Tales Post – Do Songs Influence UKYA Books?



Last week there was a fab article in the Guardian about top 10 songs in teen novels and how music has influenced or featured in the novels.  I found this article interesting and a great read as it combined my two loves in life – Books and Music (click on the link above to read the article).

Upon reading the article it was great to see three UKYA authors feature, Louise Rennison with her book Withering Tights, Matthew Crow with his book In Bloom (I must buy and read this asap!) and Steve Camden with his book Tape!  But only three UKYA?  I would like to have seen a few more.

Funny enough before this article was published I had heard a song on the radio which seemed to fit and click with some characters that have been running around wild in my head for a while and it has really motivated me to finally write about them starting with the scene that came into my head by listening to the song.

The combination of the above got me thinking…I really would like to see more UKYA authors on the list and find out if music influenced any of them or their characters?  Therefore I enlisted the help of some lovely UKYA authors and they kindly shared their thoughts on this and here is what they shared.

Keris Stainton



Jessie Hearts NYC

Publisher – Orchard Books

Published – 7th July 2011

Song – If It Kills Me by Jason Mraz



I absolutely love Jason Mraz – I listened to a CD of his songs when my youngest son was born (Lucky, Mraz’s duet with Colbie Caillat, was the first song I heard after Joe arrived). What I love about If It Kills Me is that at the start it sounds like he’s singing to his girlfriend, but then he sings “We get along much better than you and your boyfriend.” And then there’s a pause and you go “Ohhhh.” Or I did anyway.

I’ve always had a thing about unrequited love, particularly, for some reason, friends with crushes on their friends’ (or family members’!) partners. So as soon as I heard that, I thought “A-ha!”

It literally created Finn’s storyline in the book. Before that literally all I had of Finn was an image of him standing in Times Square, wearing a tux, holding a bunch of roses and trying to hail a cab. Then I thought ‘what if he’s in love with his best friend’s girlfriend?’ And THEN I thought ‘What if he’s going to pick her up from the airport because his friend can’t?’ I listened to it whenever I wanted to get into Finn’s head

Emma Pass


The Fearless

Publisher – Random House Children’s

Published – 24th April 2014

Song – Many Of Horror by Biffy Clyro



I was hooked the first time I heard it. It just seemed to fit – the tune, the lyrics, everything.

Actually, it was during writing The Fearless. I always make soundtracks for my books, and they always have a ‘theme song’.

The Fearless is about what happens after a new breed of psychotic, silver-eyed super soldiers, the Fearless, who feel no fear, empathy or love, invade the UK. Many of Horror is about two people struggling to love and trust one another. Trust and love are major themes in The Fearless, and I found the song’s bleak lyrics and melancholy, bittersweet tune influenced me very strongly as I was trying to create the novel’s post-apocalyptic world.

 Juno Dawson


Cruel Summer

Publisher – Indigo

Published – 7th August 2014

Song – Starring Role by Marina and The Diamonds



Starring Role is the song that most informed Ryan’s character in Cruel Summer.  It’s really his anthem

Jenny McLachlan


Flirty Dancing

Publisher – Bloomsbury Childrens

Published – 3rd July 2014

Song – Far Away by Martha Wainwright



When I wrote Fiirty Dancing, I used to listen to Martha Wainwrght’s album (Martha Wainwright) each day to get me ‘the zone’. I’d only need to hear the first song,’Far Away’, to be in Bea’s mind. Bea may appear cautious and unadventurous, but inside she is passionate and spontaneous. Martha Wainwright’s music is unique, warm and wonderful, just like Bea. Listening to her music as I wrote FD really helped me write as Bea.

There is a song that’s very important to ‘Love Bomb’: Bettye Swann’s ‘Then You  Can Tell Me Goodbye’. My main character, Betty is named after Bettye because her mum loved her music. Betty’s mum is singing this song with her band when she first meets Betty’s dad, and it plays a big role at the end of the book. It’s a beautiful song about love. I listened to it all the time as I wrote ‘Love Bomb’, particularly when I was writing the letters from Betty’s mum to her daughter. Just listening to ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye’ sends shivers down my spine.

