When music creeps into your writing

It’s ironic that the two most brutish men I’ve ever created should both be associated with tinkly piano music.

When writing a novel, I obsessively listen to the same music every day until the book is finished (or I’ve gone nuts.)  The Bladerunner soundtrack is forever associated in my mind with my novel TRANSFERENCE and two Einaudi tracks Oltremare and L’Origine Nascosta from Divenire are the theme for Vincent Gomenzi (the anti-hero in V.GOMENZI.

But it was another Fleet Quintet character that had his music appear in the prose itself.  The hard ass Igen Dyce, whom we first met in FLESH FOR SALE has his character broadened considerably in V.GOMENZI.  The piece of music (The Mystery of Love from the TV version of Dr Zhivago) is actually a favourite of his girlfriend’s.  She’s a minor character whom we hardly ever meet, but is Igen Dyce’s primary motivation:  when she sells herself to the Fleet, he dedicates his life to recovering her.


In the sealed silence of their luxury apartment, he became aware that he’d left a selection of music running but couldn’t draw himself away to turn it off.  A piece came on, Michelle’s favourite, called something trite like “The Mystery of Love.”

It began unsuspectingly, a few quiet notes, but suddenly the orchestra swelled and the piano became more compelling.  He had never heard the piece properly before, never noticed the tremendous crescendo, so perfect it was like glass breaking, the notes clear and translucent.  And then suddenly it stopped, the melody changed.  It was the same melody that danced through the collection, so light it took your breath away.  It always made Michelle cry.  The emotion of the piece was undeniable.  Not only did it reach out for God, it found him.  The brief piano melody, the cool sweep of a single violin behind it, penetrated Igen’s consciousness as he stood at the window, staring at nothing, as he realised that he was never going to see Michelle again.


Years later, well into my Exodus Sequence stories, another Einaudi track turned up in SUICIDED.  A dirt fighter hears it moments before entering the gladiatorial-type pit.  Rape (cut from Rapier) is possibly the most violent character I’ve ever created so the irony is even greater when you consider the gentleness of Einaudi’s music.  The opening of Eros (from Nightbook) seems to start with birds twittering in the background.  Hearing this music added another dimension to what should have been a mindless fighter:  Rape is anything but mindless and has a revelation that goes beyond immortality.


The music was sawing inside his skull, the violins, the cello, some kind of drum.  He was motionless, listening to every note, his arms at his sides, his expression fixed.

Lights from the arena flashed through a slit in the door, strobing and shattering, a blinding display.  His eyes were fixed to the door.  Cameras were fixed to the ceiling.  Through the walls, the sound of his name pounded.  Through his veins, the music raced.  The rhythms grew more complex until he could hear pounding in their core the word death.  Death, death, death.  One two three.  A three step.  You could dance to it.

It was almost time.  The gun was about to go off.  Then the doors would smash open and his manager would be shouting the last words of encouragement and the noise of the crowds would press on him, a vast, terrible weight … but not yet.  Not yet.  Almost.  He waited.  Time seemed to have stopped.  The violins were sawing to a frantic climax.  It was supposed to be about sex.  This was about death.  Sex.  Death.  Interchangeable.  Same outcome.  Same climax.  Same rush.


(You can also buy SUICIDED by itself:  see here)

I recently read the most appallingly bad book, worsened by characters listening to Led Zep and David Bowie and other big star clichés whom the author no doubt picked because readers would have heard of them.  Worse still, the death metal Goth-girl stereotype has Neil Diamond on her iPod.  Seriously?

This is NOT what I mean about music in writing, but a description of the music itself insinuating into the prose.

Has anyone else had this happen to them?


Einaudi on YouTube:  Divenire  and Dr Zhivago and Nightbook


Posted in My Books, On Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The sheer utter misery of approaching literary agents: the days of the rejection slip are over

When did literary agents start treating authors like shit?  I’ve spent the better part of 30 years trying to find an agent.  If I’ve failed, it’s because my work was either utter garbage or wrong for that agent.  But there seems be another reason now.

Agents have always been hopelessly inundated with manuscripts.  The slush pile is famous.  Nowadays, it’s worse.  More people on Planet Earth = more manuscripts = bigger slush pile.  Once upon a time, you sent off your three chapters, prayed hard, got a rejection slip after 6 to 12 weeks and moved on to the next agent.  Multiple admissions were frowned upon:  it was deeply impolite to send your work to more than one agent at a time.

Until recently, I thought this was still true.  I believed that you really shouldn’t send your manuscript to more than one agent at a time and that you should just wait until you got your rejection slip before moving on.  I thought I was taken a huge risk by sending my manuscript off to two at once – but then, I told myself, the one was the most popular literary agent in the world and highly unlikely to even notice I was alive.  It’s like stepping on an ant on the sidewalk – do you even know you’re doing it?  After four months, I hadn’t heard from either agent and took what I thought was another great risk – I approached agent number 3.

