For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a daydreamer. From sitting in a classroom and staring out of the window at bees (my school had a beehive, didn’t yours?) to counting the ceiling tiles in meetings at work, I’ve always found it difficult to concentrate. This was a particular problem when I was trying to complete coursework at school and university (Fiat Lux! fellow University of Scouseland alumni). Thanks to the suggestion of my very astute year 10 English teacher and all-round swell-guy Mr Phillips, I found a simple cure to my wandering brain: music.
Having background music focused my mind somehow and allowed me to do pretty well thankyouverymuch in my studies. Music with lyrics were usually a no-no, as I would invariably start writing down the words to the song halfway through the work I was supposed to be completing. Once such instance was noticed by my aforementioned English teacher when an ill-advised line from Tricky’s superb Maxinquaye album appeared in an essay about The Crucible (it was a bit blue, to use a colloquialism).
So I made sure I only listened to music without lyrics. Fortunately I had an inherited collection of Mike Oldfield records on vinyl that helped me out no end (Ommadawn helped me pass my chemistry A-level), and I also had a burgeoning interest in film scores and classical music.
When I started to write The Remarkables, I again employed this technique of using music to cushion me from the distractions of modern life. If I was writing an action-heavy scene, I’d pick an appropriate piece of music (e.g. Holst’s Mars, something fast paced by Patrick Doyle), and if it was something more emotional I’d choose something that moved me in the appropriate way. For the most part this worked exceptionally well. I even managed to write a few chapters with a singer blaring in my ear from time to time (there’s some not too subtle references to Led Zep, Nick Cave and Nina Simone tucked away in the book, egg hunters).
However, certain film scores would prove just as distracting as the birds in my garden. Something that was too familiar would result in me being distracted from writing as all I could think about was the scene that the famous piece accompanied (anything by John Williams tended to have this effect). So I still had to be picky about what music I chose. Sometimes the music will change and this also affects the way the scene is unfolding. A sudden lift in the tempo will often speed up my typing and the frenetic nature of what is unfolding on the page and vice versa, and the end result is not always particularly pleasing either.
For this reason I occasionally write unaccompanied. Thanks to a pair of natty ear-cans that I own that have an enchantment upon them known as “active noise reduction”, I can flick a switch and nearly all the background noise is vanquished to another dimension. Whereas before I would be distracted by the sound of those pesky avians, or the hubbub of human existence, my headphones now send me to the audio equivalent of vacuous space. Thanks Nokia!
So writing. I love it, but rarely can I do it without a bit of help from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and its luminaries. I don’t think having a scene influenced by someone elses choons counts as plagiarism…does it?