Barry Forshaw writes: ahead of my Financial Times review of A Deadly Thaw,I’m happy to have my fellow classical music-lover Sarah Ward tell Crime Time readers what composers she writes her excellent crime novels to…
I’ve been having a discussion with other authors recently about what we listen to as we write our books. I’m aware that I’m fortunate in that I have a dedicated room in which to write but despite living in the middle of nowhere real life does intrude into my silence. I used to write with my headphones on, no music playing but just white noise to cut out the sound of my neighbour’s piano practice and the local cockerel who doesn’t appreciate he’s only supposed to crow at dawn. Music was too distracting until, one day, I reached an impasse. I needed to write a scene involving an act of violence. I was feeling relaxed and what I was putting on the page wasn’t working. I couldn’t conjure up the feeling of fear and terror, so I turned to music. I chose Holst principally because he was the first composer that came into my head. Mars, the Bringer of War is probably the best known of the Planet movements and it did the trick.
I should have thought of it before as, for me, music and books have always gone hand in hand. Reading was my first love but my musical parents wanted me to learn an instrument. The piano went by the wayside as a teenager and I took up singing instead. In some ways its harder than playing an instrument. Need a B Flat? I can find it on the piano, no problem, but I’ve got to think before I sing the note. Like reading, though, choral music has been both a distraction and a comfort. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve found a choir to sing in and it’s been the easiest way to meet people given that reading, and now writing, are such solitary occupations.
I now use pieces of music regularly to set my mood. Given that I write in a linear way, I start at the beginning of my book and keep going, my mood at a given time can be at odds with the type of passage I’m writing. Music can change that and a chance comment on my Facebook page revealed that there’s common ground in authors’ choices of inspiration. Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, for example, was cited by two other crime writers as their favourite work to listen to.
I’ve started asking writers to share their recommendations on my blog, Crimepieces. Symphonies are popular, as are film soundtracks. In both instances, composers strive to create a coherent mood over a lengthy piece of music and it can be invaluable for those of us who need to sit down for a two hour writing stretch. So what are my own recommendations? For my latest book, A Deadly Thaw, I wanted to create an atmosphere of a weak spring, a fragile season where the cold hasn’t long left Derbyshire. Vivaldi was too joyful but Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre was perfect as was Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. And, of course, Vaughan Williams. He’s a man for all seasons and I’m pretty sure will see me through all my future books.