Words and Music: How making playlists helps my writing – Jacquelyn Middleton

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By Jacquelyn Middleton

Do you hear a song and come away with a little story or film in your head? I know, right? I do, too. Happens to me all the time. I have a huge catalogue of music-created tales rolling around in my mind just waiting to be revisited. ♥

This enjoyable distraction is probably my parents’ fault. They adored their records and always had the radio blaring — in the kitchen, in the car, the backyard. As a result, I inherited not only their love of music, but also the need to have it close — always. I was never one of those kids who couldn’t name a favorite band (Duran Duran), waited until their late teens to attend a concert (I was nine), or rarely purchased records (I still do!).

Music has always been a massive player in my life, so when it came to writing my first contemporary romance, London Belongs to Me, and its follow-up, the recently released London, Can You Wait?, it was a no-brainer. Music, which follows me everywhere (thanks, iPod), would also play a big part in my characters’ lives and the creation of their stories. I’ve always found that music soothes, energizes, and celebrates, and I knew it could also inspire what ended up in my books.

Escaping into my headphones, my mind drifted and the ideas came fast and furious. I found songs that screamed London and whispered aspects of my characters and plot: Alex’s dreams and desires, fun romps for Lucy and Freddie, odes to the kindness of Mark. I even discovered nods to awesome Manchester, home of Alex’s dad, step-mum, and motorbike riding granny, Joan. Listening in, full scenes began to develop, all thanks to the melodies and lyrics that came alive in my mind triggering mini movies. I began organizing these songs into playlists and each listen helped me visualize a world of my own making, and best of all when I was stuck creatively, they helped get me back on the page.

The playlists didn’t just influence plot, either. I realized that figuring out the music my characters loved was key to their development and backstories, too. Alex adores plenty of contemporary artists, but she’s also addicted to cheesy tunes from the ’60s and ’70s (picked up perhaps in Florida while listening to an oldies radio station in her mom’s car). Freddie, who has a vinyl collection from the 1990’s ‘Mad-chester’ scene scattered around his flat, has a mysterious connection to Manchester. These records pre-date his teen years, and hail from a city that’s not his hometown. What’s the link? You’ll have to read London Belongs to Me and find out! The musical connections continue in London, Can You Wait? too with particular songs speaking for the characters when words wouldn’t do.

For this reason, songs also appear by name within the pages of my books. I refer to these mentions as ‘Easter eggs’ (borrowing that old term used for DVDs with hidden extras for fans to explore). If readers listen or read the lyrics to the songs featured in my novels, they might gleam extra insight into the characters’ motivations or even the mood of a scene.

By the time I hit my deadlines, I had listened to hours and hours of songs, but the musical journey was worth it. Thanks to the inspiration I found in my iPod, I have a popular coming-of-age story about love, friendship, and secrets spanning two books as well as the ultimate souvenir—the final playlists. Now I can listen to the songs, hang out with my characters, and take an aural trip back through the pages of my books anytime, anywhere, and my readers can, too.

Jacquelyn Middleton is an award-winning author and freelance writer living in Toronto. Her second novel, London, Can You Wait?, was published by Kirkwall Books in October 2017.


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