writing


The last post in this series sees three more writers revealing their musical inspiration.

Elin Gregory 

I’ve had masses of inspiration from music over the years. Jethro Tull’s Songs From The Wood inspired a long bildungesroman that I would love to work up into a novel. It’s about a hill with a wood on it flanked by two villages, King’s Norton and Brynlas, where the villagers protect the secret of the wood – a fully functional shrine to the celtic god Nodens – and in return benefit from the god’s protection. High jinks ensue when one of the hereditary protectors turns out to of a lavender persuasion. But there is sheep and beer, darts and village against village football and general good times to offset the edgy bits. I have 90k words of it, some of which I stored on Skyehawke. Cup of Wonder has most of it in it.

But these days I prefer something with a more epic scope and less recognisable lyrics so *blush* I quite enjoy listening to Two Steps From Hell aka Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergersen. They write music for computer games and are – did I mention epic? They are the most epiccy epic in the history of epicness!  Best of all, since I don’t play computer games I have NO mental images to go with the music so can apply them to anything.

This one – Heart of Courage – has everything one might need to give a story a boost nicely compacted into 2 minutes.

I’ve also been listening to uillean bagpipe music for my Romano-Celts. Dark Slender Boy seems appropriate with its minor keys, especially since most of the story is a bit on the down side…

1940s swing music hits the spot for Sam Hobbs, my lame shepherd, and I have a whole playlist of 1920s songs for Winstanley Briers Winstanely and Miles Siward.

But usually I don’t play anything while I write. The music works away on my subconscious while I do other things – like ironing or driving – and I have memories of the feel of it later.

Louise Van Hine 

I wrote one book in the form of a symphony in five movements, and another book in the form of a set of etudes.

BTW I stole the idea from Anthony Burgess, a composer/novelist who wrote “Napoleon Symphony” as a sort of a spoof of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto and “Napoleon Symphony” – the Fifth which was dedicated originally to Napoleon, until he crowned himself Emperor.

Charlie Cochrane 

I always have something on in the background when I write – favourite music of the moment, sports commentary or sometimes an audio book. While I’d find it hard to say (with one exception), “Oh, that song inspired that character/story”, the music itself makes me want to write, if that makes sense. Vaughn Williams’ Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis gets my creative juices going every time.

The exception is a song called “Boeotia”, by Matt Alber (track six here). When I heard that song I had to write a story based around it. I don’t know enough about the time when Alexander and his father were conquering half the known world, so I cheated a bit by having the historical bits happen within dreams – that’s how “Dreams of a Hero” was born.

Alex Beecroft:

Music doesn’t seem to work that way for me. For a start, I don’t listen to much music these days, except when doing housework, and that tends to be trance music without any words. I did listen to a lot of 18th Century sea shanties when I was writing my Age of Sail books, and they were excellent for letting me know the kind of things that the sailors of the time thought and said about themselves and their lives. I also listened to classical music of the time, so I could hear the soundtrack of the officers’ lives. I think that gave the overall setting a bit more texture, but nothing really became part of the story in such a dramatic way that it could have said to have inspired scenes or plot points.

Oh… oh, I lie (or at least, I have just remembered something.) Actually I did watch a TV programme about the castrati, which featured male soprano Michael Maniaci, whose voice is amazing. Listening to him sing inspired me to make John Cavendish in False Colors a countertenor and gave rose to the scene in which Alfie persuades him to sing and is awed by the result.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8GnxqotJiw

KC Warwick:

The music running through my mind while I was writing ‘Prove A Villain’ was Vaughan Williams ‘ Fantasia on Greensleeves’.  ‘Greensleeves’ always reminds me of Elizabethan times, though I must admit that I smile to myself when I remember Michael Flanders’ wonderful monologue on  ‘Green Fleeves’, (this chap Anon’s writing some perfectly lovely stuff, but no one seems to know who his agent is…) Sorry, I digress.

Erastes:

I’ve never been one to constantly have music on, I’ve never owned a walkman or an ipod or anything like that. I seem to have entirely skipped the CD generation and most of my records are vinyl. And I have nothing from this century, either, to the horror of the children of a friend who visited once!

It seems entirely incongruous but while I was writing Transgressions I was addicted to Billy Holliday and would play her obsessively on repeat while writing. The era is completely wrong but the “he was my man and he done me wrong” soulfullness was entirely right at the time.

Mozart’s Requiem sparked a plot line in Standish where Rafe’s son dies and he holds an enormous funeral where he meets up with Ambrose again. But I never actually wrote that, because it seemed entirely out of character for Ambrose to allow such a tragedy to bring them back together. So I dumped the entire idea which broke my heart as I adore that particular requiem.

