Thursday, 28 February 2013

Writing To Music

I've got into the habit of listening to albums on a loop continuously when writing short stories. It has to be something unobtrusive; a background noise to anchor me in the moment of writing, to enclose me like a bubble until the story is written and the spell can be broken. Different stories suit different moods and some albums I use repeatedly because I know I can write easily to them. I can usually knock out a 2,500 to 5,000 word story in one session, and during that time the CD can play three or four times. Sometimes I play it in order, sometimes on shuffle. Generally, the music weaves in and out of my head and creates an ambience for the story, whilst also cutting out distractions that I might hear beyond the blast of the music.

So, I thought I'd list some of the stories I've written and their 'soundtracks'. Whether you write or not please give these artists a listen. Needless to say, I only play music that I love.

"Burning Daylight" - this recent short story combines the life of a mayfly with a human life. Blonde Redhead are a band I frequently listen to when writing, and for this story I chose their album "Penny Sparkle". The music perfectly complemented my mood, and as I know the album well the songs segued into each other almost without me noticing. I also recommend their albums "Misery Is A Butterfly" and "23" as good writing-to-music records.

"Dirty Snow" - I wrote this story whilst listening to Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express", an album I hadn't listened to before. In fact, the CD I bought secondhand was scratched but having seen the band in the news recently I wondered if I could rip it on my PC without the 'jumping' around occuring. To my surprise - although it took a while - it was successful. The monotone nature of the music perfectly suited this crime story.

"The Strangeness In Me" - On this occasion it wasn't a whole album I listened to on repeat, but one single song: "The Strangeness In Me" as performed by The Cramps. Their version is slow and melodious, and as I was using the song lyrics as part of the story (credited in my collection, "Nitrospective", where the story appeared) it made sense to keep the disc spinning for the whole three hours.

"The Universe At Gun Point" - This story was written for the Classical Book of Horror Stories anthology and I've mentioned in a previous blog the gestation of the piece choosing the music of Erik Satie as its starting point. Because of this, I found some samples of his music online and listened to these as I wrote.

Other albums I play repeatedly when writing short stories include Polly Scattergood's self-titled CD, The Flaming Lips "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots", Radiohead's "Kid A", and the music of Coeur de Pirate and Carla Bruni.

As would be clear from listening to any of these albums, the lyrics have to be almost buried in the music and the music itself cannot be too raucous which excludes most of my punk collection, although I have written to tracks by the Ramones. If you also listen to music when writing, please comment on the blog and include your choices there.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Novels I've Never Sold

I thought I'd make a post here about all the novels I've written and the one which I've sold. With me there's a great disparity between novel writing success and short story writing success. With short stories I've sold over 100 so far and whilst I don't have the exact figure with me I would estimate I've written about 130. As some of those were written recently I think that's a pretty good hit rate. Some of these short stories were written in a matter of hours, so - again - the turnaround from the idea to the finished product can be very fast. With novels, however, I find it a real struggle. I've finished seven so far, with one success. It takes up to six months of writing time, an age to submit and get responses, and then a battering of rejections. Of course, I might simply be a good short story writer and a poor novel writer: there are many reasons for this lack of success. Still, as I'm currently nearing the end of my 8th novel and approaching the point at which I'll need to sell it, I thought a round-up of what I've written so far might be interesting. Of course, in the unlikely event any publishers are reading this, the unpublished novels are currently up for grabs.


First novel I wrote back in 1988. A train enters a tunnel and a group of travellers find they cannot leave their compartment. The train remains travelling through the tunnel for an extended period of time which creates anxiety and confusion amongst the travellers, who eventually break out and find they are alone on the train. Probably influenced by Bunuel's "Exterminating Angel" this has all the problems of a first novel and I haven't looked at it in years.


Second novel written around 1989. A painfully shy and self-obsessed chap moves into rented accommodation and becomes fixated by a fellow tenant who becomes his first girlfriend. When he accidentally kills her, he decides to consume parts of her body in the hope that he might transmute her soul. A cross between Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and The Stranglers' "La Folie" this novel fails because the main character became so well defined in the first half of the novel as someone who would never do what he does in the second half.

Moon Beaver

The link above makes it clear that this became my first published novel. Please buy it! I wrote the first half in 1992 and then left it for six years and added a paragraph. I then completed the novel in 1998 and it was published in 2003 by the excellent ENC Press. I remain proud of this work which is a comic satire examining themes of individuality and immortality - themes which appear frequently in my work. It's a lot of fun and riffs a little on Tom Robbins' novels which I love.

Full Circle

I had this idea on a National Express bus journey from Norwich to London and had to keep it in my head and buy a notebook from WH Smith to write it down as soon as the bus stopped! Set in the North and South of England, in Peru and in Hungary, this sets up a N/E/S/W compass point of converging storylines which - whilst it contains some interesting ideas - ultimately fails under the weight of the inherent coincidences required for it to hum along. 'Contrived' would be a better title for the book!

Bobbing For Reality

Always liked this title, but this book's chance has been and gone. Written around 2004/5 separate stories connect a serial dater with a one parent father with a self-employed freelance deflowerer of virgins and a serial killer. Set in New York and London with a large portion of the book revolving around Internet chat rooms and the anonymity they contain, I feel that the massive increase in technology since this was written makes the computer-set-pieces dated and no longer usable. A shame, as I had high hopes for this one.

The Immortalists

Finally, since Moon Beaver, a novel I've written which I really think deserves to sell. Taking the irascible PI named Mordent from some short stories I've had published, this is a modern pulp noir crime novel that pitches two rival gangs against each other for the secret of immortality whilst Mordent investigates a missing persons case that is much more than it appears to be on the surface. I had great fun writing this, and I've had some great feedback. This novel is still being pitched to agents and publishers, together with...

Church Of Wire

My second Mordent novel. Mordent investigates a string of cases where a serial killer appears to be targeting the survivors of previous serial killer attacks and whether or not they are linked to a shady religious organisation known as the Church of Wire. As with The Immortalists this story has a healthy dose of pulp sensibility - is drenched in it, in fact - and I have fairly high hopes that both of these will someday be published. Watch this space.

Body And Soul

This the novel I'm working on at the moment. I've reached 75,000 words and am looking for 90,000 minimum. I've tried to be more commercial with this work, which is a far future SF novel set in an age where mankind has regressed technologically and has evolved into beings where for a new birth the females carry the body but the male carries the soul. Both parents have to be present at birth for the pregnancy to be effective, and this world is about to be rent asunder by demons from Earth's past. Again, I'm fairly hopeful with this, but considering the above I guess the question is:

Why do I bother with novels?

And the answer is:

because some stories demand to be told that way.