September 15th, 2017

Doing a bit of catching up this afternoon (my 1345 student canceled so I was home early) I read last week’s My Writing Day by Roddy Doyle. Music plays a central role in his work day and I’m always interested in what writers listen to when they’re writing.

Music became part of his writing day because when he quit his day job as a teacher in 1993:

I was alone. I was happy enough but the working day yawned; the silence wasn’t eerie but I didn’t like it. A friend suggested music. That seems odd now, that someone had to persuade the man who wrote The Commitments that he might enjoy listening to music while he worked.

But, anyway, it worked. I have a record player in the office—deck, amp, CD player, a stack of the things. It takes up space—it’s like having a Harley-Davidson in the attic. It’s the first thing I see as I climb the last few steps, and my working day starts when I start flicking through the records, going: “Ah yeah, ah yeah, ah yeah, when did I buy that shite, ah yeah, ah yeah.”

I listen to—or play—music all day as I work, unless I’m editing. Sometimes, I know things have been going well when I realise that the music has stopped and I hadn’t noticed. The music I choose in the late afternoon—the last two hours or so—is vital. Philip Glass’s Music with Changing Parts got me to the end of my novel, A Star Called Henry; I played it every afternoon for a year.

Doyle goes on to list a number of other musicians—some of the people who’ve been filling the day for me—that he finds to be writing worthy.

  • Drive By by The Necks;
  • Steve Reich;
  • Boards of Canada;
  • Colin Stetson;
  • Sarah Neufeld;
  • Laura Cannell;
  • Mogwai;
  • Fennesz;
  • Brian Eno;
  • Max Richter;
  • William Basinski;
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto;
  • Christian Blackshaw;
  • Tim Hecker; and
  • Caoimhín Ó’Raghallaigh.
  • Missing are the likes of Try a Little Tenderness, Mustang Sally, Dark End of the Street and Take Me to the River because, Doyle writes, I rarely play rock music. It’s too distracting, too many stops and starts, howls and lyrics. We’re in total agreement there. I need instrumental music when I write.

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