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01 July 2021

#WriteCBC tip and task from Kirsty Capes

Kirsty Capes, author
by Katie Smart Events, Writing Tips

Welcome to our July edition of #WriteCBC. I hope you’re ready to be inspired by our latest writing challenge! If you haven’t taken part in a #WriteCBC competition before, we’re excited to welcome you to our writing community – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading this blog with information about how to play. It’s a lot of fun, and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses.

Our special guest this month is the brilliant Kirsty Capes, who was awarded the HW Fisher Novel-Writing Scholarship to study on our London-based Writing Your Novel course in 2017. Her debut novel Careless – a dark, funny, feminist coming-of-age tale, which honestly depicts growing up in the British care system – is out now from Orion. The novel has been extremely well reviewed and has been named by Cosmopolitan, BBC, Stylist, Daily Mail, Good Housekeeping and Guardian as a best book pick for 2021.

Kirsty’s tip:

I like to reference music to set the mood of the scene and add an additional layer of meaning or atmosphere. I used music in my book Careless as a tool to tell the reader something more about the subtext of the characters.

By mentioning music, the writer can use two of the tools in their arsenal. The first is that they are deploying a sensory detail: the soundtrack of a scene can help set the mood. Secondly, the writer is playing with intertextuality: by referencing a text that already exists you help shape your reader’s understanding of the scene.  

Read this extract from Careless, paying attention to the way the music reveals and amplifies the protagonist’s state of mind:

After a couple more songs the band finishes and starts packing up and Eshal pouts because she was enjoying it, but then Tears for Fears comes on the overhead speakers – ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ – which is one of our favourites, so we get up and dance, and soon the other people in the bar are up too and we’re all dancing with one another and it’s beautiful, and for a moment I forget that I’m pregnant and that sometimes in my bed at night I’m too scared to move a single muscle, listening to the parakeets, trying to find the faces in the paint, my fingers all clawed up, as if the slightest movement will make the house fall down around me. And then it’s the bit where Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith are really going for it with the chorus, me and Eshal look at each other and basically scream the words at each other and I’m not thinking about being too afraid to move now because we are here, in this moment, alive, with all our fingers and toes and our minds and each other and really, that’s all that matters.

In this dynamic scene Kirsty expertly contrasts her protagonist Bess’s worries (being pregnant) with the carefree setting of the bar. The ’80s pop song that is playing heightens this further. Kirsty juxtaposes the stillness of Bess being alone with her thoughts with the exuberant action of dancing with her friend and anonymous others in the bar. The lyrics of the song also complement Bess’s feelings. With this song choice Kirsty shows us that Bess is one of many people dancing, struggling, forgetting their worries, wanting everything to be okay, wanting to seize the moment, wanting to ‘rule the world’ – despite the barriers and constraints of her situation.  

Notice also how the music is referenced with a light touch – just the band, song title and a nod to the chorus – we don’t need to read a lavish description of the music and long quotes from the lyrics for this reference to be impactful.

Kirsty’s task:

Your character is waiting for someone. There’s music playing… Who is your character waiting for, and where and why? Will they turn up? Show us as much as you can in your mini-scene, and use the music to enrich the scene further.

A few things to think about:

Setting: Where is your character waiting? Perhaps they are in a café or bar; a waiting room or reception area; an airport or train station; at home. The setting will help allude to whom they’re waiting for and why – a date; an appointment; a reunion; a confrontation.   

What’s playing? Does the music match the scenario? Does the stereotypical atmosphere set by the music contrast with or complement your character’s state of mind? Remember, you can reference the music with a light touch: you don’t need to quote a long stream of lyrics or describe the melody in copious amounts of detail. A little goes a long way with sensory details – make sure you use them to show us something about the scenario and what your character is feeling.

Expectations: When you’ve set the scene and the atmosphere, think about subverting or playing with the reader’s expectations. If your protagonist is waiting anxiously in a dimly lit bar with romantic music softly playing in the background, we might assume they are worried about being stood up on a date. How can you play with this familiar setting to surprise the reader? Maybe it isn’t a date? Or perhaps they’re preparing for a breakup? Keep the reader hooked by doing something unexpected.

We can’t wait to see how you use music to enrich your mini-scenes! Please do share them by tweeting us (@cbcreative).

Get your hands on a copy of Kirsty’s brilliant debut Careless.

This month’s winner is… Alice @azjzs

My sister stomps up and down the hall playing Silent Night on her recorder, with absolutely NO REGARD for my pre-date nerves. Honestly I can barely think as I put lip gloss on but I wait by the door anyway. I’m not risking the pied piper or Mum introducing themselves.

We were completely charmed by Alice’s scene of pre-date nerves. This scene is warm and funny as it perfectly depicts familial embarrassment and playful sibling rivalry. We can hear that squeaky recorder now, setting us on edge!

Congratulations, Alice has won a free place on the six-week creative-writing course of her choice!

Well done to our runners-up!

@Jennipatsi and @marthamaylittle both win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice.

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