A couple of weeks ago, I posted on my Facebook page a YouTube clip of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. It’s a piece of music I’ve written much of my third book, A Patient Fury, to. A fascinating discussion ensued and I’ve asked a few writers to do guest posts to share music that they write by.
All the recommendations will be on the Crimepieces Playlist on YouTube.
First up is Nick Triplow who shared some of his favourite pieces on my original Facebook post.
Nick is the author of the South London crime novel Frank’s Wild Years and the social history books – Family Ties, The Women They Left Behind, Distant Water and Pattie Slappers. His story, Face Value, was a winner in the 2015 Northern Crime short story competition.
Originally from London, now living in Barton upon Humber, Nick played guitar in the 80s indie band, I Can’t Scream. His beloved Aria Elecord acoustic is strategically placed close to his writing desk.
Nick, do you have particular pieces of music you write to?
Pretty much across the spectrum in terms of style and genre. I’ll choose a handful that have lasted and that haven’t worn themselves out.
In Elgar’s Sospiri (Hope):
Arvo Part’s Spiegel am Spiegel:
and the Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A (hark at me, getting all Desert Island Discs):
there are three pieces, slow movements with a pent up emotion that puts me in a good place to write.
I remember I was walking through the City of London – must have been in the late 1980s – and I came across this odd little record shop near Holborn. Inside it was more like a library than your local Our Price or HMV. There was a bargain bin of cassettes. I picked out Miles Davis’s music for the French noir film Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows).
At the time, all I knew about jazz was my dad’s old Kenny Ball records. But this has an incredible atmosphere, rainy streets, running for your life, a time and place that mainlined on imagination. Sensual, frenetic. This still gets regular plays.
Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?
The night I began writing Frank’s Wild Years, I was listening to Tom Waits. It was a cold night in February – I live in an old house that’s hard to keep warm and Tesco’s had a post-Xmas deal on Johnnie Walker Black Label. Let’s just say I was in a Tom Waits state of mind. I’d had a bunch of ideas working away in my subconscious about a South East London story, something that looked into the soul of the place and wasn’t all coke and guns. Listening to Tom Waits brought my ideas together: a single image, three characters in a pub, and the beginning of a story. All there in those opening lines of Tom Traubert’s Blues: ‘Wasted and wounded, it ain’t what the moon did, I got what I paid for now. / I’ll see you tomorrow, hey Frank, can I borrow a couple of bucks from you?’ And there they were, a long way from Brooklyn or Philadelphia, but right in the heart of South London, just as wasted and wounded. Bells whisky, B&H, warm pints and loneliness, and Frank was a bloke with a past no one knew about.
Since my friend, the songwriter James Varda died last year, I’ve often turned to his music for inspiration. The last song on his penultimate album, The River and the Stars, is fundamentally about not giving in. I’ve been working on a biography of Get Carter author, Ted Lewis, and to say it’s been hard going at times is something of an understatement. Many mornings James’s words on that song have inspired me to write: ‘So be the days and moments / And be the real work / Stay away from empty rooms /Where old temptations lurk / And if today is fine / Tomorrow has no claim to make’.
Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood – I love Holst’s ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ for example to get me in the mood to write angry passages?
For the first novel I wrote, The Paradise Man, which, sadly, is still in the drawer. (Do all authors have one of those?) I used Mark Lanegan’s album Bubblegum to get that sense of a character crossing from the straight world into a land of shadows and uncertainties. Tracks like Hit the City have a dark energy, takes you places you probably wouldn’t want to go. It’s not anger exactly, but it’s on its way. I should also mention Lanegan’s albums with Isobel Campbell; they have a real bittersweet quality which make them ideal writing music for me.
Are there any longer pieces you can recommend? If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?
I’ve often worked to soundtracks for that reason, a mood set and sustained. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s music from the film The Assassination of Jesse James has an offbeat elegiac quality I really like. It’s minimal, often just guitar or piano and violin, and it has some of the repetitive themes that I like in, say, Michael Nyman or Philip Glass.
Glass’s Violin Concerto is a great piece.
Likewise, Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony – the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs – was hardly out of the CD player for a long time.
Thanks for these great recommendations, Nick. Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment.
I’ve recently completed a biography of Brit-noir pioneer, Ted Lewis, whose landmark 1970 novel, Jack’s Return Home, was filmed as Get Carter. I’m now looking for a publisher for the Lewis book and working on new fiction, including a follow-up to Frank’s Wild Years, provisionally titled The China Hall.
Thank you and good luck with the writing!