Music for writers

Another post about music… The excellent writer and excellent person James Everington was kind enough to invite me to contribute an article to his ‘Music for Writers’ series on his website. I never turn down a chance to talk about music, and given that pretty much all of my current music listening is a background to writing or work, this theme plays to my interests. You can read the full article, and listen to selections, here.

(Note that Music to write to is distinct from Book soundtracks, which I create for each of my novellas and novels. See here for some of those.)

Musical milestones

I’m pretty sure that by now everybody’s seen the recent Facebook meme of showing the 10 albums that you find important, right? Now that I’ve finished my 10-album, 10-day list I thought I’d post it here for posterity. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to stick to the rule of omitting any explanation of my choices…

#1 Victor Borge – Phonetic punctuation / A Mozart opera
I’ve chosen this album to represent my parents’ record collection, and the fact that when I was a kid I was more likely to listen to comedy than music. But also, I still think it’s hysterically funny, and the album cover is still one of my all-time favourites, and also matches my writing/editing occupation. I have the LP version framed and ready to hang once I get my attic office in order.

#2 The Beatles – 1967–1970
It’d be disingenuous to pretend that this album wasn’t the keystone of my discovering music when I was a kid. I’d heard ‘Penny Lane’ via a compilation tape (chosen because I liked fire engines) and ‘Let It Be’ on a French campsite (as close to a musical epiphany as a seven-year-old can have). I listened to the ‘Blue Album’ endlessly while I was growing up; it’s part of me.

 

 

 

 

 

#3 Tortoise – TNT   /   Gastr Del Sol – Camoufleur
TNT by Tortoise was responsible for shifting my listening from rock to post-rock and experimental music. And that self-effacing album cover! Tortoise were an important band to me, partly because they had so many side projects that would lead me into other areas. In fact, two members of Tortoise were in the original lineup of Gastr Del Sol, though by the time of CAMOUFLEUR the lineup was David Grubbs and Jim O’Rourke (with contributions from Markus Popp of Oval). Jim O’Rourke would lead me into new areas – via his indie stuff and then into far stranger listening territory. Gastr Del Sol’s CAMOUFLEUR came a little later, but is probably my favourite post-rock album.

 #4 Nick Cave – And No More Shall We Part
I know that many people would argue for other Nick Cave albums being more immediate, more visceral, plain better than this, but I adore it unconditionally. It’s one of the most literate and darkly funny albums I can think of, and it inspired my early attempts to write short stories as much as, say, John Updike’s RABBIT series of books did.

#5 Herman Düne – Not On Top
For the longest time, I considered Herman Düne my favourite band. They were charming, witty and, unlike most of the music I listened to, they were alive and there were lots of opportunities to see them play live – which I did, perhaps five or six times in total. I listened to a lot of ‘anti-folk’ at the beginning of this century, though few of the performers still have the same resonance for me as Herman Düne, who have soundtracked some of the happiest moments of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

#6 The Modern Lovers  – The Modern Lovers   /   Jonathan Richman – Jonathan Goes Country
Around 2005 I listened to little other than Jonathan Richman’s vast back catalogue, from his snotty Velvet-Underground-ish origins to his latter-day embarrassing-dad persona – both equally loveable. THE MODERN LOVERS and JONATHAN GOES COUNTRY were on constant rotation when I was working alone for long stretches in California. The former is one of the great proto-punk albums, and a tantalising suggestion of a path that Richman would decide not to take; the latter is a goofy experiment that shouldn’t work, but succeeds through its wholehearted charm. It’s my favourite music to drive to.
(My favourite detail about the change in direction after the release of The Modern Lovers in 1976: David Robinson left the group ‘due to frustration with Richman’s quest for lower volume levels’.)

