Friday, 21 October 2016

What's Your Iconic Videogame Music?

After Symphonic Fantasies, I found myself thinking about what's the most iconic videogame music for me. What's the music that best represents a game or a franchise I love? Music that I can go back to time and time again and find inspiration as well as good memories.

So, here's a very small selection of gaming music I love. I have put them in order of when I played them for the first time.

Sonic the Hedgehog Three

Okay, that one is super nostalgic. Nothing else, just mega nostalgic. It's like I'm back at junior school.

Resident Evil

I've chosen the 1996 original. When I heard this for the first time, it stuck in my head and never let go. I go back to this score all the time when I'm working on my Ghost!Story series. I chose the Save Room Theme because even though hearing it you knew you were safe, there's still an undercurrent of threat to the piece because the second you step back through that door, the zombies will come for you...

Tomb Raider

I've gone with a piece from 1997's Tomb Raider II because I love it, and I can't wait to hear it live. Nathan McCree posted a preview of how Vertigo will sound with an orchestra and I am soooo excited!!! The Tomb Raider scores were the first I 'owned' because they came on the game discs. I have no idea how I discovered this, but I remember recording my favourites onto tape so I could listen to them on my Walkman. It was the 90s, okay? :P

Final Fantasy VII

It had to be the first Final Fantasy game I ever played because it's how I discovered Nobuo Uematsu's amazing work. Not only can you get amazing orchestral versions of his music thanks to the Distant Worlds and Final Symphony recordings, but also the Materia Collective have put together two fantastic cover albums of music from Final Fantasy VII and VIII. I highly recommend both.

Silent Hill 

I can't tell you how many stories I have written over the years with music from Silent Hill playing in the background. I chose a piece from 1999's original game, because I love those deep, tolling notes. It's quiet, almost soothing, but there's a real menace to it. It's a favourite for sure.

Kingdom Hearts

I am so excited for 2017's Kingdom Hearts concert in London. It is going to be soooo good. I've gone with Another Side, Another Story, because I will never forget the first time I saw the trailer it was attached to. I had just finished the original game, waaaaay back in 2003, and I saw this on a fan website. Remember, 2003 was pre-Youtube. I was totally blown away, and couldn't wait to get my hands on Kingdom Hearts II... which I waited three years for.  All of you Sherlock fans complain about waiting. You've got nothing on Kingdom Hearts fans. *Nothing*.

Also, true story, back when I was at university in 2005, I went into an empty lecture hall, hooked my laptop up to the cinema sized screen, and watched this trailer. It was amazing.

I had to go with music from Uncharted 3, because I love it so damn much and I go back to this score all the time. Yes, it's as cinematic as they say. I just want to sit down and write action and adventure stories every time I listen. And then I want to replay the game :P

The Last of Us

The score is so stark, and every time I hear it, I feel every single emotion of the game all over again. Honestly, if you have a PS3 or 4 and haven't played this game, you need to. You can shout at me later for the feels you will endure, but it is amazing. I've done a lot of editing with this soundtrack lately.

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

This game (or walking simulator if you prefer) is so haunting, and a huge part of that is the music. It's like nothing I've ever heard in a game before and it is beautiful. I love to listen to it and write little scenes or moments. Nothing in particular, just moments or emotions inspired by the music I want to explore for myself.

So, there's a handful of my iconic music. What's yours?

Friday, 14 October 2016

Tips From a Newbie Violinist

I've been playing the violin for almost four years now (wow!). To anyone considering playing an instrument for the first time - do it. I can't imagine my life without it any more. Like I said before, the violin is the one dream I can make come true for myself. So, today, I'm going to offer tips for my fellow learners, and once again tell anyone thinking about starting that they absolutely should.

Most of these tips will work with any instrument. Just remember they come from me, and not some life long professional. Still, I think I can help.

1) Find a Good Teacher. 

