I've blogged about this before, but as I am feeling my way into the new book, I thought it might be interesting to revisit the way I use music when I'm writing. Plus sharing with you two of my current favourite songs.
It's been my experience, both when writing Strictly Love and it seems to be happening again now, that a character whom I wasn't expecting to have too much to do with has suddenly upped the ante and wants a much bigger part.
In Strictly Love that character is Rob, who starts the book as a serial commitment freak and who ends it... well I won't tell you how his story ends, you'll just have to read it and find out won't you...
But, when I started Strictly Love it was Mark's story I wanted to tell - he being the dentist hero who popped into my head first. Then I found my way to Katie, and then Emily. But Rob. Rob, was just supposed to be the happy-go-lucky best mate, who came along for the ride. Except he wouldn't let me do that to him. The more I wrote him, the more depths I found, which is a great experience for a writer.
I can't remember which way round it happened. Whether I heard this song on the radio first and had that YESSSSS!!! moment that told me this was HIS song, HIS theme..., or whether I started writing Rob and realised he needed a song all his own, doesn't really matter. At some point I found a song for Rob. And boy did it help me write his story.
The song in question is Feel by Robbie Williams and I share it with you now. I can't do a lot of clever high faluting music criticism because a) I am about as musical as a stone and b) I find a lot of music criticism quite pretentious.
But... for me, always when I'm drawing on songs, it's the depth of emotions that the song calls from me that helps me shape my stories and characters. And this song is so heart tugging and poignant, and makes me want to wrap poor little Robbie Wiliams up in my arms and say there, there (even THOUGH my head is saying, bad idea girl...), that is seems to sum up Rob's particular set of problems.
He starts the story as a bit of a jack the lad, a commitment phobe who enjoys women but who will never settle down. But behind the smile there is inevitably a great deal of pain. I've known blokes like that and enjoy their company. But I'd never want to marry one. I hope by the end of the book if you're a woman you might consider marrying Rob. And if you do, this song is why...
The current book is going to be a Christmas story. It is somewhat more ambitious in structure then anything I've attempted before. I'm using flashbacks. Yikes. And four characters in two locations. Double Yikes.
To start with I was going to go for three storylines, following the fortunes of Gabriel, a shepherd who starts the story as his wife leaves, and Marianne who moves to the country only to get dumped. Their strand of the story takes place in a fictional village I've based on the place where my mum lives in Shropshire, while the other strand is following the fortunes of Catherine who lives in London. Catherine and I have a deal in common, as we both have four children. But I hope that's where the resemblance is going to end. I gave her four children, mainly because for plot purposes she needs a great deal of chaos in her life, and believe you me four children do that to you.
Once again, Catherine's husband Noel was going to be an also ran, a necessary but secondary character. However, like Rob, he was having none of that (my characters certainly like bossing me about), and as soon as I started writing Chapter One he took over and said, hey what about me. As background material I watched It's A Wonderful Life for the first time. Inexplicably it was one of those films I'd always meant to see but never had (can't think why as I adore James Stewart), and when I did see it it blew me away entirely. And THEN I really got what Noel's story was going to be. In some ways it's at the heart of the story, and is going to pivot round a very important scene towards the end of the book (this also always happens to me when I'm writing - I have a scene in my head from the very beginning which occurs near the end, but has immense significance for the outcome of the story. I've never tried writing that scene first, though it's very tempting, but I think I need to live through the story myself before I get there).
And THEN... I heard Neil Diamond's new song Pretty Amazing Grace and it blew my mind, and I realised this song is at the heart of Noel's story. Like Feel it sends shivers up my spine and takes me into the soul of who I want Noel to be, and what his problems are. I'm not sure if I've explained that very coherently. But that's sort of the way it seems to work for me.
So here it is (along with Love on the Rocks, as an added bonus)
I defy you not to have the hairs on the back of your neck rise...