Words & Music

I can’t tell a bar of music from a bar of soap, but my novel, TimeStorm, comes with an impressively intricate score performed by the London Symphony Orchestra in full (I’m dating myself here) stereophonic sound.

OK, it’s not the real LSO and I don’t even know the tune. It’s just a generic mix of every movie soundtrack of every action film I have ever heard, mashed up in my head and regurgitated while I attack the computer keyboard like a deranged concert pianist.

Near the beginning of the book, there is a shipboard flogging sequence which took an age to write. It’s very important, in that it sets-up the story, introduces nearly all the main characters and provides the tone for the entire novel. No pressure there, then. I imagine it’s the kind of scene that propelled many a writer down the short road to alcoholism, drug addiction or vegetarianism.

The key to everything had actually been staring me in the face from the very first draft, but I had been blind and, more importantly, deaf to it. This key was a character without a name, fleetingly on the page and someone we never see again. But his impact and influence on the novel cannot be understated.

The character in question is the little English Marine drummer boy who provides the steady beat for the Bosun and mate who perform the flogging. It is a relentless sound over the top of the grunting floggers who struggle to keep time as the leather thongs of their cat-o-nine-tails become soaked and heavy with blood. The beat accompanies the groans and screams of the prisoner, an incantation, almost, between the wet slap of leather, the blood splattering the deck and the rhythmic creaking of the ship’s timbers on the ocean swell. I had seen the sound on the page, but suddenly, as I was about to tear out my remaining hair, inside my head I actually heard it!

And when I heard it, I couldn’t just see what was happening. I could feel it. I was there on deck, barefoot, among the assembled crew and cowering convicts. I could feel the beat reverberate through the deck, sense the tension running through everyone on board and smell the sweat and the horror and the fear.

It was total immersion. A moment when the writer becomes the writing and the story becomes the real world. If writing was yoga meditation, I had found the blue pearl!

I can’t say that the book then wrote itself or that it was in any way easy, but I was no longer fumbling in the dark, tripping over furniture. The lights were on and I could see the path. Alleluia!

The drum beat accompanied me through the rest of the writing, underlying the other imaginary music; the soaring themes of spectacle, the jovial accompaniment of the humour, the hum of violins over the romance. But the beat was always there, providing an air of menace and danger, and as I approached the violent action scenes the drumming would grow louder,  angrier and more insistent. I would feel nervous, apprehensive and grit my teeth. And then the music would erupt in my head and words would cascade onto the screen.

It was a wonderful and thrilling experience, but I think next time, to retain what little sanity I have left, I will write a light comedy romance…

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