Having someone who really knows what they’re doing with the instrument you want to learn is incredibly helpful. My current teacher is amazing. I have been with her for two years, and I know I'm a far better player thanks to her. I do well when I have set goals. And my teacher very graciously plays videogame duets with me when I ask ^_^ You want a supportive but firm teacher - one who can help you develop the necessary skills, pushes you when you need it (hello, double stops), and knows how to deliver good, constructive feedback.


I try to practice daily, although real life occasionally gets in the way. Sometimes I’ll only manage ten minutes, other times (weekends) I can play for over an hour. If you're worried about making to much noise, invest in a mute. I have one for my violin. Makes the poor thing sound like it has a cold, but now I can play without worrying about upsetting the neighbours.

3) Create a Good Routine 

So, when I practice, I usually start with scales. I start with G Major, because I like it :P It's also a good way to make sure my violin is in tune. Then I add in whatever key the music I’m playing is in. Right now, that’s F# Major and Bb Major. I also use a tuning app (DaTuner) on my Kindle to make sure I’m getting each note in tune. It's incredibly helpful if you play an instrument, like the violin, where the note positions aren't obvious. Sometimes I'll throw in an exercise to work on bowing or positions. After all of that, I'll move onto the music assigned by my teacher.

4) Use a Metronome!

...I need to work on this... *cough* Maths is not my strength, so I need a really visual reminder of keeping time when I'm playing. I have a metronome app on my laptop, but I'm thinking of going old school with this. I'll let you know the results if I ever buy one of those beautiful wooden metronomes...

5) Always Pause For Tea

No, really. My teacher tells me to take a break and then go back to the piece I'm practicing to make sure I'm still playing it in tune. Intonation is my major weakness. It's something I will be working on forever. Foreeeeever. So tea :P

6) Have Fun!

After I'm doing practicing music set by my teacher, I play something I love. This tends to be videogame music (surprising, I know) :P It's a lot easier to play music I know really well, so it's a little bit of fun after lots of hard work.

7) Don't Watch Child Prodigies on Youtube

Just don't. They're amazing, but oh gosh I am like twenty-five years older than these kids and I suuuuuuuuuuuuck. That being said...

8) Youtube is a PHENOMENAL resource

Not only do I find violinists like Taylor Davis and Lindsey Stirling super inspiring, there are several tutorials I like to use to help develop things like my vibrato (that wobbly hand thing violinists do to make notes sound really pretty) or find ways to stop CLINGING onto my violin with my left hand which makes everything sound so awful. I particularly like Violin Lab. I also like to listen to performances of the classical pieces I'm playing. It can be very helpful, and very motivating when I have to go a few weeks between lessons.

9) Go At Your Own Pace

You are playing for you. Enjoy it! Push yourself, but don't worry if something is currently beyond you. It will come in time. I only just joined an orchestra after thinking about doing it for years. I had to wait until I felt confident enough in myself to go for it. I also wanted to be sure the level I'm at would make it worth while. I'm glad I waited. It's the push I needed to put in more practice, and now I know other violinists!

So, there you have it. A guide to becoming an adult learner. Any tips you'd like to add? Leave them in the comments!

Friday, 7 October 2016

Concert Review - Symphonic Fantasies

Last night I was fortunate enough to hear not only the London Symphony Orchestra, but also the London Symphony Chorus perform Symphonic Fantasies, a series of symphonic arrangements of music from Kingdom Hearts, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and Final Fantasy. It was magnificent. Sitting there listening to all this music gave me chills. Nothing compares to hearing it performed live. No sound system on Earth can give you the experience of hearing wonderfully talented musicians in person. And when the music is from games you love, it's even more powerful.

The LSO brought such zest to the music. And this was my first time hearing the London Symphony Chorus. They just made everything even more epic. Together with the soloists, Slava Sidorenko and Rony Barrack, we were taken on the most wonderful adventure through the worlds of these games.

I have finally heard music from Kingdom Hearts performed live. What a dream come true. I adored how Hand in Hand swelled with hope, joy and triumph before taking us down into The Other Promise - via a few strands of Sora and Kairi's themes. The orchestra really captured the ache in that music. They didn't lose the whimsy of the series either, or that feeling of being swept up in a grand adventure with big battles.

