I’m running a new series of guest posts throughout 2015: Fetish Friday. Don’t get all sweaty in the pants—I’m going back to an older definition of the word, and asking artists to show us something that helps them with the ritual of creation, some part of their surroundings—physical or mental—that eases the path into the creative state, whether it be a location, a piece of music, person, picture, a doohickey, whatnot, curio or ornament without which the creative process would be a whole lot more difficult.
It’s the last in the series, and we finish off with a visit from trasplanted Geordie, the Sweden-based author and general frenetic Master of Words, Steven Savile:
I’ll admit I’ve had the hardest time trying to come up with some sort of routine, habit, good luck charm, or indeed something remotely interesting about my working patterns. I mean, what do I do that’s so different from anyone? What little rituals or quirks? Err. Look, here’s the thing: I’m incredibly boring. I get up late because I work into the early hours, though now the new puppy—five months at the time of writing—doesn’t seem to respect the idea that I need to sleep, not when there’s bright sunshine out there to go playing in. So maybe I should say my new-found talent is writing with bleary eyes?
When I was younger I used to have a lucky sea bean that I took to all of my exams – it was with me through my mocks, my ‘O’ Levels, ‘A’ Levels, my accountancy degree before I dropped out and sold my soul to politics for the BA and then Religion and Philosophy for the MA. It was there on my desk forever. The first girl I’d ever kissed had given it to me. It was what the movie people like to call a meet-cute. I’d been running up the stairs in the hotel, she appeared at the top and flashed this gorgeous smile, which resulted in me slipping and falling down a full flight of stairs. Yeah, you’re just not going to forge that kind of meeting. I had been fourteen, coming up fifteen I guess. That sea bean came with me to Sweden and survived my first marriage, but somewhere along the way with so many moves it got lost. So the one interesting fetish I have to talk about… consigned to the dim and distant dusty archives of the past.
In the immortal words of the poet of Springfield, “Doh!”
Which basically left me thinking what the hell am I going to talk about?
What one thing is ever present in my work ritual?
What one thing could I not do this without?
What makes it all right with the world?
And it hit me, it’s the most honest answer I could give: music.
I used to be the kind of writer that couldn’t manage a word if there was the slightest noise in the house, I needed absolute silence, needed the wife out at work, not banging around with the vacuum cleaner while I laboured over my ‘Art’ ahem. And then a little coffee shop opened up just down the road from our flat. I used to work for 3-4 hours at home, then hustle down to get my caffeine fix, maybe read or make notes in a good old fashioned notebook (remember these were the days of 40 minute batteries on the laptop) as a reward for a decent day’s writing. Then I started to think, hmm, I’ve got 90 minutes battery on the new laptop, maybe I could try… but it was so noisy with people talking that I was going crazy. Second day, stubbornly, I decided to try again but this time with my iPod (the original one, the white brick with the less than intuitive wheel) and this time I maybe managed a couple of paragraphs in the 90 minutes, because I had to turn the music up so loudly I couldn’t hear the constant blather of people around me. One thing I really ought to admit up front is I’m stubborn. It’s not my most endearing trait, but when it comes to work, it’s pretty useful. I kept at it, for a week, then another, then the strangest thing happened—I noticed that I couldn’t really concentrate without the music in my ears because it had a way of tunnelling the world down to just me and the page, nothing else. The trick, I realised, was to only play tunes I knew the lyrics to so well I wasn’t actively listening to them. So I took what had been something I used to love—listening to music—and turned it into an essential part of the background for my working life.
The thing is I love music. I will consciously end my working day by turning the lights off in my study (I converted the basement into a proper man cave) and cranking up the volume on some crackly old vinyl and simply sitting in my leather armchair, closing my eyes and just listening—actively listening for the sake of listening—to the music, deliberately making it the sole activity, like it used to be when we were young. So many of my favourite memories involve putting LPs on for the first time, listening to the sequence of songs as the band wanted them to be listened to, the big opening track, the triumphant end to side one, opening to another big opening track on side two, rather than listening the way my iPod is set, which is that wonderful chaos of random shuffle, with around 15,000 tracks to choose between. I’ve even got to the stage where I fetishise my music – I’ve got limited edition picture discs, rare German pressings of the same album I’ve already got on CD, MP3 and vinyl (purely because the cassette I grew up with had a different mix of a single track on it and I was gripped with something akin to horror the first time I heard the vinyl and it was just wrong… yeah thank you Hue and Cry!), I scour Ebay and Tradera, the Swedish version of Ebay and spend hours on Discogs which is basically black crack heaven, looking for songs I used to love and rebuilding the vinyl collection I sold when I emigrated in 1997.
