It’s okay not to be creative right now. That’s a message we’ve heard a lot over the recent months of lockdown. And of course this is true. Inundated with news from the media locally, nationally and internationally, it takes a toll on even the most robust of us. An intensely emotional and stressful time has meant that we all have to navigate our way through new normals. And do as much or as little as we need to.
But what about those of us who HAVE to be creative, no matter what else is going on in our lives? Because for me, being creative is my job and there’s a price to pay if I down my writing tools. Literally. As the world paused in the midst of this global pandemic, I had no choice but to continue work on my ninth novel – Letters To Myself.
While my publisher is incredibly supportive and at no point put pressure on me to complete my work in progress, the bottom line is this – if I didn’t hand in my manuscript, I would not get paid my advance. Author advance payments are typically split between submission and publication. They are the only guaranteed income. Worth noting too, another knock on effect of a late manuscript submission could result in a missed publication slot and you guessed, no advance payment.
So, every day, I sat at my desk and I wrote. I’m happy to share that I managed to hand in my completed manuscript only a few weeks late. But it was challenging. The landscape of my writing world is unrecognisable now – to start with, there’s a whole lot more noise drifting into my writing room!
My husband now works from home and our children are homeschooled by me every morning. As a family, we had to quickly find a new rhythm that worked for everyone. We took a few wrong turns, but I’m proud of us all and how well we adjusted.
I can’t help thinking though, that had this pandemic happened a few years ago, I would have found it far harder to cope. Because, back then I needed complete silence in order write. Creative silence if you will.
The only sound allowed was the voices in my head as my characters spoke their truths to me, one word at a time. My early novels were written while the children slept, or during nap times. As they got older, while they were in school. During deadline months, words are written in the middle of the night, where the only sounds are the soft snores of my sleeping family.
But in 2016, I found myself in new territory. An opportunity to write a novel commissioned for ITV based on the TV show Cold Feet presented itself. Which meant that instead of my usual one book per year, I had to complete two manuscritps! It was evident that in order to meet that particular deadline, I needed to write in every spare moment no matter what the noise levels were in the house.
I thought about Cold Feet and how music plays a big role in the TV show. Each series has it’s own soundtrack. So I decided to create a Spotify list of the songs that featured in the series, with music from The Undertones, Manic Street Preachers, Thin Lizzy, Andy Williams, Marvin Gaye and Hear Say. The list was eclectic and belonged to the characters world. Could I learn to write, listening to their music? I bought a pair of headphones and with the volume up loud, I drowned out the distractions of my family at home. But at first I found myself singing along to the songs, rather than writing. I’m easily distracted. More than once, I threw my headphones down in disgust. However, I persevered (I’m stubborn that way) and one day I realised that when The Undertones belted out Jimmy, Jimmy, the words flowed.
Somehow, wonderfully, I had trained my writing muscle to kick in, when my Cold Feet soundtrack began. Could I do this with all novels? Or was it a fluke for the TV show?
Well reader, I’m happy to report that the answer is yes! Now when I start a new novel, I spend a day choosing music that is special to my characters and their worlds. I try to keep their soundtrack to no more than a dozen songs in total and I play them on loop. For Greta in My Pear-Shaped Life, it was all about Josh Groban. In fact, his version of Bridge Over Troubled Waters became an anthem for the book and inspired a powerful scene.
Now when I need to write and the noise levels are distracting, I simply put on my headphones and let the music take me to my characters worlds. In fact, as I write this feature, I’m listening to Simon and Garfunkels, Sound of Silence. It seems appropriate somehow. Music and creativity go hand in hand for me. They sit in perfect harmony – note for word, word for note.
(c) Carmel Harrington
About My Pear-Shaped Life:
Meet Greta. She’s funny. She’s flawed.
She’s hiding so much behind her big smile she’s forgotten who she is.
But Greta is about to discover that the key to being happy is…being yourself.
Greta Gale has played the part of the funny fat one her entire life, hiding her insecurities behind a big smile. But size doesn’t matter when you can laugh at yourself, right?
Until Greta realises she’s the only one not laughing. And deep down, she’s not sure if she’ll ever laugh again.
But Greta is about to discover that sometimes the best moments in life come when it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped…
‘So many women will find this book speaks to them. It makes you laugh and cry but it is truly inspiring’ Katie Fforde
‘Sweet, sad, insightful and joyful – this book pressed all the emotion buttons and I’m so glad it did’ Milly Johnson
‘Uplifting and powerful…I LOVED it’ Cathy Kelly
‘Warm, moving and life-affirming…Greta is a gorgeous character that you will fall in love with’ Sinead Moriarty
‘Warm, engrossing storytelling at its best’ Sheila O’Flanagan