Musical inspiration for writing a graphic novel

The Marionette Unit is a graphic novel that was released in the summer of 2016 and as a company it’s our first publication. We are TMU Workshop, an independent publishing company set up by James Boyle and myself, Azhur Saleem and we worked with UK indie comics stalwart, Warwick Johnson-Cadwell to bring our first title to life.

The Marionette Unit is set in an alternate Victorian London, a world where horrifying steam engines — the titular marionette units — puppeteer slave labour in bleak backstreet workhouses. Our story follows Beatrice Shaw as she searches for her missing sister, Melodie who was last seen at a workhouse run by Henri Dubré; a shadowy industrialist who has forged man and machine in an abonimable dream of never-ending efficiency.

This was our first foray into the world of graphic novels and publishing. We both have a background in filmmaking, and our experience in visual storytelling helped immensely, but going from idea to finished publication was a slow process that took almost two years.

I wrote the graphic novel script based off a short film script that I wrote back in 2013. This short was ambitious in scope, but now working on with the illustrated medium allowed us to build on that ambition and really let the world and characters fly.

One of the hardest parts of writing is to maintain the momentum through the long slog of getting words on paper — followed by countless rewrites. That initial spark can only catapult you so far, until the real hard work kicks in.

A useful tool, I find in my writing process is to create a playlist right at the beginning of the process, whilst I’m still excited by the initial spark of the idea. I do this as early as possible. This playlist must sum up the atmosphere that should be present from start to finish. It’s the overall feeling I’m trying to capture through music.

When I’m deep into my fifth, sixth, seventh (and on and on…) rewrite and I’m beginning to lose sight of why I even chose to write the story and self-doubt starts to claw through my mind, having a playlist at hand is a tremendously useful way to remind myself of that initial spark. It helps to redirect my thoughts back onto the right path, that path that reminds me of why I decided to tell this story, warding off any mission creep.

I can’t work to music with lyrics as it distracts me, so a lot of my choices are movie soundtracks or classical music. There’s Howard Shore’s hauntingly atmospheric work from Seven, the electronic pull of Murcof’s work from his album Cosmos, right through to the hair-raising Krzystof Penderecki.

So here for your listening pleasure is the playlist that accompanied the writing of The Marionette Unit, both film and graphic novel script. I hope that it begins to give you a flavour of what to expect in the story. You’ll see below a link to both an Apple Music and Spotify playlist, whichever your preference.

If you have yourself a copy of the graphic novel, why not have a listen whilst reading and let it be your soundtrack as you delve into a thrilling tale of greed, industry and London’s mysterious underbelly. See below on details of how to buy a copy.

A version of this post appeared on our Facebook Page.

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