Creating characters through music and food - a pasta tetrazzini that could have figured on my first novel

There are a lot of authors who can't write with music playing in the background, as it will break the levels of concentration and focus. I'm the exact oppposite. I immerse mysel in music so much - I think my major frustration, even more than not being able to draw and paint, is not being musically gifted! - I enter a trance like state. It's good for my writing, or at least it's complimentary, as wen I'm writing I also tend to get into a sort of trance. I always have to have music playing, whenever I'm immersed in my writing. And not any old music, nope. I'm very particular about it, as it needs to help set a specific mood so I can write in that certain mood. It's complicated, sometimes it takes me longer to find the music I want to listen to while writing than the writing itself, but usually I write to the same set of songs for the whole of a novel. Like on 'A Study for Love' I wrote a lot to the sound of Lana del Rey, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and some doom metal. It helped set the mood for the characters, mainly, even though their personal musical tastes were different, Sebastian was into Pearl Jam, Camila liked Red Hot and Alice and Chains.

For 'Unnatural', on the other hand, I listened to a lot of Loreena McKennit, specifically 'Book of Secrets', as there's even mention to one of the songs somewhere along the novel. I also listened to Saor, and some other athmospheric black metal bands, because they did set the mood. There was also something else on repeat the whole time, Him's first two albums, that helped inspire some sort of ambiance in certain parts of the narrative. As for the yet unpublished 'Preternatural', I had Myrkur and Darkher on repeat like mad, as well as 'Draconian'. The contents of the novel begged for that kind of mood, I guess. At least I felt like it was what I needed to immerse myself in, musically speaking, in order to set myself the pace. As for the last leg of the trilogy, which I am still working on, 'Supernatural' has seen one song on repeat above everything else, 'Don't Fear the Ripper', because it is also featured somewhere along the narrative, and it makes so much sense. Along with other stuff, of course.

But the truth is that my need for music in my writing does not end there. I usually make mental lists of my characters' favourite bands and songs, even if I never mention them in the novels. I did on my first one as a part of a conversation between an impending couple, it's the kind of stuff people end up talking about, their favourite bands, or books, or films. On my current works, every character has specific types of music they like best, bands they favour, even favourite songs. For instance, Blanche, despite having lived in Nola for ages, doesn't quite care for jazz, she likes Metallica and Motörhead better. Her favourite song is 'Untill it Sleeps' and never in the books do I ever come out and say it. But it helps me create her character, it helps me know her better, because there's a reason that's her fave song, it has to do with her life. Raphaël, on the other hand, has lived in Nola for nearly as long and loves jazz. I never say it, either. But he does co-own a restaurant where jazz bands play live music.

I think that, as much as the way characters dress - and there's a loooot of people who find the description of a character's attire example of very poor writing - the music they like tells a lot about them, at least i my head. Helps me construct said character and individualise it from others. Like Sasha, for instance, she's the only character who I name favourite bands for along the trilogy. I have Ruth, her best friend, tell Rune she likes things like Bauhaus and Fields o the Nephilim. That sets, as far as I am concerned, the stepping stone for a lot about Sasha and her personality, along with the way she dresses, her skimpy tigh clothes, or the way she chooses an outfit according to who she's going to be with. Same goes for other characters. There's one girl who likes to wear tight jeans, up to the knee boots, shirts and blouses with vests over them and redingote coats. Reminiscent of riding habits. She also likes Debussy and Tchaikovski. And I also find that food helps me sum up those very same characters as well.

In 'A Study for Love' Camila likes food, she has even frequented cooking workshops. She's a bit on the plus size, as well, but she used to be a lot slimmer. As her storyline evolves, we find out she has this thing for Italian food - goes out to lunch at Italian restaurants, cooks up pastas and pizzas - and we can assume she has somewhat turned to food as consolation for something (at least I d hope readers assume this much!). As a way of dulling some pain or other. Sebastian, on the other hand, doesn't care a toss about food and finds his comfort in drinking. Juliet, being a staple of Brittishness, likes take out and English Sunday roasts. As for my vampires, they like blood - duuuuuh! - and food as well, but Rune for instance, hates tomatoes and loves apples, while Sasha loves cheese. But there isn't a character of mine who likes Italian food as much as Camila Roeberg and because of this, whenever I cook a pasta dish I am always taken back to her and the first time she fed Sebastian a bowl of pasta. This Pasta Tetrazzini is my sort of homage to a character I myself have created. Couldn't be any less humble, could I?

Here's the recipe, loosely adapted from Jamie Oliver's Spaghetti Tetrazzini:

  • 250 gr turkey breast, cut into medium pieces
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • a handfull of dried jew's ear mushrooms (auricularia judae)
  • half a pack of pasta - choose whuchever you prefer, I used penne and farfalle
  • a generous glass of white wine
  • a pack of cream
  • one can mushrooms
  • 50 gr grated parmesan or grana padano
  • salt, pepper, thyme and nutmeg
Turn on the oven at 180º. Put the dry mushrooms in a bowl and cover with boiling water, let them sit there seeping. Now season the turkey with salt and pepper. On a large frying pan pour some olive oil and brown the turkey gently in it. Strain the mushrooms, and add them to the frying pan, reserving the soaking water. Now add the garlic and the canned mushrooms and let them fry a bit, seasoning with the thyme. Add the white wine and the soaking mushroom water and turn the heat down. Let it simmer until the turkey has cooked and the wine reduced a little. On a large pan bring water and salt to the boil and cook your pasta of choice. Strain. Add the cream to the turkey and muhsrooms and then the pasta, tossing all together. Add half the grated cheese and stir well, pour onto an ovenproof baking dish, sprinkle with half of the remaining cheese and let it bake until it's golden and bubbling. Bring it out, sprinkle the rest of the cheese over it and serve. Goes well with light white wines, chilled to perfection. It also goes well with reds, I particularly like the Touriga Nacional for this kind of dish, but wouldn't say no to a Syrah, either.