Do you listen to music when you write? No way!

Today I’m taking part in a themed blog splash run by Elaina James as part of the project she’s doing with Mslexia. Elaina’s blog series follows a lyricist with stage fright who has the chance to perform one of their songs on stage. She invited a group of us to write about our own relationships with music.

I’m not a huge fan of music. I realise this makes me a complete philistine, but there you have it. I find it hard to distinguish good music from mediocre. I appreciate that classical music is good, but really, I doubt I’d be able to sit and listen to it for too long without needing to go do something else. I envy those who can put some music on and just sink into it. I’d fidget.

I know what I like, but that’s not the same as appreciation. My CD collection is full of silly music – Spike Jonez, Max Raabe and the Palast Orchestra, 44 Leningrad, The Shirehorses and an awful lot of Tom Lehrer. The things these have in common is that they’re funny – some a parodies (The Shirehorses songs are ludicrous parodies, whilst Max Raabe is sublime) others are elaborate jokes set to music. Tom Lehrer is just genius.

I write in silence. If I’m forced to have something on in the background while I work, I’d choose something without lyrics because words from outside my head would distract me.

On the other hand, I’m happy to listen to pop music when I’m driving. This is largely because some pop music has fantastic lyrics. Taylor Swift, for example, is a poet who sings. So is Jarvis Cocker. I hear words and they immediately paint pictures in my mind. Words can evoke emotions in me in a way that music cannot.

The first short story I ever had published was inspired by a song lyric. I was lying on the floor, with my notebook and pen, in the middle of something when the song Burning Bridges by Status Quo (yes, I realise this reveals how old I am) came on the radio and I had a sudden, very vivid image of an old man crossing a rainbow bridge. Since I’d spent most of my childhood in Sri Lanka by that point, I don’t think I’d ever seen a real rainbow bridge before, but there it was, in my imagination.

I started writing. Eventually, I ended up with a short story about an old man remembering the days when he and his late wife sat by the bridge and how, one day, he’d carved their names into the brickwork at the base of it. Over the years their names had disappeared, covered over or worn away with time, but he knew they were there. Just like she was still there with him, even though she’d died many years ago.

I wrote it, did a swift line edit and sent it off to The Sun newspaper in Sri Lanka (a more respectable publication than its UK counterpart!) and it was published. They paid me a 100 rupees for it too (in those days, a paperback cost about 300 rupees, so they paid me a third of a book). I was about fourteen at the time. I didn’t have another short story published in print until I was in my thirties.

So there you go. Songs as inspiration. Maybe I should listen to music a bit more.

Please do pop over to Elaina’s blog on Mslexia and have a look through her series. It’s fascinating.