In which I muse on musical muses

You might have been following Elaina James’ very lovely blog series for Mslexia about her dream of becoming a lyricist. Of course you might not. If not, I suggest you jolly well go over there and read it now. I can wait.

*taps fingers impatiently*

Ah, sod it. I can’t wait. You’ll just have to catch up. Anyway, in celebration of the final installment of that blog series Elaina has asked a whole host of writers, bloggers and innocent passersby to join her in a blog-based celebration of all things writerly and musical – talking about how music has inspired and influenced our writing. And I enthusiastically agreed to join in because a) Elaina is lovely and b) I wasn’t 100% listening to the question.

Which leaves me with a problem, because, to be honest, I’ve never really been a music person. I mean I don’t dislike music. It can be perfectly pleasant. Few things take the edge of a silence more satisfactorily. But in those student conversations about a specific riff in an album track by Harpsichord Gibbon I was always the one just sitting quietly thinking about cake. I’ve never really understood listening to music as an activity in itself; music, for me, is essentially a background to doing something else.

So initially I didn’t think I’d be able to say anything about music as an inspiration for writing, but when I thought about it a bit more I realised that music definitely does impinge on what and how I write. Sometimes it can be a lyric that gets stuck in my head and becomes a sort of anthem for a particular character or storyline. Sweet Nothing I’ve mentioned before is a romance story about romance. It’s about playing around with the idea that there’s one true soulmate out there for any of us, and with the idea that romance and attraction are reliable ways of finding that person. And when I think about that notion I can’t help but think about Tim Minchin’s awesome song about love and romance* ‘If I didn’t have you.’

At the moment I’m writing a book that’s partly set in the 1970s and 80s, and I’ve made a little playlist of Bowie, Kate Bush and Stock, Aitken & Waterman to take the edge off the writing time silence. And that’s really helpful – not because I’m inspired by any one particular song or lyric, but because the music of a time instantly brings to mind the fashion, decor, and news of the time as well.

So that’s me and music and writing for you. There’s a rundown of wh else is participating on Elaina’s own blog. I heartily encourage you to go take a look.


*Not actually about love and romance. Actually about maths which is appropriate for Sweet Nothing too.

In which I consider Jesus and the Doctor (in a wholly TV/theatre non-blasphemous reviewing sense)

This weekend I experienced two exciting things. Two whole exciting things. The exciting things, one could say, were twofold. Exciting things transpired in an even number of occurrences greater than one but no more than three. The aforementioned two things were as follows:

1. Jesus Christ Superstar at the Manchester Arena

2. Doctor Who

By now all readers should either be mentally singing “Jesus Christ! Superstar! Do you think you’re what they say you are?” or “Dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum, durrrrrr,” or some sort of weird mash-up of the two. I hope this is bringing you pleasure. So here are some little reviews of these two exciting things. (If you’ve not seen Doctor Who – The Angels Take Manhattan, be warned – there may be spoilers).

1. Jesus Christ Superstar

So this is one of those big Andrew Lloyd Webber musical productions where they cast the main character by the medium of a tv picking programme. It wsan’t a vintage picking programme. Previous ALW franchises have been super-low budget and high camp BBC productions presented by Graham Norton and replete with timeslot inappropriate smuttiness and extensive taking of the piss out of The Lord (that’s Lord Lloyd Webber, not The actual Lord). The Jesus picking was done on ITV, presented by Amanda Holden, with all the lack of irony and shiny shiny stage sets that that implies.

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter, because the part they were picking a performer for was Jesus, and, despite the title, Jesus ain’t the main character in this show. Judas is. Jesus, in the first half particularly, is a tad whiny and self-involved, and you can kind of see why Judas would want to hand him over to the authorities. Apart from hitting a couple of truly excruciatingly high notes, Jesus mainly just has to wander around looking alternately pretty and then tortured.

Which brings me onto the high points of this production. First up, Tim Minchin as Judas Iscariot. Now I slightly love Tim Minchin – he made it onto my desert island last Christmas, and his was definitely that stand out performance of the show. Yay, yay, and thrice yay to Mr Minchin.

The other, slightly surprising, high point was Chris Moyles as King Herod. Herod only really has one scene and one song, and it’s a funny song, so it’s kind of a tricky role to mess up, but Moyles excelled. The staging of Herod’s court as a TV talk show worked, and Moyles nailed the Jeremy Kyle with a hint of Saturday night vibe perfectly.

My main quibble with the show wasn’t the performances, it was the staging. This show is being presented as an arena tour, which Lloyd Webber insists is consistent with his original artistic intention in writing a rock piece. But actually this show felt like a theatre show transplanted to an arena. The staging was super-traditional proscenium arch style, with hardly any use made of the space available. Because the production adopted a straight stage at the front format, some of the sight lines for the audience at the sides of the venue were terrible. I like the idea of doing a rock musical in a rock venue, but if you do, why waste all that lovely space and flexibility by staging it like a theatre production? Sadly, the staging did let the production down, as it felt slightly like it was neither an intimate theatre show or a big arena extravaganza.

