Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Music For Writers #6: Ray Cluley

After a pause for holidays, Music For Writers is back, this week with selections from Ray Cluley. Ray is one of my favourite authors writing at the moment (his was the first story for The Hyde Hotel); if you're reading this blog chances are you'll agree with me; on the off-chance you aren't aware of his work why not try his collection Probably Monsters or the chapbook Water For Drowning...

And if the below is anything to go by, he likes some good tunes as well, so let's get this show on the road.

Take it away, Ray:


Like many other writers (such as this lot James has gathered up), I like to use music when I’m writing. Music can put me in the zone. Music can lend a helpful atmosphere or provide a suitable emotional backdrop. Music can inspire (muse-sic). 

Usually I favour scores and soundtracks from films and TV – I could fill an entire blog with my favourites of those, easy – taking what has been used to support an existing narrative and using it to either support my own or inspire one. If it’s the former, I’ll pick something in keeping with the mood I want or the genre and put it on repeat. Not only does it get me in the right mood-set but I’m convinced it affects my word choices and the structure of the work as well.

Listen to how Angelo Badalamenti so beautifully describes and performs (with a passion that is practically sexual!) the relationship between narrative and music here:


Incidentally, the Twin Peaks score, and the soundtrack used for Fire Walk with Me, are two of my favourites albums for writing to. However, for this ‘Music for Writers’ project I’m going to (try to) list music that does not fall into the score or soundtrack category…


I’ve made it pretty clear once or twice in the past that I’m a huge fan of this Icelandic band. Their music (avant-rock, apparently) is ethereal, elegiac, mournful… They have some happy songs, too, but it’s the more otherworldly contemplative material I like best. The melancholy music. The haunting music. Like ‘Lúppulagiđ’:


Sigur Rós were most directly influential regarding my novella, Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow, which I wrote entirely while listening to a repeated mix of their albums. I did the same recently for a story called ‘The Whalers Song’ which I wrote for Ellen Datlow’s horror stories of the sea anthology, The Devil and the Deep.

[Disclaimer: Okay, so their music has been used plenty of times in films and TV, but that wasn’t how I discovered them and so it doesn’t break my self-imposed rule.]


I was lucky enough to see Pook perform at St George’s in Bristol and I’ll be treasuring that memory forever (not least of all because I went with the wonderful Volks). This song – ‘Backwards Priests’ – is one of my favourites:


Again, it breaks my own self-imposed rules a little as part of this particular track was used in Stanley Kubric’s Eyes Wide Shut, but I’m allowing it (I’m generous like that) because I didn’t know it from a film when I first came across it. A dance teacher I once knew used it (brilliantly) for a piece she choreographed with her students, and I in turn used the music in my Creative Writing class. I showed the students a clip from The Ring remake – the black and white images and sequences from the cursed video footage – and then played this music and asked them to write their own version of the cursed tape, just free-writing to the music, noting anything and everything they thought of while it played. They came up with some beautiful ideas. I do the same thing myself as a writing warm-up sometimes.


Right, turns out I’m rubbish at not including scores or soundtracks. I discovered Clannad via the wonderful Robin of Sherwood series, and they provided the theme to Harry’s Game, as well as a superb song for The Last of the Mohicans. But this one, ‘Coinleach Glas An Fhómhair’, is my favourite.


I like folk music a lot and, as with Sigur Rós, I like it when lyrics are foreign so I can’t understand the words, otherwise I’d likely be distracted and/or overly influenced by them. When I first started writing I was a fantasy nerd and Clannad were great for that genre (not least of all because of the Robin Hood link). I may not write that kind of fantasy often any more, but I do still listen to Clannad while I write. There’s a great deal of comfort in the familiarity. I also like the music of former band member Enya, and also Loreena McKennitt, for the same sort of vibe.

[Note: By fantasy nerd I mean I was a huge fan of Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games, and there’s a lot to be said for the benefits of such a hobby when it comes to honing narrative skills and ideas concerning character creation and development. Besides, it’s great fun. I fully recommend it.]


I heard their debut album – Dummy – in a record shop back in 1994 and bought it immediately. I’d never felt so instantly compelled to buy an album before (and only once again since – see below). I’d heard less than one full song before handing over my cash and did not regret the purchase one tiny bit: Dummy is not only one of my favourite writing albums, but one of my favourite albums of all time. I love the second album, too (Third, not so much) and desperately wish there were more.



Portishead are trip hop, but I just thought the music sounded spooky. Melody Maker described it as “musique noire for a movie not yet made”. Perfect for writing, in other words.


Turns out Facebook can be good for some things, sometimes. Nathan Ballingrud once posted a link to this song he liked, ‘Both Sides’, by She Keeps Bees, and – curious – I had a listen. I bought the album immediately afterwards (this being the only time post-Portishead that I’ve been so compelled).


Goes well with whiskey.

Bonus track: Elton John (sort of)

I’m not really a fan of Elton John’s music at all. In fact, I really dislike Elton John’s music, if I’m being honest. But when I was writing ‘Pins and Needles’ I made a play list of space-themed songs (something the main character had in the story) and included at as part of that mix. There were songs like ‘Out of Space’ by The Prodigy and ‘Space Dog’ by Tori Amos and a fair few songs by David Bowie (I love The Prodigy, and I love Tori Amos, and who doesn’t love David Bowie?) but it was Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ that proved crucial for the story’s… climax. And because of that, because the song (which I’ve never voluntarily listened to ever again since) was so directly important to the story itself, it feel it needs to get a mention here.

[Ray is right, never voluntarily listen to this song - JE]




Note: The only other time a song has had such a direct impact on a story was ‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, which I used with more subtlety in ‘When the Devil’s Driving’.


So there you are, a few of the songs and albums that help me write. Thanks for inviting me to share, James. I’m looking forward to seeing what other people use…

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