I love music and usually listen to music as I write, although if I’m reading my work aloud or reading through a final edit I don’t. Whenever I get stuck on a scene, I go for a run and listen to my music really loud. So far, it has always worked! I also find going to see bands play live gives me lots of ideas and I’ll spend the entire gig running through what I’m currently writing and checking it works.

Eve Ainsworth



Seven Days

Publisher – Scholastic Press

Published – Due out 5th February 2015

Song – Royals by Lorde

Check out my review here

Or check out my Q&A with a character from the book here

The lyrics really chimed for me.

And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.

Many of my characters live on a tough estate, there isn’t much money and they are resigned to that. It’s the friendships and relationships that keep them motivated. And in private they dream for more.

And then this:

Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.

This section in particular made me think of Kez, a bully – a ruler. She wants to be in control, she needs to be. But is that who she really is?

It influenced towards the end. As I was writing I was listening to lots of Plan B and Professor Green. Then this song came on the radio and I was like, “oh, yes…”

It helps me to make my characters more real, I can see them hearing this song and singing along =- connecting with it. Also, while writing book 2 (Crush) which is set in the same estate I played the song again, key lines sticking in my head:

We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams

Because my characters are.

Sarah Sky

Jessica Cole Model Spy – Fashion Assassin

Publisher – Scholastic Press

Published – This 2nd book in the Jessica Cole series is out 1st January 2015

Song – Written In The Stars by Tinie Tempah feat Eric Turner and various

Check out my review of Fashion Assassin here or why not check out a spotlight of the book here

Want to check out a review of the first in the series Code Red Lipstick click here

I need it to be quiet when I’m working, so I can concentrate. But I regularly listen to music before I actually start writing. When I was working on Fashion Assassin, I listened to quite a few tracks to get me fired up for a day’s writing, particularly Tinie Tempah’s and Eric Turner’s Written In The Stars. I love that song! I found that it got the adrenalin pumping and it’s always inspirational to hear Malorie Blackman’s name in the lyrics.  I also listened to David Guetta’s Titanium. For some reason it helped boost my word count!

Book three, Catwalk Criminal, opens with an arms deal which is taking place at a fashion show on the top of The Shard. Jessica’s working undercover for MI6 and the signal for the start of the fashion show is a track from The Vamps. I listened to quite a bit of their music, when I was writing that first chapter. In the book, the music’s cut short when Jessica has to fire an electro-magnetic pulse from her lipstick to kill the electrics at the show – and go after the villain under the cover of darkness.

Louise O’Neill



Only Ever Yours

Publisher – Quercus

Published – 3rd July 2014

Song – Doll Parts by Hole



I first bought my copy of Hole’s seminal album ‘Live Through This’ when I was fifteen. It, and The Handmaid’s Tale, were my first conscious introduction to the idea of feminism.

“Doll Parts” was a particular influence on my book Only Ever Yours. 

I would sing those lyrics to myself over and over “I am Doll eyes Doll mouth Doll legs” and every time I did so I felt like I was getting closer to the truth of Freida, the main character. I could see how the society in which she lived had made her feel like she was a mere collection of body parts rather than a human being.

Carla Spradbery


The 100 Society

Publisher – Hodder Childrens Books

Published – 4th September 2014

Song – What a catch Donnie by Fall Out Boy



For The 100 Society I listened mostly to Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco. If I had to choose one song, it would probably be ‘What a Catch, Donnie’, by Fall Out Boy. It’s always been an inspirational song for me, as it seems to come from a very real place. The lyrics ‘I’ve got troubled thoughts, and the self esteem to match’ really struck a chord with me, and I would often play this song when writing scenes involving the antagonist in The 100 Society. I would think about the fact that the evil side of this person was fuelled by insecurity, and this song really helped me to think about motivation in different scenes. Nobody truly believes themselves to be evil, I think. Everyone can justify their behaviour, and my antagonist is no exception. They might be wrong, but everyone will always excuse themselves from their own wrongdoing. This song is how my antagonist justifies his actions.