Oh, and the cello solo for Dearly Beloved just infuses the music with even more emotion. Simply amazing.

And not only did I hear her music, Yoko Shimomura herself spoke to us about her music and how she composes. Hearing her explain how she composed Vector to the Heavens was especially fascinating. She explained how she wanted to explore Xion's unfulfilled life, and if you know the music, you know precisely what that means. I loved hearing how she composed Dearly Beloved  to the sound of the sea, too. It was an honour to hear her speak about her music in such a way.

The Secret of Mana arrangement was such a new experience to me. The choir were astounding. It's such a cliche, but you have to hear it to believe it. They ushered the orchestra in with the sound of a storm. They moved and stomped, and used their voices to create wind, rain, and chaos. I've never heard anything like it. Recordings of this piece simply don't do it justice. The way the choir rises over the orchestra was just spectacular. The choir brought the music to us, and at the end they gently faded away as though the storm has passed. Just awe-inspiring. I haven't played these games in years, but the music was so powerful thanks to such a masterful performance.

Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross have to be my highlight of the entire performance because Scars of Time is such a brilliant piece of music, and the orchestra clearly had a lot of fun playing it. It has the most incredible rhythm to it. I danced in my seat the whole way through. I think a lot of us were! It's a thrilling melody. The violin solo was very, very inspiring to me. Maybe in twenty years I'll be that good. Practice makes perfect!

Then, at last, we came to Final Fantasy. Hearing the Prelude was wonderful - harp and choir together. When I was younger, I used to leave the menu screen of Final Fantasy VII playing over and over so I could listen to this. It's so soothing. And we go from that to BOOM, the battle theme from VII. And the blending of the light and cheery Chocobo Theme with Phantom Forest from Final Fantasy VI worked so well. Phantom Forest is one of my favourite Uematsu compositions, and hearing it blend in with other themes was such a treat. The choir added a level of ominous expectation. You could just picture the ghosts waiting on the train ahead. Oh, and I will never, ever tire of hearing Battle for the Big Bridge live. Never. Or the Final Fantasy Main Theme. It's so uplifting, even when it's broken up with Bombing Mission. Hearing that live for the first time was so exciting. It just brought back all the emotions of playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time. It was well worth waiting for.

Finally, we were treated to the encore, which blended Destati, One Winged Angel and Dancing Mad. Hearing Destati live was so emotional for me. It's such a towering piece of music, and the strings pounded that beat home. Honestly, I sat there with my eyes closed so I could just bathe in the music and let it surround me. It was an experience I'll remember for life. And it led so well into the blending of Kefka's and Sephiroth's themes. I could picture those two villainous titans battling on stage. Hard to say who'd win ;)

Much like last year's Final Symphony II concert, this was a performance like no other. Every piece I heard was like hearing it all for the first time. There were nuances to the music that no recording could ever hope to catch. The orchestra, soloists, and choir brought the compositions to life in a way I've never experienced. It was magical. And I loved how conductor Eckehard Stier leapt and danced around his podium. A magnificent night, one I feel very lucky to have experienced. I'm still applauding you all today. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


Yes, it's that time of the month again. Come and share all the highs and lows of your writing and reading month. Leave a link to your post in the comments!

Previously In Writing

I did something I've been meaning to do for ages - I applied to join the Golden Egg Academy. It's run by a UK publishing house and I'm hoping I'll get in with Conspiracy of Echoes. I'm hoping I'll hear in October if my work's good enough to make use of all their editorial help.

Previously in Reading

I picked up the latest in the Young Bond series, Strike Lightning. It was okay. I do wish Charlie Higson was still writing these. I feel like he dedicated a bit more space to characterisation, which I miss. Steve Cole focuses more on action, which is fine, but I do miss those little quieter moments.

