What’s the difference between writing an album and writing a YA novel?

I’m working on a new album, a new novel, a podcast company and picking up freelance editorial contracts. It’s a lot and each project requires a different way of working.

The album, with my band Scarlet Starlings, has been a delicate labour of love – for my family, my friends in the band and the sheer love of concocting a set of great tunes. So, what’s the difference between these two creative processes; that of writing, editing and mixing music and writing a book?

These days it’s not unusual for people to be operating on many levels. When you’re essentially competing against so many multi-talented people, you’ve no choice but to bring it every day, firing on many different creative cylinders and hoping to be successful in one if you’re lucky. But is it possible to manage the monstrous marketing machine called, though it slightly sickens me to say it, your ‘brand’ without dropping a couple of balls along the way?

Live to create

For those of us who aren’t able to function without writing or making music it’s a moot point: we exist, therefore we write, or a tune worms its way into your brain and you can’t rest until you’ve recorded it. Sometimes playing a new song to an audience can feel like an exorcism!

Side note: my lovely agent, Hattie, also represents the marvellous Rebecca Denton, who recently published her first book, This Beat’s Perfect, about a young singer who is desperate to perform her own original work (and falls in love with a boy band member along the way). One of the many things that resonated with me was the way Denton explored the creative process – her main character, Amelie, has major confidence issues when it comes to performing. It’s easy to relate to that. As an introvert who forces herself to do extroverted things (hey, if we stay still we stagnate, right?) I really appreciated how Amelie’s nerves impacted her ability to put her work out there. Also, great romance and lots of cool music references for music nerds like me. She’s also very knowledgeable about the music industry FYI…


So taking choice out of the equation, next comes discipline. Writing a book requires you to put your arse on a seat (or if you’re Philip Roth, stand) and tap away relentlessly for months. Whereas, music for me means collaborating, experimenting; it’s more instinctive and visceral.

Appealing to the masses – how important is it?
In terms of commercial appeal… it’s a tough one. Every artist struggles with wanting to stay ‘true’ to their vision without being a wanky bastard about it, but let’s face it, we all want to earn enough from it to allow us to keep doing what we love. Do you compromise? Crowbar in a ‘popular’ trope like a dystopia or a love triangle, dumb down the themes, or in music go a bit ‘cheesy’? Or maybe you have some of these elements (guilty) but you’re doubting yourself: what if your spin on it isn’t unique enough? What’s the latest trend? Should I be tapping into that…? You can make yourself crazy.


Verdict: to thine own self etc.

For me, most of the time I feel like the story tells itself, leaving me very little choice in the matter. But everyone is different. In the end, it comes down to taste and a finely tuned knowledge of what, as Liam Neeson would say, your very particular set of skills is. I’m never going to be the next George Elliot (my personal heroine, along with Austen and the Brontë sisters), but I think I can write a cracking yarn with a compelling set of characters that hopefully pulls you into the world I’ve created.

I’m listening to the songs on the new album. It’s unmixed and still pretty raw, but they exist and they’re beautiful to me. We made a conscious effort to incorporate catchy riffs – not cheese but something you’d hopefully remember and hum after hearing. That’s the key – whether minor or major is up to you – wanting to create something that lasts.
And damn it, I’m proud of what we’ve done. I’m not cringing, which is rare. I can’t wait to share them with you…

To hear some early Scarlet Starlings tunes check us out here.

For updates on my books and stories follow me on Twitter.

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