Music To Write Books By – Christopher Fowler

612ww2vvqrl-_ux250_Today on Crimepieces I have Christopher Fowler. Chris is the multi award-winning author of many novels and short story collections, and the author of the Bryant & May mysteries which I love. The latest book in the series, London’s Glory, is a collection of short stories that I can’t wait to read.  His first bestseller was Roofworld and subsequent novels include Spanky, Disturbia, Psychoville and Calabash.

Hi Chris. Thanks for taking part in this series. Do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

I always write with music playing, so long as there are no vocals. My experience is the reverse of most writers; when I was a teenager I loved classical music, but later I came to love EDM and modern pieces. However, I’ve always found that soundtracks can provide the perfect atmosphere in which to create. For many years I worked in the film industry and was often given soundtrack recordings by directors, many of which didn’t make the final cut. Soundtrack music is created to enhance the emotion of visuals and is an ideal accompaniment to writing. I have no taste boundaries, and will happily play demanding minimalist pieces next to cheesy sixties scores; music is unapologetically personal, and no-one should have control over your tastes!

I went through a phase of writing to Michael Nyman scores, particularly the Handel-like ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ and ‘Drowning by Numbers’ (based on Mozart phrases), plus a limited edition album of his called ‘Sublime’. His score for ‘Prospero’s Books’, Greenaway’s version of ‘The Tempest’, also conjures images.

Minimalists Wim Mertens and Max Richter heavily feature on my writing playlists. Phillip Glass is a little too intrusive to write to.

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

Mark Isham’s score for ‘Crash’ inspired a number of my short stories. Richard Rodney Bennett’s score for ‘Gormenghast’ definitely had an effect on a new novel that’ll be out next year called ‘The Foot on the Crown’. Composers contacted me directly and asked to write pieces for the Bryant & May mystery novels, and several of them have proven inspirational for further stories; a case of creative reverse-engineering!

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

I have the obsessive gene, and once I fall in love with a composer, I set out to hear everything they’re written. I’ve been like this with Spanish soundtrack composers, particularly Federico Jusid’s deliciously sinister soundtracks for ‘La Cara Oculta’ and ‘Isabel’, Joan Valent’s score for ‘Las Brujas de Zugarramurdi’ and Roque Banos’s moving score for ‘The 13 Rosas’. I’ve also written specifically to his wonderfully Hitchcockian soundtrack for ‘La Comunidad’. Speaking of Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann is also a favourite when writing tense scenes.

 French and Spanish soundtracks also provide great mood music for sad or melancholic scene-setting, especially the scores for ‘Loreak’, ‘Dans La Maison’, and the beautiful hymns and adagios in ‘Joyeux Noel’. If you want to write something joyful you can do no better than play Camille Bazbaz’s score for ‘Hors de Prix’ (‘Priceless’). The last soundtrack score I heard that I fell in love with was the jazzy, big-band ‘La La Land’.

Thomas Newman’s minor key scores for ‘Angels In America’ and ‘American Beauty’ sound European and are so distinctive that I can pick out his music in three or four bars. Likewise, the late great John Barry used such recognisable key changes that I will pinpoint anything he wrote across a crowded room. Older soundtracks can be more intrusive on the ear because their orchestrations are cleaner and more streamlined, with smaller orchestras.

Composers now have a tendency to ‘thicken’ sound with overlaid instrumentation and effects. Listen to Barry’s original masters for ‘Goldfinger’ and you’ll be shocked at how simple his arrangements are. It sounds as if you’re in a smoky room with a small jazz band. I once sat in with the orchestra while one of the later Bond films was being scored, and the sound was overwhelmingly huge.

Are there any longer works you can recommend. If you need to write for an hour, for example, is there a particular composer/artist you’d chose?