Next Time in Goals

I joined an orchestra!!!!!! That was my goal for the month, and I achieved it! And I had so much fun. My next rehearsal is next weekend, and I can't wait. Of course as soon as I wanted to start practicing more, my violin broke. Thankfully I've had it repaired. Now all it needs to do is stay in tune for longer than a day... although I am learning to tune it a lot faster than before :P

My goals for this month are to continue practicing the violin. Being in an orchestra is a bit of a trial by fire. It's highlighting my weaknesses and forcing me to improve them rapidly.

A Word of Advice 

For those of us without agents, it can feel like that publishing dream may never come true. It's all out of your control. Which is why if you should find a dream you can control and you can achieve independently. Don't give up on writing, but find something else to bolster your self-confidence.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Writing Quirks

I was thinking the other day about my writing quirks - the thing that stamps my identity onto my writing. Kinda like how you can listen to loads of music from the same composer and always hear their unique sound. And I don't just mean the writing itself, but also how I write.

Coffee shop writing is a quirk I think plenty of us share... even though I don't actually drink coffee. Tea or hot chocolate, please!

One of my quirks is my decision to give my female characters traditionally male names. Hayden, Ed, Ryan... In fact, the main character of my recent Ghost!Story series is the only one I've ever had with a traditionally female name - Zadie.

Some quirks I've had to work really hard to stamp out. I used to write really long sentences. I stuffed in as many unnecessary words as humanly possible. Everything was so chatty. My characters never shut up, and neither did I. Going back and reading it now is pretty cringe-inducing. I also wrote overly detailed (and overly complex) fight scenes. Keeping track of everything became impossible. Everything went on and on and on. Yawn. That particular quirk had to be edited out. A lot. Editing teaches you to write more succinctly in your first draft so you don't have to edit so much later on.

Then I have little quirks like making sure I use specific pens with specific notebooks. I am really obsessive about stuff like that. For someone who never plans, and isn't particularly neat, I get very funny about not having the right pen...

Actually, I love writing scenes by hand. I find it so liberating to disconnect from all electronic devices, picking up a pen, and scribbling scenes or ideas or character moments. Sometimes, I'll write an entire first draft by hand and edit it as I type it up for the first time. How's that for a quirk?

Then there's my obsession with good writing music. I find it so useful when I'm particularly stuck to listen to some great music and let the inspiration flow. For me, there's no better way to engage with my emotions than to listen to a stirring piece of music.

So there's a selection of my quirks. What are yours?

Don't forget next Wednesday is Previously day! Share your writing and reading month :D

Friday, 16 September 2016

Old Habits

A busy, messy desk isn't the only sign I've fallen into a few old habits lately. What? A busy desk is the sign of a busy, creative mind! I know where everything is. I just have to move piles to get to certain things every now and then...

Lately, I've been writing what I want, when I want, how I want. One of the best things about not having a major project on the go right now is the freedom to experiment, while simultaneously falling back into my old comfort writing habits.

For example, I love to write at night, in a dark room with really good music. I recently played Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and since then, the score has taken on a new meaning to me. Listening to it and exploring a few ideas is so liberating.

I'm not tying myself down to an idea. I'm trying out different things; writing scenes, exploring character concepts, trying different genres, indulging in a spot of fanfiction, revisiting things I haven't looked at in a few years... I'm having fun. I think after not writing for a while, focusing on what you want to write, rather than what the market may or may not want, is a great way to remind yourself why you love to create worlds and share stories.

What are your old writing habits you like to fall back on every now and then?

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Fifty Years of Star Trek

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek. And, to celebrate, I thought I'd look back over why I love this franchise so much. At least I'm going to try. It's a hard thing to summarise. I'm going to take more of a general look, rather than delving into specific series/episodes. I know this is bound to be one of those posts I look over and remember everything I forgot to put in it.