I can hear a piece of music and have it paint pictures in my head as to what is going on–there’s a piece of music  (Polovetsian Dances by Borodin from Prince Igor) which very clearly tells me the story of a war-hardened warrior and him falling in love for a young recruit all bare chest and no chest hair. I haven’t allowed myself to watch the ballet, because I know jolly well there’s no such plot line in it. But it has sparked a bunny and the notes have gone into my “to do later” file.  Probably around the time of Ghenghis Khan. Oh great. More research.

Charlie Cochrane

I was having a google chat with Elin Gregory when (as often happens) things took a daft turn and we decided it would be a good idea to ask some of our favourite historical authors whether music inspired them to write – and how. Turns out it wasn’t such a daft idea – we had some great responses, which I’ll post here over this week.

Anne Barwell:

I’m one of those individuals who puts together soundtracks on occasion but the music isn’t exactly reflection of the time period, more the characters/storyline. “Sounds of Silence” – Simon and Garfunkle, “All It Takes” – Stellar (NZ band), “Touch of Your Hand” – Glass Tiger, “There You’ll Be” – Faith Hill.

Lee Rowan:

Hm… It’s seldom a single song. Andrea Bocelli’s “Con Te Partiro” (the original, not the duet with Celine Dion) is pretty much the theme song for the Royal Navy series. I almost played Bocelli’s “Romanza” album, and Bryan Adams’ “So Far So Good” and Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat,” to pieces. And Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance.” Totally out of period, but the right emotional note.

Winds of Change, Eye of the Storm — The soundtrack for Master and Commander. Also Romanza and Sogno, Bocelli, (What can I say? I don’t understand much Italian, but the flow of words and a strong tenor… mmmm. and October Project’s two albums.

Home is the Sailor – mostly Enya, for some reason.

Walking Wounded, Mellissa Etheridge’s “Yes, I Am,” and Bocelli, again — also Carlos Nakai, a Navajo flute player.

Tangled Web was a mix of all of the above, and Chanticleer, and the Windham Hill Solstice albums. And, in all cases, probably several things I’ve forgotten.

Finding the right music really helps.

Ruth Sims:

I have to say that music has influenced everything I’ve written (admittedly a very small list). Music, in particular the music of the 19th century Romantics such as Chopin, Liszt, Mahler, Debussy, Tchaikovsky (I never said I could spell the blasted name!) and perhaps first, of course, Mozart and Beethoven. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read either The Phoenix or Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story. Music that digs deep into my emotions always makes me write. And often cry. Song on the Sand, my favorite of my short story-ebooks, was completely inspired by the lovely song by the same title from my favorite play, La Cage aux Folles. While writing Counterpoint, I listened day and night to violin music, especially that of Josh Bell. Of course that gave me an excuse to have lots of pictures of Josh Bell all around.

Charlie Cochrane

When I booked to do this blog, I was going to do a write up of the RNA Christmas party, but plenty of people have reported back on that so I decided to muse about a conversation I’d had just last weekend over lunch with two fellow authors. How can we expand our relatively small part – historical – of a growing but still relatively small genre – GLBT romance?

I’m worried that when we promote, through all the usual social media from facebook to yahoo groups, we’re promoting to the same, small audience. Often we’re promoting to each other. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – most of us authors want to keep an eye out for new books to read and the core audience of  avid readers should be valued and cosseted. They’re our life blood.

But I’m convinced there’s a bigger market. Look at the success of Mary Renault’s books or Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy. Look at how many people watchedBrokebackMountain. Think about all the fans of boybands who go crazy when there’s the slightest hint of romantic interaction (real or imagined) between the band members. Or the ladies of a certain age (classic romance readers!) who go all gooey at John Barrowman concerts when he talks about his partner Scott. How do we get these potential readers to know about our books?

Well, there’s the question and if I could answer it effectively I’d be very rich. I’m sure that attending events or being members of writing organisations which are not primarily for writers of GLBT books must help. It gets our names and our genre ‘out there’, hopefully reaching new readers with the help of the accompanying promo opportunities these organisations provide. Being alert to things which are outside our usual run of things and being brave enough to take advantage of them – posting at a different yahoo group, a chance to do a reading at a library, getting an article into a trade magazine, etc – could and should be things we look out for.

But could we be doing more, and is it something we could be doing more effectively together? Who’s up for making 2012 the year we push the boundaries out?

I’ve read all E M Forster’s novels, starting with Maurice and working my way through the rest in no particular order. I’ve even read the fragments of novels he left behind, unfinished. They were all intriguing, some – Maurice and A Passage to India – were stunning, and the experience left me wanting more. There isn’t “more”.