The longest piece of music I have ever written to lasts for 24 hours! ‘Sleep’ by Max Richter is a piece designed to be slept through, and has a slowly mutating chord change that’s very relaxing. Thomas Bergersen’s long pieces like ‘Sun’ and ‘Illusions’ and the lengthy soundtracks for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films by Howard Shore are good for writing grand action. An easy solution is to pick the work of one soundtrack composer and leave it on play, as a style will emerge across several soundtracks. You can very clearly hear the development in the works of both Michel Legrand and Ennio Morricone.

What are you working on at the moment?

A new Bryant & May paperback has just come out, London’s Glory, and their new hardback novel, Wild Chamber is published next year. Those will be followed by The Book of Forgotten Authors for Quercus.

Music To Write Books By – Nick Quantrill

nq-photoNick Quantrill joins Crimepieces today to talk about the music he writes to. Nick was born and raised in Hull, an isolated industrial city in East Yorkshire. His crime novels are published by Caffeine Nights. A prolific short story writer, Nick’s work has appeared in various volumes of “The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime”. In 2011, 51tk6mt6kdlNick became the first person to hold the role of ‘Writer in Residence’ at Hull Kingston Rovers. When not writing fiction, Nick contributes reviews and essays to a variety of football and music websites. He lives with his wife, daughter, cat and the constant fear Hull City will let him down.

Hi Nick. Do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

I have a confession to make. Although I’m a huge music fan, it doesn’t always mix well for me with writing. I’ve never had the luxury of a proper writing space, so I write with constant background noise – my daughter (aged 5), television, radio – I don’t mind. If I have music on, it tends to be something I know backwards, usually The Beatles, so it doesn’t demand too much attention.

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

Kind of. As much as I can point towards certain writers as being an influence, it was having friends in bands that gave me the push to write. My friends in Lithium Joe and Scarper! booked their own gigs, released their own records, sorted their own merchandise etc. It was a very clear lesson in life – if you want to do something, do it. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission.

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

I didn’t think I did this until I thought about it. Maybe it’s more a subconscious thing, but if I’m going to write an action scene, I’ll probably have some punk on – bands I was listening to as a teenager, like The Descendents or Green Day. If it’s a more reflective scene and it requires more thought, I often reach for the song-writers who can do in three minutes what we do in 90,000 words – writers like Steve Earle, John K Samson and Jeff Tweedy. Their skills are intimidating, but also very inspiring.

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’m more likely to go back to stuff I know well with The Beatles a constant fixture. Spotify is great for writers (maybe not so great for musicians, though). If you feel the need to hear something, it’s there. I do sometimes have fun figuring out what my characters might like to listen to and then immerse myself in it as I write.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve got a couple of things on the go. I have the makings of a second Hull-set crime novel featuring Anna Stone and Luke Carver to follow on from “The Dead Can’t Talk”. Hull is the UK City of Culture next year, and for better or worse, it’s something that needs documenting on the page. I’m also working on a crime novel set in various locations around the north of England, so it’s exciting to be exploring new locations.

Thanks, Nick for taking part. Good luck with the writing.  Nick can be found on Twitter: @NickQuantrill  and at his website:


Music to Write Books By – Cassandra Parkin

cass-author-photoToday 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.  

Music to Write Books By – Christina Philippou

I’ve had a manic week attending various events to promote A Deadly ThawIt’s been great meeting readers out and about but it does mean that I haven’t managed to write a post with my latest reviews. That will be coming Monday but, in the meantime, as it’s Friday I’ve another interesting post on music that authors write to.

thumbnail_cphilippou-2Today on Crimepieces, I have Christina Philippou whose first novel,  Lost in Static, has just been published. Christina’s writing career has been a varied one, from populating the short-story notebook that lived under her desk at school to penning reports on corruption and terrorist finance. When not reading or writing, she can be found engaging in sport or undertaking some form of nature appreciation. Christina has three passports to go with her three children, but is not a spy. Christina is also the founder of the contemporary fiction author initiative, Britfic.