Star Trek is very nostalgic for me. I grew up with it. Throughout my childhood and teens, Star Trek was on TV every week. More than any other sci-fi concept, Star Trek gave me hope. Instead of worrying that humanity would destroy itself, Star Trek showed us that we can do better. We will do better. It's an inherently hopeful concept. Most other massive sci-fi franchises available to us right now are a lot less hopeful. Here in 2016, we could really use the message of unity and optimism Star Trek shares. It teaches us that diversity should be celebrated. It's a lesson we desperately need to learn. Beyond really channelled classic Trek. It's why I love that film so much. It reminded me of the Trek I grew up with.

I remember sitting down with my family on Wednesday nights to watch The Next Generation on BBC2 in the early 1990s. The first episode I really remember is Skin of Evil, or, as I always think of it - the one with the black ooze monster.

I love this episode. Loooove it. But not as much as Frame of Mind, when Riker's performing in a play in which he's mentally ill... or is he actually in hospital suffering delusions? What's real? What's the illusion? Star Trek does those kind of mind-bending episodes so well. They definitely had an impact on my own writing.

As a little girl, I honestly believed Captain Picard and his crew were up there, on the Enterprise, flying through space. I can recall that sudden feeling of disappointment when I realised it was only a TV show. But it was a TV show I loved. Watching it all again now,  I still feel that sense of hope and wonder. And it is crazy rewatching some TNG and DS9 episodes and remembering them from when they first aired. It's amazing that these stories have stuck firmly in my head for over twenty years. That's a good lesson for a writer to learn; create something a little girl can watch at the age of four, five, six, and still love by the time she's thirty.

Oh, and even Voyager's early episodes have passed the twenty year mark. That's amazing.

The thing that keeps Star Trek relevant, even the original series, is how it takes our problems and transforms them into conflicts with aliens so that we can examine our society's issues from an outsider's perspective. It's not always subtle, and the stories don't always get it right, but Star Trek always tried to make us think. Watching all the different shows now makes that so much clearer to me. When I was younger, I just loved the idea of flying around on a spaceship with a bunch of friends, exploring new worlds and having adventures. As an adult, I find it fascinating how the stories deal with the conflicts we're dealing with today in a way that forces me to look at them from another perspective.

But I also love it when the show straight up throws science fiction at me. If you only ever watch one episode of the original series, be sure it's City on the Edge of Forever. What would you do if you accidentally saved the life of a woman whose survival changed the outcome of the Second World War? Then there's the episode of Voyager when they accidentally find themselves trapped in orbit of a pre-industrial civilisation and not only cause the planet below to suffer terrible quakes, but accidentally impact the world's cultural and technological development. Or the episode of DS9 when poor old O'Brien keeps jumping a couple of hours into the future and realises the station is heading towards its doom. The thing that differentiates sci-fi from fantasy is the idea that sci-fi could happen. And who are we to say these two plots couldn't happen someday?

And speaking of technology, do you own an iPad or another tablet? I remember looking at things like that in Star Trek growing up thinking how amazing and futuristic it'd be to own something like that. And now look at us! How many of you are reading this post on a piece of technology straight off the USS Enterprise?

(Hey, Jaffa, don't even pretend you didn't act like your Gameboy SP was a tricorder. I know the truth.)

I love the characters, and how their differences complement each other. I love how they interact with each other, and how they come together to solve whatever problems face them. I love how real and relatable they feel. I love the culture clashes. I love how friendships develop. I love how despite how different the crewmembers are, and how different their homeworlds are, they come together to form families. No one, in the Star Trek universe, is too different to belong.

That's what I've always taken away from it, anyway.

Oh, and who's my favourite character? Duh. It's Porthos!

I can't pick a single favourite character or episode. Film... oh, I can do that.

But it takes its place in a much larger universe. I love Star Trek because it allows us to see a future for humanity in which we've united and taken our place in the universe. There's not a lot else out there with so much hope for us. I think it's a huge part of why the franchise endures. I'm so excited to see Discovery bring Trek back to TV in 2017, because as much as I love the films, Star Trek is at its best on the small screen where we can really get to know the people and their worlds.

Happy fiftieth birthday, Star Trek. Thank you for always being there. I can't wait to see where you go next.