Novel vs Song Writing – In Conversation with Fairhazel

 

I’m a huge music fan, HUGE.

When I write my books often scenes, chapters, characters and, in one instance, an entire forthcoming novel, have been inspired by song lyrics.  My son Kai and I share the same taste and when he messaged me last year ‘I’ve found a new artist you’re going to LOVE ‘ I was curious. Before he sent me the track, Steady Man, he sent me the opening lyrics ‘I don’t remember anything but if I did I think that I would love you’. In an instant, I was hooked, and that was before I’d heard the melodic guitar and soothing vocals of Hugh Macdonald – currently recording under the name Fairhazel. His genre-defying music (although I’d say its core is in folk) crosses generations. In our house you can frequently hear his songs drifting out of Kai or his brothers’ bedrooms, playing in my husband’s car as he heads off to work, streaming through the Sonas in my study as I write.

Not only is Hugh an extensive traveller who studied at the Berklee College of Music, he’s super talented – his creativity spans not only music but graphic design for his quirky videos and Instagram posts – his work ethic is admirable. The payoff, his forthcoming album ‘Home Movies’ has been worth it. It’s a fabulous collection of songs inspired by the people he has met on his travels, each one a mini-story.

Ever curious about others writers’ processes I couldn’t wait to chat with Hugh about the differences and similarities between novel writing and songwriting. We all have a story to tell and Hugh says of his, ‘I want to use stories to promote things I believe in, and things I want to see changed in this world, and sometimes these stories are just used for entertainment, like a four-minute movie.’

So how does he create a song? Let’s find out… (you can read the interview below or scroll down to watch the video).

Hello Hugh, I Googled you online and I read something that said songwriting was really effortless and you knock out a couple of songs a day?

Yes, I set myself a challenge from November of last year until May of this year to write a song a day and after about 2 months it became easy and I could just tap into it and so I’m riding that wave for as long as I can.

WOW! What comes first for you the lyrics or the melodies?

Either, although they usually come together. I pick up something maybe a line or a melody from being out and experiencing something. Then I have to figure it out from there.

Are a lot of your songs based on personal experience?

Sometimes but mainly about other things and other people and less so about me.

When we write novels we write many versions, is it like that for songs?

I think it’s meant to be but once I have something I’m attached to it. If I have to change it then it ruins the whole thing for me, so I usually keep it. If something isn’t sitting right it goes into a bank of songs never to be seen again.

So you have a lot of songs sitting around – what are you planning on doing with them?

I have an album, which hopefully will come out soon.

Which I’ve heard and it’s amazing!

Thanks! I’ve recorded 9 more songs since then but I don’t know what to do with them all.

I’m curious as to whether they’re similar. When I first started writing I wrote completely what I wanted to write and followed my heart but now I have a publishing deal, I’m marketed in a certain genre. I have to think about what people want from that genre. Do you find the songs you write are purely for yourself, for other people a bit of both?

 A bit of both I think. It’s hard to write purely for myself because I think people expect some level of pop, even if it isn’t pop they expect a standard length and some catchiness but more and more when I write, I write a song I would like to listen to. I figure if I’d like to listen to it then somebody else out there would like to listen to it too.

And how does it feel as a songwriter when people are listening to your music? As an author, it’s always a nerve-wracking time when we release new books into the wild.

I love hearing feedback. I think it’s more nerve-wracking playing to an audience of people who may not be steroid typical of my music, who may not like it.

In that situation do you assume they won’t like it or are you quite confident?

Sometimes I’ve played bars where I think it will go badly and sometimes it does!

Haha. Tell me a little about bringing out your new music. Is that with a label?

It’s by myself. I’m embracing being independent.

So you have full creative control?

Yes over everything.

But also all the work. I see your schedule on Instagram and it’s insane! Sometimes I think mine is unmanageable but then I look at yours and think well, actually…

Yes! I’m doing everything myself, graphic design, organisation. There’s only me.

What’s next for you?

I have a lot of gigs coming up.

And more writing! So who are your influences?

 My no. 1 is Harry Nilsson and people from Beatles era.

 Fabulous. And you’ve travelled the world so are you also influenced by different cultures?

Yes. I lived in South Africa when I was younger and I love the way African music makes you feel so I’m trying to incorporate that a little bit more in the new stuff.

I can’t wait to hear it!

