Musician Holly Throsby is weaving stories of a new kind. By Cushla Chauhan. Styled by Philippa Moroney. Photographed by Duncan Killick.
Singer/ songwriter Holly Throsby is weaving stories of a new kind.
Years ago, when I picked up my friend Peter in my beaten-up Corolla, Holly Throsby’s justreleased debut album On Night was playing on the stereo. “My god, this is beautiful,” he said, genuinely overcome. “I know, she’s amazing!” I replied.
So when 12 years on, Throsby’s debut novel Goodwood lands on my desk, I’m not surprised to learn that the gifted songwriter has turned her hand to fiction.
“I was always interested in writing, and remember winning a short story competition as a child,” says Throsby, 37, during the chat we schedule when her two-year-old daughter Alvy takes a nap. “But I got into songwriting as a teenager and that continued into my 20s, and even though I majored in English, my degree didn’t involve creative writing at all.”
It was only after publisher Richard Walsh contacted her that Throsby’s long-held desire to pen a novel gained fresh conviction. “He just encouraged me, which is all I needed as it turns out. Sometimes it just takes someone else who believes in you and to say keep going.”
Throsby wrote the first draft of Goodwood in just eight months. “I had this very clear deadline, which was the due date of my baby,” she says. Then she put her work into a drawer for 10 months – “being a mother was much more intense than I imagined!” – with the final version polished for publication soon after.
Set in the early 90s, the story centres on 17-year-old Jean Brown, who lives in the fictional town of Goodwood in Australia. Life is fairly uneventful in this small community until two locals inexplicably disappear, leaving the town shaken. As the mystery unravels and secrets are exposed, the story explores Jean’s own complexities – her relationship with her family, her sexuality.
The book’s quiet dreamy pace is undercut by a dark sense of foreboding, and there is a strong and captivating lyrical quality to the prose. “I think my songwriting came through in the book, through repetition in terms of phrases the characters say and scenes that happen near other scenes,” Throsby ponders. “When I think about it, it’s almost like a chorus – the book has a kind of rhythm that people may think comes from thinking in a musical way, but in every other way the process was extremely different. Songwriting is so contained and you’re stuck within melodic phrasing and there’s only so much you can say. I felt this incredible freedom in writing prose.”
Throsby’s immersion into a new creative realm came at an ideal time for the four-time Arianominated artist, who since 2004 has released six albums – including Seeker Lover Keeper (2011) with Sarah Blasko and Sally Seltmann – and collaborated with artists and toured extensively. “I took a very conscious step back from music because I was a bit exhausted by the whole thing,” she reveals. “At that point I thought I probably wouldn’t do music again.” Writing a book was an exciting, unconscious process, she says. The world she conjured in her imagination became the place she visited every day. But while the tale’s country setting, so vividly brought to life by Throsby, is crucial to the feel of the book, it’s not a reflection of her own childhood. “It’s not based on my experience growing up, but as a musician I recorded all of my albums on the south coast and have done so much touring to regional towns, so I think when I started writing my creative world was located in that area,” she explains.
Right now, fans of Throsby’s music will be relieved to hear she’s enjoying a renewed enthusiasm for her former vocation. “Once I finished the book I had the strongest desire to finish all my songs and get back into the studio,” she says. A new album is due early next year, and after that? “I’ll probably start work on a new novel. I don’t really know what it’s going to be about. I used to think I had to figure it all out before I started. Turns out that you don’t.” Goodwood by Holly Throsby (Allen & Unwin, $29.99) is out now.
“AT THAT POINT I THOUGHT I PROBABLY WOULDN’T DO MUSIC AGAIN”
Holly Throsby wears a Christian Dior coat, top, skirt and boots.