TELLING TALES

Mu­si­cian Holly Throsby is weav­ing sto­ries of a new kind. By Cushla Chauhan. Styled by Philippa Moroney. Pho­tographed by Dun­can Killick.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

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.

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