Well, Christmas is over and January always seems a bit of a lacklustre month. The days are starting to lighten fractionally, but I know full well that we have not yet seen the coldest part of winter. Even if the daffodils are somewhat optimistically poking up green shoots, spring seems a long way off.
It’s not just the length of the days, however, it’s the quality of the light when it does finally put in an appearance. Dull and gloomy, requiring a desk lamp even at midday, and the fire lit by three o’clock in the afternoon.
The roads are perpetually plastered in mud, and so are the sides of my car. The bike is tucked away in the garage. There’s rain on every forecast, and if we make it through to March without snow it will be a first. In fact, as I write this the news is predicting snow and sub-freezing temperatures in the next week.
Perfect time of year, then, to be curled up inside, next to the aforementioned fire, with a book.
And I’ve been doing plenty of reading, both for research and for pleasure.
It’s also a good time to be indoors writing a book. I have a full schedule of work ahead of me that should last well past the rough weather and into the smooth. I’ve recently invested in a daylight lamp to banish the winter blues while I’m at my desk, and I’ve rediscovered one what has been in the past my strongest writing tools.
Although I no longer have my CD collection, I do have an external hard drive with most of the music contained on them loaded onto it. And in a lot of ways that’s even more conducive to writing. I’ve created a playlist of all my favourites, which I play in full Shuffle mode. Hours of music without having to get up to change a disc! The segues from one style to another are sometimes startling, but as these are all my favourites, there’s nothing I don’t like.
Some people have to have a place of tranquillity and complete silence while they write. Others can work quite happily in a busy café with all kinds of hubbub going on around them. Back when I still had a day-job as a photographer, I used to get a lot of scribbling done in the car on the way to shoots. Music on the car stereo, and no distractions of the Internet, or just nipping to the kitchen to make another brew.
(I was in the passenger seat for most of these trips, I ought to add, just in case you were wondering.)
I’ve always found that music conveys atmosphere almost instantly. It’s why it’s the constant backdrop to movies, TV and advertising. What would James Bond be without that distinctive John Barry score?
Or Jaws without the foreboding John Williams music to go along with it?
Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colors’ has found its way into many adverts as well as an anti-bullying campaign because the melody is as haunting the lyrics.
When I first heard Rachel Platten’s ‘Fight Song’, there was something about her voice from the moment she starts to sing. But as she goes into the chorus, it brings the hairs up on the back of my neck, the prickle in my chest. Instant emotion.
And I’ve been watching quite a bit of freestyle Grand Prix dressage recently, including the qualifier for the 2016 Olympics which was held at Olympia in London just before Christmas. But this older test by Edward Gal of the Netherlands, on the great Moorlands Totilas shows how music can emphasise and accentuate something that is already stunning. They call it dancing horses, and you’d swear the horse is listening to and keeping time with the music.
For me, listening to music while I write helps me to plug straight into an emotion or the kind of atmosphere I want to create. As long as the music is on low enough that it permeates my brain on an almost-subliminal level. I’ve found I can’t work well with headphones. It’s too immediate. I need a little distance in order for it to have its greatest effect.
What about you? Do you listen to music while you write, or work, or do you prefer the sound of silence? And, if you listen while you type or scribble, what are your favourites?
This week’s Word of the Week is cuckquean. I hadn’t come across this before, although its male equivalent, cuckold is far more common. Where a cuckold is the unwitting husband of an adulterous wife, so a cuckquean is the unwitting wife of an adulterous husband. Both have their roots from the cuckoo bird, which lays its eggs in other birds’ nests and leaves them to bring up young not their own. Sometimes shortened to cuck, it came into use in the mid 13th century. The important part is that the spouse should be deceived. A related word, for instance, is wittol, meaning a man who is aware of his wife’s infidelity and accepts it.