A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Theme Songs for Books by Rachel Ward

I saw Ian Rankin speak at the Bristol Crimefest last weekend and he said that he can’t start writing a book without a title. The title sets the tone for the book, even if it gets changed later. As a ‘rockstar manqué’, he often uses song lyrics, sometimes misheard, for his titles and for plot inspiration.

I’m not so set on titles. In fact, these usually come when I’ve nearly finished the book or sometimes from the publisher after I’ve turned in the manuscript. And I don’t write to music. I like the peace and quiet of my sitting room, or the anonymous hubbub of a train, café or library. However, I do often have a theme tune for a book. Sometimes it represents the mood of the book. Other times, it is (laughably) literally related to the subject. Often I see my books as films, in my mind’s eye, and music forms a soundtrack to that film.

For Numbers, the theme song was Any Winehouse’s Love is a Losing Game. First books are a bit like first loves – remembering writing Numbers now, everything about it seems clearer, brighter, more intense, including that song as a soundtrack in my head. Writing it, I imagined the final shot of the Numbers film, the camera panning around a small group of women gathered on Weston pier, then going up and away from them over the sea, over the horizon, into the sky, as the song played and the credits rolled.

With my second book, The Chaos, I saw the events of the climactic scene, where a tidal wave sweeps up the Thames, causing mayhem and destruction, unfolding silently while Kate Bush’s The Man with the Child in his Eyes played over the top.

I went into much more literal territory for Infinity (Oasis, Live Forever), and The Drowning (Set Fire to the Rain by Adele). I don’t think I had a song for Water Born. Although it’s a very long, hot summer sort of book, I couldn’t bring myself to adopt the Style Council song.

Since Water Born came out in 2015, I’ve been working on two more books – a YA science fiction thriller, and an adult detective story. Neither has a theme tune as such. They’ve both been written during a testing time. Over the past year, my husband has been living in hospital 110 miles from home, waiting for a major operation and then recovering from it in an up and down, nerve-shredding sort of way. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve driven up and down the M4, sometimes with one or both grown up children, sometimes on my own.

The soundtrack to my detective story is definitely the soundtrack to my life during this time, a diet of modern pop that has acted as a common denominator for my children and me: Justin Beiber, Ellie Goulding, Years and Years. It’s also the sort of music you might find playing over the tannoi in a supermarket, the main setting for my book, so I reckon it’s appropriate.

Detective story finished, I’ve turned back to the difficult YA science fiction one. I’ve had a couple of attempts at writing it, but it hasn’t quite gelled yet. The other day I heard Laurie Anderson’s Oh Superman on Radio 4, which sent chills down my spine. Not the words – well, maybe some of them –  but the tone of it, the mood. Maybe I’ve found another theme song …


Rachel Ward
Rachel Ward grew up in Bookham, Surrey. After school she studied Geography at Durham University and combined working for a number of local authorities with raising a family. She has published five YA thrillers, the first of which, NUMBERS, has been published in 26 countries and was the winner of several awards including the Flemish Children and Youth Literature Prize 2011, Angus Book Awards 2010 and the Salisbury Schools Book Award 2012, as well as being shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2009, the Branford Boase Award 2010 and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturepreis 2011. Other books: NUMBERS 2: THE CHAOS, NUMBERS 3: INFINITY, THE DROWNING, WATER BORN.
Rachel lives in Bath, Somerset with her husband, two grown up children, dog and one lone chicken.

3 comments on “Theme Songs for Books by Rachel Ward

  1. writeanne
    May 27, 2016

    I enjoyed your post, Rachel. There have been a few authors talking online lately about how music helps (or not) when they’re writing. Each one I’ve read has had a slightly different take on the role of music. I work with a novel playlist in the background. Sometimes the link between track and novel is tenuous at best, but for some reason something about that track gets me, and keeps me, in the zone.

    I do hope your husband is better soon. I had something similar with my husband a couple of years ago and the hospital being very far (180 miles) away – a stressful time.

    Take care and all the best with the new book and all your writing.

  2. Rachel Ward
    May 27, 2016

    Thanks, Anne. xxx

  3. Sean P Carlin
    June 2, 2016

    I’ve been writing my WIP — a horror novel set at a New York detention center — to Halloween director John Carpenter’s recent album of original instrumentals, Lost Themes. In my head, the first song, “Vortex,” became the unofficial theme music of the book! I listen to it before I get started each morning to bring me back into the world of the story.

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