After we’d finished recording our interview we chatted about the inspiration for our writing. I shared with Hugh that a couple of years ago I had spent so much time inside writing, but not getting out and experiencing life, that I felt I had nothing left to say. He told me that he often comes up with songs after meeting new people. One of his songs, Shallow Grave, came about after Hugh was in a cab and the driver started to tell him some crime secrets but didn’t finish his story, instead saying ‘But… if I told you too much, you’d be in a shallow grave.’ Sounds like a great thriller plot to me!

I’ve learned there are lots of parallels between songwriting and novel writing. Writing every day helps it become second nature. If you write the story you’d like to read, the song you’d like to hear, you can guarantee that someone else will enjoy it too. We have to write for ourselves but also consider the market.

The only thing left to do now is to convince my editor that I’m too attached to my first draft to change it. Wish me luck!

You can find out more about Hugh on his website here.

Find him on Spotify & iTunes.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook & YouTube.

Hugh’s new single, ‘In the Morning’, will be released on August 16th. It has such a chilled out vibe. Do give his music a listen. He deserves every success.

You can watch our full chat on YouTube below.

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The Harper Collins Summer Party 2019!

The gorgeous V & A museum gardens

Last night was the annual HarperCollins summer party, the first one I have been to as one of their authors. It was held in the gorgeous garden of the V & A museum. Before I went I had vowed to take lots of photos but as it turned out I was having such a good time my camera stayed mainly in my bag.

It seemed the sensible thing to line our stomachs before the evening so first stop was lunch at the oh so glamorous Pizza Express. Writing can be so isolating – it’s always a pleasure to meet with other authors and talk about the highs and the lows, the challenges we are facing with our current WIP and of course what we are reading.

Mel Goulding, Louise Jensen, Roz Watkins, Phaedra Patrick, Vicky Newham, Louise Mangos, Mandy Rothbotham

After a long lunch there was little time to get ready but I was so excited to see that my hotel room had a whirlpool bath I couldn’t resist donning the complimentary shower cap and diving in.

I can’t resist free toiletries…

Pre-drink drinks came next. Our fearless HQ leader Lisa Milton, made an inspiring speech.

Lisa Milton, Abigail Fenton

The champagne flowed, and then we were ushered over to the museum for the party,

Phoebe Morgan, Lisa Hall, Louise Jensen, Darren O’Sullivan

It felt surreal being handed a name badge with author printed on it. Three years on and it still feels like a – albeit a really good – dream. Darren O’Sullivan clearly felt the same!

There was a mixture of people at the party from employees of HarperCollins, to the authors, to literary agents. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet some new.

Darren O’Sullivan, Louise Jensen, Roz Watkins

It was an amazing night. The sold-out Dior exhibition which I longed to see was opened especially for us and that was a real highlight of my evening, along with meeting Sam Carrington. Sam & I met on Twitter before we had published & we’ve messaged each other, often multiple times a day, for three & a half years, and had never actually met in person until last night.

Sam Carrington & Louise Jensen

We drank champagne, the buffet included King prawn stirfry, duck salad, tuna and avocado although I still ended up having a veggie burger from room service when I got back!

I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Revisting my primary school where I wrote my first ‘book’ made me feel ALL the emotions, including anger…

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This weekend I went along to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of my former primary school, with a set of my books to donate to the staffroom and a heart full of gratitude for the teacher who encouraged me to write.

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Mr Townsend made a huge impression on my seven-year-old self. Never confident, I could usually be found curled in the corner of the library reading a book. He encouraged me to write my own stories. Patiently reading them, offering kind words and constructive advice. It was him I turned to when I penned my first novel – all seven pages of it which I’d illustrated and had stuck together with sellotape and love. ‘The Fabulous Five’, in no way ripped off from Enid Blyton.

**totally and blatantly ripped off from Enid Blyton**

We were allowed to check out one library book each week but, but always a fast reader, and incredibly careful with the pages, treating the books like the precious treasure they were,  Mr Townsend allowed me to borrow as many as I wanted to. He wisely said ‘the key to learning to write stories is to read as many as you can’ and those words have always stayed with me.

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I was thrilled my two favourite childhood books were still here (albeit newer editions)

It was emotional being back at primary school, trailing through the still familiar classrooms with my sister who had been in a different year to me, sharing memories, trading stories and occasionally disagreeing over whose classroom we were currently standing in (well we are sisters – there has to be a little conflict).

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The 70’s have such happy memories, it’s made me more determined to write a nostalgic novel one day.

