Music in life and stories

Jan 29, 2016 | 4 comments |

Confession. I’ve listened to a lot of songs by The Partridge Family lately. Along with ABBA, Jace Everett, Dean Brody, Bruce Springsteen, Sam Hunt and a Mozart flute concerto.

Why such an eclectic mix?

Like many authors, I have a playlist for each book I write. Music that says something about a character and their life experience, the place where the story is set, or which reflects the emotion I want to convey in a scene.

Most of these songs are never referenced in the completed manuscript, but when I hear them they evoke the ethos of the book. When I did much of my writing during my lunch hour at my day job, a particular song through my headphones helped me get into my writing world quickly and maximize limited writing time.

Music hasn’t only influenced my writing. As for most of us, it’s also marked the seasons of my life. 

One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting on my dad’s lap as he sang “The Skye Boat Song” in his mellow tenor. Unconditional love, safety and comfort–all the things my father meant to me–are irrevocably linked with that piece of music.

There’s the first song Tech Guy and I ever danced to, “Unforgettable,” by Natalie Cole. There’s also music from English Rose’s infancy. Back then, it seemed I listened to “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Wake up Jeff” way too often, but now they’re a memory of those cherished baby and toddler days. 

Although I’m a classically trained musician, most of what I listen to now is country, a musical genre as reviled by some as it’s loved by others.

Country songs tell stories about life. They’re character driven and premised on heartfelt emotion. For me, country music has strong parallels with the romantic women’s fiction I write. The hot men and kick-ass women who top the country charts don’t hurt, either!

Music is personal and, like what we read, what we listen to changes over time. 

English Rose has left nursery rhymes and The Wiggles behind, moved through boy bands and is now a fan of Adele and Taylor Swift. When I finish revising this manuscript in progress, “David Cassidy & The Partridge Family: The Definitive Collection” will go back on the shelf.

Unless my agent or editor cuts it, though, The Partridge Family’s debut single and first number one hit, “I Think I Love You” (released in 1970), will be mentioned in the second contracted book in my small town “Port Fairlight” series. The hero’s mom is a David Cassidy fan, and who better than he (age 65 and still touring) to evoke that 1970’s world of flares, feminism and funky folk vibe?

What song is memorable in your life?

The Partridge Family, “I Think I Love You” (including a clip from the original television show episode, “My Son, The Feminist,” broadcast December 1970).



  1. Sue Bavin

    I know that having music playing while they write is a must for many writers, but I’ve never heard of having a special play-list for each book-in-progress. I know what you mean about a certain song taking you back to a time, a place, a mood, a person; so I can understand that having a play-list can help you to enter the world of your story. A song that has special meaning for me? “If I Had Words” by Scott Fitzgerald & Yvonne Keeley, which was played at my wedding.

    PS David Cassidy is 65?! Impossible!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Oddly enough, I can’t listen to music when I write. I find it too distracting but music certainly gets me into a writing mood. Thanks for sharing your special song, Sue. It’s one I hadn’t heard of previously.

      Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, David Cassidy is indeed 65! I fact checked that detail!

  2. Heidi Vanstone

    I don’t have one particular song that I cherish, but I do associate monumental life events with certain songs (i.e. our first wedding song, music listened to whilst in labour, etc.) Music “soothes the savage beast”, and it’s certainly calmed me when my emotions are churning.

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thanks for sharing, Heidi. Music calms me, too, and indeed I have some go-to tracks for moments when life throws a curve ball.


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