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Music & Me: Caoilinn Hughes

Article by Derek Flynn © 10 December 2018.
Posted in Guest Blogs ().

What are your earliest musical memories?

I doubt this can be answered honestly. The earliest music I might have been exposed to (disclaimer: this still feels highly constructed and dubious) include my parents humming me to sleep; RTE Radio 1 jingles in the kitchen; the parish choir; my older siblings playing their sophisticated music (Vanilla Ice, Radiohead, R.E.M., En Vogue) and screeching notes from a violin; whatever music accompanied Bosco. Who knows? There was a lot of musical goings-on. Though, by age nine, all musical memories collapse into the theme tune that emanated from my Power Rangers’ glove.

 Who or what were your musical influences growing up and why?

Missy Elliot, Dave Brubeck, Michael Jackson, Rachmaninoff, Britney Spears, Morcheeba, Oasis, Whitney Houston, Manu Chao, Dr. Dre and Dvořák.

One thing I’d say (albeit with exceptions) is that I’ve always preferred other genres of music over rock. Rock is not my bagpipe. Nor are bagpipes. I’ll probably lose at least 2 of my 11 readers for that admission. 

I played the violin in an orchestra for most of my youth, but my violin teacher could see that I would never be (nor did I want to become) a musician but that I loved words, so we spent most of the half-hour lessons discussing Yevtushenko’s poems. Weirdly, I found my way into writing (I began with poetry) via the violin. Hugh Kelly (said teacher) was a key influence, especially as I’d been written off by my school teachers as a hopeless case. Here was one teacher-figure saying: What you’re interested in is valid and worthwhile. If the stanza inspires you more than the scales, for the love of music, make a stanza!

 Does music influence your writing?

Mostly, yes.

Occasionally, no.  

 Do you listen to music while writing, editing, etc.?

Not while editing. While writing, yes. Either music or brown noise. I wrote an essay about this, which you can read here. On the music front, I tend to live in the same set of sounds for however many years it takes me to write a novel. Call it three albums totalling 130 minutes of music. I listen to those three albums on repeat daily for years. Ludicrous and purgatorial? Yes, it is. But it helps—it’s a muscle memory thing. And it’s hard to find lyric-less music that doesn’t impose its atmosphere with too much force on the psyche. I’ve started a new short story recently, and it’s going horribly (in that it’s not going), and I’m convinced it’s because I haven’t found the music for it yet. If that sounds like a recipe for procrastination … the story will be ready by 2020.

 Is there one particular novel or piece of writing you wrote that was directly influenced by a piece of music?

Yes. I have a list for you! I was asked to write a playlist piece for Largeheartedboy.com. It felt a bit exposing to reveal the whole set of music behind Orchid & the Wasp, but there is a lot of music in the novel … and I kept being asked for ‘personal essays’ to promote the novel (this happens to female writers more and more – the intellectual essays I wrote were rejected when I refused to make them ‘more personal’), so I decided to bare all … my music. (Vetoed crotchet joke.) Here’s the soundtrack essay for Orchid & the Wasp.

 What music are you listening to at the moment?

Recently, I’ve been listening to (and loving) Ólafur Arnalds, Bonobo, Ásgeir, GoGo Penguin, Bon Iver, Chilli Gonzalez’ solo piano albums, Janelle Monáe, The Gloaming, Jamie xx, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Sylvan Esso, David Le Page (The Reinvention of Harmony and Imagination).

Musically, what’s your guilty pleasure (or is there such a thing)?

No such thing!


Caoilinn Hughes’ critically acclaimed novel “Orchid and the Wasp” is on sale now: https://amazon.co.uk/Orchid-Wasp-Caoilinn-Hughes/dp/178607365X/

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Derek Flynn runs Writing.ie's SongBook blog, and is an Irish writer and musician. He has a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and his fiction was featured in 'Surge', an anthology of new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press with the aim of showcasing “the very best of the next generation of Irish authors”. Online he can be found at his writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – and on Twitter as @derekf03