And then I read ON AN AGENT’S WEBSITE that if if they weren’t interested in the manuscript and didn’t want to read beyond your crappy first three chapters, THEY WOULDN’T LET YOU KNOW.  They wouldn’t even bother to send you a rejection slip (even an electronic one.)  So how the fuck are you supposed to know if they’re ever going to reply?  The maximum number of agents you can send your work to in a year is 4, given the three month wait.  FOUR.  And if none answer you EVER, then it’s, well, 1.  If agents don’t send rejection slips anymore, is it any wonder that authors now, in desperation, have resorted to multiple submissions?  In another blog, I read that many authors are doing this now.  It’s still a frowned-upon practice but agents are “resigned” to the fact that authors do it anyway;  if one agent does accept you, the polite practice now is to let the others know so that they don’t have to bother reading your stuff.

One could say that with multiple admissions, authors are treating agents poorly.  But how are agents treating authors if they couldn’t even be bothered to send a fuck-off email.  At this point, I should go off in a huff and say, well, bugger all that, I’m going to self-publish.  Except I tried that and it didn’t work.

So I am going to try the multiple submissions method.  Because, God knows, I am so far down in the black pit of despair when it comes to my non-career that I’ve got nothing left to lose.

Posted in Getting Published | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An insightful review of Black Panther

Warning:  spoiler alert.  This is an in-depth review that discusses events you may not want to know about if you’re looking for surprises at the cinema.

(This is a reblog)


Posted in General | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A farewell to Ursula K. Le Guin

I was sorry to hear, this morning, that Ursula Le Guin had died, but relieved that she had lived to a ripe age and had successfully produced a huge body of work.  I’ve read several of her books – not always understanding them – and they have all left me something to think about, sometimes for years.  If you haven’t read her, start with The Earthsea Quartet.  (As coincidence would have it, my daughter is reading it at the moment.)  I told a work colleague, who has never read her and likes his fiction literary, to read The Dispossessed.  It’s amazing how her work feels even more relevant today than ever before.

If you want to read more about her, try the Wiki page:  (it has a note on it to say that it has an extremely high volume of traffic so expect it to crash soon.)


None of her books have been successfully filmed, which is a pity, and the radio adaption of The Earthsea Quartet (which I’ve listened to several times on Radio 4 Extra) left something to be desired as well.  I think this is bound to happen when plots of too complex to condense and so much is lost.  Also, her writing created great flights of fancy (for me, anyway) and one person’s vision of a book isn’t ever the same as another’s.  I didn’t know much about her when I first started reading her and wasn’t entirely surprised to find how well-educated she was, something I envy hugely as it gave her writing such a broad scope.  Her work isn’t always easy to read but always worth it.

Amongst her many awards, I see she got one from the US Library of Congress who made her a Living Legend.  Wow:  you can’t hope for anything better than that as a writer!

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Stop Procrastinating and Get that Story Finished

Good advice!


The first week of 2018 started off with a bang (literally and figuratively speaking). I finally finished my latest project, which is now in publication stage. Launching a new book is always exciting, and when you finally see it in print, nothing compares to holding a physical copy of your book in your hands. That feeling never subsides, no matter how many books you write.

But before you can celebrate the release of a new book, you have to finish writing it.


I read posts in writing forums all the time from writers who have difficulty finishing the book they’re writing. They have so many ideas and start a ton of projects, but have a hard time finishing any of them. It takes discipline and pushing your internal editor aside to get it done.

An informational meeting I attended recently focused on that exact topic. During this meeting, I jotted…

View original post 616 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A disastrous trip to the bookshop

Having collected my ten stamps from Waterstone’s – £10 off my next purchse -I went off to buy a book today as a special treat, a trip postponed from the pre-Christmas nightmare that was my life.

My local bookshop is the Waterstone’s on Gower Street, a gorgeous building, all turrets and nooks and crannies.  But it has undergone unfortunate refurbishment in recent years.  First they closed down the best Costa in London, where you could sit in one of those nooks or crannies in the basement, surrounded by books, in an atmosphere of wonderfulness.  In it’s place is a horrible coffee shop called Dillons (the original name of the store) and the Costa space downstairs is now a seriously pretentious art gallery.  Fiction is no longer on the ground floor where you would expect it but shoved in the smaller space that is the first floor, with tremendously dull history (and, I think, travel) taking up the ground floor.  The upper floors remain textbooks, which is fine, but the divine mythology-type section has vanished entirely, reduced to a single shelf in some crap section called “mind, body, spirit.”  All the most interesting books have been squashed into the horrible basement with its low ceilings, lack of fresh air and view and space to turn around.  It was only ever interesting when the travel section was next to the Costa, but with that gone ….

