Starry Night Sky with Bow

The Music in the Story

I’ve found that the two expressions – music and story – seem to flow from each other and inspire each other. They move the emotions in different ways, but to equal depths. Given that relationship, I thought it might be nice for readers to be able to feel something of what I felt while writing.

Music is a passion for me, so it was only natural that I started composing scenescape-type pieces at about the same time I began with the world of the books.

In the Whisper is a track I released a few years back under the name Sparrowland. In this one I was trying to capture the tingling crispness of imagination and a sense of wonder.


Minstrels, I think explains itself. Here I was picturing a group of minstrels travelling through midland hills, forests, rivers and farms … the Mistyvales, really. As with many tracks, you’ll notice Celtic and African influences, which to me are among the freshest, wildest and most captivating strains of music.


The Fairground – one with vocals. There’s something magical about fairs. As a boy I used to visit the local town fair and a bigger one in a nearby city. Wandering around the stalls and stables in the lonely hours always left me so full of feelings I could never quite comprehend which only made them more captivating. It was these memories that inspired this song as well as the chapters devoted to the autumn festival – among my favourite to write.


studio-300x225I’ve always liked the idea of stories set to music – as seen in the book with the northern rilloms. This was inspired largely by my own dabbling. The Weaver is one of these experiments – something of a fable set to music. It was a demo I knocked together during an idle day in the studio and I’d hoped to come back and trim the rough edges, but the files were lost, so this is all there’s likely to be for a while. Don’t judge it too harshly.


This is another demo – files lost on the same drive as The Weaver’s. I originally wrote it for a good friend, Simon Painter, who was putting together a dance show that never emerged (though Simon has subsequently launched several other enormously successful shows and is now a widely recognised name in the business). I wrote the music and Simon arranged most of the rhythm section. I’ll never forget him laughing his head off as I did take after take in the studio trying to get the Irish whistle to sound the low D. These whistles are big and they have a beautiful, rich tone, but you need pretty sizeable hands to reach those low stops and I almost dislocated my knuckles in the process.

With this piece, Folk Dance, the mood is very much what I’d imagined while writing the scene where the apprentices join in the dances during the festival.


The Fool of Time – based on a magical old poem by Thomas S. Jones. I’ve always loved words that paint, so when I read that first line, “Across the fields of yesterday,” the images began to appear and beg to be put to music. There’s a deep melancholy to the original poem, but I saw in it the opportunity for hope as real as the despair behind the original words.


There are one or two more in various stages of completion, including my favourite. If you nag me I might be encouraged to nudge them up the priority list.

34 thoughts on “The Music in the Story

  1. Bill

    Have you ever considered music in the background of a few chapter openings to supplement the setting? I’ve read/listened to a few, 2 or 3 books that have music but usually in the opening credits.

    Now that I think about it, I’m surprised it’s so few books have integrated small music files into them.

    I’ve become a huge fan of “immersion” reading, listening while I read when possible and can imagine hearing the setting would only add to that experience.

    Reply
    1. Bill

      Forgot to add an example

      Eragon, The Inheritance Cycle

      The prologue is over music for the first part.

    2. Jonathan Renshaw

      Hi Bill. I have actually thought about it quite a lot, and I’ve heard in in a few books. It’s a great idea, but for it to be done well, it would require a lot of work, not unlike writing a score for a movie, only many times longer. Having music that appears and disappears I actually find a bit distracting. Books that have a kind of nondescript droning in the background also fail to hit the mark, at least to my ears. Having real music to match and support the emotions being established in the story is a HHUUUUGE job. It can be done, but it would raise the cost of audiobook production several fold. I did actually write many pieces that support sections of the story, but recording them would take months and that would just push the releases back.

      Here’s another point to consider. When writing any kind of speculative fiction, authors will try to create a culture or cultures that can be seen in the way people dress, act, speak etc. That feeling of cultural identity can either be enhanced or completely ruined by music. You don’t just need good tunes, you need tunes that sound like they belong in that world or they just destroy the sense of immersion. I think it’s possible to do it, but for a 29 hour audiobook, it would be a monstrous amount of work.
      I’d also be curious to know how many people actually prefer background music.

    3. rosh3000

      I completely agree with Jonathan Renshaw. Please don’t add any sound effects. Music has spoilt several audiobooks for me and a lot of the time sounds cheesy (e.g The Chronicles of Dragon Collection). I think a great narrator like Tim Gerard Reynolds is all you need and adds a lot of immersion through his character voices and tones. (I found Dawn of Wonder by looking through TGR)

  2. Ronin Ryker

    Do you have a place I can like buy these songs? Your voice is beautiful, I would listen to “The Fairground” all day if I could.

    Reply
    1. Renshaw Team

      Hi Ronin. The songs are not yet available to buy, but it is something we are considering. Will make an announcement if we decide to make them available for purchase.

