WTCB September: Should I Have Music?


I LOVE music. I feel like I live it. When I play my acoustic guitar, the notes flow and dance around me; when I listen to music, it fills me with joy. I always have some sort of song in my mind.

So why do I have very few instances of music in When the Clock Broke? Sure, I have mentions, but, even the instances of living through the music are fleeting. Some books have a melodic undertone or symbolic numbers interwoven – easier to write in contemporary or historical than fantasy. Nevertheless, I believe all writing should have at least an inch of musicality to its prose.

As a general question, is there a way to wind music into each story, or is it simply not possible?

Perhaps When the Clock Broke is missing a stream of symbolic music/melodic references because it’s a classical world with fewer instruments; fewer instances of explicit performance. The Conservatoire (the Continental college for music) is only opened after the end of the trilogy, in time for Zara’s little sister to study there.

Even so, that’s a weak excuse.

Why? The honest answer is ‘I don’t know’. I never imagined that any scenes in the novel are filled with music as they occur – I’ve not even a soundtrack, as some authors have. Even during Lynnetta’s scenes – because it’s not about her soprano gift and performance, it’s about what happens after she finishes singing. It’s just in her personality to be a singer, as it is in her grandfather’s to attempt to learn the piano given with his fiancé.

In Costello Mansion, an eerie silence hangs. A foreboder of the land laid bare and unentertained? After all, the entertainers are the middle-lower class; it is the role of the upper class to watch and only watch. Still, the family eats in silence; the servants have no piano or musical instrument; and Andrew’s guitar was abandoned in the attack a long time ago (I told you he was a cold fellow).

Conversely, it’s characters who play instruments for whom I really care. So – why do none of mine properly?

Is Phillip weak for not being able to progress further with his pianist instincts? Or is that simply borrowed from my own lapses in practise?

That world is without music. Why? Or rather – how did it come to lack music’s golden caress? Or still – should it have? One of the things I’ve always wondered about JK Rowling’s world is that she rarely explicitly mentions a wizard or witch who plays an instrument. One’d have thought Hermione would have been musical, since all the brightest people I know are not only freakishly intelligent, but they are similarly gifted musically.

Should fantasy worlds always have a musical background or aspect to them? Of course, music adds another flavour of culture, as with any tale, but I don’t want to force it into the mix, to make melodies where none exist.


I look at my novel sometimes frequently with an eye of pure criticism: “how is this great, or powerful, or wonderful?” Where are those pieces of sparkling inspiration I see when I read? Nobody has a gramophone in The Continent (ironically, in the contemporary, there is one – but then that also comes with a dead organist, so figures), so no music will play in the background. In a stilled time, how will music spill when life does not move? In an alternate universe, I cannot choose from a selection of old-timey musicians because those musicians never existed. Only Latinate verse is found from the somewhere.

But they are there, in the background. If music had been discovered/had evolved sooner, perhaps Chopin and Bach would have joined the list of historical figures in The Almanac we share with The Continent.


Did I mention that music can change my mood very quickly?

PS. I love the origin of English the word ‘music’. As with many words, it has evolved through several languages to be the word we know today, including old French (oddly, the same as the current French musique, so I’m not entirely sure how it is entitled to be ‘old’ French apart from the Norman Conquest linages).

Unsurprisingly, however, we look back as far as the Romans and Greeks for our word. The Latin musica is a stolen derivative of the Greek word for the Muses: µύσας. The consonantal K-sound then comes from the genitive of µύσα, as any form of art was described as the work of the Muses: µὐσική τέχνή.

One more fun fact: as collated by Aristotle, ‘techne’, technical knowledge (in this case used as the act of creating a finished product), is one of the primary intellectual virtues forming in the rational part of the soul needed for living a more virtuous/continent life.

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