‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.
Today's guest is author and columnist Kate Holden. Kate is the author of memoirs In My Skin and The Romantic, and she writes regularly for The Age. Kate is now working on a supernatural historical novel.
Writing: one of the most portable careers around. You need nothing but paper and pen, or screen and keyboard; the vanishing space between skull and page; and an idea. You can do it in a park, in the car, at a desk or in your head. It’s simplicity itself, until you begin to put the words down.
But one thing I always need in order to write is music. Doubtless I could get by without it. I can write without coffee, or a cigarette, or any idea of what the hell I’m going to say. But music helps. It’s helpful to have someone else’s creativity floating around you. It’s helpful to take the edge off the silence of your mind.
What I listen to depends on what I’m writing: I have certain favourites for certain types of writing, particular projects, specific genres. If I’m writing one of my Age columns, generally I put on something classical, unworded, sweet and rich and full of continuo and ground bass which will feel like a solid foundation for my thoughts to float above. Most often it’s Purcell, especially ’15 Fantasias and Chacony’. It flows on and on, its formality comforting, its elaborations inspiring. At the moment I’m obsessed with 17th century English baroque music: it’s all grave and sublime, candlelit and illuminating. Music like this expands time, it relaxes my thoughts, and its beauty is that of a perfect still life.
For one novel I’m writing, a supernatural story set in the English countryside, again I go to the 17th century: now, it conjures meadows, Civil War cavaliers, cornfields. Or Arvo Pärt, for the bleak eeriness, the exquisite sorrow, the sense of mystery. Hans Zimmer’s music for the last couple of ‘Batman’ films is menacing and fragmented, perfect for evoking an atmosphere of fear; I adore a strange album called ‘Crow Autumn’ by an artist called Broken Consort: violins in vibrato in an extended loops, something rich and solemn, somehow disturbing, the countryside dissolving in twilight.
Another novel (a kind of New Weird one) requires more strangeness: I play Melbourne band Because of Ghosts, or Les Voix Bulgares, Mogwai, or the soundtrack to ‘The Fountain’ by Clint Mansell. Soundtracks are especially good for writing to: they surge and subside, lyricless, they tell stories. My collection includes a lot of Zimmer and everything by Mansell (‘Moon’, ‘Requiem for a Dream’, ‘Pi’); also Lisa Gerrard’s work on soundtracks, such as ‘The Insider’ and ‘Gladiator’. Props also to Nyman and Glass, whose relentless mathematical compositions osmotically put my words in precise position, whose endless variations encourage revision, and whose sweetness in the midst of such clinical ferocity endows my thoughts with emotion even as I’m searching a thesaurus for the correct verb.
I intend to mention my playlists in the acknowledgements page of my novels if they ever get published: I hear that writers are already beginning to supply downloadable soundtracks to their works. And why not? Acknowledgement is due: my books would be much more drab without sound echoing word, inspiration passing from ear to mind and out again onto the page.