Lisa Williamson



The Art Of Being Normal

Publisher – David Fickling Books

Published – Due out 1st January 2015

Song – We are young by Fun

Check out my review of this book here


 There’s a karaoke scene in the novel that required an uplifting but not necessarily cheesy song for one of the protagonists to perform, and this song popped into my head almost immediately and wouldn’t go away. I like its anthemic qualities. Plus the chorus lyrics really suited the spirit of the scene.

It influenced during the writing of the book. I tend to write in silence as otherwise I start singing along and getting distracted, but every so often I’ll play a song that reminds me of my characters for some atmosphere. It’s a bit like having a theme tune I suppose. I already have one lined up for my next book.

Originally I wanted to use the lyrics in The Art of Being Normal but we had trouble getting in touch with the record company to ask permission. In the end I decided to write my own pop song, inspired by ‘We Are Young’ so I could do what I liked with it. Song lyrics often look a bit silly written down so it took me quite some time to come up with something that worked on the page. I hope it works!

C J Skuse



Pretty Bad Things

Publisher – Chicken House

Published – 1st March 2010

Song – A whole playlist of cool songs!

Click here for the playlist


All of these songs were fundamental in creating the feel of PBT and in pulling the narrative forwards as I was writing it. They’re mostly American bands and as you can see, most of them are quite angry songs. That’s because one of the main characters, Paisley, is quite an angry character, constantly railing against life. The slower, more mellow songs on the playlist reflect her twin brother, Beau, who is the more mellow character.

Check out the playlist above and below is Tales Of Yesterday’s favourite from the playlist!

M G Reyes



Publisher – Katherine Tegan Books

Published – Due out 26th May 2015

Song – New Slang by The Shins



I first heard the song in the Zach Braff film GARDEN STATE. It had a very memorable, wistful twang, felt like the kind of thing that you’d remember if you heard it at a particularly arrestingly emotional experience. I try to bring a filmic quality to my writing – I think young readers especially are so used to processing everything visually and cinematically that to cue those responses by nudging them along in the narrative can be a shortcut to their emotions. So when I came to write this scene I was almost channelling a screenplay. Including musical cues. I’m sure other authors do this!

It influence during! I spent some time finding the right track to have playing on the car stereo during the scene in question. Once I had it I played it over and over as I wrote the scene.

The song plays as a quiet counterpart to a scene where a character suddenly allows a fuckton of repressed anger and guilt explode with literally explosive consequences. It takes place in a very typically Californian location – the Pacific Coast Highway. And the point of view character in that scene realises that she’ll always associate the tune with this calamity. That’s happened to me. I received news that my father had died suddenly while listening to a Mozart piano trio, K496. It was years before I could hear that without recalling with surprising clarity the exquisite pain of that day.

Tom Pollock



Skyscraper Throne Series

Publisher – Jo Fletcher Books

Published – 7th August 2014

Song – Anything by 65 Days Of Static!




Skyscraper Throne was written pretty much entirely to 65 Days Of Static!  Last scene in book 3 was me tryin to capture the feeling I get when I listen to Unmake The Wild Light.


Alexia Casale


The Bone Dragon

Publisher – Faber & Faber

Published – 13th February 2014

Song – If I Die Young by The Band Perry


It has the right feel, the right sound. The lyrics don’t relate to the story at all, but that sort of wistful, sad feeling about the future is spot on. The need to see you’re loved too.

As soon as I heard it once I was writing, I knew it was the theme song for the book. I was at the start of drafting – about 8K in – and it really helped the voice of the book to come together. It’s still my go-to writing song for the book.

I have to have a playlist and theme song to draft a new book. I put the theme song on just before I start writing, when I’m still doing my email and fuffling about: just playing the theme song starts moving my brain into writing mode. And then I play it for about the first 20-30 mins of work until I’m in the right frame of mind for the day. I end up repeating this several times a day when I’ve run up against a stumbling block and need to reset my brain after a break from the book.

