Sunday 16 September 2012

Music to Write Thrillers By

I like writing with music playing. In fact, it's a big help, in setting the mood, keeping up the pace, and generally inspiring me.

The exception is singing. If someone is singing in English, or any language I can understand (i.e. English), then the words of the song can interfere with the words I'm trying to write.

Film scores are particularly useful for writing (though I listen to a lot of jazz and some rock and classical, too).

If I want to write, for example, a suspenseful vignette or a big action sequence, I can choose music appropriate to that mood. And it gets me going.

Recently I've been writing spy thrillers. Operation Herod was a considerable e-publishing success and my publishers promptly asked for a sequel.

When I
sat down to write it, I needed music to fuel me. And I chose John Powell's excellent scores for the first two Bourne movies.

These worked really well. They remind me of Lalo Schifrin, but more contemporary. They have an electronic and World Music edge which is very interesting.

Above all, they have a propulsive, driving beat which is a real boon when you're pushing relentlessly to beat a deadline.

Anyway, largely t
hanks to John Powell and his magnificent music, I completed the sequel and delivered it a couple of weeks ago. My publishers love it.

And now they want another one...

This is great, because I'm enjoying developing the characters and I'm bubbling
with plot ideas.

The only problem is, those Bourne scores are wearing a little thin. I don't want to play them so much that the music I love becomes the music I wince at.

So I need some more options. Obviously I can get Bourne Ultimatum, another John Powell. Or try James Newton Howard's excellent Bourne Legacy (and maybe his score for Salt, anoth
er spy thriller).
But I was wondering if anybody out there has any suggestions? A tweet on this subject gave rise to some interesting and useful possibilities, including early Mike Oldfield.

Do let me know what you think.

I'm off to read some James Bond.


  1. I write with music playing too, for exactly the reasons you outline here. It really does help to set a mood that helps a lot in setting a story's atmosphere.

    For spy thriller music, what about the soundtrack to the Metal Gear Solid series? The music in the games, especially the second and third ones, has a sound that's at once propulsive and retro with enough flourishes and genre fusion to make it sound contemporary. Here are a couple of my favourite tracks for examples:

    Also, can I just say it's a pleasure and honour to have you on Blogger? I've been a fan and admirer of yours for years. Your work has been a big influence on my own.

  2. I write with music playing too. One of my favourites to play whilst writing thrillers (and I self published myself a few years back to considerably less success haha) was Richard Rodney Bennett's score for Billion Dollar Brain.

    The soundtrack to the Robert Redford/Brad Pitt movie Spy Game is pretty nifty too.

    For a suitably chilly austere Soviet sound with a dash of hope beneath the overwhelming oppression try 60s Czech songstress Mart Kubisova.

    Lastly echoing Josh, I'm so glad to have found your blog(s) I've been a big fan for years, not just of Who, I really enjoyed the part you played in a great era of Casualty too, back when it was still socially responsible, dark and gritty. You gave distinct voices a chance and sadly there's not enough people out there like that any more. But I'm preaching to the converted... ;)

  3. Likewise, I write to music as well, creating genre and theme-dependent playlists.

    Suggestions for you from my Spy Thriller playlist (outside of the Bourne soundtracks, which you mentioned, and the Bonds, which are obvious):

    • The soundtracks to the TV series "Alias" by Michael Giacchino

    • Roy Budd's film scores (there are some good best-of collections as well).

    • The Chemical Brothers' score to the film "Hanna."

    • Michael Giacchino's scores to "Mission Impossible 3", and "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol." (You might also check out his non-spy score to "The Incredibles", which is very John Barry-esque.)

    • Speaking of John Barry, his non-Bond stuff is equally spy-worthy. "The Ipcress File", "The Specialist", "Quiller Memorandum", "Raise the Titanic", "Mercury Rising".

    • Elia Cmrial's score to "Ronin."

    • Graeme Revell's score to "The Saint" film from the 90s.

    • Jennie Muskett's score to "Spooks."

    • The Greg Edmonson scores to the "Uncharted" series of video games.

    Well worth checking them out.

  4. Hello again, Andrew,

    I know that you listened to the Radio 3 series about Bebop that was broadcast some time ago, but have you listened to this series too?
    It is interesting and you might enjoy it. I hope that you do.

    Best regards.