Today on Crimepieces I have Cassandra Parkin sharing the music she writes her books to. Cassandra is an East Yorkshire writer with Cornish roots and a passion for fairy-tales. Her short story collection, New World Fairy Tales (Salt Publishing), won the 2011 Scott Prize for Short Stories and her debut novel The Summer We All Ran Away (Legend Press) was nominated for the Amazon Rising Stars award. Her second novel The Beach Hut (Legend Press) was published in 2015 and her third novel Lily’s House (Legend Press) will be published tomorrow!
Cassandra, do you have particular pieces of music you write to?
In common with many other writers, I find the music of Tom Waits an endless source of inspiration. His album “Rain Dogs” saw me through the early drafts of my first novel The Summer We All Ran Away, while “Bone Machine” helped me find my inner Weird when writing my second, The Beach Hut.
I also love the Cornish shanty group “The Fisherman’s Friends”, who are absolutely amazing and one of the most incredible live-music experiences I’ve ever had. As well as taking me instantly back to my parents’ and grandparents’ home in Cornwall, sea shanties were written specifically as songs to make very hard work flow a little more easily. Admittedly writing is not all that much like hauling in nets or raising sails, but it works for me.
Finally, I love Gregorian plainsong – I think because it was written with the specific purpose of inspiring a state of meditation and contemplation. I’m not a Christian, but I find plainsong helps me get in touch with the awareness of how vast and beautiful our world is, and how lucky I am to be a part of it. I hope the monks don’t mind.
Has a particular piece of music ever inspired you to write something?
There’s a lyric in Tom Waits’s song “Mr Siegal” that has haunted me since the first time I heard it:
“You got to tell me, brave Captain,
Why are the wicked so strong?
How do the angels get to sleep
When the devil leaves his porchlight on?”
I come back to those four lines whenever I need to write bad characters sympathetically.
Could you recommend any particular pieces of music for a specific mood ?
For my novel “Lily’s House” – about a woman who comes back to her estranged grandmother’s house to clear it after her death, and all the old family skeletons that come tumbling out of the cupboards – I needed to find my way back to the relationship I had with my own amazing and lovely great-aunt, who I used to go to church with on Sundays in the school holidays. Then afterwards we’d go back to her house and have roast chicken for lunch, and she would ruthlessly critique the outfit choices of all the other churchgoers and tell me terrible gossipy stories about everyone’s pasts and presents. It made me realise that being old doesn’t mean giving up on love and intrigue and arguments and secrets and excitement.
The music that took me back to those Sundays were the hymns we used to sing. The church was the Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Falmouth, so I especially remember the watery hymns – “For Those In Peril On The Sea”, “Will Your Anchor Hold”, “Lord, Whom Wind and Seas Obey”, and lots of others.
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 particularly love Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”. I think it’s because they’re so unobtrusive, but also so complex – they feel like simple background music but there are so many amazing tricks and connections hidden within them. They’re incredibly satisfying. Also – and much less cerebrally – they remind me of Hannibal Lecter, who also liked them very much, and who is one of my favourite literary monsters.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on my fourth novel, “The Winter’s Child”. It’s set in my current home city of Hull, during its 2017 year as City of Culture, and it’s about a woman whose son went missing and has never been found. It’s quite a gothic sort of a story – filled with fortune-tellers and psychics and strange experiences. I’m really enjoying writing it.
Thanks, Cassandra for taking part and good luck with The Winter’s Child.