There are many things that inspire me to write.

I’ve spoken about some of them before in other blog posts. My reading history, television and films, and my influences growing up. The one I haven’t spoken about yet, though, is music.

Writing the ‘Ballad of the Songbird’ has been very much inspired by the music I’ve listened to, and continues to be so.

Sometimes, it is simply a piece of music or a song that will put me into a particular frame of mind for the subject of a chapter. Other times, it has been a song that provides an overarching theme.

Music links to my writing by falling into one of 4 categories.

Category 1:
The song isn’t directly playing to the chapters, but gives me a sense of the overall arc of the story. Think of this as the theme-tune if the book was a TV show!

Category 2:
The song has a tune AND lyrics that either completely or partially convey the sentiment of the chapter.

Category 3:
The song does not have a tune that expresses the sentiment of the chapter, but the lyrics are bang on!

Category 4:
The opposite of 3, the song gives you the sense of what you’re trying to visualise in respect to the content of the chapter

Okay, so with that established, let’s throw some examples of each at you.

Category 1 – The Theme Tune!

Stephanie Mabey – Glorious

This is a song that, I’d wager, not many people have heard.

Which is a shame, because I think it’s really beautiful.

Stephanie first came to my attention when someone played ‘The Zombie Song’ for me. It’s a funny little love song about her love story between a man and a zombie. I enjoyed it so much, it led me to her album, ‘Wake Up Dreaming’, and on there is the aforementioned track called ‘Glorious’.

One of the themes of ‘Songbird’ will be the characters finding their path in life.

When the first book starts, you’ll meet a host of characters who are lost or broken in some way, even if they don’t know it. Gayle is the most obvious cypher for this. She has lost her team, her friends and her sense of identity. Through ‘Hunters’, she is very much on a journey of self-discovery.

Who is she without her team?  Without her abilities?

Now that I’ve told you that, let me hit you with the first verse from ‘Glorious’…

There are times when you might feel aimless
And can’t see the places where you belong
But you will find that there is a purpose
It’s been there within you all along
And when you’re near it
You can almost hear it

Over the seven books, each of the characters will at some point wrestle with who they are. Who they are meant to be.

Stephanie Mabey’s ‘Glorious’ became almost like an anthem for ‘Songbird’, and Gayle in particular. More than that, it truly gave me an awesome idea for a key through-line for the book. So, in this aspect, it was art inspiring art.

Thanks, Stephanie.  😊

Where ‘Glorious’ inspired themes of the book and series, other songs were inspirational for particular chapters. In fact, when you read Hunters, you may see a chapter title here and there that you’ll recognize as a song title.

Now, let’s go take a look at the chapters that were somehow directly influenced by the music of that name.

Category 2 – Music & Lyrics kinda fit!

Okay, so here’s a track you may have (definitely!) heard before:

Blondie – One Way or Another

One way or another, I’m gonna find ya
I’m gonna get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya

So, this early chapter in the book introduces the reader to the characters of Zarra and Becka. The former is a bounty hunter, the latter is her sidekick of sorts. Zarra is engaged in a hunt, pursuing a mysterious creature through the deserted early morning streets of Havana, Cuba.

It’s a fun chapter, full of witty dialogue and an exciting pursuit as Zarra chases down her target, and as I was writing it, I was listening to the classic Blondie track, which had the right kind of upbeat, fun tempo I was looking for in the chapter. Plus, Debbie Harry sings the song with a sense of tough determination.

Now, if I were to list the lyrics here, and if you were to read the chapter, then you would see the two don’t quite mesh together thematically. But then, for me, that’s not entirely the point. The point is not to make the lyrics match, but to find a link between the ‘feel’ of the song and the words that the song would inspire me to write.

Category 3 – Lyrics mean EVERYTHING!

Barenaked Ladies – Falling For The First Time

Hunters‘ – Chapter 49, is entitled ‘Falling For The First Time’, which is a reference to a song by the aforementioned BNL. This particular section of the book details a blossoming relationship between two characters, and the question of what the feelings one particular character is starting to feel.