#7 Lonnie Donegan – Rock Island Line: The Singles Anthology 1955–1967
Lonnie Donegan’s early singles are some of the most thrilling songs I know of: catchy, funny, utterly wild. When I discovered this fantastic compilation set in 2006 I described it as follows in a blog post:
“I can’t get enough of Lonnie’s rasping, distorted, chuckling voice. I love that he addresses his songs to ‘the boys’. I love his rambling introductions to the simplest of songs. I love the way that his songs feel spontaneous, and that when the band cuts loose it doesn’t even sound like they’re playing musical instruments. They’re beating on the walls and stamping on the floor and Lonnie is wailing through the white noise…”

#8 Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
This was a total revelation to me when I first heard it around fifteen years ago, and set me off listening to modern composition and minimalist pieces. I think it’s utterly perfect.

#9 Gavin Bryars – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
One of the most emotional musical experiences I’ve had was the American Contemporary Music Ensemble’s performance of ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’ at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival curated by Jeff Mangum in 2012. Rose and I had recently decided to start a family, and for whatever reason the repeated words of Bryars’ piece struck me as advice from a parent to a child. By the end I was in pieces.

#10 Oren Ambarchi – Grapes from the Estate
If any artist sums up my current listening preferences, it’s Oren Ambarchi. (Jim O’Rourke’s experimental work would come close second.) These days I most often listen to music while working, so it’s almost all instrumental. Aside from being absurdly beautiful, GRAPES FROM THE ESTATE is the most wonderful background to achieving a trance-like mindset.

Roald Dahl’s writing hut

I’m delighted to have rediscovered this footage of Roald Dahl at work in his writing hut. Though it was first shown on Pebble Mill at One in 1982 – too early for me to have seen on original broadcast – it must have been reused later, perhaps on Blue Peter, perhaps in around 1988, when I was 8. Anyway, the image of Dahl in his hut has always remained the defining image of a writer in my mind, and even when I was young the idea of hiding away to write was tantalising. For whatever reason, the electric pencil sharpener at arm’s reach was always the most memorable element of Dahl’s cosy setup. One of these days I’ll get one myself, despite the fact that I always write on screen.

I have a story in BEST OF BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION 2017

Well! I’m very – no, ridiculously – pleased to announce that Donna Bond has selected one of my stories for inclusion in BEST OF BRITISH SCIENCE FICTION 2017, which will be out in April from NewCon Press. And would you look at that lineup! Honestly, I’m feeling faint at seeing my name listed alongside these authors.

  1. Blinders – Tyler Keevil
  2. In the Night of the Comet (2017) – Adam Roberts
  3. The Walls of Tithonium Chasma – Tim Major
  4. 3.8 Missions – Katie Gray
  5. Over You – Jaine Fenn
  6. The Ghosts of Europa Will Keep You Trapped in a Prison You Make for Yourself – Matt Dovey
  7. Uniquo – Aliya Whiteley
  8. Looking for Laika – Laura Mauro
  9. A Good Citizen – Anne Charnock
  10. Mercury Teardrops – Jeff Noon
  11. The Nightingales in Plàtres – Natalia Theodoridou
  12. The Road to the Sea – Lavie Tidhar
  13. When I Close My Eyes – Chris Barnham
  14. Targets – Eric Brown
  15. London Calling – Philip A. Suggars
  16. The Last Word – Ken Macleod
  17. Voicemail – Karen McCreedy
  18. Green Boughs Will Cover Thee – Sarah Byrne
  19. Airless – N.J. Ramsden
  20. Product Recall – Robert Bagnall
  21. The Endling Market – E. J. Swift

Ellen Datlow picked my story for Best Horror #10

It’s with a certain amount of disbelief that I announce that Ellen Datlow has selected one of my stories, ‘Eqalussuaq’, for THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOLUME TEN, which will be published by Nightshade Books. The story was first published in Not One of Us #58 in October 201, so thanks are also due to NOoU editor John Benson.

