My Musical Muse

Music and books; possibly the best combination for legitimate daydreaming…

Loosely speaking I’m in the ‘romantic genre’. I always balk at this description, it is so restricting and has been my downfall in the past when submitting to agents and so on. ‘It’s… not quite romance is it? And why are you writing it from the male point of view half the time?’ Well, like my musical muse, I like to mix it up a little. From the emotional scenes, from the windswept Celtic landscapes (Enigma, Clannad, Craig Armstrong, Brightman); to the drama of arson, relationship conflict and fast cars, (Morrissey, Kings of Leon).

 I think I began using headphones as a buffer to block out those bloodcurdling screams of children playing nicely, or of husband making a noisy clatter in the kitchen (all devised to make me feel guilty for sitting at the typewriter). Of course, as this process developed, I began to get choosy as to the exact soundtrack. When I began to write Wild Water I used Roxy Music as a shameless buffer to domestic chaos. Don’t laugh, this was twenty-five years ago and it was the only cassette that worked in the machine. I’d like to make a point here that Bryan Ferry has nothing to do with my fiction, and in no way has he influenced the story but his crooning voice and the sheer volume was a combination which worked for me at the time, and in fact led to a whole new area of inspiration.
Now of course, I am so much more sophisticated, with my tiny earpieces and my subscription to Spotify. I can drift into a trance merely by selecting the required track and outside noise does not penetrate my concentration. I am distracted instead now by the internet. I received an email once from my husband, who was apparently, standing on the doorstep holding his finger on the doorbell and clearly very cross indeed as he had forgotten his keys, and was I DEAF?

I find music a rich source of inspiration. I can listen to the same track and get back into a scene, almost like hypnosis. If I had to pick one single artist it would have to be Enigma. My story settings are Celtic, not that I write in a historical genre but all my settings are rooted in Snowdonia – someone once described my backgrounds as separate characters in their own right – and I find Enigma dovetails very nicely into this concept with their spiritual chanting and long instrumental pieces which, although described as ‘new-age’, crosses frequently into other genres, much like my writing!
I live in the perfect landscape for love. The endless complications of relationships form the basis of my stories and I think the challenge as a writer is to bring a fresh perspective to what can only be described as the well-worked themes of romance; although I do like to throw in the odd spot of domestic violence and arson, so maybe not your average visit to North Wales. Are lyrics distracting? I tend to prefer instrumental pieces but then Sarah Brightman’s Gothic album ‘Symphony’ has been a rich source of visualisation for me too; dramatic and haunting, her vocals are awe inspiring. Midnight Sky was very influenced by this album. The dark track ‘Sanvean’ fitted the bereaved mood of the main male protagonist perfectly. I think I listened to it more than 200 times, and I still get goosebumps from the intro.

Her mix doesn’t suit all scenarios though, and if I’m writing from a male viewpoint I am frequently drawn to The Kings of Leon – who isn’t? A rock buzz can be very helpful for fight scenes or maybe driving fast cars in an agitated state. The problem with this one is that frequently, it is me who is driving a not-very-fast-car, in an agitated state. Playing my ‘writing music’ in the car brings heaps of trouble; as soon as I step away from the keyboard and drive begrudgingly to the supermarket, I am besieged with ideas and snippets of astounding dialogue, all of which I try to remember or scribble down on the shopping list as I browse the shelves and yes, I usually end up scowling at the top ten paperbacks in there too.
My work in progress is about a fifty year old clown of a man with a fixation for Morrissey. In the book, his fixation adds to the downfall of his marriage.
…For less than a minute she’d glared at his carefully guarded face, then suddenly made a lunge for his old guitar and slung it through the open bedroom window. Some of his Morrissey records followed, shimmering like black Frisbees down the garden.  That was the last straw, and she knew it. 

  My husband loathes Morrissey too… 

Originally posted on The Roz Morris Undercover Soundtrack http://mymemoriesofafuturelife.com/tag/jan-ruth

Centaur Romance: 50 Shades of Dappled Grey?

