So I’m sitting in a hotel room in Strathpeffer in the Scottish Highlands, listening to Matt Monro singing about ‘Days Like These’ as I scribble away in my notebook, finishing off a short story.
I know many people find it distracting but I like to listen to music while I’m writing. I’ve found, over the years, that it’s the best way to drown out the general noise and bedlam in the house that would otherwise put me off, and I enjoy listening to my iPod while I write.
Of course, it’s not just any music – I don’t put the iPod on ‘shuffle’ because that would be a hindrance rather than a help; either I’d start singing along to a song – which would then annoy whoever is watching TV – or I’d keep skipping songs that I didn’t want to listen to.
When I was writing Saints and Sinners, I listened almost exclusively to Clannad, a band who hail from Gweedore in Donegal. The songs seemed to fit in with the feel of the novel, and it did help having the music in the background. It was never distracting and, after a while, it became part of my writing ritual.
There are three different voices in the novel, and I listened to one song in particular, Coinleach Glas an Fhomhair, whenever I was writing any chapters from Kate’s point of view. It’s a beautiful song and I found it really helped in finding a female voice in my writing. The title of the song, according to Google Translate, means ‘Green Red Autumn’ – nothing is a mystery any more, as a friend of mine always tells me – although I will have to ask a couple of my Irish-speaking friends for help with the pronunciation.
When it came to writing The Hunted, I listened to Corinne Bailey Rae. Don’t ask me why – there is no connection with the book. I just think she’s a wonderful singer and, again, it is music that can be played without distracting me.
However, I changed tack when I was editing the manuscript. For some reason, the Simple Minds album, New Gold Dream, worked best for me. It’s a brilliant album which always reminds me of my teenage years –a long time ago now! – and, of course, they do have a song, Hunter and The Hunted, on the album.
Recently, as I’ve been scribbling away on a batch of short stories I hope to unleash on the world soon, it’s been the Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs album, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise, I’ve been listening to.
Every writer has their own habits and rituals. I like to write a first draft in a notebook before I type anything out – I even have a favourite kind – a poor man’s moleskine notebook from Asda! I also have a certain type of pen I prefer to use as well – a bit weird, I know, but it works for me. If I’ve got these things to hand, then I can just put on the iPod and start writing.
And while Matt Monro did help me with my writing, that’s not my favourite memory of the song. That came a couple of months ago when we’d gone up to the Campsie Hills one day. Driving back down the ‘slightly’ winding road at the end of the day, I put On Days Like These on full blast and imagined I was re-creating the opening scene of The Italian Job – happy days indeed!
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