Overall, good idea, some great performances, but a bit more focus needed on the staging and the production really produce Wow moments in a large arena.


2. Doctor Who – “The Angels Take Manhattan” (FINAL WARNING – risk of spoilers if you’ve not seen the episode).

Ooooh! Doctor Who! The Weeping Angels (by far the best baddie of the New Who era) are back! River Song (who I want to be when I grow up) is back! Amy and Rory are going! This may all be too much to cope with.

And it was. It was all too much to cope with. I think I started crying when Old Rory died and pretty much didn’t stop until after the picture of Clara/Oswin/Whoever-in-space-and-time-she-turns-out-to-be in the Christmas special preview. This was my favourite sort of Doctor Who episode – small in scale, focussed on the details of the scariness. Rory desperately lighting matches in the cellar, the Doctor running across New York to find the last page, River snapping her own wrist in preference to letting the Doctor down.

And Amy and Rory are gone forever. Or are they? Nothing is really forever in sci-fi, but I hope (although I’m a fan of both characters, especially lovely gentle surprised-by-his-own-heroism Rory) that they don’t make the, apparently increasingly obligatory, end of season reappearances. It’s darker, more interesting, if the Doctor (or indeed any hero character) has some situations, some problems, that they can’t just wave a sonic screwdriver at and resolve before the credits roll.


So those were the weekend’s two exciting things. How about you? What exciting things do you have to tell us about?

In which I look backwards to Christmas and last year’s desert island.

Christmas, I think we have to acknowledge, is over. The decorations are still up but they’re starting to feel weirdly out of date and inappropriate. There are still leftovers in the fridge but no-one can really face eating them anymore, so they’ll sit there a couple more days before being thrown away with lots of comments about how chucking food out is bad and how we’re going to shop more carefully in future and only buy what we absolutely and definitely need.

So, how was your festive season lovely readers? Please do feel at leisure to tell me all about it in the comments. Mine was good in a traditional family oriented sort of a way. We did the usual couple compromise of my family at Christmas and his at New Year, with a 24 hour “just us” break in the middle. And that’s probably enough about that. I don’t want to turn into the sort of blogger who witters on about random personal details like what I had for breakfast. Marmitey toast, obviously. I’m not uncivilised.

But a very long time ago I did blog about a Desert Island Discs party and then totally failed to tell you what I’d actually picked. So belatedly and with apologies, here are my choices:

1. Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun

I love Tim Minchin. I don’t totally agree with all his lyrics here. Regardless of religious persuasions I don’t see how anyone could prefer the idea of hanging out with Richard Dawkins over Desmond Tutu. Tutu just comes across as jollier, and definitely more like to have anecdotes about Nelson Mandela that end, “Of course, we were both very very drunk…” However, I endorse the sentiment. Christmas is commercialised and gaudy and should be terrible, but I really really like it.

2. Jools Holland & the Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, Enjoy Yourself 

A top song for a desert island. It is important to enjoy oneself. This is also the track Jools Holland usually ends live performances with, so has good associations for me of outdoor summer gigs with friends, alcohol and little sausage rolls. Very few situations cannot be remedied by the addition of friends, alcohol and little sausage rolls.

3. Pure, Lightning Seeds

This is me and the Boy’s official Song. We picked it on a car journey to somewhere in the early years of The Relationship. I believe we’d decided that if we were in a Relationship we ought to have A Song. And so we do, and it’s sufficiently unsoppy not to cause nausea, which is also nice.

On the music front honourable mentions should go to Semisonic’s Secret Smile, The Danse Macrabre by Saint-Saens, Tim Minchin’s Not Perfect, and pretty much everything by The Beatles. On another day any or all of those might have made the cut.

That just leaves a book and a luxury item to select. I wimped out on book, and went for The House at Pooh Corner. I call this wimping out because it avoided picking between all the incredible grown-up books. I could have picked one (if I had it would probably have been between Margaret Attwood The Blind Assassin and Kazua Ishigura Never Let Me Go – at least until someone gets round to publishing all the Discworld novels in a single massive volume) but that would have felt like I was rejecting all the other books and I couldn’t do it. Anyway, In Which Tigger Comes to the Forest and has Breakfast is a work of unadulterated genius and I would lift my mood during any low desert island moments, so Winnie-the-Pooh it is.

And for my luxury, it would have to be paper and pens (which would somehow magically never run out) so I could write write write. Only having one book to read would be a personal nightmare, but if I could write I might just manage it. There are lots of elements to trying to become a published writer that are a real pain in the behind, not least the actual trying to get published part. Editing and proof-reading can also be something of a bind, but the ideas are things of pure joy, so if I could live half on my island and half inside my own imagination I might actually be quite happy.

So comment away below on all things Christmassy or desert islandy, and please come back later in the week when we’ll be talking New Year’s Resolutions. Probably. Unless I see something more interesting before then and end up writing about that instead. Farewell.