Lake Crafnant, White Horizon and the latest trends in romantic fiction.
When does a romance become something else? When I first started writing and submitting manuscripts in the traditional way, it was either a romance or it wasn’t. The definitions were very clear, but incredibly restrictive. Although I think it’s a huge step forward to have the freedom of being a cross-genre writer, I must admit I am sometimes baffled by the many sub-divisions in the romance slot and it seems they are constantly evolving. Just for fun, I had a look at the top five most er… unusual genres in romance. At number five then, Amish Romance. This one speaks for itself, but who, other than the Amish community, would read them? Number four was interesting, Nascar Romance. This is where the hero is a driver and all the action is car related, nothing too odd about that, but number three had me cringing… The Personification of Death. As the title may suggest, these novels feature a romantic interlude with the Grim Reaper. Number two was plain old Romantic Suspense, but number one on the list… Centaur Romance! Okay I like horses, but really? The piece said it was nothing to do with My Little Pony, but you’ll love it if you are a horse lover and like sex with hairy men
Maybe my work is more conventional than I thought! But I did get to wondering if White Horizon could allude to any of these trends.   Now, the Nascar thing I can understand a little, since my male character did the first thing that any working class hero coming into a lot of money might do – buy a fast car; and the Romantic Suspense speaks for itself and is extremely relevant to White Horizon. The Grim Reaper does indeed show himself to one of the characters but you may or may not be relieved to learn there is no sex scene. No, I’m sticking with dramatic romance. Or is it romantic drama?
The location re White Horizon is certainly both romantic, and dramatic. Crafnant, is far more accessible than it looks in the pictures. I say accessible, but to be fair the single track road is not built for the modern car, and if someone needs to pass, don’t look down. Llyn Crafnant is a ¾ mile-long lake (well, reservoir actually) that lies in a beautiful valley where the northern edge of Gwydyr Forest meets the lower slopes of the Carneddau mountains and, more specifically, the ridge of Cefn Cyfarwydd. The head of the lake offers what could be regarded as one of the finest views, across the lake to the mountains above, in North Wales. Crafnant takes its name from “craf”, an old Welsh word for garlic, and “nant”, a stream or valley. Even today the valley of Afon Crafnant smells of wild garlic when it flowers.
It’s a popular location for a Sunday stroll, a family walk on mostly level paths and the whole circuit only takes 40-60 minutes depending on your pace. There’s a tea shop selling Welsh ice cream on the left bank and in bad weather the mountain ponies come down to graze, often with young at foot. On one such amble, I said to husband, wouldn’t this make a great location for a hotel? Maybe with a huge decked area jutting over the head of the lake. What a wonderful vista to have a restaurant overlooking the water, imagine the sunsets! Oh, the romance of it all.
‘Why don’t you use it for a book location? Then you can build a hotel in your head,’ he said. Our imagination ran riot, well, mostly mine, although we soon became bored with just the hotel and began to spice it up, adding a character hell-bent on destruction, manslaughter, domestic violence and eventually, running out of sensible plans, we set it all on fire! What a story… we turned a pleasant picnic area into a scene of death and devastation! (I’ll have to keep my eye on that idea of his though, the one about building things in my imagination. I can see how it might become used and abused beyond its original motive)
And I haven’t forgotten the sexy centaur. Is it relevant to White Horizon? Well, yes, he gallops in somewhere towards the end… Oh, and I kept the fire, the manslaughter and the domestic violence. But it is romantic as well, trust me.

2013

Getting Back into the Saddle

Rejection; Riding Tom & Racing to the Finish Line… 
I do wish my mother wouldn’t answer the door or phone in my absence with, ‘Oh, she’s not in, she’s riding Tom.’
Most callers probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but I can guess that the postman probably smirked. Let me tell you about my love affair with Tom. He’s so tall I have to stand on a box to mount him. He’s very dark, apart from a couple of white socks, very male, and impossibly handsome but he knows this, so that’s possibly a minus. He always smells divine too, although I appreciate this is an acquired taste. He ran away with me once, and you might think that an incredibly romantic thing to do, but Tom’s idea of excitement was tearing hell for leather across open parkland whilst I danced that crazy line between exhilaration and terror.
Tom is, of course, a horse. A Thoroughbred-Welsh cross, no less. I’m not new to riding horses but Tom sometimes makes it feel like the first time… I should probably stop with the double entendres now, but in some ways I can draw comparisons with riding beyond middle-age, with getting back into writing from a long, dormant absence. Getting back into the saddle as an author has been challenging, sometimes painful, sometimes rewarding, much like my obsession with horses.
I thought I’d reached the finishing line about twenty-five years ago when my third attempt at a novel (Wild Water) attracted the interest of an agent. If you are a self-published author yourself, you can probably guess the rest of the story. I fell ‘between genres’. The experience was not unlike hurtling across a cross-country course, bravely leaping the enormous fences, not always with style but nevertheless safely over, even to a smatter of applause here and there, before stumbling over an inconsequential rut in the ground, to fall between a rock and a hard place a few feet before the winning post, no podium, not even a mention, despite the glory of the race.

Untitled design (35)

Before Tom came along, I rode Ted. He was a racy fellow, a little out of my comfort zone. If Ted had been a man, he’d be very upper class with a dicky bow. If Ted had been a book, he may well have been hovering on the periphery of my reading list, like those books you know you ought to read and admire but find them too hard going to really enjoy. The afternoon started well, with Ted and I leaping gorse hedges and huge granite rocks with no effort whatsoever on his part. I don’t mind admitting that I started to feel youthfully confident. Hey, I thought, as we cantered along the tracks, I can still do this! He made me look rather good too, with his elegant prancing and the flicking of his fancy forelock.
My companion took up the pace and we galloped side by side, slowing only to take a watery ditch shivering with sunlight, and cantering on. Far more athletic than myself, Ted turned on a sixpence to head back, but I didn’t. I fell between a rock and a hard place. Ted careered back over the ditch, stirrups flying, and disappeared over Halkyn Mountain. My friend caught up with him eventually – he was discovered browsing the borders of a rare cottage garden – and yes I did get back on, despite a bright blue hand and a broken finger. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve fallen from horses, probably on a par with the number of times I’ve fallen off the keyboard, so to speak. So, my mixed genre novel went in the bottom of the wardrobe and that was that.
The advent of e-books coincided with my son’s passion for web development and computer programming, and so began the process of converting typed manuscripts into computer Tom. First ride at Pennant Park, summer 2012files. And now here I am, pulling on my body protector and logging onto the internet. Body protector, you ask? Oh yes, I decided it would be sensible to invest in one of those. I went to have a ‘fitting’ at the local saddlery and equipment suppliers, whereupon a handsome young chap strapped me in to the equine equivalent of a bulletproof vest. It was awfully uncomfortable but he told me it would mould to my body in time, and to wear it around the house, you know, to break it in.
So here I sit many weeks later, astride the old kitchen chair, alarmingly upright and still un-moulded. It doesn’t help with writer’s block but at least I’m protected from spinal injuries, should I fall to the floor.
Words and photography by Jan Ruth