I don’t know if writers are supposed to play it cool about this sort of thing, but I’ve overjoyed as well as overwhelmed! To give some context, here’s a blurb about the BEST HORROR series from the Nightshade website:

“It’s no exaggeration to say that since its first volume in 2009, this series has compiled the absolute best horror short fiction published each year. Every volume has featured a wide variety of stories by well-known authors, from luminaries like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Richard Matheson, to genre figures as Catherynne M. Valente, John Langan, and Brian Hodge.”

The full table of contents for Volume Ten is below. I can’t tell you how happy I am that my story will appear alongside stories by so many writers whose work I love!

Better You Believe – Carole Johnstone
Liquid Air – Inna Effress
Holiday Romance – Mark Morris
Furtherest – Kaaron Warren
Where’s the Harm? – Rebecca Lloyd
Whatever Comes After Calcutta – David Erik Nelson
A Human Stain – Kelly Robson
The Stories We Tell about Ghosts – A. C. Wise
Endosketal – Sarah Read
West of Matamoros, North of Hell – Brian Hodge
Alligator Point – S. P. Miskowski
Dark Warm Heart – Rich Larson
There and Back Again – Carmen Machado
Shepherd’s Business – Stephen Gallagher
You Can Stay All Day – Mira Grant
Harvest Song, Gathering Song – A. C. Wise
The Granfalloon – Orrin Grey
Fail-Safe – Philip Fracassi
The Starry Crown – Marc E. Fitch
Eqalussuaq – Tim Major
Lost in the Dark – John Langan

And here’s the awesome cover!

100 films I love right now

I’ve made a top 100 film list. I’ve tried to avoid objectivity or the temptation to pick ‘greatest’ films – instead I’ve tried to capture a snapshot of my tastes right now. I’ve tried not to pay attention to what would be my usual choices or agonise too much over my selection. I use Flickchart, so I had a starting point of a list of pretty much all the films I’ve seen, theoretically in ranked order – but to make this list I’ve cherry-picked only the films that are currently on my mind or that, when I see their titles, I want to rewatch immediately. It’s a skewed list, featuring lots of films I’ve seen for the first time in the last year or so – if I made a similar list next year, I’d guess that more than a quarter of the titles would be different. It’ll be interesting to see whether e.g. A Cottage on Dartmoor or The Swimmer stay with me.

I’ve listed the films in chronological order, which reveals a surprise: 11 of the films in this list were released this century. It’s notable that most of these recent titles are very downbeat and slow-paced – I hadn’t quite realised this is so clearly a factor in my tastes in modern cinema.

The director who appears most is Hitchcock, predictably. There are three by: Ingmar Bergman, Francis Ford Coppola, Luis Buñuel, F.W. Murnau and Nicholas Ray. There are two each by: Buster Keaton, Carl Theodor Dreyer, David Lynch, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jacques Tourneur, Jerzy Skolimowski, Robert Bresson, Roman Polanski, Thomas Vinterberg, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and Andrei Tarkovsky.

Here’s the full list:

Continue reading 100 films I love right now

Two new stories and an audio recording

I’ve been lax about mentioning publications recently. Time for a roundup.

‘To Ashes, Dust’ is one of my series of Mars stories featuring crawler bases, shifting sand dunes and ‘aye-aye’ robots. It’s been published in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #61, available to download for free or to buy as a print copy for just over £3. Des Lewis has reviewed the issue and had this to say about my story:

“In a relatively short space, this moving story of a base on Mars captured me, even with its bespoke names for various factors, like the robots employed, and again, with this set of fictions, a treatment of old men and death, and an amazing concept of moving sand dunes that really NEEDS reading about to be inspired as I became by it and by what the dunes can contain.”

‘The Pale Shadow and the Conjuror’ is my first sale of a mystery story – it’s been printed in Mystery Weekly.

‘For a Tooth’, a spoofy space-opera flash story first published in Every Day Fiction, has been recorded as an audio reading – you can listen to it free at 600 Second Saga.
(Or via several other routes: iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter)

 

 

Tim Major – writer & editor

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