After A Passage to India the novels ceased. I’ve read various theories as to why, for example his late flowering discovery of physical love somehow stifling his ability to write. There were a few short stories, of course, and I’ve been working through as many of these as I can get my hands on. Some of them are brilliant – such as the  delightful The Celestial Omnibus and the amazingly slashy Story of a Panic – while The Machine Stops is an incredible piece of science fiction which predicts the world of the webcam and the ipod. But I knew there were some stories I’d not tracked down so, when I came across The Life to Come and Other Stories, I was really excited. This collection contains some of Forster’s hitherto unpublished gay fiction: better than that it contains a highly informative introduction by Oliver Stallybrass.  

His theory about why EMF had given up writing novels is simple, and based on the writer’s letters. What he wanted to write was unpublishable at the time and what was pubslishable he didn’t want to write. He still worked on short stories, with varying degrees of success in terms of getting them accepted, and some of these were evidently for his own gratification. A number of these “indecent” stories were destroyed, as he believed they were inhibiting him artistically (what a loss!). What remains, and has made it into the collection, are some extraordinary pieces. 

Consider Maurice. Would you imagine its writer constructing tales in which a respectable married couple meet a couple of sailors at the seaside and each go off for a bit of rooty-tooty in the bushes?  Or a widower having a liaison with an amateur rent boy in the woods of the house where he’s a guest? Where the son of a late Romanic English family undergoes the “rape turns to love” trope? Or a son of the empire indulges in a liaison with a man of mixed race – a man he vilifies in public, behind his back – then kills his lover during sex, after which he commits suicide? 

As a reader I was surprised at what I found – so out of keeping with the rest of the canon – although given what I’ve read about Forster, I should have known better. There are a number of echoes in these tales of his life and his desires; do look them out if you can.

Tripped up by words. 

In my one Regency story I have a charcter talking about how hard the snow is falling; he calls it a blizzard. Nice, traditional English word, I thought. Imagine how cross I was to recently discover that not only is “blizzard” a late nineteenth century word as applied to weather, it’s American in origin. What right had it to trip me up like that? 

Trouble is, it’s too easy to just assume things about language. Yes, I look up brands to see if they’re contemporary for my heroes (that’s why Orlando can’t snaffle jelly babies) and I check out phrases, too (which is why Helena couldn’t say “Goodnight Vienna”) but some words seem so obviously “old” that I don’t bother. Perhaps I should, but when to stop? 

I guess for most of us there’s an internal sort of check which means we’re fine if we’re writing post 1700. If the word/phrase is in Shakespeare or the King James Bible, then we’re safe.  So I can use punk, “eye for an eye”, ‘’beggars description” and the like to my heart’s content. Plumber, spectacles,  barricade, shuttle; they’re all nice safe words.  Some are surprises, too – skyscraper goes back to the Age of Sail, and was then used as a nickname for things like tall hats. Dunce, admiral, stationer – all these words can be traced back a surprisingly long way.

Clearly there are some obvious words which a writer could never use in a story set earlier than the twentieth century – bikini, Quisling, green in the sense of concerned for the environment, gay in the sense of sexuality., tank in any sense other than a storage receptacle. But there are some phrases which could catch you out. “The cat’s whiskers” comes from the days of radio, so couldn’t be used to describe something really good in Regency days. Nor could your Victorian spy be brainwashed. He could, however, have gone to see a floodlit rugby match, although they weren’t necessarily called floodlights then. 

Aren’t words confusing, or is it just me getting old?

I’ve posted here on many occasions about how wonderful the Romantic Novelists’ Association  is. They have a members’ magazine called Romance Matters, so Alex beecroft and I gathered up our courage and submitted an article about writing gay historical romance. It appeared in yesterday’s issue!

This is the original, uncut text, which we clipped to 500 words for inclusion in the magazine.

 “Not Your Mother’s Historical Romance”

 …was the cover quote from Josh Lanyon (creator of the Adrien English Mysteries) for the book Speak Its Name, an anthology of gay historical novellas. The book contained Charlie Cochrane’s debut story and the quote greatly amused her teenage daughters as that absolutely was their “Mother’s Historical Romance”. But it got her thinking about the differences (and similarities) between straight and gay romances written within a historical setting. So she asked fellow Romantic Novelists’ Association member Alex Beecroft to share her ideas on the subject. 

 Charlie: I suppose the first difference in gay romance is the general lack of bodices. I mean, many of my characters have them but none actually get ripped. How about your gals? 

