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.

Rich Hall Comedian – Interview – Writing & what you should NEVER do with a good idea

Rich Hall is one of my favourite comedians. Alongside stand-up he’s a firm fixture on TV panels shows, especially QI. In 2000 he won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe in the guise of his country singing ex-con uncle Otis Lee Crenshaw.  This week I was lucky enough to see him live where he combined comedy and music in a show that was so funny my stomach muscles still ache from laughing.  During the first half he talked in his trademark drawl, taking an interest in the audience, randomly asking people where they were from, how long they’d been married and what they did for a living.  The second half kicked off with Rich singing a song based around an audience member’s life. I was utterly in awe of how quickly he’d pulled the song together over the interval and my writer mind instantly questioned, how had he done it? As time marched on he sang song after song using new information about different people and I knew these hadn’t been pre-written. How did he, seemingly easily, come up with ideas.

At the end of the show I asked if I could ask Rich directly and blog about his process. Thankfully he said yes.

Rich, I’m in awe of the way you put songs together so effortlessly tonight.

Thanks it’s not always as effortless as it appears.

I thought you’d used the interval to write the first song you sang in the second half but then you carried on singing about audience members. You must make them up on the spot?

Not entirely. The interval helps, trust me. In the interval I’ve got a bit of information to work with. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with it but at least I know. I knew that guy drove a mini metro and I could think about it.  I guess it’s a little like you planning books?

I tend to wing it!

Hehe I wing it too but even then I’m thinking ahead wondering what could come next. Sometimes shows are shorter without an interval and then the pressure’s really on but some writer’s work better under pressure. You one of those?

God no! I don’t like too much pressure but I’m beginning to think I’m better with a deadline of some sort. I don’t have one at the moment.

 Yeah sometimes it stems creativity having to produce something. It sucks the life out of it. But sometimes you need that kick up the arse.

A couple of the songs you sang tonight I’d heard before. How do you approach song writing?

Often I work on the structure first and then I sit and teach the band – here’s what I want you to play – then we’ve got a good feel for it and I fill in the words. It comes easier with experience. Writing is writing whatever it is. Practice definitely helps.

 How long have you been writing?

Thirty five years now. I studied journalism at college and then went to work for the Seattle newspaper writing columns. I hated it. I’d always wanted to be a comedian. One day I just decided to go for it.

It’s not only jokes and songs you write is it?

No there’s plays, books and documentaries. All sorts.

Do you write on the road? Are you structured with your approach?

If inspiration hits I’ll write. I split my time between the UK and my ranch in Montana and I tend to do a lot of writing there.

Do you have any rituals?

I wish I did. I wish it was like a tap that I could do something and it would come. Sometimes I get really stuck, don’t you?

I do but I tend to only work on one project at a time so I have to work through it somehow. What do you do?

 I walk away. Writing’s pretty much the same, jokes, stories, whatever and sometimes you have to walk away from it.

If you could give one piece of advice to new writers, what would it be?

When you get an idea you know in your gut if it’s a good one and if it is don’t beat it into the ground. If it doesn’t flow and you force yourself to keep working on it you lose confidence in the idea and it becomes old. You’re a writer, Louise. You know what I’m talking about?

Absolutely. I’ve had to put the manuscript for my latest novel, The Date, away so many times because it wasn’t coming and I knew it was too good an idea to let go.

Yeah that’s the thing. You give something space and it could be good.  If you’re sick of thinking about it let it go for a while. That’s what I learned. I was very frustrated when I started out because I thought I had to sit and work on something until it was finished.  Sometimes you’ve got to mix it up. What gets you through the hump?

A mixture of pure panic, cheese and too much wine.

Hehe, I might try that!

It’s been lovely talking to you Rich. Thanks so much for your time.

It’s been a pleasure.