She has questions running through her mind regarding the validity of her emotions. The song just seemed to fit perfectly. Here’s a few of the lyrics…

Anyone perfect must be lying
Anything easy has it’s cost
Anyone plain can be lovely
Anyone loved can be lost
What if I lost my direction?
What if I lost a sense of time?
What if I nursed this infection?
Maybe the worst is behind
It feels just like I’m falling for the first time

Now for this example, the music is actually a little upbeat to match the sentiment of the chapter, but the words fit. The song communicates the confusion that she is feeling, most notably her suspicion that everything seems too easy for someone like her. She’s been burnt before, so why should this be any different.

Anyone perfect MUST be lying.

That’s essentially her dilemma. How does she trust someone else? How does she trust herself?

And then there’s…

Category 4 – Fuck the Lyrics, it’s that TUNE man!!

There’s a series of chapters in Book 2 – Blood to Earth, where Gayle will return to a location to face the ghosts of her past.

This will be a defining moment for her, and to get myself in the headspace, I found the perfect song.

Make This Go On Forever – Snow Patrol

Now, there are some lyrics that fit…

All that I keep thinking throughout this whole flight
Is it could take my whole damn life to make this right
This splintered mast I’m holding on won’t save me long
Because I know fine well that what I did was wrong

But, as the title for this section indicates, the lyrics don’t really matter to me here. It’s that tune! I LOVE this song because of the tune.

There’s this whole sad, mournful quality to it, this kind of pleading tone where the singer sounds like they’re asking for forgiveness. Also, the rhythmic quality of the piano (at least it sounds like a piano!) that gives the impression of footsteps.

When I close my eyes and picture Gayle walking through her memories as she slowly retraces her previous steps, this music plays in my head. If this was a scene in a TV Show (give me a call, HBO!) then this would be the song playing over the top of it.

Really loud!

I’m fully thinking about putting a little ‘track list’ as an afterword in my books so that readers can see the tracks that inspired particular chapters.

On a Final Note…

Hehe.

But seriously, when I listen to music that inspires a chapter, I close my eyes and hear the song and picture how the scene unfolds and the emotions at play with the characters.

As you can see elsewhere on this website, I’ve had some fun casting the characters with actors and actresses. During these little imaginary excursions, I’d sometimes dream of my books being a HBO series – a la ‘Game of Thrones’. I used to think about having these songs on the soundtrack…I even went as far for a while as thinking of the show as being semi-musical in nature.

Anyhow, there you go.  A little peek into my crazy mind and my odd writing process. 

Hope you enjoyed it!

Love & Books

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16 Comments

  1. victuals

    Reply

    Are there any movie soundtracks that inspire you? I don’t get into any soundtrack 100%. I tend to fall in love with a couple of tracks and disregard the rest, even with well-regarded ones like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ . Cool to land on your blog right after you posted about all this!

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      Hi Victuals,
      I absolutely LOVE soundtracks. The GOTG soundtracks play to my taste in music, so they are much beloved.
      But I also adore movie and game soundtracks. For some of the more, shall we say, romantic moments in the story, I sometimes listen to the themes from Final Fantasy VII. I love Aerith’s theme.
      For more action packed scenes, I’m a big fan of listening to more orchestral movie soundtracks, like James Horner’s ‘Aliens’ and ‘Star Trek II’ soundtracks.

  2. Mitch

    Reply

    I think this is great! Imagining your books were already turned into movies. Picking your own soundtrack! That’s pretty cool. I think it makes sense too but I wonder how many writers define their characters by a song.

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      That’s a REALLY good question Mitch.
      It happens all the time in movies especially. Think of the MCU movies, each of the characters has a theme. Cap, Iron Man, Thor etc. Star Wars is probably one of the best examples, with the very recognisable Lukes theme, Leia’s theme and the ever recognisable Imperial March.
      I’m not sure at the moment I have a defined song choice for Gayle or any of my characters, just certain songs that fit certain moments.
      I’d LOVE to see a movie of show based on my books, and I’d LOVE to see what themes they come up with!