Alex: Well, Emily certainly has one and mentions it in Captain’s Surrender, but her beau is too nice a guy to spoil a good dress.  But yes, Captain’s Surrender is the only one of my books (so far) where I’ve had a male/female romance as a sub-plot to the male/male.  Having said that, Victor Banis’s Lola Dances features a cross dressing gay man, so I wouldn’t rule bodice ripping out entirely.  Breeches ripping certainly happens (I believe I even have a breeches ripping scene in False Colors,) but I wouldn’t say that represented the entire genre.  I couldn’t see your kind and gentle young men dealing out violence to each other – even to each other’s clothes.

Maybe it’s the extent of having a wide variety of heroes and not putting as much emphasis on the overpowering nature of the hero that makes gay romance not “your mother’s romance”?  What do you think?

 Charlie: I think romance in general has moved on from my mother’s day and there’s a wide variety of heroes in gay and straight historical romance. I think one of the main differences is that we can’t have a “traditional” happy ending for our leading men. No “Reader, I married him,” moment, no big wedding or even engagement. The best we can do is to find some situation in which they can try to live together without being shunned by society or reported to the police. My Edwardian lads are living under the shadow of the fairly recent Oscar Wilde trials; at least they have a Cambridge single sex college to live in so they can hide in plain sight. How do you solve the problem?

 Alex:  That’s very true about romance moving on.  There’s really something for everyone’s tastes, these days.  But yes, it certainly presents an interesting problem, finding a happy ending which has the weight of a marriage in an era when our heroes could have been imprisoned or even executed it their relationship was suspected.  I think the male/male equivalent of the wedding is the point where the characters make a commitment to face whatever might come in the future together.  They may figure out a cover story which enables them to live together without arousing suspicion, or they may simply make that commitment to each other, leaving the reader to deduce from their prior adventures that they are cautious and clever enough to get away with it.

 Of course, the lack of a socially sanctioned wedding doesn’t mean that they can’t privately offer one another similar vows.  They can have every bit of the same emotional impact.  Even more so, perhaps, since the reader knows what an act of love in the face of all odds they represent.

 I know too that there are some readers of gay romance who might regard the traditional Happy Ever After = marriage ending as worryingly heteronormative.  What are your thoughts on that?

 Charlie: I think you’ve made a great point and, again, one that applies to straight romances, where a big white wedding isn’t necessarily everyone’s idea of the “must have” happy ending.

 Another aspect of romances is the “tension along the way”, you know, the complication/estrangement that has to be overcome en route to the HEA. I suspect that’s an area where gay fiction has an inbuilt advantage, especially historical, as the relationship was illegal and generally viewed as immoral. Actually, in some parts of the world either or both of those would apply today.

 Of course, that doesn’t mean we can be lazy and just use the ‘how do we avoid discovery’ as our only cause of dramatic tension; we have arguments, misunderstandings, temptations, all the story threads that crop up in straight romances. What’s your favourite “boy temporarily loses boy” moment from your books?

 Alex: I’d say it was the incident in John’s cabin in False Colors, just after the ship has almost sunk in the Arctic.  The two heroes have been alternately pursuing each other and spurning each other for a while now, and Alfie, feeling terribly bitter due to bereavement and misunderstanding, makes an absolutely disastrous attempt on John’s virtue in order to teach John a lesson.  John – who’s a highly strung mixture of very sensitive and very proud – realizes that Alfie is doing this to put him in his place and goes ballistic with outrage.  It’s hard to explain in one paragraph, because there’s a whole book of misunderstandings and hurts that lead up to it, but it’s simultaneously their lowest ebb, and a sign that things are beginning to thaw between them and that there’s hope there still.

 How about you?

 Charlie: I’ve got two. One of them’s in my ongoing Cambridge Fellows series, where Jonty and Orlando finally seem to have settled into a nice, comfortable “looks to the outside world like a bachelor existence”, only for some awful events from Jonty’s past to rear their heads. The lads have to work through a lot of emotional and ethical complications together, but emerge stronger. The other’s a bit more light hearted, from an Austenesque short story, The Shade on a Fine Day, where it needs ghostly/angelic intervention to get my leading man to pluck up the courage to act.

 It’s been fun picking your brains – anything you want to add about the differences you’ve found between gay and straight historical romance?

 Alex: Well, thanks for having me!  It’s an interesting topic and I’m glad we got to talk about it.  I’m inclined to cheat on this last question, though, and say that despite any differences occasioned by the fact that you’ve got two men instead of one man, one woman, still the ways in which they are similar outnumber the differences.  After all, a romance is about two people falling in love and committing to that relationship despite the problems they face.  The external problems the characters face may be incomparably greater due to society’s disapproval, but internally I don’t think that love is any different.  Nor is the process of two independent personalities learning to live with each other any less complex when it’s two men (or two women) together instead of one of each.

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