I took myself off to the huge Waterstone’s on Piccadilly.  Caught a bus which I don’t do often but it was just too damn cold to walk (and spitting ice nuggets.)  Hurling myself onto the back of a bus before the doors closed, I tramped upstairs, forgetting entirely to tap my Oyster card.  This is the FIRST time in my entire life that I’ve forgotten to pay on a bus.  Never mind, I thought, when I finally remembered, I’ll tap my card on the way out.  At least then no one could accuse me of stealing bus fare.  When was the last time you saw a ticket inspector on a bus, anyway.  And what were the chances I would be caught.

Well, fuck, I got caught.  In horror, I saw a scary transport police type bearing down on me where I was sitting at the back so thought I’d better nip downstairs to tap my card – only to have another one coming up the back stairs. I was surrounded.  I was trapped.  I was almost in tears, apologising over and over, trying to convince them that I was a boring middle-aged woman who had a tendency to forget things in moments of stress (had a bad morning at work) and not a dangerous criminal cadging a free ride on a bus.  They hounded me for ten minutes until finally I said, okay, how much of a fine do you want me to pay?  £50?  £100? And then I saw my stop and they let me off with a warning.  I did tap my card when I got off the bus but being a silly sensitive bunny, I felt rather shaken for the rest of the morning, all the excitement gone out the morning.

Thought I would relax when at last I was finally in the huge big bookshop and could browse to my heart’s content.  Except that the mythology section was about as pathetic as the smaller branch, having being swallowed up by thousands and thousands of shelves on food writing, recipe books, diet books, the kind of garbage writing I can’t stand with stupid celebrity faces beaming off every cover.  In fact, every table in Waterstone’s seemed to have books with celebrity faces beaming maniacally at the world in garish technicolour.  Where was the bookshop atmosphere?  Why did my feet hurt so much as I desperately opened yet another book, trying to find at least one chapter on the apparently esoteric subject I’m interested in?  Half the time I could hardly read a line because some arsehole was talking at the top of his voice on his phone (notifications set to full blast) to someone who was also speaking on a loudhailer.

I was really NOT having a good time.  Never mind, I thought desperately.  I’ll buy a fiction book instead but the only copy they had of the book I wanted was imported – £15 for a paperback?!  NUTS.

I left without buying anything and walked home in the ice nuggets, resolved to only buy books from Amazon in future, where browsing is done sitting down while drinking a decent cup of coffee/tea and listening to nice music instead of some foghorn on a phone.  And actually finding the book I want.

I can’t believe that bookshops are no longer the heavenly sanctuary they used to be, where the books on sale are much the same as the crap you find in the supermarket, where the nice coffee bar has turned into a wine bar (or just gone) ….. but far worse, where no niche-type books are available.  Only seven million fucking recipe books.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Happy New Adverb

As a writer, one must, one presumes, set some sort of writing goal for 2018.  “Write more” is always a good one.  “Read more,” in my case – I’m definitely reading less than I used to.  Time is a factor.

But my most ambitious goal for this year is to be successfully traditionally published.  Realising that I had just shoved two awkward adverbs together, I made my second goal:  to adverbly go where no-one has gone before.

Why are adverbs frowned upon?  A beta reader told me recently that there shouldn’t be more than one adverb per page of any novel.  Is this some kind of Writing Rule?  I’m not talking about common adverbs but the more imaginative ones (although first thing on New Year’s Day, I’m hard-pressed to find an example.)

. . . . .

Convinced I’d find some terrific adverbs in my latest novel, I’ve just gone and had a look at it, searching for all words ending with “ly” (it seemed the quickest way.)  I confess I got a bit of a shock:  there are TEN adverbs on the first page alone and one of them I’ve used twice.  NONE of them are what I would call imaginative.  The best one, on page two, is “stereotypically.”  The rest are really, really (ahem) common.  I use “only” and “really” about a million times a minute.  I am shocked.  Horrified, in fact.  I am horrifyingly shocked.  I am shockingly horrified.  I am an adverb freak!

I was going to use this space to advocate using adverbs more;  to treat with respect the much-maligned part-of-speech.  Instead, I just feel ashamed…….

……but should I??!?  We use trillions of adverbs in our daily speech – why shouldn’t we use them in our writing??  Particularly when you’re deliberately NOT writing a literary work but something considerably more effortless.  I think the word I’m looking for here is commercial – does it follow that commercial fiction has more adverbs than literary works?  I’ve noticed YA fiction has more adverbs than most, which must be why I like it:  the prose is often more imaginative and so much more ALIVE than some very dry fiction I’ve come across.

If I had to take out nine adverbs from the first page of my novel, leaving just the prerequisite one, the writing would turn grey.  So instead of feeling ashamed, I’m going to take a stand:  I’m going to go for COLOUR.  Adverbs are about colour.  They are about adding poetry and rhythm and a sense of space to your writing.  Writing well shouldn’t be about only using one adverb a page:  it should be about expressing an idea beautifully.

. . . . .

And just to prove that it’s not just me, I’ve found other terrific blogs about adverbs:




Best of all, this blog points out the hypocrisy of adverb-haters:



Related image


Posted in On Writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments