Wednesday 25 May 2016

Guess Post: Writing The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel

It's no secret that sometimes we think 'that's not my cup of tea, I'm probably not going to read that'. Then you think OK maybe this time I'll give it a go...and then you see Ben Aaronovitch endorses it, and you fall in love when you read it! It wasn't at all what I expected and those are the best reads. You can check out our review HERE and whilst we all wait for another adventure I am very pleased to welcome the author Andrew Cartmel to the blog to talk about about how the book came about and HOW you choose the right music (something I continuously wondered about when I was reading the book). DJ play that track (sorry!) 

Before I became a writer of crime novels I worked in television drama for a spell, most notably as script editor — or show runner — on three seasons of Doctor Who. This was the old school Doctor Who, where we didn’t have much of a budget, but what we had in ample supply was creativity. I had the privilege to hire, and work with, some of the best writers in the business. And while I’m sure they learned a lot from the experience, I know that I did, too. It was fascinating to discover the different techniques developed by different creative minds. One writer showed me that you didn’t need to write your script in sequential order. You could start with the ending if you liked, and write scenes from anywhere in the story, so long as you had a clear idea of the outline and linked everything up properly. Another one quoted the film director Luis Buñuel’s priceless adage that “the imagination is a muscle” — it improves from exercising it. So if you’ve had a great idea, don’t horde it and store it away — use it and then you’ll come up with more great ideas.

But one of the most fascinating techniques came from Ben Aaronovitch, now a bestselling crime novelist in his own right. The thing that Ben did was to play music while he was writing. Now, there was nothing new in this. I’d always done the same thing. But the clever thing about Ben’s approach was that he chose music to specifically match the mood of the scene he was writing. In retrospect, like the other gems I gleaned from other writers, this seems bleedin’ obvious. But the fact is that I’d never previously thought of it, and it was a revelation.

So what kind of music should you choose when you’re writing your own masterpiece? Well, of course it depends in part on what kind of music you like and what kind of book you’re writing. But there are some general ground rules which may be useful for everyone. I find that songs can be a bit dodgy. The words coming from the singers mouth tend to interfere with the words being born in the writer’s mind. There are exceptions to this, though — songs in a language which you don’t speak are just beautiful sounds. So feel free to play lots of Edith Piaf — unless of course you’re fluent in French. And then there’s the great jazz singers… Ella Fitzgerald’s voice is an amazing instrument, quite literally. It’s like a horn played by a virtuoso soloist, and the meaning of the words she sings are so secondary to the wonderful musical shapes she’s making with them, that I find Ella can be safely played while writing, as can the great Betty Carter and many others.

But, by and large, instrumental music is the way to go. If you’re a classical music authority you shouldn’t have any trouble choosing masterpieces to suit any mood you’re trying to conjure on the page (if not, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé can conjure an atmosphere of dreamy, drifting ecstasy, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has a brutal driving urgency, and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet delivers a towering, icy sense of menace… just to name a few). For the non-expert, though, I’d recommend film soundtracks. This is a fantastically rich field and you can find absolutely anything you need here.

When I had to write a fast-moving spy thriller, and write it fast, too, I was eternally grateful for the music to the Jason Bourne movies. The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum by John Powell were all worth their weight in platinum. When the
franchise changed its star, the composer changed, too. But James Newton Howard’s music for The Bourne Legacy was as breathlessly inspiring and helpful as its predecessors.

If it’s suspense or fear you aim to invoke, then there is no one better than Bernard Herrmann, the genius responsible for the unforgettable all-strings score for Psycho. To evoke the darkness and danger of a big city at night, nothing beats his Taxi Driver. If it’s a chase you’re after, then what you want is Herrmann’s North By Northwest.

For action (and much else), the master is Jerry Goldsmith. His music for Under Fire will have your pulse racing with excitement and exhilaration. Propulsive, dark-and-dirty action? Goldsmith’s Extreme Prejudice. Sweeping, exotic, romantic action? Jerry’s The Wind and the Lion. And if it’s satanic terror you want to conjure up, try his spine-chilling music for The Omen.

There are many other geniuses in the world of film soundtracks. Danny Elfman specialises in skittering, mad, warped comedy (Edward Scissorhands, The Corpse Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and pounding action (Batman). Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther, Days of Wine and Roses, Hatari, Charade) is ideal for comedy, fun, good-natured adventure, love and romance — although the greatest love theme of all time might be the one Alex North wrote for Spartacus… especially when it’s played by the peerless jazz musician Yusef Lateef.

Which is where I come in. That’s one of my favourite pieces of music of all time… and you’re likely to find me listening to it when I’m writing about the Vinyl Detective. And since it’s also absolutely his kind of music, it’s likely to be what he’s listening to, when I’m writing about him.

Happy writing — and happy listening.

The Vinyl Detectives written in dead wax is out NOW go get your musical fix and let us know what you think!


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