I work in an open-plan office. What’s that got do to with anything, I hear you ask? Well our HR people – or the people who plan office moves at any rate – sometimes seem to lack basic common-sense. Quite apart from the fact that we move around every year or so just so’s we feel like one big happy family, it seems that no cognisance is given to the nature of our work. Now, my day job is essentially as an IT programmer. I design pretty interfaces so that other people can get at their management information and suchlike. I make applications that have buttons to click and graphs to display and then I tweak it all so it runs off the web. What this means is that I’m often 3 layers down in complex bits of code and I really, really, really need peace and quiet. So my little team is sandwiched between two other teams that conduct most of their business on the telephone …
See where I am going with this? I usually have my ipod with me at work now, and while I don’t find it easy to work with music (it gets embarrassing when you realise you’ve been singing along, mouthing the words or tapping your foot up and down), it is less intrusive than listening to how many light bulbs need ordering for another building or why somebody’s computer isn’t working.
So I’ve got into the habit of listening to music at the keyboard. I tried classical at first, thinking that would be less distracting, but I find I can’t write to Bach and it just doesn’t set my mood. So it has to have words. For fantasy writing, I’ve discovered that Enya is quite soothing, plus I adore Blackmore’s Night with the rock/folk mix (I’ve been a fan of Ritchie Blackmore right through Rainbow and Deep Purple – yes, I was a rock chick and I had a fringed leather jacket and hung around with bikers. Don’t laugh too much). For thrillers and more mainstream writing, give me a bit more of a beat with some Dio, and occasionally a good blast of AC-DC. And Jim Steinman does it for me in any shape or form – I can spot a Steinman track at two or three bars.
What else is on my ipod? Foo Fighters. Lots of 80s stuff and all the power ballads you can think of (Scorpions Wind of Change can still stop me dead for 5 minutes). I took my daughter to see the musical Wicked at Christmas, and the soundtrack from that is often on my playlist. Oh and Abba. I love Abba. I loved Abba when I was teenager, then when it wasn’t cool and suddenly it was cool again with Mamma Mia.
I always associate particular songs with books too. For instance my thriller Hamelin’s Child has the accompanying song Runaway Train by Soul Asylum. The lyrics seem particularly pertinent. Somebody pointed me in the direction of YouTube a while back and the video is strangely fitting for my book too. And there’s Bon Jovi’s Someday I’ll be Saturday Night that works rather well too. Having a song for a book gives it another dimension, in my opinion.
So am I weird? Abba to AC-DC, Bach through Bee Gees to Black Sabbath – and everything in between. The 24-hour rock marathons of my youth to West End shows. But a snatch of a song can transport me in time and space in the same way a book can. And if you can read ebooks on devices that can also produce good quality music, maybe we can combine the two? There's an idea to run with.