Monday, 16 January 2017

Writing to Music - Jenetta James

A new series for 2017 ~ Every month I will be inviting an author to talk about writing to music. It might be music that has inspired them, music that helps them write, or a bit of both. I'm delighted to welcome, Jenetta James to kick off this new series. Over to Jenetta:~

"When I was 16 I was forced, entirely unwillingly into the school choir. Fortunately for my pride, it was large and non-auditioning. So the secret, that I could not sing, was safely under wraps. I made sure that it stayed there by singing very quietly and never being the last person to stop. At first, I was such a sceptic. Luckily, others were both more talented and more sporting. After a few sessions of singing scales and doing questionable exercises, we began to rehearse what would be that term’s concert; Faure’s Requiem. 

Almost immediately, a door opened that has never closed in my mind. I’m still a rubbish singer but I love choral music. I love the quiet power and delicate tension. I love how the sound can pick you up and bump you around, or almost take you to sleep. Here, for those who would like a listen, is a clip:

In Paradisum: Faure Requiem (Kings College, Cambridge)

Having a work of art to rehearse and practice for performance stopped being a chore and started being a joy. I also found myself doing my homework to it and reading to it. I had always previously worked in silence but now I seemed to have an unlikely backing track. 

In subsequent terms, I stayed in the choir. I didn’t have to after the first term and I still couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I did bother to try. It had slipped under the covers of my life and way of thinking. 

In subsequent terms, the choir sang Handel’s Messiah, Vivaldi’s Gloria and Bach’s Magnificat. Each of them were like parallel worlds with their own elements. I sang right up untilI was doing my exams, and it was time to leave school for new things. Below, are a couple of my favourite moments here for listening ears:

I Know That My Redeemer Liveth (Handel) — Choir of New College, Oxford
GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO. Antonio Vivaldi. Director: Antonio Fauró 

This slightly eccentric backing track of ancient and religious music took me into adult life. Whenever I had to concentrate really hard, I had it on in the background. 

When you come to write, you have to somehow submerge yourself in the world of the story. Some writers probably find this easier than others, and some find it more necessary than others. Everyone has their strategies, and this is one of mine. 

In the last couple of years, I have published two novels, Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers. Both are Jane Austen inspired historical romance. I am now working on a mystery story. And, like many writers, I have that other “big novel” in the background. Actually it is a short novel aspiring to be big. It progresses at a rate of about 500 words a month and one day I hope it will speed up. All of my writing has historical elements and I am a bit of a history girl generally. 

I got started writing Suddenly Mrs. Darcy with my old stalwarts - some of which are mentioned above. Once the story was underway, I started listening to music which had some relevance to the story. Piano music, played in the home has quite a role, so I listened to plenty of that while I was plotting my scenes. Beethoven’s sonata’s were my favourites and I still shut my eyes and imagine swishing skirts and candlelit parties when I hear them now. 

I have experimented with listening to more modern music (which I listen to all the time in my “normal”/non-writing life), but somehow it doesn’t work. There is too much getting up and making a cup of tea or remembering that I haven’t put the bins out. Maybe if I ever write an entirely contemporary novel, I might branch out. I’ll keep an open mind. What I do know, is that music helps me engage with other, fictional worlds and that has helped me write stories. 

The process of editing a book I find is a different kettle of fish. I love editing but have not yet found a sound track for it. The wonderful Christina Boyd has edited both Suddenly Mrs. Darcy and The Elizabeth Papers. On both occasions, she has turned an uncompromising light on my romantic ramblings. It is about sifting and assessing and I find that it works better in silence. 

But for now, I am deep in writing, so here is an old favourite for those who wish to listen:

Agnus Dei - Samuel Barber

Thank you to Annie for allowing me to post in this series. I am very much looking forward to reading of other writers and their musical tales, and maybe listening to a few new things. "


Jenetta James is a mother, lawyer, writer, and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. She is the author of "Suddenly Mrs Darcy" and "The Elizabeth Papers”.
Find her on Facebook, on Twitter
Suddenly Mrs. Darcy The Elizabeth Papers


  1. Thankyou Jenetta for sharing about the music you listen to for writing. I listened to your samples and got carried away while doing the dishes. Next I will try with my writing.

    1. Ha! You are welcome Linda, glad you enjoyed it. I have separate dish washing music, maybe I should try swapping them around!

  2. Thanks Linda - I enjoyed listening to Jenetta's music choices too. I was really hoping that this series would prove to be interesting and inspiring, and we're off to a flying start, it seems :)

    1. Thank you again Annie, I am looking forward to listening to other people's picks. It's a bit like desert island disks for writers!

  3. Great strides made, in whatever increment.