The Sound of Silence

Elaine Everest explains how sound affects her writing.

As a writer I need to have sound around me. I find that I cannot function in silence. Furthermore I am unable to write in silence. I always have the television on in the background while I write. For me it’s a form of white noise. I’m unaware of Holly Willoughby wittering about babies or Jeremy Kyle screaming for a lie detector. However, the moment something of importance hits the screen I am alert and listening. I’ve tried having the radio on in the background – it doesn’t work. News disturbs me and radio phone-ins annoy me as I need to stop writing to join in. I’ve tried playing CDs but stop writing to jump a track or browse the covers – I come from the days when we read LP covers whilst the music played.

Music can help me when I’m writing one of my WW2 sagas. I’ll put a DVD of a wartime film on the television or perhaps play Vera Lynn songs. At once I’m pulled back to the era where my characters would have lived. I’m able to absorb the atmosphere of times gone by. My fingers speed up on the keyboard and ideas flow.

Music also helps with my story telling. Last night I researched a tune that my main character would dance to in the arms of her new boyfriend. It was the last dance of the evening and sadly many decades before Englebert Humpedink would record his ’Last Waltz’.  His words would have been perfect. Instead I spent a few happy hours using YouTube to listen to music from the 1930s. I discovered a lovely song, memorable from happy family holidays at Warners’ holiday camp (albeit with the right words). Goodnight Sweetheart fitted the bill perfectly and set the scene for the start of a long romance.

sea pic


I always find that I’m inspired to write when by the sea. The sound of waves lapping against the shore – or crashing if the weather is rough – is the perfect setting for my mind to wander and stories to evolve. I find a walk along the shoreline, where the only sound, apart from the crashing waves are the gulls squawking up above, clears my mind ready to get back to the keyboard. No wonder my favourite writing retreat is a cottage by the sea, in Whitstable, with my writing friends!

Sounds I cannot work with are summer sounds. I have a lovely garden and always plan to sit outside, when the weather improves. However, youngsters without volume controls, their parents continually chatting on mobile phones and builders erecting houses at the bottom of my garden have somewhat put paid to my plans to write al fresco this summer. Indoors windows are closed against the ‘outside noise’ and I can control what I wish to hear while I write – but it won’t be silence. To quote Simon and Garfunkel, ‘silence like a cancer grows’ and for me to sit and write in silence does not create words.


Please return on 15th May to read what Francesca Burgess has to say about the sense of touch.