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As I stood in the original 1960’s floor with its parquet flooring I remembered the smaller me who had sat crossed legged, listening to stories while drinking her free bottle of milk, dreaming of the day she’d be an author – writing those stories and I felt something else. A fleeting moment of anger for all that came after. The secondary school where I was told it was ridiculous to think I could forge a writing career. Who gradually tore apart my dreams, and replaced them with the ‘achievable and realistic goal’ of working in an office.

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It took me a long time to find the courage, the confidence to pursue writing again and, with over a million book sales so far, I’m so grateful I did.

Mr Townsend’s support is something I’ve held on to for a long time, and I was sad not to see him at the reunion. I wanted to thank him for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

Primary schools are instrumental in shaping us in the people we are ultimately going to be, the people we want to be. I’m thankful mine was so nurturing.

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I’m 3rd row down on the right with the wonky collar – upset I’d just had my long hair cut off.

 

 

THIS is absolutely the highlight of my career

A few days ago, on holiday, my youngest son excitedly told me Lego are making a ‘Stranger Things’ set.

‘You know you’ve made it when you’re immortalised in Lego,’ I said.

We travelled home this morning, and after I’d showered I opened the door to my study to find this Lego model of my office – complete with inspirational quote board – on my desk.

Next to it was this note: –

So many amazing things have happened over the past three years with my books, and I hope there are many more causes for celebration to come but genuinely no amount of books sales, chart domination or award nominations have come close to the feeling of pride I got when I read this note. Whatever you do in life, to be a success in the eyes of your child…. there is no greater success.

Where do story ideas come from? Everywhere…

My husband had gone to a client meeting, my son had just left to meet friends when I decided to have a break and make a drink. Back in my study, I put my coffee on my desk and it was then I realised, somebody had been into my room.

But I was alone.

Fear prickled at the back of my neck. On my keyboard, was a Biscoff.

‘Hello?’ I called into the silence which now felt heavy and oppressive.

Grabbing my phone, I called my son.

‘There’s somebody in the house,’ I whispered. ‘They’ve left a warning on my keyboard.’

‘A warning or a biscuit?’ He asked.

‘Was it you? But you’re not here?’

‘I found it in my pocket when I got to the bottom of the road and thought I’d pop it back as they’re your favourite. Seriously, mum how could you think it was creepy?’

‘Because somebody could want me to think I’m losing my mind, doubting my reality. They-‘

‘You’ve got an overactive imagination,’ he said.

It’s something I’ve heard throughout my life, usually accompanied by an eye roll and a sigh. My school reports often started with ‘Louise is such a daydreamer.’ I am but now, rather than seeing it as a flaw, as I’ve always been led to believe, I look upon it as something positive. Although gazing out of the window and making up characters in my head may be a problem in many jobs, without my over active imagination I wouldn’t be living out my life-long dream of being an author.

For Mother’s Day, my youngest son bought me a fizzy bath bomb from Lush. We’d not had them before and he wanted to watch as I dropped it into the bath. Just before I let it go he said ‘look mum, there’s a secret message!’

Inside a small hole on the top of the bomb there was a tightly rolled piece of paper.

‘What do you think it says?’ he asked excitedly.

‘I think it says ‘drown, bitch,’ I said. ‘I don’t think it’s supposed to be revealed until you’re in the bath and as you stare in confusion at the words you become aware of someone standing behind you-‘

‘A hand on the top of your head,’ he said (he writes too…)

‘Which pushes you underwater and holds you down until you stop struggling.’

The disappointment when we read it said ‘thanks’ was immense.

My three sons are used to me now. One called me to tell me he’d lost his wallet he quickly followed it up with ‘and no I don’t think anyone will find it and leave my ID at a murder scene.’

‘You never know,’ I said, darkly.

Last weekend, we took our dog for a country walk and my son pointed out the perfect place to hide a body. I didn’t roll my eyes and sigh, tell him he’s got an overactive imagination as though it’s a bad thing. Instead, I encouraged him to explore the idea, write it down. If all potential story-tellers were made to feel having a vivid imagination is a bad thing there wouldn’t be as many books and that would be a very sad world indeed.

Never underestimate the power of a story – My thoughts on genre snobbery

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Recently I had lunch with a fellow psychological thriller writer who was sharing the plot of their current work in progress.

‘That sounds brilliant,’ I said.

They shrugged. ‘It’s not going to change the world or anything, is it? I know I just write cheap entertainment.’

Immediately I pulled out my phone and shared an email I’d received a few days previously.

