skip to Main Content
Reaching Readers: The Undercover Soundtrack – A Desert Island Discs* For Novelists

Reaching Readers: The Undercover Soundtrack – A Desert Island Discs* for Novelists

Roz Morris, author of My Memories of A Future Life and Nail Your Novel, describes how the highly popular, innovative guest slot on her blog helps indie writers in all genres reach new readers for their books.

Roz Mprris headshotDoes music help you create your books? It certainly helps me. Without it, my thoughts are too fast, too slippery. Music holds the hurricane still, allows me to examine my characters and scenes so I can discover their significance. Some pieces I choose because they conjure the setting; others seem to find me from the wild when they align with the scene that’s on my mind. It all adds up to a collection of tracks that become a signature for the novel.

I started to wonder if other writers did this. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see them describe their novels in terms of the music that helped them behind the scenes?

So I invited a few authors to post for me, in a series I called The Undercover Soundtrack. I originally started it as a way to keep fresh content on a site I set up for my first novel, My Memories of a Future Life, which was about a musician. But more than two years on, the series is still going, and its reputation has grown so far that I get emails from publicists wanting to book their authors for a slot.

It probably also helps people get familiar with my own work too, bolsters SEO or something techie, because the site always has new incoming links as participants share their posts.

But that’s a secondary consideration. I enjoy meeting the authors and offering them something creative to do, and many have become good online friends. And I couldn’t keep it up if I didn’t believe I was sharing good content.

What do they write?

Some authors trot through their plot with the music that conjured the mood for crucial scenes. Others write a deeper exploration of who they are when alone with the page and how music eases the way. It’s all an expression of their individual personality and that’s what makes it such fun for me to host. I love opening the latest submission to see these very personal snapshots of creative people doing their thing.

Even if two writers choose the same piece by Beethoven, they won’t get remotely the same idea from it. And I get terrific tracks that hit a bullseye for my own work.

This seems to work for commenters too; right now we appear to have started a craze for the Icelandic instrumentalist Olafur Arnalds.

Cover of My Memories of a Future Life by Roz MorrisA unique way to connect

The Undercover Soundtrack is also a unique way to connect with readers. With other kinds of post, we might struggle to find ways to make readers remember our title or hook, but with this one, the music does that for you. People remember you created your villain from the mood of ‘Red Right Hand'. Or that the seduction of your hero was honed to Ella’s smoky purr. To help this along, I’ve cross-linked the site so readers can look up artistes and see who wrote about them – more chances for readers to stumble across you. It’s the kind of writing post that laymen can relate to and find genuinely interesting; a view of a novel as if from a parallel room. And it’s building a loyal band of readers who return every week to see how the latest author has ‘played the game’, regardless of musical or literary tastes.

Who posts?

Who writes Undercover Soundtracks? Everyone. You don’t have to be literary like me; it’s for all genres, all styles. I'm happy to host anyone who will write an honest post to fit the criteria. If that’s you, contact me on rozmorriswriter at gmail dotcom and I’ll send the detailed brief.

If you have an interesting opportunity for other indie authors to write guest posts on your blog, please feel free to leave details here via a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read these articles about other innovative ways to reach more readers: 

*Desert Island Discs is one of the longest-running programmes on the UK's BBC Radio 4  in which each week a high-achieving person, while being interviewed about their life, is invited to choose eight discs that they would want to take with them if stranded on a desert island.  They also get to choose one book, apart from the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and are also asked to specify which of the eight they would choose to save if seven were washed away. It often features authors. Broadcast since 1942 and still fascinating! Complete archive available here within the UK.


Author: Roz Morris

Roz Morris is a novelist, journalist and fiction editor. She’s taught writing masterclasses for The Guardian, co-presented a radio show about writing, mentored prizewinning authors and has a writing blog and book series called Nail Your Novel. Her novels and essays have been profiled by The Guardian, Literature Works, the Potomac Review, Rain Taxi and BBC Radio. Her latest book is Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction. You can tweet her as @Roz_Morris. Find out more about Roz on her website www.rozmorris.wordpress.com.


This Post Has 27 Comments
  1. Hi Roz ! I agree & its true that music has a great power to influence any type of creativity as music is definately a part of writing. I am really impressed with your thoughts and it gave me a different perspective to look into. Thanks Roz.

  2. I found your post very interesting, Roz, and I’ll email you for the criteria to write a post for your blog. I like to write with music in the background – it’s definitely conducive to thinking for me.

    I also host other writers on my blog. I have a set of questions I ask them about their writing. It was originally designed for historical fiction but I’ve amended it to include other genres. If anyone is interested they can email me at dianne_ascroft AT yahoo.co.uk

  3. Roz, what a truly interesting post. I hadn’t heard of the Undercover Soundtrack before. What a great idea. I always write to music. I make up a playlist for each work in progress and it gets me in the zone. In my day job as a teacher of children with special needs I use music for relaxation, mindfulness training and as an aid to concentration. Basically my life operates to an eclectic soundtrack. I’ll be getting gin touch about doing a post. Thank you!

