INSPIRATION Music and the Muse

In this month's Inspiration piece K. M. Lockwood ponders on relationships between music, writing and illustration. Includes a few ideas for your own work...

My husband is currently learning the violin. I can hear a mixture of pleasing melodies and awful squawks, together with repeats and muttering. I admire his persistence and willingness to learn new skills. Sometimes it is irritating. Yet for any student it is their commitment or lack of it that makes the difference - so I have to bear with it. (He is considerate enough to shut the windows even in this hot weather.)
Image from Five Minutes' Peace written and illustrated by Jill Murphy , c/o of Walker Books

His violin lessons are with an inspiring teacher. Her encouragement prompts him to keep at it - though she is an accurate and outspoken critic. 'Stop playing like a toothless old man!' was one of her gentler admonitions - said with a twinkling smile, I should add. What has astonished, pleased and challenged him is her faith in his progress - she has given him some fairly advanced pieces to tackle. It is entertaining to listen to the growth in his grasp of technical language. I've been around musicians before - and like writers and artists, they love to talk technique.

Now you may be shuddering at the very idea of music lessons: many people have unpleasant memories of piano lessons. Strict teachers - sometimes involving rulers and knuckles, dull repertoire and a dreadful mismatch between the hoped-for beauty and the actual sound. Still, I can't help thinking that music has much to offer the writer and the illustrator. There are definite analogies about our work. After all, writers and illustrators also compose.

Practitioners of all three disciplines have to learn through much practice and effort. The technical side brings the talent and imagination to a level we can feel comfortable about sharing and that others will enjoy. Yet the work itself has to be central - a gig in a noisy pub where punters would rather chat, or a signing for two kids and a cat can happen to anyone!

Dhol player Jonny Khalsi with Martin Carthy in folk super group The Imagined Village. By Mark A Bennett (photographer) Email: [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Among experienced, passionate musicians, there's little snobbery about type of music - they will jam with anyone. The same goes for us - we can learn from all sorts of genres, periods and styles. Cultural exchange enriches everyone.

Longevity goes with the continual learning: Pablo Casals, the Catalan cellist, conducted an orchestra when he was 96. P. D. James, Queen of Crime fiction, was certainly writing at 93 and Dick Bruna created well into his eighties.

The oldest picture of the Pied Piper copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hameln/Hamelin Germany (c.1300-1633). By Creator:Augustin von Moersperg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As for music itself, it's a key element from The Pied Piper of Hamelin to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. (I'm leaving songs and lyrics out of this post - perhaps they'll appear in another inspiration piece). The rhythms and textures in our works create scores, be they the exquisite string quartet of a picture book or the full-on Richard Strauss symphony of a YA epic.

Suggestions for your own work:

  • Look out for mood music that echoes the emotion you want to convey - it might help your own composition. If you already do this, try different cultures or time periods to avoid the obvious.
  • Consider whether a character in your work might be musical. Does she practise? What is her attitude when it goes wrong? How does she get along with her tutor?
  • Alternatively could such a relationship be a good analogy for some other training - say in spell-craft, warfare or some other skill?
  • What if the training is awful - but our heroine must endure it somehow? Maybe they're going for a talent show.
  • Could any of your characters belong to a school orchestra or a brass banding family? What conflicts might that raise? What images?
  • What if no-one else in their family had ever done such a thing? Or perhaps they were expected to learn the dhol but yearned for a harp?

Feature image picture credit: Angelica Kauffman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

NB Please do add titles of works that feature music in the comments below. I don't know many!


K. M. Lockwood writes and edits in The Garret. Once downstairs, she runs a tiny writer-friendly B&B or wanders off looking for sea-glass on the Sussex coast.
Twitter: @lockwoodwriter


  1. That is truly decent to listen. much obliged to you for the upgrade and good fortunes. Pokmix

  2. Thanks for your tips and positive s words. The fun fact is that I only listed to moody music that echoes my emotions and inspires me to become a better version of myself. Sometimes, I listed to classical music like Beethoven or Smetana and sometimes to electronic music.


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.