I love soundtrack music. People put alot of time into working on this stuff and then people don’t listen to it, going to see the films instead for the actors and the story. When the Lord of the Rings came out, I knew the music had to be good. And it was – I mean, I got goosepimples simply from the soundtrack at the start of the prophecy – menace and mystery. The same with Pirates of the Caribbean and all the kung fu/oriental films. But I hadn’t really thought about game music until recently. Games these days are more like interactive films than anything else – good voice cast, well defined plot, spectacular graphics, movie-style cut scenes. So why not a movie-style soundtrack?
I’m talking about the Halo Games, specifically Halo 2 (since I can get hold of the soundtrack). It stirs the heart strings, invokes thoughts and feelings. One of them is so sinister you know you’re about to turn the corner and meet the big boss. But I don’t just listen to the music to remember the scenery or the action or that one moment when character A and character B finally kissed (the couple we’ve been rooting for from the first moment). I listen to it to help my writing. Some Lord of the Rings songs are too iconic to use – instead acting as filler/mood music for my fantasy pieces. But some fits the tone I want, and usually I have a mix of stuff just rolling around and around, weaving its way through my work on a chapter. No one song contributes, but the blend helps me keep the flow going, to keep my mind in that in-between trance-like state I find helps me actually get somewhere.
I usually don’t want to be wherever I end up working, or I don’t want to be involved in the events unfolding around me. I want to be inside the story – I want to be the makeup artist putting the finishing touch to my leading lady or the seams-mistress fixing the fall of a particular robe or a dashing cloak of our hero. I want to be the animal handler keeping the horses and hounds prepared for the hunt scene, and the special effects guy running through the digital scene and planning the lighting and additional stuff that’ll be put in after the action’s been shot. I also want to be sat behind the set with the characters, helping them with their lines. As odd as it sounds, I don’t want to be the characters. I want to be their support, to be the conduit that deliver’s their adventures to the wider world.
The volume of the music is usually reasonably high to drown out the odd background noise you expect from sitting in a study/office/library/coffee shop – the mobile phones vibrating on the worktop, the pings as people get messages or emails (those are the worst), the conversations, the questions, life’s little drama’s all getting slightly out of hand – everything and anything that can permeate the haze I work in and sends me back to reality. When this happens, I usually turn to the haunting, lilting tales that call me back – the ones where the hero collapses slowly to the floor, wailing or cursing aloud. Or when an important member of the team dies and the others are trying to get to him to help (think when Boromir keeps on fighting although he’s wounded, how the cinematography slows to accentuate the loss.) – my current songs of choice for this is Unforgotten (Halo 2), At Wits End and What Shall We Die For (Pirates of the Caribbean:At World’s End), When Winter Comes (Chris de Burgh), The Steward of Gondor and The Return of the King (Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) and The Breaking of the Fellowship (Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring). All moments of sadness. All moments that pull me back.
They make me think of Ifan and Nyssa – of a moment that, as yet, is only planned on paper. Of Taynor and Gretham. Of Elrik at the moment of truth. Sadness. Sorrow. Love.
I have other songs that take me into my novel – mainly the Riders of Rohan themed ones from Lord of the Rings, sort of because they make me think of wooden houses, men on horses, Vikings and wanderers.
Sometimes the music fails to help and I just drift on the thoughts running through my head. Sometimes I make art. Sometimes I get nowhere and call it a day (not the best way, but at least I progress at a reasonably rate). Sometimes I end up crafting a new idea for another novel, but recently I’ve been pushing it aside, adding it to the odd scribbles in my notebook, highlighting sections I want to consider. I’m doing all I can to finish this novel – I want to craft something decent, craft something I actually finish rather than coming across it years later and feeling like it’s another idea gone wrong.
When I was little, I used to write stories all the time. Clearing out some things at my grandparents’ and at my parents’ when I was helping earlier this summer, I found notebooks and scraps of paper covered in chunks of stories I remember. Most of it went in the recycling, too scruffy or bitty to make head nor tail of, but some I brought back to dissect later. I used to tell stories too, making up impressive tales with the boundless imagination of a child that transformed my grandparents’ garden into a great forest, a treacherous mountain pass filled with evil beings, of castles catching the sunlight, of finery and gilding existing in wildest dreams. Myself, my brother and my cousins would become handsome and comely, brave fighters, mages of great power or one as a princess with stout shoes and attitude. We’d wrap sheets and scarves and tea towels about our shoulders, heft bamboo poles or sticks as weapons (once I even made a decent bow that shot a fair way before someone over extended it and snapped the branch, shredding the string in the process) and we’d go round and round the house, declaring that we had entered the pass of Kiridoom at the steps by my granddad’s workshop window or that we were crossing the Ildren sea when we got the gravel driveway. Sometimes my grandparents would take part (but usually only to make sure we were behaving ourselves and to bring our lunch out to their garden shed that for the summer would become our secret hideaway. There are photos of us crowded into the shed with a picnic blanket on the floor, grinning like maniacs. There is also another one where we concocted a den out of the cleaned trailer my grandparents had to go behind the car when they went to the tip and an umbrella, covered in blankets. It was hot and cramped, but we refused to move out of there the entire day, playing games and imagining ourselves somewhere else. We even had lunch in there, but dinner was a bit of a stretch and my Nanna had had enough of us mucking around and demanded we come in to eat like proper children.
So does it surprise you that I stopped wanting to be a writer and illustrator when I went to high school and specialised in sciences and geography before going on to be a Civil Engineer when I want to University? I think most people were as I was both musical and had a small ounce of artistic ability. But I hated the art lessons, wanting to draw things from my head, not from the objects before me and so my art teacher despaired. And I decided that I didn’t want to work in my hobby, ruling out Professional singer or musician. So I went all science for a long time.
It took a while to convince my mother that starting my 3D art wasn’t a waste of my time when I lived in halls. It took even longer to convince her I could do well at my exams and yet still be able to take part in last year’s NaNoWriMo. But I have and she even encourages me to take time to work on my story when I go home, laptop in tow. Not that that happens very often, and normally we’re all doing something together rather than separate or she needs my help. But when I demand the time, I get it.
So when I finally get this novel finished, I’ll be able to show that I simply can.
You’re not a writer until you call yourself one, published story or not. And I am.