I am so excited to be part of Minds Went Walking: Paul Kelly’s Songs Reimagined, to be released by Fremantle Press in a matter of weeks.
The book is the brainchild of co-editors Jock Serong, Mark Smith and Neil A White and an exercise in ekphrasis, in which one art form inspires another – in this case, Kelly’s songs inspiring prose. The project was launched with Paul Kelly’s blessing and his front cover blurb is perfect.
I like to see my songs walking around every which way, dressed in different clothes, talking different ways. I wave to them and they wave back.
The songs – to extend Kelly’s metaphor – are dressed as memoir, narrative non-fiction, speculative fiction (from Claire G Coleman with a twist that made me laugh out loud), noir and literary fiction. There are stories of illicit love affairs, two of which – my own ‘Don’t Stand So Close to the Window’ and ‘Five-eight’ by Zoë Bradley – feature men named Tom. Several writers share stories of powerful memories associated with Kelly’s songs. Jock Serong’s ‘The Fastest Ford in Western Australia’ contains frozen prawns. And Michelle Wright’s ‘With Walt’ is in my opinion the best story to feature a pig since Charlotte’s Web.
The invitation to contribute to the anthology came mid-2021. Though I hadn’t written anything substantial for the better part of two years, I’d always longed to have work published in an anthology and the invitation gave me the incentive to get back on the proverbial horse.
My story was inspired by ‘Don’t Stand So Close to the Window’, a song Kelly recorded at least three times, originally on the 1987 album Under the Sun. My personal favourite is the country waltz-style version from Foggy Highway, the 2005 album he recorded with the Stormwater Boys. I aimed to echo both the narrative strand and the mood of the song, also referencing a few things I knew about Paul Kelly’s life.
My first creative choice was to set the story in Ballan in regional Victoria (where my father lived for the last ten years of his life) in the 1950s. Trawling around Trove, I discovered that a football team in the area called the Madingley Spiders had defeated the Melton Bloods in the 1958 Bacchus Marsh Grand Final. I decided that the Madingley Spiders needed to be immortalised in fiction and the story evolved from there. As a creative exercise, it got me out of my writing slump, reminding me of something Cate Kennedy wisely said: ‘The creative mind loves restriction.’
Minds Went Walking: Paul Kelly’s Songs Reimagined will be launched in Melbourne on Friday 18 November at the Church of All Nations, 180 Palmerston St, Carlton by Readings Books. As the event blurb says,
Join writers Jock Serong, Mark Smith, Neil A. White, Lorin Clarke, Matt Neal, Michelle Wright, Angela Savage, Alice Bishop, Bram Presser, Mirandi Riwoe and Zoe Bradley who all met the challenge: what would happen if a group of Australia’s finest storytellers were invited to let their minds go walking through the Paul Kelly songbook?
Like Paul Kelly’s songs, the stories tonight will take you anywhere, and everywhere, and they will keep coming back to you like a cork on the tide.
This event is free to attend but bookings are essential.
I have created a playlist on Spotify of all the songs that inspired the writing in Minds Went Walking, in order of contents. Listen here.