Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Music While You Work

I heard a short item on BBC Radio 4 last night about listening to music while working or studying. 

You can listen to it here, for a limited time. It was fascinating.

They talked about an app called Focus at Will, that uses different types of music and sounds to engage the part of the brain, the limbic system, that can otherwise become distracted by outside stimuli. It sounds great. I’m all for things that prevent me being distracted, and if I thought it could work I’d sign up. But music? No. I can’t write with music playing. Not at all. 

I know some writers who do it all the time, who have different soundtracks for the particular scenes they’re working on – fight scene music, love scene music, setting description… Some have whole mixes that are intrinsic to the book they are writing, and that music will be forever associated with the specific book in the writers’ minds.

Maybe it’s because I’m not much of a multi-tasker, or is it just because I’m a musician, and become analytical when I’m listening to the music? All I know is that if I can hear any music at all, then I stop work. I can't help it. I lose focus.

I’m pretty much the same in cafes and coffee shops. If the music is loud I have no chance of doing anything that involves a separate stream of consciousness. I even find it hard to have a conversation. Only last weekend I was in a cafe where they were playing a Sinatra CD. Some of the tracks were standard Nelson Riddle arrangements that I’ve played with bands myself, and others were new to me, and very nice too. Either way I found conversation very difficult, and kept drifting off, my attention switching between music and conversation, but never both.

I do like to have some background sounds when I work, though. I often use an app called coffitivity, which plays the ambient noises of a coffee shop. I'm running it now. I love it. Give it a try. There are cups rattling, espresso machines hissing and the buzz of conversation. But no words can be heard, and there is no background music.

I’m also a big fan of noise-cancelling headphones. Or I was, until mine started buzzing and popping with a regular, almost musical beat. You know how it is when you make up tunes to go with the windscreen wipers, and they keep slowing down and speeding up? That is almost more of an attention killer than incoming emails or tweets. The headphones went back.

I’m curious what you think. Can you read a book while music is playing? Can you study? Or are you like me and need some background sounds in order to feel comfortable, but nothing that requires attention?

I wonder why we’re all different. I'm sure there's a lot more to it, and more to learn.

Work continues on The Lollipop of Influence, sequel to Deep Space Accountant. I’m now reaching the end of the first editing phase, and working in a strictly zero-music environment. Coffee shop sounds only.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Tick Tock

This week saw the launch of a new anthology on Amazon, featuring the work of my local writing group, Wirral Writers. It's called Tick Tock, and it's edited by our chairperson, Lynne Quarrell.

There's a good mix of genres: general fiction, some scifi, some fantasy. There are poems, flash fiction and short stories. I have a story tucked away right at the back, out of harm's way, called Go Gentle, which I should warn comes with an advisory, NOT SUITABLE FOR THE OVER 60'S

Here's a list of my esteemed ToC Buddies:
   Arthur Adlen        Chris Black
Elizabeth Fisher      Tom Herbert
   Cheryl Lang         Paul G Mann
    Alexandra Peel      Lynne Quarrell
    Nick Rose             Mjke Wood

Tick Tock is available on Amazon as an ebook and in paperback.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade

Details now released for “The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade” anthology with cover artwork by the phenomenally talented Bob Eggleton. The book will be available from Baen in autumn of this year. Here's the Table of Contents. I'm mega excited to be included in this stellar line-up.
"A Better Sense of Direction" by Mjke Wood
"Letting Go" by David Walton
"Cathedral" by Mike Barretta
"Space Hero" by Patrick Lundrigan
"That Undiscovered Country" by Nancy Fulda
"Taking the High Road" by R.P.L. Johnson
"The Lamplighter Legacy" by Patrick O'Sullivan
"Low Arc" by Sean Monaghan
"We Fly" by K.B. Rylander
"Dear Ammi" by Aimee Ogden
"Citizen-Astronaut" by David D. Levine
"Gemini XVII" by Brad R. Torgersen
"Scramble" by Martin L. Shoemaker
"Balance" by Marina J. Lostetter
"To Lose the Stars" by Jennifer Brozek
"Cylinders" by Ronald D Ferguson
My story was the winning entry in the very first year of this award, nearly eleven years ago. It was a breakthrough moment for me, and something for which I'll be forever grateful.
I get quite a kick from watching the contest each year, which has been coordinated right from the start by Bill Ledbetter, who is also the editor for this anthology. I'll post details of the launch date as soon as I know it.