How to write a chart hit - by Franz Ferdinand

Key quote "Songwriting, lyric writing, has been seen as the poor cousin of the literary world, but it isn't necessarily the case," - Alex Kapranos

Story in full ONE of Scotland's biggest rock bands passed on some of the secrets of their success to hundreds of young fans yesterday.

Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy, from Franz Ferdinand, gave a one-off session in the art of writing the perfect pop song at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Kapranos, armed with a guitar and a whiteboard, and McCarthy, with a baby grand piano and ageing Yamaha keyboard, gave a blow-by-blow account of how they wrote Auf Achse. They ended by playing Fallen on a stage more used to hosting literary heavyweights such as Doris Lessing or Harold Pinter.

"Songwriting, lyric writing, has been seen as the poor cousin of the literary world, but it isn't necessarily the case," Kapranos said. Scotland's greatest literary figure, Robert Burns, was not a novelist or poet, but a lyricist who wrote songs, he said.

"We are going to talk about the way that we do songwriting," he told the crowd. "This is a very private thing - it's not something we have ever talked about."

It is three years since Franz Ferdinand released their first single, Darts of Pleasure. Since then, they have sold six million albums, won the Mercury and Novello prizes and become one of rock's biggest names, headlining 21 festivals across Europe.

Among the band's best known hits are Take Me Out, which contains the lyrics: "So if you're lonely, You know I'm here waiting for you. I'm just a crosshair, I'm just a shot away from you".

Another popular song is Dark of the Matinee, which features the lines: "So I'm on BBC2 now, telling Terry Wogan how I made it. What I made is unclear, but his deference is and his laughter is. My words and smile are so easy now. Yes, it's easy now Yes, it's easy now."

Kapranos revealed that he started writing songs at 14. "It was about unrequited love, a girl that I fancied that wouldn't look at me. It's an eternal theme of writing," he said. But he refused to talk about his first song, saying it was too bad.

Auf Achse was the first song the pair worked on together. It took its title from a German television series and McCarthy had tried to replay the melody. The lyrics were inspired by a close friend who had his heart broken.

The pair told fans how, after playing their breakthrough single Take Me Out at three gigs and finding the song was an embarrassing collapse, the band decided to run first the verses and then the chorus.

"It's just messing about, putting your hands in different places on the instrument to see what sounds good," Kapranos said. "Most of it is mucking about, coming out with as many ideas as you can and then just be ruthless about it."

Kapranos told of the inspiration provided by books. He said Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, had inspired Franz Ferdinand's Love and Destroy, and the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil. The Arctic Monkeys, David Bowie, the Cure and Kate Bush had all borrowed from books, he said.

McCarthy, who records ideas on his mobile phone, said phonetics were often more important than the meaning of words.

"If you listen to most lyrics, there's words that are really poignant and powerful and then there's nonsense in between."

"It great to see artists as real people, rather than up on stage," Mhairi Threlfal, 17, of Edinburgh, said. Phillipa Hunter, 16, of Dumfries, said: "It was really insightful to see how they go about it."

Lyrics that pop fans loved

• U2, One: "One life, with each other, sisters and brothers"

• The Smiths, How Soon is Now: "So you go, and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry"

• Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit: "I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now, entertain us"

• Bob Marley, Redemption Song: "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery"

• Coldplay, Yellow: "Look at the stars, look how they shine for you"

• Eminem, Lose Yourself: "Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?"

• Robbie Williams, Angels: "And through it all she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection, whether I'm right or wrong"

• The Who, My Generation: "Hope I die before I get old"

• Radiohead, Creep: "I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here?"

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