Hi Christina – thanks for joining in with this. Do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

Depends on what I’m writing. If I’m writing something sad, I normally have No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom playing in the background.

If I’m writing something lively, I hit 90s pop (a little bit of Bobby Brown’s Two Can Play That Game or some classic Madonna, for example).

And if I’m writing action, I listen to Greenday’s Dookie and or Offspring’s Smash. So, in answer to your question, sort of?

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

Matchbox Twenty’s 3am inspired a rather sad short story which will never see the light of day, while The All-American Rejects’ Dirty Little Secret inspired a scene in my novel, Lost in Static.

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.

Haha you’re far more cultured than I am! If I want angry, I put on music that reminds me of people and places that I’d rather not remember – seems to do the trick!

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?

The beauty of Spotify is that you can pick an artist to suit the mood and you can get similar music to listen to. But I normally find myself rehashing old playlists. I find listening to new music distracting when writing. I need it in the background, like the test cricket.

What are you working on at the moment?

Editing book 2 (which is as yet untitled) – which, unfortunately, requires silence, so not so exciting on the music front. Although I did have fun searching through old European hits for the earlier half of the story.

Thanks, Christina for taking part. You can connect with Christina on TwitterFacebookInstagram and Google+. Don’t forget the complete playlist for this series of posts can be found here.


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.

Music to Write Books By – Shelley Wilson

Next up on the Crimepieces feature where authors reveal the music that they write their books to is Shelley Wilson. Shelley divides her writing time between motivational non-fiction for adults and the fantasy worlds of her young adult fiction. Her non-fiction books combine lifestyle, motivation, and self-help with a healthy dose of humour, and her approach to writing is to provide an uplifting insight into personal development and being the best you can be.

Shelley writes her Young Adult Fiction under ‘S.L Wilson’ and combines myth, legend and fairy tales with a side order of demonic chaos. She was born in Leeds but raised in Solihull, UK, where she lives with her three children, a crazy kitten, and a fat fish. She is an obsessive list maker, social media addict, and fan of all things vampire related!

Check out Shelley’s Amaxon page here. All the music chosen for this feature can by found on the dedicated YouTube panel.

 Shelley. Thanks for appearing on Crimepieces. Do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

When I read your feature with Nick Triplow, I realised I’m a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to music. If I’m working on my YA books, I tend to listen to the music I enjoyed when I was a teenager – Prince, Spandau Ballet, Bowie. I was a child of the 80s and can happily rewind the clock in my brain and recall the emotions of being fifteen again – always helpful when writing a teenage protagonist. Times (and technology) may have changed, but emotions haven’t.

However, if I’m working on my non-fiction titles – about personal development and self-help – I will listen to the music I played when I ran my holistic health spa. My favourite is Piano by the Sea by Global Journey which is also perfect to meditate to.

I love their Nature Sounds tracks which include songbirds, waterfalls, and rainfall.

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

I’m not sure this counts as I never actually wrote it, but I still vividly remember what I wanted to write. When I was growing up, my parents would always play the Beatles. I was hugely influenced by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. Whenever my dad played this album, an entire world would unfold in my head, and the characters story would follow each track. Maybe I need to re-listen to that album!

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

I would imagine that the Global Journey music is perfect for writing calmer scenes, or perhaps romantic chapters, Orithyia by Moonlight is a lovely track from Piano by the Sea. I only really deal with PG snogging so Wham’s Careless Whisper does the trick!

When I need to focus on the darker energies of my YA fantasy fiction I will turn to Guns and Roses or Aerosmith – the beat also gets me typing much faster.

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 love listening to movie soundtracks as they can be quite inspirational for writing. The Fault in our Stars soundtrack is great if you need to rip out your reader’s heart for example.

My absolute favourite movie soundtrack of all time is The Lost Boys – if I put this on, then I can write for hours.

What are you working on at the moment?

