Paying subscribers can listen to me read this newsletter aloud here, or subscribe to the feed in any podcast app.
There’s a new episode of the In Writing podcast coming tomorrow, and this week’s guest is the novelist Sophie Mackintosh, perhaps best known for her Man Booker-longlisted The Water Cure.
There’s lots of interesting stuff in the interview – I particularly liked the revelation that Sophie sometimes thinks she’d like to write a Mills & Boon – but it’s particularly good for writing hacks. For example: Sophie creates a playlist for every novel, so that even when she can’t work on the manuscript, she can use music to slip into the world of it, while ideas percolate.
With The Water Cure, I had a lot of time on my commute. I had a commute from Leyton to Queensway on the Central line, which is horrible. And I couldn't even read a book half the time, because it's so crowded, so I just had my earphones in, and a playlist was the way for me to be thinking about plot points. It means if I'm wandering around or doing other stuff, I can still be in the world of whatever I'm writing at the moment. It's also quite fun to think of your dream soundtrack. So yes, it’s something I do for every book and I feel like it really gets me in the mood. It acts like a switch.
I did something similar to this when I was studying screenwriting, and writing a short screenplay. There were only five songs on my playlist but when I listened to them, I felt I could not only see the film in my mind’s eye, but I could understand something about its tone, mood and point of view. There are so many different ways to describe the same series of events. If you’re the storyteller, are you telling that story satirically, or wistfully, or dramatically? I think music can help you to clarify that.
I do have a novel in progress, though it’s on hold at the moment while I write something else, but I haven’t tried the playlist trick yet, and I think I should. Sophie says she has the ‘film soundtrack’ idea in mind, rather than thinking about the musical preferences of her characters – but I keep wondering what my protagonist listens to. What interests me is the idea that my character’s taste might be wildly different to my own – and is it possible that if I can just discover the music that they like, I can understand them in a whole new way? Even though the whole thing is a figment of my imagination?
It’s a great creative exercise, anyway. If you’ve used music in some deliberate way in your writing process, I’d love to hear about it in the comments – and just for fun, if you want to hear that screenplay-inspired playlist I mentioned, here it is. Note: I never, ever listen to Bob Dylan, and yet he’s on the list. My writing might just have broadened my musical horizons.
Help a writer: (should this be a regular feature? Maybe it should!)
Over in the In Writers Write-In, subscriber Ella Beech is looking for a book recommendation.
Hi everyone! I am a children’s book illustrator and I have been trying to hone my writing skills so I can (hopefully) become an author/illustrator which would be amazing! Can anyone recommend any books that would help me with storytelling? Lots of books I see are aimed at writing longer fiction, which I’m sure would still be helpful, but I was hoping to find a book that would give quite instructional insights into story structure, the basics of stories, how to edit words down, how to say lots in minimal words, etc… essentially, something that would be helpful for me to write stories for children. (I realised when I started this, I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but I hope this makes some sense!). Thanks, Ella
This sounds like an excellent book, if it exists – can anybody recommend something?
We had another great writing session at Sunday’s Creative Hour – thanks to all who came. The next one will be on Sunday 12 March at 5pm GMT.
That’s all for now, but make sure you’re subscribed to the In Writing podcast to hear the new episode with Sophie Mackintosh tomorrow. Good luck with your writing this week!
This is really interesting! I’m not sure if it’s the same thing but I quite often reference song lyrics in my writing and add a link to them in the footnotes. For a recent piece on marriage, I had a 4 song playlist at the end which included ABBA and The Beautiful South! I also cannot write without blasting music in my ears. I live in a v noisy house and I tend to listen to the same playlists I use when running to drown out the interruptions that are all around me! Thanks for this Hattie.
Been writing for thirty years and haven’t used music, but very much like the idea, whether as a playlist that always instantly transports you into that world, or as a way to really get to know your character. Lots of writers occasionally struggle with the writer’s block phantom, this seems a great way, by using the senses, to overcome it.