Writing and Music: Taylor Swift

Now that our beloved Taytay had dropped her 8th album, Folklore out of the blue (and honestly, this has been the only good plot twist in 2020 so far), I’ve put back my fangirl hat. Since she has been a huge help in my writing process for my two latest WIPs, it seemed like a good time to look back on my journey as a Swiftie. Also, this will allow me to talk a bit about Macchiatos, etc. (working title) which is always a great pleasure.

The beginnings

The first Taylor Swift song I ever heard was You belong with me and it was instalove (okay partly because the guy in the video was very cute :D). It really hit home because I was in high school and I always felt like Taylor’s character: the kind, geeky girl boys never notice. It gave me hope to see that she found love in the end.

The next song that put Taylor back on my radar was Shake it off which has been my go to cheer up music ever since. I had a massive Supernatural era a few years ago, so of course I listened a lot to the Hillywood show version. It was also the moment when I was dropped into the world of public education in France. (Long story short: you can become a replacement teacher without any teaching degree if you have a relevant degree and you’re not a criminal or raving mad. I had experience teaching, but the French system is a whole different kettle of fish. (For example, they grade out of 20… WHO DOES THAT?) Anyhoo, I was put in a middle school with zero training and help. So I lived in a constant storm of:

“I have no authority

my kids have no discipline

That’s what parents say mmm

That’s what parents say mmm.

I give too much homework,

and I’m too strict anyway

At least what the kids say mmm

That’s what the kids say.”

When I was feeling really down, sitting on the bus towards work, I had a whole music video play out in my head with my own lyrics 😀 It successfully kept me away from the dark pit of despair and I was very grateful to Taylor for that.

As you can see, I’ve liked her songs on a personal level for more than a decade now, but on a writing level we really clicked last November during Nanowrimo. Last year I dusted off an old idea of mine and gave it a go.

Life on Mars is a dark book. The core idea was born in 2016 after Brexit and Trump and I felt like there was slowly no place on Earth I could stay. (The UK has always been the home of my heart and seeing them fall for the propaganda against the new, “poorer” EU states – like Poland or Hungary… well, it didn’t feel like home anymore.) But in 2016 I wasn’t yet the writer who could bring that story to light, I knew it well.

In 2019 I felt l was ready. Or in any case readier. I found my protagonist and the conflicts started pouring in the window. It was my first story that was character-heavy AND plot-driven, which was undoubtedly the influence of the countless series I have consumed in the past years. Plot has always been my Achilles heel, I prefer to take strong characters and put them in an interesting setting and just roll with whatever they come up with. In LOM I consciously paid attention to build conflicts and intrigue with some big reveals and heartache.

The plot in a nutshell:

Zen is the teenage daughter of the captain of a spaceship heading for Mars. The first colony on Mars went silent months ago and the company financing it, afraid of scandal and law suits, sends a group of people to investigate and possibly to repopulate the dome. However, on the way a mysterious monster starts haunting the spaceship, pushing the crew and the passengers into panic and bad decisions. Things only get more complicated when they land on Mars and the colony empty, its inhabitants gone without a trace.

While the ship’s microcosm falls apart around her, Zen has her own personal drama. She falls for a handsome young mechanic on the ship and programs her room’s AI interface to look like him, so that she can practice talking to him. However, as time passes, she realises she feels closer to the AI than to her actual boyfriend.

Is there life on Mars? Who is the real monster? What does it mean to be human?

I always surprise myself when I realise that I have 42 000 words written from this novel. I was doing super well on Nano, writing like a maniac and was sure that for the first time in five years I would manage to win Nano. I was, of course, spectacularly wrong. I wrote a scene that made me cry for an hour and my drive must have ran away with the tears. I haven’t really opened the file since, but I know it’s there patiently waiting for me when I find the strength again.

I was blindly crawling forward in the Nano forest of word counts when I needed a song to go with Zen the scene of Zen preparing for a date. My writer friend, Gabi recommended The Archer and something fell into place. From that moment on Taylor seeped into the narrative so much so that after some heart-wrenching events (that made me abandon the story) the AI reboots itself and takes the shape of Taytay. LOM is set a few decades in the future so to Zen Taylor is a figure from her parents’ youth, like ABBA is to me or something.

I really would like to return to Mars soon because I believe in the story, but it requires me to descend into such depth of my soul I’m not ready to do just yet.

If you are interested in the book soundtrack of LOM, you can listen to it here:

Taylor Swift songs on the playlist: The Archer, Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince, Paper Rings, Death by a Thousand Cuts, London Boy, Look What You Made Me Do, 22, Cruel Summer

My current book is a much happier affair. The whole idea started from one of those silly what is your YA book title memes, and my result, Macchiatos, Vampires and Other Signs of the end of the world, got my brain turning right away.

This is the one. But honestly, I feel like writing everything from this list 😀

If you know me even a little, you’ll know that I’m somewhat addicted to caffeine, so the title sent my brain spinning. I imagined an indie coffee shop, a dark-haired handsome colleague who could be an instant crush of the heroine and a lot of the sweet suffering of first love. I don’t even know when Isaac arrived into the story and for a long time I didn’t even know his name, I just called him SB (short for Sweet Boy). It was clearly a more Taylor Swift kind of book than LOM.

Actually the second song that made it to my soundtrack list was Red. There are some songs that directly feature in the story, most notably King of my heart which is sung in a drunk karaoke and leads to some reveals and funny situations. My characters listen to it (and Shake it off) during a road trip and one of my characters is admittedly a Swiftie. Honestly I don’t know how much of this will make it into the final version of the manuscript, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these songs are an instant gateway into my characters feelings and the story’s mood.

In one of her videos Taylor spoke about  how journalists keep asking her what would happen to her main source of inspiration if she’d finally found herself a good working relationship. She said that although these questions weren’t particularly nice to her self-esteem, she trusted herself to be a good enough artist to be able to conjure emotions from memories or imagination. It really resonated with me because I write a lot of about first love or the initial excitement of a new relationship. Being happily married for almost two years now (god, how time flies) I sometimes have to scavenge my soul for memories of having a crush or being able to float around happily for a whole day because your significant other did something unexpectedly sweet. I’m secretly addicted to this melancholic-ecstatic roller coaster and songs like The 1 or Dancing with our hands tied transport me into my world of make believe in a second.

You can listen to my book soundtrack to Macchiatos here.

Taylor Swift songs on the list: Red, Style, Today was a fairy tale, Cruel Summer, Gorgeous, I knew you were trouble, All too well, King of My heart, The 1.

Thank you, Taylor, for the music and the constant inspiration! 🙂

2 thoughts on “Writing and Music: Taylor Swift”

  1. “She falls for a handsome young mechanic on the ship and programs her room’s AI interface to look like him, so that she can practice talking to him. […] after some heart-wrenching events (that made me abandon the story) the AI reboots itself and takes the shape of Taytay. LOM is set a few decades in the future so to Zen Taylor is a figure from her parents’ youth, like ABBA is to me or something.”
    That’s genius! I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such things happening in a book. Now I want to read Life on Mars of course…but only if writing it doesn’t break your heart .

    The meme thing was funny! That’s a perfectly legit title LOL.

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