Today, I’m excited to welcome Oliver Langmead, author of the Metronome, back to Bookwraiths.  Many of you might recall my fondness for his iambic pentameter scifi tale Dark Star from 2015.  Well, the author is back with his newest novel, which takes readers to the land of dreams and stars a musician.  Since Oliver Langmead has a musical background, it should come as no surprise that he is serious when writing about the subject.

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Writing Music in Fiction


Oliver Langmead

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Half way through 2016, one of my greatest mentors sadly passed away. Jim Stewart taught me about poetry, and art, and teaching, and to call him irreplaceable is no understatement. I don’t think I’ll ever meet another Jim Stewart.

When I first went to one of his classes in 2012, he spoke a little about music. Mostly, he seemed in awe of it. Jim was a brilliant poet, and his understanding of poetry went beyond simple academic knowledge of nuance – he was an artist, and he taught me to see the art in it. But that day, I remember him considering music (seriously pondering it, in his usual manner), and he said that music could do things that he, as a poet, could not. That musicians almost had a mystical power; a means of transmitting meaning that transcended words.

About a year after graduating, I sat down to begin writing a book filled with music. And while I still remembered Jim’s comments on music, it wasn’t until then that I really appreciated what he meant.

Writing about music in fiction is difficult. When it’s still in the form of an idea, it seems really easy: the songs and sounds are in your head, and those songs inform the mood of the scenes you’re trying to write. Only… when you sit down to actually write songs being played, the best you can do is write about how the music makes your characters feel. You can’t transmit sounds to inform mood through the page. I know it seems simple, the way I’m writing it down here – as if it’s an obvious stumbling block I should have thought about before deciding on making my protagonist a musician, and filling the book with his music – but I honestly didn’t believe it would be as difficult as it turned out to be.

One classic example of music turning up in fiction is in the form of lyrics (think: the bardic ballad), usually accompanied by a description of an instrument being played, and perhaps things like the tone of the song, or the singer’s voice. The problem is that I never felt very satisfied by the songs in books like George MacDonald’s Phantastes, in which I found myself just skipping them to get back to the plot. Maybe it’s personal taste, but I never got a sense of, well… music out of those lyrical presentations. I think the closest to being great are those in the Lord of the Rings, which Tolkien surrounded by enough atmosphere to give a fair idea – a means of conjuring a distant note in the mind. And say what you will about the Hobbit films but, to me, one of the most successful moments is the misty mountains song in the first of them, which felt as if it brought what Tolkien had meant by his lyrical interludes to life.

I ended up making a compromise. I could never achieve the note-by-note transmission of songs through the page (at least, not yet – maybe technology will catch up!). Instead, I relied on metaphor. I relied on the idea of attaching songs to certain characters, and in that way giving the reader a sense of mood. And, most important of all to the story, I attached songs to places.

In Metronome, songs are used as maps. Each of my protagonist’s songs belongs to a place, and it is by travelling to those places with him that the reader might begin to get a sense of how the songs might sound. Perhaps a song is a storm, or maybe it’s tattooed across the face of a fierce captain, or maybe it’s a song sung by the memory of a long-lost loved one. Music permeates Metronome. It’s even in the name. And while I know now exactly what Jim Stuart meant – that music has a certain magic which other forms of art struggle to capture – I think I’ve done my best. I’ve left room for the reader to decide on the music for his or her self.

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metronomeAbout Metronome 

The Sleepwalkers hunt the nightmares that haunt sleeping minds. They traverse the connected dreamworlds where reason is banished and the imagination holds sway.

But tonight, one Sleepwalker has gone rogue. Abandoning her oath to protect the dreamscapes, she devotes herself to another cause, threatening to unleash a nightmare older than man

Once a feted musician, Manderlay lives in an Edinburgh care home, riddled with arthritis. He longs for his youth and the open seas, to regain the use of his hands and play the violin again.

For too long, Manderlay’s nights have been host to dark, corrupted dreams. His comrades in the retirement home fear Manderlay is giving in to age and senility – but the truth is much worse. The dreamworld is mapped with music – and one of Manderlay’s forgotten compositions holds the key to an ancient secret. The Sleepwalkers are closing in on him. He might be their saviour, or his music might be their damnation…

Purchase the novel at Amazon.

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  1. Tammy says:

    Awesome guest post! I think I said something in my review like it would be so cool to hear an audio version of the book, because music is such a prevalent part of the story, it seems like a no brainer to listen to this book.

    Liked by 1 person

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