  3. Karen Vrooman

    I am glad you are doing music to go with the rest of your created world! It fits perfectly, of course. Don’t you think it will make doing the MOVIES easier when the time comes? (Yeah, I said it… WILL happen….) I wish you needed help so I could submit some song ideas too!

    Reply
  4. kaemon bonet

    I don’t know how many times you’d heard this, but I would love to hear your vision of the songs about the mistyvales that brought Aiden and is readers to tears at the fair. I would love to hear it, it would be fun to perform. It’s the right thing!

    Reply
  5. MaryJane Robilliard

    Just sitting here hypnotized by your music – gasp – it stopped! Must go back and re-listen.
    A shining example of a true Renaissance person – I bow to the spirit within you.

    Reply
  6. Anders

    I’m a “slow reader”, and found myself re-reading several passages of your book, thoroughly enjoying all the twists and turns of language and great storytelling. Frankly, I’ve always been suspicious of speed readers… just like a good meal I think you should take your time enjoying it, and not wolf it down. 🙂

    I believe you have created something very, very special here, so please take your time nursing the continuation of the series. Too many authors seem to rush through things, delivering sub par sequels and discouraging new readers to pick up even the first (great) book of the series.

    To hold us fans over till book number two comes out, would you consider putting some reading recommendations of fantasy works on your site? … works that inspire you, personally?

    Reply
  7. James Gerber

    Jonathan,

    To aid me in my (new) long commute to work, I signed up for an audiobook program. Upon looking for my first title, Dawn of Wonder popped up on the first page of suggestions. Being that I have not read a fantasy book in a while, and not seeing another like option on the first page, I selected your book. Over the past two weeks I listened to the entirety of it during my commute and thoroughly enjoyed it. As I sit here now, having just finished the final chapter, I’m left longing for the sailing adventures sure to come in the next book.

    Meanwhile, reading the back story on the timeline of your writing is encouraging to me as I have been held hostage by a story in my head that I can’t seem to write. I’ve written the first chapter only twice, but seeing that you wrote yours in the neighborhood of 40 times is eye opening. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Jill Hakes

    I promise I’m not going to complain about that. Looking forward to book two…whenever it is ready. As a reader, I wish I could help somehow but clearly that won’t work. Hahaha. good luck!! This reader is cheerfully waiting.

    Reply
  9. Jill Hakes

    I love this story. My own impatience for the next thing often got in my way. I found being patient always paid off; the charm and depth became more profound with patience. And of course the growth arc of aedin is enchanting. I absolutely loved the ending. Literally cause me to pause mid-step.
    I ‘read’ the audiobook and loved the performance of Tim Gerard.
    I too would love to get the music on my phone. Listening to Folk Dance I could see the boys and girls dancing, laughing and creating memories and inside jokes.
    Good luck with book 2. I’m so excited
    To read it!

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      I agree that patient readers (or listeners) get more from a story. Glad that it was worthwhile for you.
      Sorry about the audio not being available yet. One day I’ll get round to fixing it up and making it available. For now, it’s all book 2.

  10. Karen DeMers Dowdall

    Your music is beautiful and the music your created, In The Whisper, touches my Celtic self. As a dancer and writer, music that speaks to the senses and experiences is so wonderful. Do you have an album yet?

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      Thanks, Karen. I did do an album but my Tunecore registration expired. I’ve been meaning to get it out again, but that’s one of a few hundred things I’m putting on hold while gathering all the time I can to work on book 2. One day soon …

  11. Cynthia Weller

    My favorite author of all time is J.R.R. Tolkien. And I’ve always been searching for someone who could enchant me as he does. I think I’ve finally found that in you, Mr. Renshaw. I am not a young person, I guess you could say I am in the autumn of my life, and I have read thousands of novels. Thank you for writing Dawn of Wonder. It drew me into your story from the very first page and I’ve had no trouble at all visualizing all of it as I read. I cannot wait for The Wakening Book 2. The way you describe things is nothing short of amazing! And, I just today discovered your website and listened to all of your music, which I love as much as your book, I might add. I am a musician, too, and so is my husband, and I can see us playing some tunes such as these. I am so glad I found you!

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      Sounds like we have tastes in common. Tolkien certainly is entrancing. It’s always daunting to be compared to a writer like that, and immensely relieving to emerge from the comparison unbruised. So thank you.
      Glad that you enjoyed the tunes. I haven’t practiced whistles and flutes for a while now so if you’re any good at those you’d most likely be able to play the pieces a good deal better than me.

  12. Jessica S.

    Amazing. I enjoyed every one of these songs, though In The Whisper and The Fairground stood out strongly as my favorites. Would it be possible to get MP3 downloads/copies somehow? Or are the songs for purchase on iTunes or some such? My internet can be rather spotty at times, it’s always depressing when the songs cut out in the middle of playing.
    I’d also love to know when the next book comes out! Hopefully you’ll add more tracks some time soon! Keep up the great work!!

