Using Mood Music as your Muse...

# “Sing, it’s your favourite song, when you’re singing along, nothing is wrong…” Ben Lee

Way back when I started this blog journal and set out on the path of my “life creative”, I posted about the influence of music on my scribbles and I thought it was about time that I expanded on that original tuneful post a little… To this day, just short of a decade after writing that first post, music still plays a huge part in how and what I write.  I like to listen to music to get me into the right mood and frame of mind before embarking on a particular story or novel, and even in my leisure time, when sometimes the last thing I want to think about is scribbling another line on a page, I more often than not opt for film soundtracks, rather than pop music as a way to unwind and turn off my muddled brain…

Movie scores are my CD of choice in the car, on long or short journeys (much to my wife’s eternal frustration) and whenever I go to the cinema, even though the dazzling imagery on screen is larger than life in your face, it’s always a great soundtrack that I pick up on first, when giving my “review” of the flick afterwards to friends or family.

I’ve often said before here on the blog how another of the big influences on my creative scribbles is the motion picture – I think visually and tend to set out my prose structure like the storyboard of a film and so it’s probably fitting that I find that I need the backdrop of a soundtrack of some kind while I’m typing away, plotting new stories, as I try to recreate the onscreen stories that I so admire and want to emulate.

And as I go through the winter months now, my mind is drifting back to the past, to a book I first conceived of at the turn of the Millennium, set in a mirky historical period of this British Isles... So I'm temporarily putting aside the still-needs-more-planning "my gnome gnovel" which I’ve made a strong start on this past year and going into the new year of 2015 with the much-more-thoroughly-researched (-ish) "my history mystery" (which you can find a teaser for on my Official Homepage by clicking on a rather “sketchy” object…) and also a “Secret Sixth” novel which I’ve been thinking about for a little while...  But the crucial part of the writing process of BOTH these novels is going to be setting the right mood for myself to get into the mind sets of the period(s) I'm trying to write my stories into... 

So I thought I might give a bit of a rundown of some of the TV and movie soundtracks that I regularly listen to, to set my 'writing party' off with a “happy atmosphere”

The Gainsbrough Packet - I'm cheating a little bit here cos this first one isn't so much a soundtrack but it still tells an epic story... I first saw this as a video installation at the Baltic Art Gallery on the banks of my hometown in Newcastle a few years ago, but the melody and inventive narrative has stuck with me, and it's all the more amazing when you know it's a true tale - based on a letter from a real person to his (possibly fictional) friend "Pybus":

Last October while on a week's holiday to the remote west of Scotland, I had a CD of Aly Bain's celtic influenced Follow the Moonstone playing as we drove across the highest road in Britain - making our way to the Applecross Peninula - Bain's music is actually a mix of Scandinavian and Scottish influences but it's the perfect blend when I'm trying to get my head into the right mindset for writing historical fiction:

The film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves is the first movie that I remember seeing at the cinema more than once (I actually went to see it a total of 4 times!) - one of the big draws of that movie was the soundtrack (that along with 1992's Last of the Mohicans) are probably where I trace my first consciously sitting up in my cinema seat and taking note of how a big-screen soundtrack actually makes the story that unfolds in front of your eyes (and ears):

Fuelled by my obsession with the Indiana Jones franchise, I'm making a prediction that one day I'll write an adventure series set in the 1940s and 50s... but another movie set firmly in that era is The Rocketeer - James Horner's swinging score perfectly sets the mood of the times but also manages to retain the pulp adventure feel of the story's origins:

A more recent addition to my CD soundtracks shelf is the music from the BBC TV series Dancing on the Edge - again I'm drawn to this because of the 1930s era it's set in, but it also serves as a reminder that just when you might think all has been told about a certain time in the past (all the songs have been sung?!) there's always a story left untold: 

After Indy, my other great-loved franchise is the National Treasure series (I know there's only two movies so far but surely a third is soon to be announced?!) If I'm writing an action scene and want to pump-up the adventure quota in my scribbles, then I need look no further than Trevor Rabin’s fine scores which manage to capture the boy's own adventure epics of the past, while also providing some serene moments which can be genuinely touching and equally affecting:

Last but not least, (and not really last either, there's dozens more soundtracks on my shelf which I might get around to blogging about in the future!) if I'm writing science fiction and want to escape warp speed into fantasy worlds of my own making, past the far reaches of Pluto and into deep space, the soundtrack of choice to play in the background is a double CD of theme tunes of TV and film sci-fi which I picked up at my local library years ago for about 50p: The Number-1 Sci-Fi Album (And, by the way, yes, there most definitely is sci-fi coming from me in 2015...)

It’s not just CDs that provide the backdrop to my scribbles though - I'm an addicted listener here in the UK of ClassicFM's 'Saturday Night at the Movies' each weekend.  I also listen to some fine "fan franchise" podcasts for Star Wars and Indiana Jones, AND I've just discovered the iTunes U site which I'll be checking out for creative writing tips and tricks... So, after all that, I'm off to scribble down some more ideas for the next chapter of another story, and rest assured in the background will be some suitably soothing music to set my mind mood just right...


  1. Film soundtracks are great for writing--even nonfiction! I had a Spotify playlist of all the Marvel film soundtracks going for the last six months of writing my dissertation, and it helped a lot, both in terms of making the task feel heroically epic instead of impossibly epic, and also it was thematically appropriate! Nice post, thanks for sharing it.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Marianna (my first for a long time on the blog!) My favourite Marvel soundtrack so far is the Captain America 2 OST - evokes the classic spy-fi era that the film's story uses brilliantly and the eeriness and chaos of the Winter Soldier's theme itself I find particularly useful when writing a scene full of tension!


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