Music & Me: The Creative Process (with ER Murray)
When I interviewed author Elizabeth Rose Murray for my regular “Music & Me” feature, she said that she couldn’t listen to music while writing. So I was intrigued to discover that music played an important role in her new YA novel, Caramel Hearts, and I set out to discover how she incorporated music into her writing process.
Tell us about your new novel, Caramel Hearts.
Caramel Hearts tells the story of Liv Bloom, a 14 year girl with an alcoholic mum, trying to make sense of her world. It’s a grity coming of age story, with real cake recipes throughout! While her mum is in recovery, Liv is looked after by her older sister who should be at uni; the pair are very close, but tension is running high. When Liv stumbles across a cookbook that was handwritten her mum, she decides to bake the recipes. It takes her on a voyage of discovery, but a series of bad decisions and the attentions of a school bully land her in a whole heap of trouble. It’s a very real story about family, friendship, modern-day poverty, and the effects of addiction.
Music is an integral part of the story in Caramel Hearts. Why so?
Liv is a character desperately searching for two things; a relationship with her mum and a way to fit into the world around her. She’s living in tough circumstances, both financially and emotionally, and is looking to connect. Music is a powerful medium; it has a language of its own that speaks to people on many different levels. It feels deeply personal and taps into emotions in a way that nothing else can; it’s a connection and an escape all at once. This is exactly what Liv needs. In music, just like in her new-found interest in baking, she can find some solace.
How did you go about choosing the music for the book? Was there a particular reason why you chose a song or artist?
Liv is living in poverty and has very little access to music, so she is wholly reliant on what her mum or older sister, Hatty, likes. She has no money of her own and so she listens to her mum’s Johnny Cash albums. This works on two levels; it gives her some emotional release but also a connection with her mum in her absence. Johnny Cash was the perfect choice for Liv’s mum, because she is a troubled soul who can’t let go of the past, and looks upon it as a golden age whie hiding from her current problems.
Did you listen to the music throughout the writing of the book or were you already familiar with it?
I already know (and love!) Johnny Cash, but I did listen to his music on repeat to make sure that the songs I chose to mention in the book were the right ones. They had to reflect the story, tension and emotions – and the same for the moments when she turns to music for solace. It had to be real.
Did you find that the more you thought about the music that it informed the storyline?
It certainly helped with the tension; the storyline is more affected by the real cake recipes that structure the book, but I found that that the recipes and music complemented each other perfectly. The music helps convey the nuances of heightened emotions; hurt, disappointment, anger and hope. It is these nuances that transform a character from words on a page into a real, believable, living being in the reader’s mind. And surprisingly, there was one particular scene that was entirely driven by the choice of song Liv listens to (no spoilers!) so the music element affected the story more than I expected.
The famous quote goes: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. Did you find it easy or difficult to write about music?
I didn’t go into much detail about the music – I would find it really difficult to capture it on the page, so this statement is probably very true. Instead, I let the artist and song choices speak for themselves. The music helped to convey mood and emotions, just like in real life.
And finally, what are your own personal musical tastes?
I spend most of my life in silence because, like you pointed out I the introduction, I can’t write with music on and I do a lot of writing! This means that I’m very out of touch with current popular music. I’m lucky, however, in that I live in an area that is full of excellent musicians and I can go out to hear live music as often as I like – and there’s a wide mix of folk, rock, funk, blues, and traditional Irish music around. However, when I do put on a CD or two, I love original Mississipppi blues, like Blind Boy Fuller and Son House. I also love music that is haunting and dark, like Anthony and the Johnsons, or quirky and fun like Australian singer, Susy Blue. My husband (Mick O’ Callaghan) is a singer songwriter, so I get lots of live performances at home also! I’m spoiled.
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