Home for Christmas: My Musical Christmas Muse

Christmas music; whats the first track that springs to mind? Its usually always Slade, that staple of commercial radio and drunken office parties. And as much as we may hate this stuff being regurgitated every year, it wouldnt be the same without it, such is the power of music and the way it can set a scene

The brief – to myself – was three, longish-short stories set in my usual comfort zone of Snowdonia, North Wales, UK. I wanted to make them all very different from each other, and Ive chosen three pieces of music which I feel sure heavily influenced my dormant festive muse.

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I started my Christmas selection back in July and it was a tall order to find the mood when the sun was beating down on the parched Welsh mountains. This is where music plays a massive part, well, that and mince pies. I relied quite heavily on baked goods as husband objected to Christmas music in high summer, and even considering earpieces theres always a certain level of wailing-along to contend with. So, an empty house, a dangly piece of bald tinsel and plenty of icing sugar… 

Rudolph the Brown-Nosed Reindeer

Rick isn’t looking forward to his lonely corporate Christmas, but it’s the season of goodwill and magic is in the air.

An off-beat love story, with all the hierarchy of the Christmas office party to contend with. It’s time Rick wore his heart on his sleeve, or is it too late? Lessons in love from an unlikely source, in this case, Rudolph. This story has its wry fun, but Rick-the-Reserved is in major denial. Oh, hes the tall dark sensitive sort but theres a limit to self-preservation and hes in danger of losing whats under his nose. Rejoice is one of those tracks that seems to become richer with every listen, rather like peeling away the layers of doubt and indecision – something my main character needs to examine. Rick would do well to listen to the lyrics of this track and take some of them to heart. Above all, it managed to transport me to the snowy forest in the story. Can you hear the snow dripping and the fire crackling in the grate?  

Rejoice: Katherine Jenkins:


Jim’s Christmas Carol

Santa and Satan pay a visit. One brings presents, the other an unwelcome presence.

Paranormal reality? Jim’s played with fire and it’s time he got his comeuppance, but from who?

Paranormal isnt something I seek out to read, let alone write, but Sarah Brightmans track Angel, was one of the triggers for this story. Jims Christmas Carol isnt a serious tale, it does have an element of farce about it, but Brightmans track (and especially the video) is interesting in that the words and the imagery can be interpreted in many different ways, a bit like Jims Christmas Carol. And a lot like our kaleidoscope of beliefs when it comes to religion, guardian angels and all things paranormal.

Angel: Sarah Brightman:


Home for Christmas

Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa la-la la-la, la-la la-la. Tis the Season to be jolly…

Romantic-comedy. Pip might accidentally find her true vocation, but the folly of her fibs are about to catch up with her…

The local village play, Deck the Halls, not only saves Philippa Lewisham from herself but promises an entirely different direction for New Year. She’s something of an old-fashioned girl, hiding behind a carefully fabricated facade of career-driven feminism – but she’s very much a fun-loving party-girl too, who’s perhaps lost her way a little. 

I love the drunken fun of the Pogues song. It never fails to make me feel Christmassy, and lots of scenes in Deck the Halls take place in the village pub and the old school hall with a jangly old piano. In this story I flirt with romantic-comedy and yes it does have a happy ever after, but I cant bear mushy sentiment in books, film or music, so for me, The Pogues track IS Christmas.  

 The Pogues: Fairytale of New York (You WILL sing, and you will tap your feet):


Merry Christmas! Nadolig Llawen!

Originally posted on The Roz Morris Undercover Soundtrack: http://mymemoriesofafuturelife.com/tag/jan-ruth/ 

The X-Factor Curse and Crybaby Cole

I talk to my editor John Hudspith, about X-Factor Fiction, Halloween, Hugging Dermot O’ Leary and Saving the World! 

tumblr_inline_nfnlsvul2t1rqjcsmJohn: It’s that time of year again, when writers send an avalanche to the ebook shelves hoping for a festive bestseller; when big-boobed slebs offer up their latest ghost-written shenanigans; when agents and publishers hire staff to handle the increased numbers of rejection notes. Had any good rejections lately?  Jan: Rejection is a tough lesson. I grew up with plenty of it. (I’m talking creatively; as in, go away and do this again it’s not good enough). At primary school I was told it’s vital to experience rejection in order to improve. Character-building, even. John: did you sob, like an X-Factor reject? Jan: I don’t remember sobbing or clinging on to Dermot when my first manuscript thudded back through the letterbox for the umpteenth time; it had morphed into a hefty wedge of dog-eared paper with mostly derogatory scribble in the margins by then –  but I guess if Leery had been available, I might have been tempted into a bit of clinging. John: Is that because you fancy him? Did you know he’s only 3 foot in his underpants? tumblr_inline_nfnnwgqu1s1rqjcsmJan: He is quite short, isn’t he? That’s suits the midget that is me; I’d still look up to him. I’d have fallen into his arms but only because he’s cuddly, not because I thought my life was over. John: Was it that bad? Jan: ‘This work has promise but it is overwritten and the scene where the shop blows up is ridiculous.’ It was, actually. Those times draw a fair comparison with past X-Factor winners who’ve taken the prize initially but then sunk without trace. And yet, those who’ve come in third or second have scooped the best prize of all: by going away to think, then coming back with quality material. In my case, I went away for several years and did it again, and again and again. In fact, I kept on re-writing until I was sick to death of it. John: And then they snapped you up? Jan: No chance, I really could have wept: ‘Congratulations on producing a novel that is fully engaging, the narrative is sharp and the dialogue excellent. However, we cannot see where we would place this book in terms of marketing.’ 

