A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
My ability to concentrate has an odd relationship with sound. It’s a strange thing, but there are times when nothing will do but thick, dense silence if I want even half a chance of making my daily word count, but I also have other days when I need to listen, when music – for example – can make the difference between a successful day of writing and hour upon hour of wasted time. Sometimes it’s nothing to do with music, but more a question of whether I have chosen what I’m listening to or not, which may not be musical at all. In fact, very often music is the last thing I want to listen to when I’m writing – on some weird level, it can interfere with whatever part of my brain churns out the stories. But sound more generally, on the other hand, has an ever-changing relationship with my ability to get the job done. My fellow Allsort – the lovely Zoë Marriott – once gently diverted me from a full-on meltdown when I was working on some particularly tricky edits against a clatter of distracting household noise, including a loud phone conversation. With gentle firmness, she directed me to the awesome Soundrown website. Now I was in control, noise became my friend, because I had chosen the noise. Somehow, the rushing and crashing of waves against a pebbly shore cancelled out the discordant chaos beyond the closed door of my study.
Soundrown is perfect for me when it’s a case of wanting to write and outside forces beyond my control are interfering with my ability to concentrate and slip away into the world I’ve created (thanks, Zoë!). But what about those weeks or perhaps even months when my fictional world is in the process of construction, when sometimes I don’t believe in that place or those people, and getting words on to the page is painful? I’m talking about those tiresome days when words don’t come running, and I can’t let go of the world I’m in and go to that other place where the stories happen.
These are the days I need to remember how it felt to be a teenager, to be the person I’m writing for. These are the times when music saves the book. Over a period of eight weeks last summer, I had to rewrite my next book completely, from start to finish. It’s safe to say that The Hidden Princess was not the easiest novel I’ve ever produced. And, yes, that’s almost 70,000 words in two months. Oddly, the time pressure made it easier, in some ways, but it was easily the most intense writing experience I’ve been through. Instead of interfering with the story-writing process, music got that book written. I don’t make long playlists to help me build the world I’m trying to create – it’s not that I’m listening to a specific piece that helps me to paint a particular landscape.
This is how it works: if I can remember what it feels like to be a teenager, I find the right words again and all else takes care of itself – plot, character, motivation. It falls into place if I’m in the right time. Jeff Buckley’s haunting version of Hallelujah has the right mixture of heartbreak and longing that underpins large swathes of The Hidden Princess. Another track I played on repeat during this frenetic period of creativity was The Levellers’ seminal Boatman – a song full of raw rage and emotion that I don’t actually remember listening to that much as a teenager, but now it somehow has the power make me reach back and see life through fifteen-year-old eyes again.
And in the end, of course, that’s really all my job is about.