Friday, June 10, 2016

Do You Read or Write to Music? by Regan Walker

Do You Read or Write to Music?
Do you listen to music when you read? When you write? Well, I do—and I love it! I find it soothing when I’m reading (it covers the small, annoying noises) and when I write, I select music that inspires my scenes.

When I wrote To Tame the Wind, my seafaring romance set in London, Paris and the English Channel, for a particularly difficult battle at sea between the hero, Capt. Simon Powell and his schooner and the heroine’s father, pirate Jean Donet and his brig sloop, I used The Courier from the soundtrack of The Last of the Mohicans. If you listen to that song as you read the scene you can feel the tension mount as the two ships tightly maneuver to fire their guns. 

Here’s the scene:

 Simon raised the spyglass. The brig-sloop was beating against the wind, heading toward them through the rough waters of the Channel. As he watched, the ship veered off slightly. He handed the glass back to Jordan and took control of the wheel. “He’s moving to attack from the south. If I’m right, he’ll try and rake our starboard.”
“Your plan?” asked his first mate.
“To escape, of course. I’ll not risk my ship against so many guns. And, like Donet, I’ll not risk the lady.” Simon felt protective of her, even possessive, but he knew his feelings for her were not worth a button on his waistcoat. He must think only of his men. “Neither will I fail to engage.”
He bellowed to his crew, “Run out the guns!” His men, watching the other ship closing, were swift to move.
The French ship, as Simon had predicted, was preparing to bear in passing with its guns rolled out, ready to blow holes in the Fairwinds.
“Hold fire!” Simon shouted, gritting his teeth. To allow Donet to fire his guns while his own men did nothing was asking a lot. But for his plan to work, he needed them to forebear.
Turning to Jordan, he barked, “Give me all the sail you can!”
His first mate shouted the orders aloft. The square-sails filled with a “thump” and the yards creaked as the Fairwinds picked up speed, lunging ahead like a racehorse hearing the starting shot.
A moment later, Donet’s guns blazed away. A crash, followed by a crunching noise, told him the French guns had hit wood. But as the Fairwinds sailed clear of the cloud of smoke, Simon let out the breath he’d been holding. From what he could see, only the fancywork on the stern’s transom had been clipped. His smaller, lighter, faster schooner had managed to fling itself out of the reach of most of the Frenchman’s guns. Below decks, his captive would be frightened, but it could not be helped. He would comfort her later.
Grinding the wheel hard to port, Simon deliberately turned across the wind, a tactic he knew might lose him the forward drive he needed. The sails shivered and flapped, but then caught the wind with a crack like a whip. The main boom swept across the deck, and the schooner was through the wind and away on her new tack, running a circle around the slower, larger ship.
When the schooner turned across the bow of the Frenchman, he bellowed, “Fire!”
The Fairwinds’ guns belched smoke sending shot into the French ship from stem to stern, destroying, Simon hoped, at least some of their gunnery posts. He was rewarded with the sound of a smash, the splintering of wood and shouts coming from the brig-sloop as the French crew scrambled to deal with the damage.
He turned the wheel again, this time hard to starboard, bringing the wind to their back. With la Reine Noire crippled, unable to fire its guns, Simon set a course for the Strait of Dover, and to the cheers of his crew, sped away.

Are you feeling the salt spray on your face? The music helps, trust me! And you have yet to read the scene from the perspective of the heroine, locked below decks in the captain's cabin.

For Rebel Warrior, set in 11th century Scotland, I used the soundtrack from BBC’s A History of Scotland to put my head in Scotland of old. I cannot listen to that music now without feeling the emotions of the characters in my story.

See the book on Amazon.

For King’s Knight, I listened to the soundtrack from Robin Hood, the movie staring Russell Crowe. As soon as the first track begins to play, in my mind I can hear knights saying goodbye to the ladies they love as they ride off to fight for the king. I can feel the vibration of their horses’ thundering hooves and hear steel swords sliding from sheaths to confront the enemy.

So what do I listen to when I am just reading historical novels for pleasure?

My favorite composer is Alexandre Desplat. You might not know his name but I’m certain you have heard his music. 

Alexandre Desplat

Alexandre Desplat is one of the most acclaimed composers of his generation. He has been nominated for (and won) many, many awards. Eight times he has been nominated for an Oscar and he won in 2015 for his score for The Grand Budapest Hotel

It was his joint passion for music and cinema that led him in the direction of composition for film. He believes that a great film score should find a balance between function and fiction. Function will ensure that the music fits well into the mechanics of the film but the fiction can tap into the invisible -- the deep psychology and emotions of the characters, creating a "vibration".

When I listen to his scores, I feel that emotion, that deep psychology and it helps me to envision the stories I am reading and those I am writing.

I thought I’d share with you some of my 3-hour playlist. Here are some of the soundtracks I have selected. In some cases I use almost all of the album:

By Alexandre Desplat:

• Coco Before Channel
• Girl With a Pearl Earring

• The King’s Speech
• The Twilight Saga: New Moon
• Lust, Caution
• The Painted Veil
• The Golden Compass
• The Queen
• Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close
• Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
• The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
• Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

To those works of Desplat, I have added the following:

By James Newton Howard:

• Peter Pan
• The Village
• The Water Horse
• Lady in the Water

By others:

• Becoming Jane (Adrian Johnston)
• Pride & Prejudice (Jean-Yves Thibaudet)
• Celtic Romance (David Arkenstone)
• December and Forest albums (George Winston)
• The Duchess (Rachel Portman)

I’d love to know about you… Do you listen to music when you read? Or, if you are an author, when you write? If so, share your favorites with me!


  1. I don't listen to music when I write but each of my books has a theme song that has at some point struck a chord with particular lyrics. When I'm stuck for inspiration or trying to get back into the story after a break I play it a few times until I remember the mood I was trying to create.

  2. I listen to music a lot, sometimes when I read. I'm very eclectic in my choices. Lately I listen to mostly Christian contemporary. My favorite right now is an album by Third Day, Lead Us Back. I never get tired of it. Also, Casting Crowns, Hillsong, Jeremy Camp.

    1. Those sound like great recommendations, Tommie. When I read, though, I'd find lyrics distracting.

  3. Thank you, some wonderful soundtracks. Thank you