Dear Louise,

It’s 5am and I’ve just finished reading ‘The Sister.’ I LOVED it so much I thought I’d google you and when I read you were a fellow chronic pain sufferer, and you’d written much of your story throughout the night, I just had to reach out to you. I can so relate to the fact you sometimes use stories to get you through the night, I’m exactly the same but as a reader, not a writer. I’ve had a chronic condition for three years now and although I’d like to say I’m used to it, I’m not. During the day, my pain is manageable. Sometimes a friend drops in although their visits are becoming more and more infrequent as it becomes apparent I’m never going to ‘get better.’ The nights though are different. Long and lonely. I’m too uncomfortable to sleep for long periods and this is the time I feel sorry for myself and sometimes question what the point is to me anymore and my thoughts become really morbid. This is when I open a book and escape. If it weren’t for stories I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now. The characters become my friends. I become so invested in them I stop thinking about myself and worry about them instead. Their world becomes my world, and before I know it, the sun has risen and I’ve made it through another night. It’s such a talent to be able to draw a reader in and I want to thank you for writing books. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without them. Keep at it!

Genre snobbery exists, I know – as a crime writer I’ve experienced it. But I don’t think one genre is better than another. It’s such a privilege as an author to create a world that allows someone whose own world is full of sadness and pain, to escape if only for a short time.

If you’re writing a story and someone asks about it, please don’t say ‘it’s only…’ because you never know when your book might change a life, or save a life.

All fiction can lift and heal. Words can illuminate the dark.

An open letter to the writer who told me I’d likely NEVER be published

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Hello,

While I was going through some papers I found a report you’d written on my first novel and as I read it I felt incredibly sad. You probably won’t remember it, or me, but in 2015 you almost crushed my dreams.

Almost.

I’d longed to be a writer much of my life but, always lacking in confidence, being published seemed unachievable. I didn’t have a degree, any A Levels. I didn’t have the courage to sign up for a writing course.

In my 30’s an accident left me with a disability and my life radically changed. I then spent several years struggling with chronic pain, and my mood until I started writing a story, then entitled ‘Dear Grace’ about best friends, Grace, and Charlie.

For the first time in a long time, I felt I had something to get up for. A purpose. Often I was awake throughout the night, lonely and uncomfortable but now I had my manuscript – a world I could escape to and I escaped often.

I felt a feeling of immense pride when I finished my first draft but then came a bereavement, one of the people I loved most in the world suddenly gone. My depression came crashing back and I didn’t write for a long, long time.

In 2015 I reread my story and a tiny ember of hope began to smoulder. I thought it had potential but I was plagued with self-doubt.

Could I write?

Who could I ask?

It took much courage, several glasses of wine and all of our savings to send my manuscript off to a well-known organisation who offered critiques. When I heard you would be reading my story – someone who reviewed books for a living – I felt delighted.

Until I received your feedback.

Your report started by saying Writing fiction is a long hard slog for anyone and the chances of getting published are very slim.

Immediately I felt deflated, stupid for ever thinking I could achieve my dream. Assuming that for you to have told me it was unlikely I’d ever get published when I hadn’t asked for your advice nor was it something the agency listed as including in the report, must mean my writing was bad.

Very bad.

After your feedback on my story which you weren’t keen on, you ended your letter with ‘you show some flair but I think, bluntly, you need to face up to how difficult it is to get published. You may want to consider self-publishing. Traditional book deals from publishers are increasingly hard to come by. I’m sorry not to be more encouraging and I wish you the best.

Tears rolled down my face as I packed away my manuscript and my dreams for another six months as I spiralled back into depression.

I am writing this to let you know that dreams are fragile and hope easily extinguished. I googled you before I began writing this post and you still critique for the same agency. Please, please think twice before telling someone how impossible it is to be published if they haven’t asked you for publishing advice. You just might make them feel they aren’t good enough to write. Not everyone has an endgame of seeing their words in print and if they do not everyone is chasing a traditional deal. You never know what led them to the story they want to tell and what it means to them. I overcame depression largely because of my characters and it was something I enjoyed. You made me think I was wasting my time. That I shouldn’t. I couldn’t.

But I did.

‘Dear Grace’ became ‘The Sister’ and it went on to spend several weeks at No.1 in various countries, quickly sold well over half a million copies, has been translated into 25 languages and nominated for an award. Three other novels have followed, all with huge success. My fifth is due to be published this October.

Publishing is so subjective and although you thought I couldn’t, I’m so pleased I found a publisher who thought I could.

And for any writers reading this, don’t let anyone lead you to believe that you can’t and if they do, prove them wrong.

From Louise

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