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      Hi Jessica. My audio player doesn’t let me make the songs downloadable. I’ll see if I can find another player or put them on itunes. It’s going on the to do list. And I fully appreciate spotty internet problems. Struggling with the same issue here.

  13. Natalie Ailer

    I have found myself rereading “The Wakening” while listening to your your music. Both your book and music takes me to another time and place. Your creativity is astounding. You breath a fresh breath of air into my favorite genre of music and novels. I’m extremely impressed and am anxiously awaiting anything new.

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      Thank you, Natalie. I think re-reading is a compliment equivalent to a cook being asked for seconds. If I had the time, I’d put out more music, but alas, both story and song are enormously time consuming.

  14. John Logos

    Well said. I agree completely. I am 60% in to your story and loving it. I’ll comment in more detail (without spoilers) when I’m done.

    Reply
  15. John Logos

    Hey. Thanks for the quick response. It’s awesome to find authors who are accessible. About the music, yeah, I could tell it was pro and wondered if it was possible on a DAW (I had my doubts), so it’s good to hear it was done with instruments in studio for the most part. It helps me step back from diving into the learning experience of the DAW abyss. DAWs are used a lot for electronics but I’m into acoustic and instrumentals with vocals, so I don’t see DAWs as a very good option without talented musicians and at least a home studio. And I also suspected the 10,000 hour would come into play and I don’t think I can divide my energy that much and must choose writing over music. So I do a lot of songwriting and vocals and will seek for collaborators online for further development.

    I read the first chapters of Dawn of Wonder and am happily being drawn into the story more and more. Great start! There’s nothing more romantic (in the Old English sense and subjectively 🙂 ) than a great adventure with a coming-of-age protagonist. There’s something inherently magical about those years and with the added magic stemming from the writer’s craft, ah, it becomes mesmerizing. It’s interesting what you wrote about previously writing like a 200 year-old dead classical novelist—I absolutely love the classics—and then having to change your style. It’s an important lesson that reminds one to write with the norms of his own time with the faith that the best stories can transcend the limitations of our own time and its forms and live on in their ideal story forms not limited by the author’s prose but in the imaginations of generations. And so if you can master the art of telepathy and capture the imaginations of readers then mission accomplished. With your book, you evidently have, so here’s to a job very well done!

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      I once heard Sir George Martin speak at a gathering of music producers, and he said, “Life is too short to do many things well. Pick those things that are the most important to you and concentrate on them.” I’ve always thought that excellent advice. So your choice to use collaborators in one field in order to give you more time in another sounds like a wise move.

      The shift of style for me was actually not so much a changing of style as a finding of style. Early attempts at writing had been much like a boy’s attempts to build a wooden box. You watch Dad and do exactly what he does (sort of). Hammer, nails, thumb, shouting … When the boy grows up he might find that there are other ways to build a the same box: screws, glue, recessing … I think as soon as you begin to discover that there are many “right” ways to do something, you find the freedom to experiment and develop your own technique and style. At least that’s what the experience of “finding my authorial voice” was like for me.

      All the best with the writing, and I hope you find the right musical collaborators.

  16. John Logos

    Hello,

    I got turned on to your book by a couple of good friends who raved about it like anything and I’m just getting ready to dive in. I grew up living in fantasy worlds so I am excited to step into a new one. I’m listening to your music now and love it. It is very pro. And great vocals! I am curious if you made the music in a studio with the instruments or on a program like Logic Pro X or a mix probably. I’m working on putting a lot of my lyrics to music and it is a daunting task to approach without the know-how. So I’m learning, but busy. Lastly, I really appreciated reading your expression of faith in your Author about. It is beautiful and refreshing. I look forward to reading your novel over the next few days and will comment further upon completion. I have aspirations to writing novels myself and have a few cooking, and to see that you have done it the indie route to such great success inspires me with hope.

    Reply
    1. Jonathan Renshaw

      Hey John. Thanks.
      I recorded the songs in various studios, and most of the instrumentation is real (I tend to collect instruments wherever I go). There’s a bit of midi to fill in the spaces, but all the lead instruments are played in. Learning your way around studios is daunting, but digital audio workstations like logic have made things easier. If you are prepared to put the time and effort in, you’ll crack it. With music as with writing, I think the 10 000 hours estimate is probably true for most people (the time taken to reach proficiency), but all of those hours are rewarding if it’s something you love. I look forwards to hearing about what you produce in writing and music.

  17. Jim

    I agree with Bryony. Fool of Time and The Fairground were my favorites. Your vocals draw me in, and the tempo and sensibilities in your music engage my imagination and transport me. I also LOVE Folk Dance – it made me want to dance in a group of loving and energetic friends.

    Reply

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