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

Music or Silence by Bea Davenport

I used to be a ‘strictly silence’ kind of writer. Not that I needed to blot out all ambient noise, but anything intrusive or intermittent (such as people having shouty conversations) would be a real problem when I was trying to concentrate. So writing in a public space was almost impossible. And then I discovered music…

It came about when I was writing The Serpent House, a historical time travel story. In it there’s a section where the main character Annie and her friend Meg dance to a Christmas carol. I wanted to describe the music, so I researched examples of ancient Christmas music – what instruments would be used and how they would sound to the ear of a girl from a few centuries later. I started to play recordings of some of this music while I was writing.


I don’t know why it came as a surprise that it helped me to get in the ‘zone’ for writing and transport me to my setting and the time period from the past. Because now, that trick seems like such an obvious one.

So I used it again when I was writing my adult crime novel This Little Piggy, set in the summer of 1984. Researching the tracks that would have been played on the radio during those few weeks not only took me back to the era, it reminded me how slow things were then – how songs would spend weeks in the charts and how most listeners wouldn’t hear anything much outside of the Radio 1 playlist for the time.


I’m not alone, of course. Crime writers in particular seem to reference a lot of music in their novels. In a Guardian article from 2013, Martyn Waites describes how he gives his lead characters the same musical tastes as himself and to create an ‘emotional soundtrack’ as he writes. And like many crime novels, the works are full of references to music too. And it’s not just rock tracks – remember Morse and Mozart?

Nor is it a very recent phenomenon. ‘Golden Age’ detective fiction, from Agatha Christie to Dorothy Sayers, was also full of musical references.

So writers use music to create an atmosphere and to add layers to characters. I now like to have a musical playlist to go with every novel I write. In my latest YA novel, The Misper, the main characters, Zoe and Anna, are goths and their musical tastes reflect that. Zoe has a crush on the singer in a (fictional) goth band but she also listens to a lot of the genre. And they bond a little with Anna’s mum over the Bauhaus track ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ – though I could only bear to listen to that one a couple of times.


On a purely practical level, I now use music when I am writing somewhere public, like a train. I just stick on my headphones and get myself back into whatever time period or setting I want. And it drowns out those shouty conversations!


This entry was posted on September 21, 2017 by .

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