Music and Writing

I was touched this week when my publishers, Book Republic, put together a Youtube playlist of the music featured in my novel, The Pink Cage. It’s a pulsing soundtrack to The Pink Cage and you can use it as a musical companion while you read.

The Pink Cage is drenched in music. Most of it is electronic. A lot of people believe it’s not possible to create decent music without instruments, but for me and for Jazz and Astrid, the central characters in The Pink Cage, electronic music pushes the barriers of sound. It opens up the possibility to make all kinds of creative noises.

Pink Cage Music

Three types of music feature in The Pink Cage, to match the three sections of the book. The early years are set to the stately tones of Bach. Despite what I said about electronic music, there is nothing like classical music to pierce the heart and speak to your deepest emotions.

When Jazz arrives on the scene, he introduces Astrid to the bubblegum rave that was popular in the early 1990s. It’s cheap, disposable music and it hasn’t lasted the test of time, but it’s the music I grew up with, so I have an enduring fondness for it. The music of the skiing trip is cool electronica, still generated by machines, but with a mellower sound that Astrid prefers.

As a writer, I draw frequently from the well of inspiration that music and sound in general provides. Music makes me want to dance, to laugh, to cry and to sing badly. I’ve never known a time when it hasn’t healed me. In general, I find noise fascinating and because I don’t see very well, I’m more likely to notice it than other people.

White Noise

I love listening to people’s voices, how they form words, their unique phrasing. I imitate their accents, sometimes badly, sometimes well enough to amuse my friends in the pub. Electronic voices exert a weird, hypnotic pull over me, especially the ones on trains and buses. I achieved a personal goal recently when I finally got to hear the Luas (tram in Dublin) voice saying Windy Arbour.

The things you hear can offer just as much stimulation as what you see. I want my novels to be soundscapes. I want to create novels that people can hear as well as see.

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The Launch

I read a novel recently about writers – always an interesting experience. One of them had a launch. Fourteen people ate nuts and drank sherry in an editor’s office. It was the grimmest thing I had read in a long time and I swore that my launch would not be like that.

Oh no – my launch will be an extravaganza. I will walk in under a flaming arch, my path flanked by swordsmen in red uniform. A band will play a jaunty tune. Guests will feast on caviar, blinis and champagne. I will sprinkle rose petals everywhere. Either that, or I’ll walk on water; I haven’t decided yet.

While I’ve always had dreams of wafting around a room, accepting praise from my legions of fans, I’ve had a foretaste of what book launches are really like – somewhere between those two scenarios. It’ll be a hectic whirl of snatched conversations, camera flashes and speeches. I was included in an anthology of pieces that were originally broadcast on Lyric FM’s Quiet Quarter slot and that’s what it was like.

Here’s what people coming to my launch on June 15th in Clonmel Library can expect. People will mill around the exhibition area, talking in voices that are unintentionally loud as they strive to make themselves heard. I’ll get stuck in, pressing the flesh and trying to talk to as many people as possible. A great way for me to meet everyone will be when I sign their books. I’m looking forward to giving their books my personal imprint. I’ll have to do right-arm exercises to make sure I don’t suffer from arm strain.

At the halfway point, there’ll be speeches from the publishers, Book Republic, from Suzanne Power, the author who’s launching the book and from yours truly. Don’t worry, we’ll keep them short – we wouldn’t want to get in the way of the mingling. I’ll then go round pressing more flesh and the whole thing will end in a woozy blur of hugs, warm words and laughter.

The launch will be hectic and I probably won’t get to talk to half the people I want to, but it will be a wonderful chance for me to celebrate my book with the people who matter to me most and to bask for a moment in glory before the real hard work of selling the book begins.

To find out more about my launch, drop me a mail on derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie

How to Edit Your Manuscript

This week, I had a nice meaty little project, editing a marketing book called The Cheese Mall, written by Bernie Tracey of Beacon Coaching Consultancy. Editing is very satisfying, because you’re enhancing people’s work and giving them a chance to display themselves in the best possible light. And you’re giving them a perspective on their work that they can’t have, because they’re too closely involved with it.

Good editing is a bit like gardening. You cut back the dead wood to allow the flowers to bloom. People worry that they’ll cut away the flowers along with the weeds. But it is possible to edit your manuscript without mangling it, just by making subtle language changes.

Most writers tend to overwrite, as they indulge their love affair with the English language and let themselves be carried along by a stream of ideas. If that’s you, here’s how you cut your ideas down to size.

  • Kill Your Darlings. If your manuscript is in danger of drowning in words, you’ll need to follow this famous advice from American writer William Faulkner. Kill off characters and sub plots that weigh your book down and detract from its central purpose.
  • Adjectives and Adverbs: Newsflash -you don’t need nearly as many of these as you think. Readers will still grasp your point. They want to work at your text; they want to imagine your world for themselves. Trust that a few well chosen words will do the work of many.
  • Repeated Words: Without realising it, you’ll find yourself repeating certain crutch words. This is a particular problem in first-person narratives, with the relentless use of ‘I.’ Taking the advice of my creative writing tutor, I cut down my use of the word ‘I’ in my own book and the manuscript shrank by around 8,000 words.
  • Clunky Sentences: Trimming down your sentences is another way to reduce your word count. Instead of writing ‘Jane pulled me close and held me in a tight embrace,’ try, ‘Jane hugged me tight.’ Same meaning, greater impact.

Some writers have the opposite problem. They find it hard to make their texts long enough. This is a more difficult problem to resolve as you have less room for manoeuvre. But there are a couple of things you can do.

  • Bulk Up. If your novel’s too short, chances are you haven’t given the reader the detail they need to imagine your world. Describing that world adds texture to your work and makes it live.
  • Put in Extra Scenes: Every writer has spare material. Don’t be afraid to draw on it. It’ll give more body to your work and complement what’s there. Just be careful that you don’t invent extra scenes and plots just for the sake of it though.

If you’d like to gain that extra perspective and bounce any editing concerns off me, I’ll be happy to talk to you. You can give me a call on 087 6959799/051 854426 or email derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie.

Full, Clean Driving Licence

These words, in a job advertisement, could be seen as prejudiced against people with disabilities. But I don’t think so. I don’t see well enough to drive a car and I’d rather know upfront if driving is a requirement. Then I won’t have to waste time applying for a job I won’t be able to do.

When I finished college, I applied to every radio station in the country for a job. One of them gave me a week’s trial. When I got there, they immediately told me that they couldn’t give me a job because they needed someone who could drive. I could have considered that they shot me down. But it wasn’t because of my sight. They needed an ambulance-chasing reporter who could get to the story as soon as possible.

The reality is, this is a difficult country to get around if you don’t have a car. As a self employed person, a lot of meetings I go to are held in industrial estates with no bus service, so I have to get a taxi. This isn’t the fault of the companies. Of course people want a place with plenty of free parking. It comes down to infrastructure, to an inadequate public transport system, to lack of parking.

But there are a few simple things companies could do to make it easier for people with disabilities to work with them. With improvements in broadband services, remote working is a viable option for many people. In my case, most people are fine with arranging to meet me in the city centre if I just tell them, or to give me a lift to and from outlying venues.

If a company wants to hire a person with a disability for a sales job that requires a lot of travelling, they could pay taxi expenses to the equivalent of what they would pay for mileage. People with disabilities who don’t drive get free travel, so a company could end up saving money. And above all, don’t be afraid to put the words Full, Clean Driving License on your ad. It saves us time. And it saves you time.

This blog also appears on www.kanchi.org, an organisation which works with employers to break down barriers to employment for people with disabilites.