Some of the other key tracks I’m using for the book are Cats in the Cradle (Cat Stevens), Make You Feel My Love (Adele), and Say It Right (Nelly Furtado). For me, book playlists have to cover the range of moods that the narrative arc travels through, so they’re usually quite diverse!

All of this talk of book music, has given me a REALLY good idea for New Book! Thank you!

Kerry Drewery



A Brighter Fear

Publisher – Harper Collins Childrens Books

Published – 7th June 2012

Song – Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead



The song is Fake Plastic Trees by Radiohead.  I listened to it a lot while writing A Brighter Fear.  There’s something really evocative about it – the beginning is quite calm and slow,ThomYorke’s voice is quite delicate with acoustic guitar but it builds throughout with a great crescendo but then quietens down in places and at the end.

To me, it’s like its own narrative, with peaks and troughs just like a novel with its quiet moments between two characters then the raise of action and development.  A Brighter Fear was like this, with quiet moments between Lina and her father, or Steve, but sections of bombing and danger.  I think the song is written in the minor key which gives it that ‘melancholic’ feel but still with a lilt of hope at the end.  It’s not the words really, it’s the feel of the music which is quite difficult to explain.  Listening to it would help get me into the right mindset and give me the right ‘feel’ before I started writing for the day.

If anyone asked me what to listen to while reading A Brighter Fear I would always say that song.


 Helen Grant



Silent Saturday

Publisher – Corgi Childrens

Published – 27th March 2014

Song – Boum! by the French singer Charles Trenet




A song which has a special significance for me in relation to one of my books is Boum! by the French singer Charles Trenet. I can’t hear that song without thinking about my novel Silent Saturday, which came out in 2013.

Boum! first came out in 1938 so it’s pretty old now, but it’s very well known in France and also Belgium, where Silent Saturday is set. It’s been used in several films including A Good Year and Skyfall. It’s sung in French but I think even if you don’t understand the words, you can feel the joy and humour in the song. It’s about love and how it makes everything wonderful. One of the funny things about it is that it lists all the noises things make – animals, birds, dishes being broken, wet feet – but then it says that when our heart goes “boom” with love everything in the world seems to do the same.

Silent Saturday is about urbex (urban exploration). The heroine, Veerle, and her friend Kris are part of a group who break into empty buildings to explore. There’s a lot of tension in the book, because not only are the characters risking being discovered trespassing, it gradually becomes clear that someone very dangerous indeed is stalking them through the abandoned buildings.

There’s a particular scene where Veerle and Kris break into a very old-fashioned apartment in Brussels; it belongs to an elderly lady and the décor hasn’t been changed since about 1950. I wanted to put some music into this scene because I felt it would really enhance the feeling that being in this flat is almost like stepping back in time. Also I wanted something quite jolly to contrast with the sense of tension about breaking in.

If the book were set in London it would have been pretty easy to choose something; I can remember all the cheesy songs my own grandmother used to sing, like Che sera sera! But it’s set in Brussels and I wanted the song to be something an old Belgian woman might listen to. I consulted my Belgian friend Tom, and he suggested Boum!

So Kris and Veerle are in this old lady’s apartment and everything is very antiquated. They never damage anything in places they visit, they just explore and enjoy. So they look at all the old stuff and one of the things they come across is a really old record player and a stack of vinyl records. Veerle has never heard of any of the songs so she just chooses Boum! because she likes the record sleeve. She and Kris are listening to the song and she’s laughing because of the animal noises, which are very funny. But unfortunately, the music is loud enough that one of the neighbours hears it. The neighbour knows that the old lady who owns the flat is away, so she comes up to investigate, and knocks on the front door. In an instant, all the fun goes out of the situation for Kris and Veerle; they hear the woman send someone off to get a spare key and they are trapped inside because she’s waiting outside the only door.

I think the song works brilliantly in this scene because it contrasts so sharply with the danger and the panic! And it sounds right for the setting.