tumblr_inline_nfnm6z4apy1rqjcsmJohnAh, yes, the worried publisher… talent doesn’t matter, simplicity does. Jan: Right. I learnt that I wasn’t actually sick to death of it, more puzzled by these powerful gatekeepers, the agents and publishers who could make or break your day – your life! But this was traditional publishing BK. (Before Kindle, and before X-Factor)  John: I do like X-Factor, and it’s a good comparison; the machinations of voracity versus real quality – the psychology of it all.  Jan: We need the same show format for fiction, imagine the panel! Simon would be thrillers and crime with a strong leaning towards mafia bosses with lapdogs. And Louis Walsh – ‘I t’ink you should give her a chance, Simon. I t’ink it’s got something’ – he always ends up with the groups and oddballs, so, anthologies and something daft? John: Yep, the requisite annoyance. Remember Jedward? Maybe Louis could have sex with dinosaurs. The books, I mean. Big sellers, apparently. ‘I love, love, love, your book “T-rex on Top”… it looks good, it’s freaky, it’s got everything, it’s what this show’s all about!’ Jan: You know, I was amazed those dino-sex books actually exist. Who the hell reads dino porn? John: Louis Walsh, probably. What about Cheryl? I do like Cheryl, she’s a canny Geordie like me. Jan: Crybaby Cole? – ‘A was blown away by ye’ – sob – ‘but a have to turn ye doon cos o’ the typos, like’ – romance and true-life stories. article-1224081-070440cc000005dc-919_468x454John: She’s not Cole anymore though, is she? Some weird-sounding long name. When Dermot announces it, he sounds like he’s casting a spell, ‘Cheryl Fazhawazzfini’ or something like that. Jan: She should have gone back to Tweedy for her stage name, shouldn’t she? Simon and the panel get a far bigger intro than any of the wannabe artists. The judges – or let’s say, the book bloggers and reviewers and the big promotional sites – are set to become more important than the author, much like disc-jockeys did in the seventies. They just played the records but their endorsement and their inane chatter made them into far bigger celebrities than the actual artists. John: DJs from the seventies have a creepy image these days, though. Creepier than clowns, even. Jan: True story. Let’s not go there. John: So, for the initial auditions, they have to read a blurb? Then, at boot camp they’d get to read one page, then whine `There’s better to come` when they’re told the narrative voice is out of tune, repetitive and boring. Oh, and at the `take a seat` stage, they’d read a longer, random section and provide evidence of social marketing skills before submitting the entire book to get to judges’ houses.  

tumblr_inline_nfnnkitaoj1rqjcsmJan: Where Simon isn’t happy with the lineup… Simon: ‘Hold on, you’ve all picked books that are well-written, we need a couple of dumbed down ones to get the bookworms annoyed, so they’ll hit the phones and vote. Remember guys, it’s a pound per phone call, so I’m going to swap The Extraordinary Life of a Turtle for She likes it with Next Door’s Dog by Crystal Balls. Louis: No one wants to read badly-written erotica, Simon! Simon: Fifty Shades of Grey would disagree with you. Louis, you’re out of touch. Louis: *blinks, grins, does the orangutan clapJohn: Yeah, Simon likes his quota of weirdoes. Jan: Talking of weird, what about Sinitta? Where would she fit in? John: She’d appear at Simon’s house wearing three strategically placed bookmarks. Then she’d judge the books by their covers. Jan: And people do, don’t they? Although, as in the real show, they’d be looking for raw talent they could manipulate… I mean mould. So maybe all the books in X-Factor Fiction should start with brown paper covers. On the live shows the backstory footage would include the authors getting professionally designed covers. John: But some would want to use their own ideas… Simon: ‘What – the bloody hell – is that?’ (looking at an image of yet another bare torso). Louis: ‘It’s all the rage, Simon.’ Cheryl: ‘Divint worry, pet. Simon’s just jealous.’ Mel B: ‘Phwoaaaaaaar, let me hug that boowk.’

