When I write, I find it impossible to listen to music because I find it too distracting. I have to write in complete silence. And yet, music plays an important role in my new young adult novel, Caramel Hearts. The main character, Liv Bloom, is obsessed with Johnny Cash, and his music is referred to at crucial moments in the book, usually when tensions are running high. Many people have asked me about this contradiction – not being able to write with music yet writing about it – and so I thought I’d share how and why I incorporated music into my novel.
About Caramel Hearts
Caramel Hearts tells the story of Liv Bloom, a 14 year-old girl with an alcoholic mum, trying to make sense of her world. It’s a gritty coming of age story, with real cake recipes throughout, structuring the story. While Liv’s mum is in recovery, she is looked after by her older sister, Hatty, who should be at university. The sisters are very close, but tension is running high. When Liv stumbles across a cookbook that was handwritten by her mum, she decides to bake the recipes. This takes her on a voyage of discovery, but a series of bad decisions and a school bully land her in lots of trouble. It’s a very real story about family, friendship, modern-day poverty, and the effects of addiction.
Why does music feature?
Liv is a character desperately searching for two things; she wants a closer relationship with her mum and she also wants to fit in with the world around her. She’s living in tough circumstances, both financially and emotionally, and is pretty lost; she’s feeling disconnected with everyone and everything. I think that music is a really powerful medium; it has a language of its own that speaks to people on different levels. Music feels deeply personal and accesses emotions in a way that nothing else can. In short, it’s a connection and an escape all at once. I remember music being very important to me when I was younger, and realised that this connection/escape was exactly what Liv needed. In music, just like in her new baking hobby, she can find solace.
Why choose Johnny Cash?
Johnny Cash might seem like a strange choice for a 14 year-old girl, but Liv is living in poverty and has very little money, so she only has access to the music her mum or Hatty likes. She listens to her mum’s Johnny Cash albums for two reasons: it gives her an emotional release but it also provides 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 uses it to hide from her current problems. I already know (and love!) Johnny Cash’s music, but I did listen to his music on repeat before writing certain scenes, to make sure that the songs I chose were right for the book. The songs had to reflect the story and tension – they had to emphasise the emotions.
How does the music work in Caramel Hearts?
The music helps to convey tension, mood and emotions; I found that the recipes and music complemented each other perfectly. The music helps convey the nuances of heightened emotions; hurt, disappointment, anger and hope. It’s 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. I didn’t go into much detail about the music – I would find it really difficult to capture it on the page. Instead, I let the song choices speak for themselves.
How about you? Do you write with music on, or do you find it too distracting also? Do you write about music or use music in your writing? I’d love to know what works for you.