The song is on iTunes and also on YouTube. I’ve got it on my iPod and whenever I play it, I think about that particular scene in Silent Saturday. 

Sharon Jones



Dead Silent

Publisher – Orchard Books

Published – 6th February 2014

Song – The Huron Carol written in 1643 by Jean de Brébeuf

Click here for a trailer for this book


When I was writing Dead Silent the sun was shining and summer songs were playing on the radio, but Dead Silent was set about three weeks before Christmas (about now!) around Trinity College in snowy Cambridge. So while everyone else was outside enjoying the sun I was chained to my desk listening to Christmas carols!

The carol I listened to most was one that I’m guessing most people won’t know as it’s from Canada, but I loved how atmospheric and wintry it is. It’s The Huron Carol written in 1643 by Jean de Brébeuf for the Native Canadian Huron tribe.

There’s something about the haunting tune that makes me think of icy skies and mysterious happenings – it fitted perfectly with the atmosphere I wanted for Poppy’s second outing.


Tom Easton



Boys Dont Knit (as an example)

Publisher – Hot Keys Books

Published – 2nd January 2014

Song – Mr Brightside by The Killers


This isn’t a song that influenced me in the sense that it gave me the idea for a plot, or a character, more that it provided the soundtrack for writing two very different books. It influenced the tone of my writing.

I write on the train. An hour up to London, and hour back home. In order to escape from the sounds of people sniffing, or talking, or blasting their own ear-drums with club music or trying to tell me over the PA that the next station has a short platform, I plug in my earphones and drown everything out. I’m lucky in that I’m able to work with music blaring in my ears. I’m a little disorganised when it comes to music and always have a quite limited selection which I tend to play over and over again until I hate it and that forces me to find some new tracks to work to.

A couple of years ago I was working to two separate deadlines for two different books. One was Boys Don’t Knit, a comedy. The other was Seven Second Delay, a sci-fi thriller. I wrote the comedy in the morning, and the thriller in the evening, on the way home. One of the albums I had was the Killers’ Hot Fuss and the song I remember always seemed to be playing was Mr Brightside. If you don’t know it, listen to it. The music is driving and the lyrics urgent. There’s a breathless sense of impending destruction throughout and it was the perfect soundtrack to both books. Though it might seem a little intense for a humorous diary-format book about a 17-year old knitter, I associate the song with the nervousness and increasing apprehension the character feels as events spiral out of control. Seven Second Delay is, to a certain extent, one long chase scene and again the constant sense of impending disaster which builds was complemented perfectly by the song.

I would like to thank all of the authors who contributed and were kind enough to share their thoughts for this post.  Its been really interesting and I have listened to some great music, new music and music I haven’t heard in many years.  Thank you all so much!  A great UKYA list!

 What do you think of the books or music listed?  Have you read any of these books?  Do you think any of the songs fit or suit the books?  I would love to hear from you.  Please feel free to leave a comment by using the reply button at the top of the post or why not contact me on twitter using @chelleytoy

Happy Reading…and listening



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I am often known to be a bit clumsy and a little loopy! Book loving (obsessed), theatre loving, slasher film loving csi geek! Winner of UKYABA Champion Newcomer 2015 and nominated for Champion of Social Media 2016 and Blogger Of The Year 2016! © 2014 - 2021 Michelle Toy All Rights Reserved

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10 Responses

  1. Rosie says:

    This is a great post Michelle, there are some great bands in here too – especially The Band Perry. It always interests me to hear about what influenced authors.

  2. Alan says:

    It is really interesting to find out that authors could be influenced by a song. It also kind of gives you an idea of what the book is like. Model Spy already seems good because of the song the author has chosen 🙂

    This was a really good idea Michelle, brilliant post!!! 🙂

  1. January 4, 2015

    […] Tales Of Yesterday post about does music influence characters or stories in UKYA which you can find here.  I have to say in answer to Lisa’s question on this post the lyrics she created really did […]

  2. January 31, 2015

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