tumblr_inline_nfnmg2gfph1rqjcsmJan: Okay, here’s goes, it’s Halloween and we have to read a chilling paragraph to the panel. ‘He carried her to his bed. Clothing was removed, some of it snatched and torn in the process as if their connection had disturbed something feral. A hundred different thoughts, a hundred different reasons not to sleep with a man she’d only just met, a hundred different voices shouting in her head and yet, she slid beneath him, her underwear in disarray. They both seemed in perfect tune, one moment caught in the delicious intensity of anticipation, and then suddenly laughing at the craziness of it, laughing at the red freckles sprayed across his hands and face. He kissed every inch of her face, she kissed every inch of his face… Maybe it was then when she knew; that moment when she tasted that unmistakable metallic tang.’ APPLAUSE…

Louis: ‘You looked amazing, you sounded amazing, it was amazing.’ Simon: You need a new script, Louis.’ John: Wise words from Simon. So many books, so many writers, but not enough depth, originality or imagination. Jan: Stop being grumpy. Readers will always determine what writers write, right? John: Very true. Teaching the next generation how to read is a must, not only for the future of decent storytelling, but, you know, that old save the world from humanity thing. Jan: Yes, there’s a long way to go with that. John: And it starts with the written word. Jan: Once upon a time… 

My Musical Muse

Music and books; possibly the best combination for legitimate daydreaming…

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Loosely speaking I’m in the ‘romantic genre’. I always balk at this description, it is so restricting and has been my downfall in the past when submitting to agents and so on. ‘It’s… not quite romance is it? And why are you writing it from the male point of view half the time?’ Well, like my musical muse, I like to mix it up a little. From the emotional scenes, from the windswept Celtic landscapes (Enigma, Clannad, Craig Armstrong, Brightman); to the drama of arson, relationship conflict and fast cars, (Morrissey, Kings of Leon).

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 I think I began using headphones as a buffer to block out those bloodcurdling screams of children playing nicely, or of husband making a noisy clatter in the kitchen (all devised to make me feel guilty for sitting at the typewriter). Of course, as this process developed, I began to get choosy as to the exact soundtrack. When I began to write Wild Water I used Roxy Music as a shameless buffer to domestic chaos. Don’t laugh, this was twenty-five years ago and it was the only cassette that worked in the machine. I’d like to make a point here that Bryan Ferry has nothing to do with my fiction, and in no way has he influenced the story but his crooning voice and the sheer volume was a combination which worked for me at the time, and in fact led to a whole new area of inspiration.

Now of course, I am so much more sophisticated, with my tiny earpieces and my subscription to Spotify.

I can drift into a trance merely be selecting the required track and outside noise does not penetrate my concentration. I am distracted instead now by the internet. I received an email once from my husband, who was apparently, standing on the doorstep holding his finger on the doorbell and clearly very cross indeed as he had forgotten his keys, and was I DEAF?

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I find music a rich source of inspiration. I can listen to the same track and get back into a scene, almost like hypnosis. If I had to pick one single artist it would have to be Enigma. My story settings are Celtic, not that I write in a historical genre but all my settings are rooted in Snowdonia – someone once described my backgrounds as separate characters in their own right – and I find Enigma dovetails very nicely into this concept with their spiritual chanting and long instrumental pieces which, although described as ‘new-age’, crosses frequently into other genres, much like my writing!

I live in the perfect landscape for love. The endless complications of relationships form the basis of my stories and I think the challenge as a writer is to bring a fresh perspective to what can only be described as the well-worked themes of romance; although I do like to throw in the odd spot of domestic violence and arson, so maybe not your average visit to North Wales. 

Are lyrics distracting? I tend to prefer instrumental pieces but then Sarah Brightman’s Gothic album ‘Symphony’ has been a rich source of visualisation for me too; dramatic and haunting, her vocals are awe inspiring. Midnight Sky was very influenced by this album. The dark track ‘Sanvean’ fitted the bereaved mood of the main male protagonist perfectly. I think I listened to it more than 200 times, and I still get goosebumps from the intro.

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Her mix doesn’t suit all scenarios though, and if I’m writing from a male viewpoint I am frequently drawn to The Kings of Leon – who isn’t? A rock buzz can be very helpful for fight scenes or maybe driving fast cars in an agitated state. The problem with this one is that frequently, it is me who is driving a not-very-fast-car, in an agitated state. Playing my ‘writing music’ in the car brings heaps of trouble; as soon as I step away from the keyboard and drive begrudgingly to the supermarket, I am besieged with ideas and snippets of astounding dialogue, all of which I try to remember or scribble down on the shopping list as I browse the shelves and yes, I usually end up scowling at the top ten paperbacks in there too.

My work in progress is about a fifty year old clown of a man with a fixation for Morrissey. In the book, his fixation adds to the downfall of his marriage.

…For less than a minute she’d glared at his carefully guarded face, then suddenly made a lunge for his old guitar and slung it through the open bedroom window. Some of his Morrissey records followed, shimmering like black Frisbees down the garden. 

That was the last straw, and she knew it. 

  My husband loathes Morrissey too… 

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Originally posted on The Roz Morris Undercover Soundtrack http://mymemoriesofafuturelife.com/tag/jan-ruth