the music and the writing process – The Dubliners.

“I’m working on a film script based on a bunch of people getting to know each other and getting together again and I actually listened to The Dubliners a lot,” says Roddy Doyle. “Thematically, it kind of relates to the story and filled the room with an atmosphere. “

Sarah Crossan, who is writing the script adaptation of her most recent novel, Here Is the Beehive, has listened to Carrickfergus’ version of the band so much that she hardly hears it anymore. This is how she wants it.

Author Sarah Crossan. Photograph: Dara Mac Donail / The Irish Times

“I’ll have a playlist of about 25 or 30 songs and I’ll just listen to them over and over. But then a particular song will speak to the book and I’ll just listen to it on repeat. You know, when you listen to a song so often it gets on your nerves? It doesn’t annoy me. I can’t hear it. But it’s in the room, ”she said.

There are many writers who prefer to write in silence, who can’t stand the intrusion of music and the way it can slow down their concentration, trip their rhythms, let words and voices babble over their own thoughts.

And there are other writers who want to not only fill their heads with sound, but use the music to imbue their work with the vibe that goes with it, to match the frequency and rhythms of their story, or simply to increase productivity. when they might otherwise weaken.

Stephen King has spoken of heavy metal before as a writing companion. Metallica. Anthrax. Never Ozzy Osbourne. Colson Whitehead will write on a playlist of around 2,000 songs. Electronic music, rap, punk. The Ramones were among those who banged his ears while he wrote The Underground Railroad. Gabriel García Márquez, meanwhile, once said that he had “worn out” his Beatles records by writing One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Creation of a space

This writer’s musical writing experience began while working on my first children’s novel about commuting – often on the floor of a padded train car. The music created a space that did not physically exist, blocking out voices, electronic announcements, the brake and bypass of the train itself. I would log in so that I could log out.

Later, music became a way to fill the silence that suddenly dominates when you leave an office job and step into a world of work that is largely made up of you and your own thoughts.

Surprisingly perhaps, Roddy Doyle didn’t write The Commitments while listening to music. “I thought, it’s not something you do. It’s a distraction. Groups only became co-workers later, filling the silences of a suddenly much quieter day.

Writer Roddy Doyle.  Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Writer Roddy Doyle. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

“I went overnight from being a teacher with, you know, dozens or hundreds of people to being alone. And it could be a very long day.

He has a record player, which he got when he adapted The Snapper for the Gate Theater a few years ago. “The Snapper is a bit precious to me. The book. The film. The whole experience. All about it. So I thought about getting something and bought a record player, cheap, but it’s the one I have here and a growing collection of records.

Doyle enjoys the “ritual” of getting up to change the LP. He also uses Spotify, which allows him to regularly discover new music and find specific sounds that match his work. The result is personal soundtracks to his books.

He associates Charles Mingus with his most recent novel, Love. ” Do not ask me why. I think it’s the pace. When I get there in the afternoon I find something like Philip Glass, Charlie Mingus, Horace Silver. These guys, there’s a rhythm there that helps me free up an hour of work.

Jazz musician Charles Mingus in 1974. Photo: AP Photo

Jazz musician Charles Mingus in 1974. Photo: AP Photo

“It gives energy to the room and gives me an energy. I’ve said it a few times before, but Music for Changing Parts by Philip Glass got me over A Star Called Henry. And by writing the sequel, Oh, Play That Thing !, opened up a whole world of jazz that I had already slammed the door on.

Instrumental music

The instrumental tends to work better for Doyle: post-rock, minimalist music, “a certain kind of jazz”. Talking to him about music quickly becomes an exchange of recommendations, a back and forth of “did you hear?”

He listened to cellist and composer Oliver Coates through short story writing last year. A current favorite is the Promises collaboration of Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and London Symphony Orchestra.

“I think there’s a connection between music and productivity, without a doubt,” says Doyle. “Now if it’s the rhythm going through the fingers and the brain, I have no idea. It really is a bottle of Lucozade.

Is Doyle listening to match the pace or mood of a particular chapter?

“Put on Luther Vandross for the riding scenes?” ” he’s laughing. “No.”

However, music offers a change through projects when the environment does not.

“If you go from finishing one job to another job, it really makes sense. I cannot uproot myself and go to another room. And I think that would be just plain stupid. But I can change my shirt and I can change the music.

Literary association

The recent Na nÓg winner Sarah Crossan also associates her books with particular songs. For Moonrise – about a young man whose brother is on death row – the song was I May Know the Word by Natalie Merchant. She landed on it after realizing that Merchant was serial killer Aileen Wuornos’ favorite singer; the song Carnival played at his funeral.

Singer Natalie Merchant.  Photograph: Philip Ryalls / Redferns

Singer Natalie Merchant. Photograph: Philip Ryalls / Redferns

“Sometimes I listen to a song and it has the texture that I want to capture in this book,” she says. “In general, I think my books are about loneliness, the loneliness of the human condition. And that’s where I want to be when I write. And I have the playlists on Spotify, and when you texted me about it, I went through them and thought, my God, these are all sad songs. Not a happy song among them.

“So for the writing it’s a lot of music with a melancholy energy. And a lot of Irish music. A lot of folk music.

Before writing, Crossan often runs – “because it’s a matter of rhythm” – and, as a writer of verse novels, she often listens to poetry as she does. This combines to motivate his writing, even if the work itself is done on the music.

“I put them [songs] repeatedly so often that I stop hearing them. But somehow they create a feeling in the room. So it’s not like I’m writing an exciting scene, I’m going to put on music that I’ve never heard before that is exciting, because it’s such a huge distraction for me.

Crossan tries not to take the work music with her all day, “because otherwise my life is just a bunch of sad moments. I have a soundtrack on and it’s stuff like Footloose and George Ezra’s Shotgun, very old-fashioned stuff that you can bounce back to, so I have different soundtracks for different parts of my life, but not for different parts of the writing.

Editing process

She turns off the music for editing, however, when the loose flow of creating a story has to give way to a focus on every line, every word, and the spaces in between.

“When I try to work on the rhythm of the tongue and make sure there is no adherence to the verse, then I work in silence. So when I read the work aloud to myself during editing, there will be no background music. But on the first draft there will certainly be music and played very, very loud. To the point that it is silent. I don’t know how to explain it otherwise.

“Whatever feeling I get from this song, it’s the feeling I want the reader to have when they read the book. I play this song on repeat hoping that somehow, thanks to the energy of the universe, the melody will make its way into the work.

Scott R. Banks