  4. Hi,
    Inspiring post, i agree with your thought that music has a great power to influence any type of creativity as music is also a part of writing and thinking the combination of both always give birth to a great innovation both writing and music are complimentary art to each other as for writing something we must need tune, rhythm and flow so that writing could be great which the music can provide to the writer.

  5. Love this post! Music has always been an essential element of the writing process, and I’ve been known to be very picky about what I listen to when I write. Last year, I signed on with a small press for a novelette (unfortunately, the press closed before it was published, but I’m working on getting it out there on my own in early 2014) that had an innovative idea: when they took on the story, they had me fill out a questionnaire about influences that inspired me that may give the readers more insight into the story–foods, music, ideal places to read the story, etc. I was really looking forward to having that profile printed alongside the story. There was one album in particular that I listened to over and over while writing–the two works are locked together in my experience, and I was looking forward to seeing if anyone else felt that connection.

    Once I have this new story together, I’d love to get in touch and write up a post! 🙂

  6. Seconding Porter’s assertion that we need to talk about creative process more than selling. I appreciated the opportunity to do that as a guest author on Undercover Soundtrack, and as a reader, I’ve picked up on some great books — and some great music — I would missed. Thanks for keeping it going, Roz. You rock, as it were!

  7. Well! Thanks to Porter Anderson for killing my inhibitions about leaving long comments! Thanks also to an affirmation about cross genre validity…could he just shout that from the Institutes of Science’s rooftops while he is playing midwife to conversations between the non communicating.

    Sell contemporary classical music? Anybody know a rich man in need of a fully formed and well reviewed chamber orchestra in danger? I have one for sale to modest patronage.

    I know both those remarks will seem bad manners across Roz’s pine table but its Saturday today and since helping HIGH ART art is what TUST is about I thought I would wave others equally in need.

  8. Just to put in a word for Roz Morris’ Undercover Soundtrack, there are a couple of key points I think worth adding here about this long-running effort from a talented novelist.

    In the interest of disclosure, I should preface my comments by saying that I co-wrote the first Undercover Soundtrack entry with Roz (back in the 18th Century, it seems now) because I’d been introducing her to Q2 Music, a 24/7 free Internet radio/stream service of New York Public Radio’s WQXR. This is contemporary classical, which is what I use to write — living composers, a global hub for them — so it won’t match all tastes, by any means, but you can listen in at any time at http://ow.ly/keYfD . Be sure to click the player on to Q2, unless you enjoy Papa Haydn, in which case, WQXR’s player will suit you nicely. I’m a tireless and sometimes tiresome advocate for Q2 but this is because I find so many subtle connections of perception and expression in the music of our best now-working composers and strongest writers.

    With that formality out of the way, here are a couple of specific cheers for Undercover Soundtrack and Roz’s curation of it.

    First, here’s to the art of it all. (Remember literature?)

    We don’t talk about our work enough. We talk about selling it. We talk about editing it. We talk about beta readers crawling all over it. We talk about whether we should woo or kill all the agents for it. We talk about traditionally publishing it vs. you-know-how-publishing it until we’re hoarse, and still we keep talking and talking and talking…and how often do you hear someone say, “You know, my character So and So in my book Such and Such came from exactly that feeling of loss and concern” …?

    We don’t hear those things. We don’t hear people saying, “Your story stopped me dead in my tracks because I’d never seen the topic handled that way.” We don’t hear anyone answering, “Actually, darling, you’ve got my story all wrong, but how fascinating that this is what you’re seeing in it, can you tell me what scene you’re thinking about?” The work itself, in other words, is the last thing we bring up. We even see major awards handed out for work with almost no mention of what the stuff is about. For all the time we spend on it, for all the heart we funnel into it, for all it means to us and to readers…we don’t talk of it much.

    Isn’t that a remarkable thing?

    When writers wade into an Undercover Soundtrack piece, they do, actually, most of them, on a good day, tell you something about the work itself. They have to. Very few people are big on writing posts about Music to Market Your Book By. (Don’t even think about it, I don’t want to end up regretting that line.) Music lives closer to the tender creep of creativity. Authors doing Undercover Soundtracks pretty much find they have to — some want to, some don’t — tell you something deeper than when to change the price on Amazon. Something about what they meant to do. Something about what they heard as they struggled with it. Isn’t it interesting that Roz experiences some music as “holding the hurricane still?” Others will tell you they use it for precisely the opposite effect, to whip up the winds and rip the sails off their concepts so they can see the freaking structure of what they thought they’d written yesterday.

    In other words, we meet a little of the artist behind the entrepreneur, when a writer comes clean about a musical influence. How good is that?

    Second, here’s to hands across the disciplines. (Remember discipline? Me either.)

    The other day, Roz (@ByRozMorris) and I (@Porter_Anderson) Twitter-pounced as we do at times on an unsuspecting new writer, Dave Newell (@DaveNewell), who has you-know-how-published his debut novel Red Lory, to tell him about the work of composer/performer Todd Reynolds (@DigiFiddler). Newell’s Undercover Soundtrack is here: http://ow.ly/rjXHk

    Soon, we’d heard from Reynolds, who is not only one of our leading digital violinists over here but also accomplished in the Tweeterie and careful to be in touch, as are good authors, with people carrying on about his work. I’d sent Newell to a Q2 live-concert recording of his show with @ZoeCello (Zoe Keating) and the interaction did us all good.

