It's not uncommon to hear writers lament how easily they're distracted from putting words down on the screen when the internet is only a click away. It's too easy, they say, to pretend there's essential research to be done... only to find themselves, an hour later, still wandering about in cyberspace, hand-in-hand with Google. And I'll put my hand up to that: I'm guilty too. But I love it.
I love discovering weird and wonderful snippets of information to gather up and hoard away in a messy corner of my brain on the off-chance that one day they may come in useful. And, without it, the task of writing The Grease Monkey's Tale would have been much more laborious because I don't know a whole heap about cars or the mechanics of them; nor as much about the illegal manufacture of drugs and money laundering as I really needed to know.
I've put myself in a similar position with novel Number Three, inasmuch as the main character is an accomplished pianist and I know sweet nothing about music - more's the pity. Fortunately, this girl is also autodidactic and delights in discovering weird and wonderful snippets of information that she gathers up... so I've now got a ready-made excuse to wander about in cyberspace, hand-in-hand with Google (and her), almost anytime I want!
There's a section in her story where she moves her hands across the keys of her friend's Bechstein boudoir grand, ghosting out the chords of a song, and I needed to find out exactly what those chords were (without knowing a whole heap about music). Twenty minutes later, I'm listening to one of my all-time favourite songs: Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and, on another couple of tabs, I've discovered all manner of discussion about the meaning of the lyrics and the significance of the chords. It's exactly what I need!
Ten minutes later, I'm still on YouTube, but listening to Leonard Cohen - the man himself - singing this very song in Helsinki and London and...
At 76, he's still a stunning performer and he absolutely wowed his Australian audience in Melbourne last year (my daughter amongst them) - creating a new generation of fans and satisfying the die-hards too. While I sometimes think his lyrics are clumsy, with too many forced rhymes (sorry), some of the worst of these songs are also my favourites! They're stunningly evocative and remind me of moods and places and times and friends from my distant past. I can't hear Suzanne without remembering back to a time when, after a party, I was strolling alongside the Thames at five in the morning with a girl I fancied, watching the sun whisk up a new day; nor can I listen to So Long, Marianne or Sisters of Mercy without an olfactory flashback that involves the smell of joss sticks mingled with other sweet-smelling substances. His songs have become a springboard into nostalgia.
However, Halleluja, whether sung by Mr Buckley or Mr Cohen is in a league of its own, and I was delighted to come across it when researching Number Three. It'll get an oblique reference (for those in the know) - C Major, F Major, G Major, A Minor, F Major - and might even get one or two readers humming along or looking these chords up on the internet.
PS. Whether you're a new or old fan of Leonard Cohen, his Live in London album is very well worth buying. Superb.