Music to Write Books By – Melanie McGrath

melaniemcgrath_c_patriciagreyToday on Crimepieces I have  Melanie McGrath talking about the music that she writes to. Melanie is an award-winning, bestselling writer of crime fiction and nonfiction. As MJ McGrath she writes the Edie Kiglatuk series of Arctic mysteries, which have been translated into 18 languages and are currently being developed for American TV. She has twice been long-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger and her Arctic series have featured in the Times and Financial Times thrillers of the year.  Her first psychological thriller Give Me The Child is out in 2017. She is the cofounder of Killer Women, a group of female crime writers. The first Killer Women festival of crime writing is taking place on 15 October at Shoreditch Town Hall in London.

Melanie, do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

I write fiction and nonfiction and find that I will usually work in silence when I’m writing fiction but with music playing when i’m writing nonfiction. There are exceptions to this, though. When I need to conjure a particular atmosphere or a scene in fiction I’ll use mood music. When For the Edie Kiglatuk series of Arctic mysteries I listen to a lot of Sibelius and Sigur Ros from, respectively, Finland and Iceland but I also have a recording of an Arctic blizzard which I often play to remind myself of the violence of the setting.

When I want a reminder of just how beautiful and eerie the Arctic can be I listen to katajjaq or Inuit throat singing.

I’ve just finished a psychological thriller, Give Me The Child, set in London. For that I went out in Hackney, where I live, and recorded street sounds, nothing specific, just the thickness of the atmosphere with its rush of traffic, sirens, snatches of conversation and music, helicopters and people singing.

Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?

Sibelius’ tone poem The Swan of Tuonela, which I first heard many years ago, sparked off in me a love of the  far North. There’s something about it which conjures the fierceness and delicacy of the landscape along with its melancholy beauty.

Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood?

Kronos Quartet’s cover of the Sigur Ros track Flugufrelsarinn conjures a sinister and anticipatory mood for  listening to when you’re about to write a pivotal scene after which everything in the story changes. For some reason it also really freaks out my little cat Minou.

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 will listen to the same piece of music on a loop so it really gets inside me. It’s almost as though I can’t hear it  any more because it’s coming from some internal place.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished the final edits on Give Me The Child, then I’m about to write something completely different, a biography of an old East End pie and mash shop, which is more like narrative history. After that, I’m planning another psychological thriller.

Thanks for taking part, Melanie and good luck with the writing. Melanie’s social media links are below. If you haven’t read any of her books, I’d highly recommend them.

The music chosen by the authors appearing in this series of posts can be found on YouTube here.

5 thoughts on “Music to Write Books By – Melanie McGrath

  1. Margot Kinberg

    What fascinating choices! I love the touch of Sibelius, and I’d never heard throat singing before. I can see how both would help add atmosphere to the writing. Thanks, both!


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