The final book in my YA Guardians trilogy, Guardians of the Lost Lands, will be released on 11th November 2016, so I’m getting ready for the launch. I’m also about to start the edits on a standalone YA novel called Oath Breaker which is a werewolf novel. I’ve released an Oracle book for the Mind, Body, Spirit genre so I’m busy promoting this as well as working on a second non-fiction memoir.

That should keep me out of mischief for a while.

Thank you for sharing your music choices with us, Shelley. Good luck with the writing.


Music to Write Books By – Catherine Hokin

CHThis week, I have Catherine Hokin on my blog talking about the music she listens to as she writes.

Catherine is a Glasgow-based author whose fascination with the medieval period began during a History degree which included studies into witchcraft, women and the role of political propaganda. CRDg-oxW8AAKMmDThis sparked an interest in hidden female voices resulting in her debut novel, Blood and Roses which brings a feminist perspective to the story of Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482, wife of Henry VI) and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses. Catherine also writes short stories – she was a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition and has been published by iScot magazine – and regularly blogs as Heroine Chic.

The complete series of music chosen by authors can be found on my Youtube playlist.

Do you have particular pieces of music you write to?

 I have a soundtrack to everything (working in silence terrifies me, uncontrollable brain-wandering) which changes with the time of day. I tend to do admin, articles and research in the morning and am addicted to Lauren Laverne’s morning show on BBC Radio 6. It’s a wonderful mix of old and new music and has introduced me to so many new songs, including my latest favourite The Kings of the Back of the Bus by Steven James Adams which will get anyone’s day off to a lyrical start.

The afternoon is for writing and needs different moods and albums rather than short songs. I am currently obsessed with The Bride by Bat for Lashes which is actually a story in musical form about a woman left at the altar when her husband dies on the way to the wedding. It’s theatrical, over the top and musically stunning.

It’s also a relatively quiet album which is unusual for me, my other default would be anything by Biffy Clyro so I am currently playing their new one Ellipsis to death.

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

 There is a wonderful song by The Waterboys called Stolen Child which includes the poem by the same name by WB Yeats: come away, O human child!/To the Waters and the wild/With a faerie hand in hand/For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand. It’s a favourite poem as well as a favourite song: changelings, malevolence and unexplained disappearances are fascinating themes that I played with in my short story Stolen Moments which was a finalist in last year’s Scottish Arts Club short story competition.

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

 For anything conflict or battle-related that needs a kick I have a few favourites: the Pixies, usually the Death to the Pixies album, and The Offspring’s Americana and, if things are getting really nasty, it will be Green Day and Blink 182. When I had to write a bedroom scene in my latest novel I found myself drawn to Bruce Springsteen’s track The River – I have no idea why, perhaps because it is so filled with hope and melancholy.

I played it on a loop until my family threatened murder. Fisherman’s Blues, again by The Waterboys, is a good backdrop for lyrical, descriptive writing. I am usually hopeless with anything that hasn’t got lyrics but the soundtrack for Buena Vista Social Club is a very good thinking-time album.


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 switch to Spotify in the afternoon and have it loaded up with albums, everyone mentioned above and many others! Someone I really like when I’m playing with words, particularly for short stories when each word counts and you have to get really crafty, is Frank Turner – he is a great wordsmith and his album Poetry of the Dead is full of little gems. To be an honest, an hour with one artist is about my limit – I’m a musical pick and mixer!


What are you working on at the moment?

Like a lot of writers, I have more than one book in process. Blood and Roses came out in January and there is still a lot of marketing going on around that. My second novel has just been signed by an agent – it centres on Katherine Swynford and her long-standing affair with the twice-married John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward III. She was the sister-in-law of Chaucer who features prominently, along with plague, mad monks and a tyrannical Richard II. While I’m waiting for next steps on that, I’m researching book 3 which has taken me into the twelfth century and more fascinating women.

Thanks for taking part in this, Catherine and good luck with the writing. Catherine’s social media links are below:

Social media links:

Twitter @cathokin