    I have found it about as easy to explain to our composers how writers can use their work as I’ve found shoving “contemporary classical” music at authors who haven’t ventured past pop and rock, maybe jazz. (Sometimes to ease that “contemporary classical” scare, I suggest authors think of film soundtracks: some of our best contemporary classical composers are working that field and saving Hollywood from complete embarrassment in the process.)

    The demilitarized zone between these music-heads and language-minds is not very wide. I end up turning sideways a lot to slide along the hard wall of “What do you mean that music is ‘writerly,’ Porter?” and try to get out the door before having to explain. Better an author find out what I meant when a phrase suddenly hovers over a sonic-scape made by someone on another continent with another idea in mind…then “writerly” has happened in music, “musicality” has happened in writing, and the Latvian Peteris Vasks’ storm-burst of stringed violence is where it needs to be, raging inside the moment of creation at a writer’s desk.

    Newell, who sits in Greenville, South Carolina, already knew @OlafurArnolds’ Living Room Music, the furniture of which stands in Reykjavik. But did Arnolds know Newell? And had he read what Newell gets up to when he listens to Arnolds’ work? It would do Arnolds good to read Newell. Undercover Soundtrack is where Arnolds can find Newell going on about it.

    So, two thoughts. Talking about the art of it all. And cross-discipline networkery.

    And I wrote this while hearing Phil Kline’s Zippo Songs and Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Helix on Q2. Frederic Rzewski’s Les Moutons de Panurge is much too energetic, it’s pushing me on to other work, I have to run.

    Just do whatever Roz tells you,

    1. Porter, by gum YES! You helped to kick off the series in fine style, interpreting my half-formed ideas in just the right way. Folks, you can find the inaugural Undercover Soundtrack, a duet between me and Mr Anderson, here – http://mymemoriesofafuturelife.com/2011/10/17/scoring-the-novel-as-it-unfolds-the-undercover-soundtrack/

      You raise a terrific point in this comment about our work as artists. And that’s why I find The Undercover Soundtrack such a worthwhile series to host. It’s getting back to the urge that brought us all here. Not the urge to publish or ‘be authors’, but the need to explore on the page, play with ideas, spend long hours wrestling with an idea until we’ve done justice to the resonances beating inside it.
      This is what we all did, long before we did any publishing. It’s what we all have in common.

      1. Thanks so much Roz (and Porter) for The Undercover Soundtrack — a shining light in the sea of so much grey writing about writing on the blogosphere. TUST is how I came to read your own fab novel, My Memories of a Future Life, Roz and a #mustread for me, whenever it comes out. And Porter, you’re so right. How sorely we need spaces to talk about the only part of this crazy work of ours that will matter in the end. What I love about TUST is how it gives writers such a safe and centred space to do that — focussing on the music keep the conversation from getting too poncey, as it can so easily do when writers talk about our words and what it meant to write them. Long may this series rock!

        1. Orna, I never knew that’s how you found me! Folks, this is proof that The Undercover Soundtrack sells books to people in high places! I certainly find terrific books from my guests on the blog, and it seems the way they describe them in an Undercover Soundtrack is often far more appealing than the traditional sales blurb. As you say, it’s personal and revealing without being precious.
          I’m so pleased I’ve finally got you booked in for a spot. Guys, you’d better subscribe because Orna’s guesting!

  9. Having spent two years on real desert islands , or more accurately deserted islands, in the Indian ocean I listen to ‘Desert Island Discs’ with a jaundiced ear. This does not happen with the Undercover Soundtrack because although writing sometimes feels like a solitary trudge across dunes, at least the music the trudger can call up/find/repeat is up to them. Their creativity seeks its own renewal.

    Which was not the case when the only human voice was the longed for BBC foreign service at six ( one hour) and the rest of life spent looking for shellfish (not great communicators however tasty) or walking five miles along the beach once a week to meet the fishing boats in the hope of post ( Nada?!…ah well five miles back, this time with the tide in so climb the cliff first!) So Scott Joplin, or Elvis on heartbreak hotel, or most of what people think they love when they can turn it off would not cut it if it was one of ten discs, saved to play forever. I wonder what the literary analogy might be?

    You can only remember the dictionary from A-B? Your luxury might be those filed under Q?

    1. Philippa, you get more interesting with every episode you reveal from your life. I know you primarily as a writer and likeminded correspondent. Now you unveil a life as Man Friday.

      Your comment made me chuckle. You’ve raised exactly the objection I would voice if I was seriously sent to a deserted island. I’d be no good at playing the game in theory, pretending I’d be satisfied with a few precious pieces. I’d demand my seven choices were all complete works of someone with enormous output, simply to stop myself going bonkers with the monotony. I would have to cheat.

      Fortunately, though, when I collect music to underpin a novel, the repetition helps me instead of driving me insane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest advice, news, ratings, tools and trends.

Back To Top
×Close search