Jilly: Sound Effects

Do you prefer background noise when you work, or are you a work-in-silence type?

In the past I’ve created playlists for individual books, finding songs or pieces of music that I associated with particular characters, places or themes. If I played them often enough, they became so familiar that my ears tuned them out and my subconscious took them as a soft signal that it was time to write.

That worked well for me before covid-19. Until last year I was happy on my sofa, writing in my isolated story bubble, because in the rest of my life I was out and about, interacting face to face with real live people and getting my daily fix of human connection.

Now we’ve been confined to home, more or less, for almost ten months, and close personal interaction with others is something we’re exhorted to avoid if at all possible. I have my husband, thank goodness, and we catch up with friends and family via technology, but we’re feeling the lack of variety in our day-to-day interactions, and somehow it’s affecting my writing routine. At the moment I don’t want to get wholly swallowed by my story world. I prefer some kind of pleasing background noise that doesn’t intrude on my thoughts but quietly offers reassurance that there’s a real world out there, occupied by real people.

I’ve found the perfect solution. Cricket commentary 🙂 .

For those unfamiliar with this very British sport, it’s a bat-and-ball game played by two teams of eleven players on a circular or oval shaped piece of grass—usually with a diameter of around 450 or 500 feet. The game is believed to have originated in Medieval England, and it’s mostly played in countries that were or are part of the British Commonwealth, like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, India, and Pakistan, though all kinds of other countries are now getting into the swing of it.

Because it’s such a very old, very upper-class game, it has all kinds of arcane rules and language (a maiden, a duck or golden duck, silly point, a googly, a bouncer). In its longest form, matches are spread over five days, and a series would be (say) five matches of five days each. A match usually starts mid-morning and lasts for around eight hours, with breaks for lunch and tea (those are the official names). If it rains, the players retire to the pavilion until the ground is dry again. There might be breaks of several hours, or even whole days with no play. If it’s too cloudy to see the ball clearly, the umpires will take the players back to the pavilion until it’s brighter. And at the end of all that, it’s quite possible that a game or a series might end in a draw.

All of which means that the tv or radio commentary for cricket works beautifully for me as a writing accompaniment. The commentators are intelligent, courteous, and highly educated. The matches may be fiercely competitive, but they’re so old-school and such a marathon that there’s no place for screaming commentary. Just a warm, soothing flow of observation that has time to wander off into history, geography, geology, the weather, local sights, customs, wildlife, and anything else that catches the commentators’ fancy.

Even better, many international cricket grounds are to be found in spectacular locations. The England team are currently playing against Sri Lanka in Galle, overlooked by a historic fort and fringed on two sides by the Indian Ocean. It looks gorgeous. I’ve been getting a vicarious travel treat every day, and while it’s not as good as a vacay, it’s a lovely reminder of what will (I hope) be possible again soon.

Fortunately for me, when the England cricketers finish their tour of Sri Lanka, they’re off to India. That takes care of my soundtrack for February and March 🙂 .  I’m hoping they’ll help me build up some momentum on The Seeds of Destiny.

Do you like background noise whilst you work? Have your aural preferences changed during the pandemic?

5 thoughts on “Jilly: Sound Effects

  1. First off, I’m intrigued (and a little baffled) by your description of cricket matches. I had no idea they were so lengthy. I can’t remotely imagine an American audience hanging in there so long, or following a sport not designed for high levels of adrenaline.

    As for background noise, mostly I prefer silence. Occasionally I listen to classical music, but rarely anything with lyrics. I’ve often suspected I may be a bit ADHD and anything with words is a distraction.

    That said, I usually create a playlist for each book. This post made me realize I should go back and give a listen to the one I made for The Demon Wore Stilettos.

    • Test matches take five days. There can be periods of high adrenaline, but also periods of subtle manoeuvring with minimal drama. You can get a flavor of the current Test series via BBC Test Match Special (@bbctms) on Twitter. I think the TMS Twitter feed also has audio links that work for overseas listeners.

      There are other forms of the game, though, notably T20, which is the shortest at around 3 hours for a match, very popular, typically with lots more noise, showmanship, and razzle-dazzle. I see that there is a plan to create Major League Cricket in the US based on this form of the game. According to the below article from Forbes, an organization called American Cricket Enterprises has made a billion-dollar deal with USA Cricket to set up a T20 league, originally planned for 2021 though I imagine that timing must be subject to change. It sounds like fun, though I expect it would be too distracting to make a good writing soundtrack.


  2. It sounds like cricket players never get home! But if you’re playing in lovely surroundings, with plenty of rest breaks, maybe that’s a good thing for many.

    I need silence or silence-equivalent to work well. Classical music is fine; pop is not. I bet cricket commentary would work for me, too.

  3. This is so interesting that this works for you! A lot of Japanese farmers (including my MIL and my husband) spend a lot of the day outdoors working by themselves, and they have had a transistor radio (or equivalent) in their breast pocket, merrily laughing away with talk radio.

    I find it a bit disconcerting myself, because some of the laughing is . . . weird. Maniacal. Or there’s one guy who laughs low and loud with an echo-chamber-from-the-crypt sound effect. My husband said it’s supposed to represent sarcastic laughter, but it just sounds like a monster laughing at something that’s not really that funny to humans. I just can’t write to that.

    And I don’t like writing to podcasts. I get caught up in it.

    I do like writing to techno and EDM trance music, but YouTube has started putting commercials in, and I’m not quite sure how to buy that sort of music. (-: I want a CD, but that doesn’t seem to be an option with my favorites.

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