Nicola Morgan – author of Wasted – on music

I’m thrilled to welcome Nicola Morgan on her Wasted blog tour. I absolutely loved Wasted and asked Nicola why she chose to make music one of the themes of the book.

(And you can find me over on Nicola’s blog today.)

Over to Nicola…

Thanks, Keris, for letting me stop over here.

You asked about the part that music plays in Wasted, and quite a few people have mentioned it. For those who don’t know, Jess and Jack have a band. Jess is a stunning singer, and it is her voice that Jack falls in love with first, before he even sees her. It is “an amazing voice, deep, rich, warm, very sexy.”

Music and singing mean everything to Jess. Here’s the bit where she’s in Jack’s room for the first time:

“But Jess is not listening. It’s the music she’s reading. It has caught her. She touches the notes on the page and something flows through her fingers. She finds herself humming it, not caring any more that he may be listening. She hardly knows what he’s doing, just immerses herself in the colours. For it does have colours, each blending into another, but she does not quite see the different tones, more feels them. They are deep within, where she cannot see, like tastes, melting together. They are, perhaps, nothing more than emotions, but they feel like much more. She loves it when music does this. She craves the weird letting go of it.”

I’ve written similarly about music elsewhere, notably in Fleshmarket, when Robbie finds a connection with his sworn enemy, the anatomist Dr Robert Knox, when he sees Knox’s violin and painfully remembers a time when his mother was alive and he was having violin lessons. And in Mondays are Red, the synaesthesia experienced by Luke includes describing violins as sounding like lemon and making him cry.

So, music must be important to me? Nope. Music is a strangely small part of my life and you may be shocked to hear me say that I could live without it. Most of the time, I do. I like silence.

My childhood contained only classical church music, both organ and choral. We lived in the country, very cut off, and I had no access to modern music until I went away to school at nearly twelve. I’d heard of the Beatles, but only because they were on the news! We never listened to music, even classical, on the radio, and I didn’t possess any.

I had piano lessons for a year, in which I learnt a lot of theory (and so can now read music) but was rarely allowed to play tunes, so I gave that up.

I sang in choirs through school and university, including madrigal groups – and you can’t do madrigals without a decent voice – but I would never have been a soloist: nowhere near good enough.

My family are very musical. My husband can’t be five minutes in the house without music on and he has a huge and eclectic collection, including the most up-to-date stuff. Both my daughters reached high levels in a huge range of instruments – piano, voice, viola, double bass, tenor horn, French horn and bassoon between them. Years ago, I wondered if I maybe had a hidden musical gene that explained their talent, so I took up the oboe to see if I did. I didn’t…

Don’t get me wrong: I adore some music. It’s just that it plays a very small part of my life and I usually don’t listen to it. (Though you’ll see in a minute that when I do, it’s very important.)

Two weaknesses make me unmusical: very poor sequencing and muscle memory, so the notes never become automatic. (I can’t touch-type, either.) And hopeless musical memory: I can rarely say what I’m listening to, even if I’ve heard it many times. Sibelius’s Finlandia – I know I love it, I know it starts distinctively, I know I’ve heard it many times, but I can neither hum you any of it nor identify it when I hear it. My family think I’m winding them up when I can’t recognise incredibly obvious things. If anyone played “Name the tune” in my presence, I’d have to leave the room in mortification. It’s like that condition called prosopagnosia, where the sufferer can’t distinguish human faces even when they know them well.

So, why the focus on music in Wasted and other places? I have a theory. (And it may answer a question you asked me: why is Jess a singer and why does Jack have a band?)

In recent years, I have discovered that listening to certain music helps me write fiction (but not non-fiction – for that, silence rules). So, I have a small collection of selected albums and play them loudly and repetitively, to induce the mood-state I need. At those moments, I desperately wish I could have been musical, would love to be able to hold an audience as Jess does, to hear their silence as the last note falls, to feel the applause of an audience you’ve moved.

So, my theory is that I get the same feeling from writing as Jess and Jack get from singing and playing. Even those of us who aren’t “musical” can identify with how music can move us. I gave Jack and Jess musical passion and talent because I felt people would like them, admire their musicality, and understand them. Words and music are not much different: just another way to express our feelings and connect to other people. And that’s why I think music is a recurring theme for me, even though my oboe-playing would sink ships!

Copyright © Nicola Morgan 2010

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2 thoughts on “Nicola Morgan – author of Wasted – on music

  1. What an interesting guest post. I wish I was musical as well. It doesn’t play a huge part in my life either, but I do admire people who have a musical talent..

    Also, can’t wait to read Wasted. Looks like good stuff!

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