    • victuals

      Reply

      Aerith’s theme is lovely. I used to relax to Minecraft’s piano tunes. Also, great call on “One Way or Another” – Debbie Harry’s voice rocks out!

      • Jon Ford

        Reply

        Aerith’s theme is beautiful. In fact the whole of the FFVII soundtrack is lovely. 🙂

  3. Jackie

    Reply

    Hi Jon,
    Thank you for sharing how music inspires you. I think it would be awesome to include a list of tracks in your book that inspired you. It would give your readers a cool insight into what inspires you.

    I am an artist and find that music really speaks to me, too. I have gotten a lot of inspiration for my art from music. Music also helps focus my mind – and sometimes that can be a real challenge!

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      I’m very seriously thinking about putting something in the back of the book listing the tunes that go with certain chapters… Yup, I think I’ll do that! 😀

      • RaeY

        Reply

        That’s a pretty cool idea. I’m glad you’re putting it in the back. I bet it will get people thinking more about the chapter when they read which song inspired it. I, for one, would probably go back and reread the chapter to see if it made sense or gave new meaning to the words.

        • Jon Ford

          Reply

          I think it certainly might add another dimension to reading a chapter through if you can hear what I was listening to when I was writing it. It might help them FEEL the chapter the way I intended it to feel.
          If that makes any sense! LOL

          • RaeY

            That makes perfect sense. I think it would be cool to read it without knowing the music first and then a second time after. It might change the readers way of thinking about what was happening.

  4. Wabi_Sabi

    Reply

    I’m one of those folks who can only write and read when the music’s instrumental. I get too caught up listening to the lyrics and stitching together what (I assume) the songwriter’s trying to convey. It wasn’t like this before, though.

    Have your listening habits or tastes changed over years?

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      Oh god, yes!!!!
      Quick timeline of Jon’s music taste history!

      Pre-teens – I loved The Wombles! 😛
      Early Teens – I started listening to Madness. Then when puberty kicked in (and I got interested in girls!) it was Kim Wilde, Madonna, Belinda Carlisle etc. Oddly I started listening to a lot of 1950’s rock and roll too.
      Later Teens – This became a kind of weird mix of the above, with sprinklings of Depeche Mode thrown in. Then I hit a real Rock phase when I got Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’ album. After that it was them, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Vixen, Poison… But I also really started to get into movie soundtracks too. The works of Zimmer, Elfman, Silvestri and of course Williams.
      In adulthood, I’ve found that I’ll listen to just about anything. I’m not into heavy rap, or very heavy/thrash metal.
      And, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite band became the Barenaked Ladies, who I’ve seen in concert more times that I care to remember. 🙂

  5. Wabi_Sabi

    Reply

    This will carbon-date me, but I had One Step Beyond on cassette and “It Must Be Love” on vinyl.

    You somehow escaped punk and grunge phases! It’s funny and surprising how tastes change, isn’t it?

    • Jon Ford

      Reply

      Oh god, yes! LOL
      I sometimes feel like my taste in music is eclectic. All over the map. But it’s just an amalgamation of my tastes evolving over the years. I never fall out of love with music, I just learn to embrace a little bit more.
      I’m also pretty influenced by my parents tastes too, so to this day I’ll listen to some real golden oldies like Dr Hook, Boney M and the BeeGee’s. LOL

      The first vinyl single I ever remember buying was ‘Baggy Trousers’ by Madness. 😀

      • Wabi_Sabi

        Reply

        Nice! And who knew that vinyl was going to be cool again? Well, maybe we all secretly knew 🙂

        Do you think your writing changed along with your music tastes, even if the changes were on the subtle side (slightly different plot twists, characterizations, diction, other)?

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