Just as some writers call themselves pantsers (the make-it-up-as-you-go mavericks) and others identify as plotters (the outline-before-you-put-pen-to-paper crowd), so some scribblers swear by working in rarefied silence while others blast music to help the creative process.
I’m firmly in… both camps on both subjects.
Before I write, I usually come up with a detailed synopsis that serves as a series of road signs. Once I’m into the story and the characters, I then feel free to go on detours, take the long way around or even change destinations entirely. But having that initial map helps me to get going.
What helps me to keep going is music and I usually choose albums or playlists that reflect the action I’m writing and that enhance the mood I’m trying to create. To prevent the music becoming intrusive, I end up listening to the same songs a lot so that they become like the soundtrack to a movie. (Only later, when I’m revising closely, which involves intense reading and re-reading, do I ease the volume down until eventually I’m working in silence.)
Over the past three years, the music that accompanied the writing of The Last Trilogy formed deep grooves in my brain and often found its way onto the printed page. I thought it’d be fun to share the most played songs in roughly the chronological order they served as inspirations.
Beware of minor spoilers.
The Last Girl
1. Eye In The Sky – The Alan Parsons Project
Danby hears a cover of this song, whose refrain is “I can read your mind”, by fictional band Distant Affliction, who’re named for the roots of the word “telepathy”. See what I gone-done-did there? The trilogy’s filled with this sorta stuff, partly to keep me entertained, partly to create the sense there’s a subconsciously networked world about to intrude on the characters.
2. America Is Waiting – Brian Eno and David Byrne
The first track from the boss 1981 album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, which pioneered the use of sampling. This sonic blast replicates the modern mediascape’s cascade of messages, which I envisaged might be how the inside of Danby’s head sounds as The Snap takes hold.
3. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – REM
Once The Snap gets going, could there be a better apocalyptic stream-of-consciousness accompaniment? Well, the “And I Feel Fine” bit doesn’t really suit, but you can’t have everything (because where would you put it?)
4. Derezzed – Daft Punk
Tron Legacy wasn’t much of a movie but what a great soundtrack. To my partner’s dismay, I listened to it day-in, day-out for the weeks it took to write the Beautopia Point escape sequence. I still love the brooding desperate energy of Derezzed that seems to dead-end on itself over and over even as it keeps going.
5. Help, I’m Alive – Metric
Another exciting track with a edge of horror, thanks to lyrics like “If I stumble, they’re going to eat me alive.” And the title sums up Danby’s predicament.
6. The Man Comes Around – Johnny Cash
Jack’s singing this when we first hear him. For those who know the lyrics, it’s a bit of foreboding, with its explicit references to a character heralding the end times and all that good stuff. I also love how it was used in the opening of the excellent Dawn Of The Dead remake (as in this clip).
7. The End – The Doors
This is the song Jack tells Danby he was singing as a busker when The Snap took place. The lyrics reflect his hidden self: a killer rising before dawn, heading west on the highway and having no love whatsoever for his dad. Bonus: “The End” plays over the opening of Apocalypse Now, whose surrealistic tone and sudden violence was a big inspiration for the whole series. Bonus bonus: the books are peppered with refs to Apocalypse’s source novel, Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. “Brooding gloom” — such a grand phrase.
8. Return Of The Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons
Jack wears this T-shirt because, well, he would as a bit of a self-styled maverick . The phrase describes his real character, rather inferring resemblance to the beautiful cosmic cowboy Gram Parsons. That said, I listened to a lot of Parsons’ music, particularly in the book’s melancholy moments when Danby considers her pantheon of dead heroes.
9. Rolling In The Deep – Adele
I needed a song that Danby could consider an “oldie” in the near future and I thought I chose this at random. But on closer listen I realised it was perfect, thanks to the lyric “You’re gonna wish you never had met me”. Must’ve been the subconsciousness whispering in my ear…