I mentioned a few days back about the fact that I tend to write my novels and short stories to a soundtrack. It’s the one or so albums that I listen to over and over whilst I’m writing to help inspire me and provoke a mood.
For Salamander and ‘Fires of War’ it was The Dark Knight, a really superlative score full of power and menace. I also threw in a little Batman Begins for the sake of being comprehensive. Both albums are courtesy of a Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard collaboration and some of the composers’ best work in my humble opinion.
In Batman Begins ‘Vespertilio’ (which actually refers to a genus of bats in the Vespertilionidae family) opens proceedings superbly with verve and drama, and I totally love this track. Both ‘Artibeus‘ and ‘Tadarida’ (also both a genus of bats, the former within the Stenodermatinaeare subfamily and the latter having eight separate species spread throughout the world) are harrowing, but of all the tracks ‘Molossus’ (another genus – see the pattern? – but also he son of Neoptolemus and Andromache) is my favourite. It has such power and dynamism – it is great to write an action sequence too and really gets the creative juices racing, especially when I’m already in the flow. I actually find myself looking forward to that track in the listing and revelling in its drama and pace when it comes around.
The Dark Knight has a slightly different flavour, although it is the work of the same excellent composers. For me, there’s an immediacy and a sense of dark bombast to the proceedings here. It’s edgy and hugely dramatic, possessed of euphoric highs and desperate lows. ‘Why So Serious?’ is very much the Joker’s theme in the movie, a rush of anarchic, poised violins, suggesting imminent violence and a calm before the storm. The ‘Batman theme’ plays under most of the tracks in this score with its tonality firmly established in ‘I’m Not A Hero’, which also possesses an undercurrent of threat but also a sense of resolve in the face of chaos and moral disintegration. Much like ‘Molossus’ in Batman Begins, ‘Introduce A Little Anarchy’ has pace and drama in abundance, full with heroic violins, pseudo-police sirens and a wonderful heart-racing, invigorating flavour that dips and peaks, and dips and peaks. There are a host of great tracks on this album and to analyse them all with any measure of doing them justice would take pages, but suffice it to say that this is probably my favourite of The Dark Knight tracks.
For earlier novels from the Warhammer fantasy genre, I was inspired aurally by fantasy or historical movie soundtracks. Gladiator (again composed by the excellent Hans Zimmer with Lisa Gerrard) is a favourite that I listen to a lot, even if it has been co-opted at various gaming conventions and events to the point of overkill – I try to shut my areas so it doesn’t become passe and only listen to it if I feel the need when I’m writing. Obviously ‘The Battle’ stands out in this score for all its power and urgency, but I’m also a huge fan of ‘The Might of Rome’, a track of great grandeur, hope and civility, but my favourite is ‘Barbarian Horde’, which has elements of ‘The Battle’ and really builds to a relentless, heart-pounding crescendo – stirring stuff, indeed.
During Oathbreaker, my first dwarf novel and the first novel I wrote after a long break since my debut, Back from the Dead, I listened to two OSTs: The 13th Warrior and Pathfinder – Legend of the Ghost Warrior. Unsurprisingly, both albums – by Jerry Goldsmith and Jonathan Elias, respectively – deal with a strong Nordic theme that I felt was entirely in keeping with the dwarf mindset and cultural inspiration. Dour choirs mix with rampant and bombastic drums and trumpets. They’re both very strong scores and I remember them guiding me through the underground caverns of Karak Varn and across the grassy plains near to Black Water. Courageous and redoubtable, the tracks on both scores seemed to emulate the dwarf spirit and I revisited them both during the writing of Honourkeeper, too. If I ever write another dwarf tale (likely, I hope), I’ll be digging these scores out again. There was a mystery and slight sense of otherworldliness about them, too, that seemed to fit with the undiscovered country of a dwarf hold, long abandoned and given in to ruin.
Of the other soundtracks in my collection (I’ve got a few, to be fair), I listen to Howard Shore’s wonderful The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Who, that has listened to it, could possibly forget ‘The Bridge of Khazad Dum’, from The Fellowship of the Ring, for its bombastic opening and desperate, danger-filled flavour. I find it rousing and terrifying at the same time. The Last Samurai is another of my favourites, (Zimmer again; man, that guy is good) with some wonderfully stirring battle music that is, in part, oddly wistful, even supernatural. Special mention must go to Band of Brothers, a score composed by Michael Kamen from the superb mini-series by HBO. This score, for me, has a lot of drama and action, but also heart and a rousing core of defiance that seems to echo the plight and resolve of the men depicted in the series’ ten, unforgettable episodes.
As a last little nod to my works, Assault on Black Reach: The Novel was written to the striking tones of both The Dark Knight and Iron Man by Ramin Djawadi. There’s a wonderful blend of strong music and machine tones to a lot of tracks on this score, which I really connected with whilst writing about the Ultramarines, though if I ever revisit this Chapter I might go down the 300 route with its echoes of the classical world.
So, onto the next novel then. Truth be told, it’s actually an Empire army book called Grimblades about a band of halberdiers from Reikland who get caught up in a desperate war, set about eighty years from the present day and the reign of Karl Franz. Honestly, I’ve not pegged a soundtrack for this yet , so I’d better get to thinking about it. Maybe I’ll shop around and see if I can find something new? Though I might see how Gladiator and Band of Brothers inspire. There’s the right emotional blend of pulse-pounding drama and camaraderie there…
One I forget to mention, and bringing me neatly back onto the Salamanders, was ‘Hell Night’, the short for Legends of the Space Marines. In a break in form, I actually listened to a Thunderstorm track for the entire project. Just rain and thunder, the imagined cracks of lightning – it proved to be an excellent choice. Certainly, it was atmospheric and wholly appropriate given that the entire story takes place of the monsoon world of Vaporis, where it is always raining.
I said I was bringing the matter back to the Salamanders and the next novel (maybe the next two), Firedrake, will have the OST for 300 ringing in my ears (by Tyler Bates, who also did the excellent Watchmen). I purchased this on a whim from iTunes and totally loved it. During my extremely fruitful sojourn to Waterstones, it really inspired me, a curious blend of the antiquated and the modern, which sort of sums up Zack Snyder’s vision for the movie. ‘Returns a King’ is so dramatic with its deep-voiced choirs and sense of impending majesty and event. ‘Message for a Queen’ is wonderfully understated and moving, but full of hope and promise for the future. The haunting vocals give me goosebumps everytime, a warbling lament that takes your heartstrings and breaks them. I think this soundtrack will be a very good fit for both books, it has tragedy and drama; there is fire and passion; hope and honour; a sense of lost days and uncertain futures. It’s the emotional inspiration I will draw upon and try to tap into for the novels.
Well, I hope that was interesting and perhaps offered an insight into my musical tastes if nothing else. I know a lot of authors can only write in total silence, and sometimes I need that too, but more often than not I had music to stir my emotions…