Guest Blog: The Soundtrack of a Book
Leviathan’s Blood is my sixth book, but it is the second in my big fantasy trilogy, Children. The first was called The Godless. The third, when it is released next year, will be called The Eternal Kingdom.
I wrote Leviathan’s Blood mostly in silence. I didn’t always prefer the quiet while writing. I used to listen to music, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, but then, one day – I couldn’t tell you when, to be honest – I turned the music off. It had begun to dig under my concentration. It broke up my words. It had to be turned off so I could write properly.
I love music, and though it was turned off while I sat at my laptop and worked, I turned it on in the interstitial spaces of my life. Walking up the road, taking a shower, cooking dinner, gardening: I did all that with music on. At the same time, I also thought about my book. I thought action scenes and battles, I ran through the conversations of characters, thought about themes, metaphors, and the revisions and edits I would make, and throughout it all, the music I listened to created a soundtrack for the book I would write in silence.
For example, each morning I walk along a track near my house. It’s not a particularly beautiful vista that I walk past – the track runs past a cement-walled creek that runs behind houses and factories – but during it, I think about what I am going to write that day. I put in my headphones and walk and think and listen to music. One of my main characters, Bueralan, is a saboteur who was exiled from his home after a failed coup. In Leviathan’s Blood, he returns to his homeland a broken man. At the end of The Godless, his friends are dead, and a creature, claiming to be a god, gives him the soul of one of them to take home. It’s a rough task, and Bueralan struggles with not just that, but with his destination in life. On days where I worked on his narrative, I would often find myself listening to the blues. B.B. King and John Lee Hooker were my favourites. I would listen to a lot of Bettye LaVette, as well. But it was King’s song, ‘Chains and Things’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJJ4lI631Ng that really settled the tone of his arc for me.
Unlike Bueralan, Ayae finds herself caught in a world of politics after she and the other survivors of The Godless arrive in Yeflam, seeking refuge. Ayae is ‘Cursed’, a slur that is used to describe a man or a woman who has been infected with the powers of a dead god (in the Children Trilogy, the gods lie dead across the landscape, and their divine essence seeps out into the world). When Ayae loses control of herself, fire bursts from her skin, and there is so much, truly, to make her lose control. In Leviathan’s Blood, Ayae is forced to really focus on what has changed her life, on what she has lost, and what she wants to be, in the future. Oddly, I found myself listening to a lot of late Tom Waits – Bone Machine, Mule Variations, etc – and early Skunk Anansie. The screams in ‘Yes, It’s Fucking Political’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcaUer4fuU8 came to embody Ayae’s frustration and anger, and the song’s threads of violence, especially towards the end, hint at the path that she is being pulled unwillingly down.
Zaifyr is the oldest character of my cast from The Godless. He is an immortal who has lived for over ten thousand years and his quest for revenge is the main plot driver of Leviathan’s Blood. In The Godless, he was a character on the edges, a reluctant figure in a war that was unfolding around him. He had to be, really. Zaifyr can see the dead: not just the man and women who die before him, but the millions and millions who have been consigned to a ghostly purgatory since the gods died. A thousand years earlier, the sight of the dead drove him mad, and his family – immortals like himself – locked him in a prison to be rehabilitated. Now, however, he finds himself in a war against a new god, one who claims responsibility for the dead he can see. But how best to describe that in music? Not with short pieces, no. I found myself drifting through bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion, Red Sparowes, and Swans. A Silver Mt Zion’s ‘What We Loved Was Not Enough’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp1aP_CEq44 seemed best to capture him. The thin, haunting voice of Efrim Menuck crying out that ‘There’ll be war within our cities,’ while a chorus sung, ‘And the days come when we no longer feel,’ seemed best to sum up Zaifyr’s new place in the centre of the narrative.
As I said, I wrote Leviathan’s Blood in silence. Cicadas, kookaburras, parrots, and cockatoos were most of the sounds around me. A few cars and planes. My cats mostly slept around me. But in the back of my mind were the songs from earlier, from the interstitial spaces, and they would play in the back of my mind as I worked, the echo of a soundtrack I composed as I worked.
Leviathan’s Blood is published by TOR UK on Thursday, 4 April. BEN PEEK has been shortlisted for the David Gemmell Award for Best Debut Fantasy and the prestigious Australian Aurealis Award. He lives in Sydney with his partner, photographer Nikilyn Nevins, and their cat, Lily. You can follow him on Twitter @nosubstance.