I’ve divided my listening, too. There’s work listening – like right now, typing this The Lightning Seeds’ Ready or Notjust came on. A couple of minutes ago it was Camelogue from the Single Factor by Camel, 3 mins 44 seconds of Prog Rock awesomeness recorded in 1982 at Abbey Road, and as Ian Brody’s voice fades it’s Neil Peart’s drums that kick in for The Good News First. There’s no rhyme or reason to what shuffle throws up, but they all have one thing in common, I love every single track. And then there’s pleasure listening, where I do nothing but listen. The music is the be all and end all, not the background.
My routine is pretty much the same every day, order the latte and a coke, which will see me through a 2 hour plus session, headphones on, hit play, find the right opening track, open the laptop, abuse Lee or Brian or Stefan on Facebook over the football, and then write. The acoustic demo of This Land is Your Land by the Counting Crows just replaced Rush by the way.
I think in part my love of music goes back to my youth. I was a fairly solitary kid, one of the first with divorced parents actually, which had the headmaster telling me they had their eye on me, like they expected me to fly off the rails at any second. It’s Big Dish now, Faith Healer, if you’re playing along at home. Anyway, the first time I had money I had a choice, buy a Sinclair Spectrum or a hifi – I bought an AWIA all-in-one – the best decision I ever made. I spent a small fortune collecting 12” singles and 7” versions of the same songs. Last week I actually bought the hand written lyrics to Love is a Wonderful Colour by The Icicle Works which I had framed with my 7” single and is now on the wall in my office. I’ve got my eye on Hue and Cry’s Labour of Love and Love and Money’s Hallelujah Man to make up the hall of fame above my desk, and if Roddy Frame ever decides to do handwritten lyrics for Oblivious, well that would be my holy grail. So, yeah, music. Oh, Moist, See Touch Feel.
Funny story about Moist, when I was finishing Silver, I mean literally finishing, random shuffle kicked up the last song, Silver, by Moist (spooky eh? The last words were written as David Usher sang the last words of the song) and when I took my headphones off, the café was playing Madonna’s True Blue, which had been one of my girlfriend’s favourite songs back in the day. I checked my email and got the news from Vicky’s sister that she’d committed suicide. Yeah, music. Not so funny, maybe, but the sheer force with which memory binds to music is incredible.
I got to meet one of my favourite musicians of the 80s (and now, his new stuff is excellent), James Grant, and was lucky enough to become friends with him… so we were chatting one day and I said, you know, it’s weird, but you, Roddy, some of the other guys, you’ve been with me at every major life experience, an ever present. He smiled and nodded, said yeah, and I said, which means, I suppose you were there when I lost my virginity. That shut him up.
Well, well, haven’t listened to this one for a while, Howard Jones, Hide and Seek.
Every now and then when I want to relax I’ll trawl YouTube and make a Top 20 tracks according to my state of mind that day, which is rarely the same as my other Top 20s if you’re paying attention. I’m even part of a group on Facebook where we take photos of our equipment (mind out of the gutter, Battersboy) and whatever album cover we’re listening to. It’s all vinyl lovers and its about showing off the art and, essentially, fetishizing the experience of what we’re listening to. I prefer it to that little notation Spotify used to post that said ‘Steve just listened to Marillion’s Gazpachioon Spotify’. Sometimes all the mod cons just aren’t the same.
But that’s it.
Nothing that exciting really.
The only ever present when I write is music.
Well, music and coffee, but I figured a 1700 word post about the right coffee bean might have been a bit much…
Steven Savile has written for Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval, Stargate, Warhammer, Slaine, Fireborn, Pathfinder, Arkham Horror, Risen, and other popular game and comic worlds. His novels have been published in eight languages to date, including the Italian bestseller L’eridita. He won the International Media Association of Tie-In Writers award for his Primeval novel, SHADOW OF THE JAGUAR, published by Titan, in 2010, and The inaugural Lifeboat to the Stars award for TAU CETI (co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson). He has lived in Sweden for the last 17 years.
Well, biddy-biddy-biddy, that’s all folks. At the start of the series I set out to get an insight into those little momentoes, rituals, and all-round fetishes that help define the creative practices of some of my colleagues, peers and friends. It’s been a fun ride: I hope you’ve enjoyed it.