Original Prologue

This prologue is from 2015. I have since scrapped the prologue but incorporated elements into the first chapter, but I thought I'd keep it here as a sample of how the book's progressed.


Okay, close your eyes and breathe out slowly…

It’s a cicada-noisy summer night, and I’m at an adults’ party. I like adults’ parties better than kids’ parties, because even though they don’t have chocolate crackles, there are no other kids to take all of the attention away from me. I’m having a relax away from Jack who isn’t at this party, thank goodness, because he’s a boof-headed little pest. Someone gives me a lolly in the shape of teeth. I put it in front of my real teeth so it looks like I have big, white film-star teeth and fairy-pink gums.

My parents tell me that they go to parties because they are young, and want to enjoy themselves and not have a boring life just because they have kids. Sometimes me and Jack come to the parties too, but this time it’s just me. Plus it’s good for us to learn that there are more things to do with your life than sitting at home eating steak and three veg all day long.

Dad says I can stay in the telly room or take a nap in the bedroom, but I don’t want to be by myself; I want to be in the garden with everyone else, so I go outside showing my lolly teeth to all the adults who give me their most twinkly party smiles.

It’s not a rowdy party. Everyone is quietly chattering and happy, and the air makes me feel safe, like being wrapped in a warm blanket that smells of flowers. We sit outside in the dark. People are talking and listening to a black and silver ghetto blaster covered in spots of spilt paint. After every few songs a whispery voice on the radio says “EON FM!” and then they play some more songs by Split Ends and Fleetwood Max. Even without looking inside the house I know there’s a bath somewhere in there full of ice and longnecks of VB and maybe a bottle of Coke. Usually there’s no kids’ drinks at adults’ parties so I have to drink water or milky tea. I’m not allowed to drink Coke because it’ll rot my teeth and guts and brains. We’re at a place far, far away from my home, called the Dandelion Mountains. In the daytime there’s lots of little green frogs here, as well as red mushrooms and fat gumnut babies who live under the ferns and dance and eat cake on the moss.

The people whose party this is are a man and a lady, both with long hair and no fringe, like Dad used to have before I was born. Mum calls that type of hairstyle a bum-part because the part is a line all the way down the middle of your hair and it looks like a bum-crack. She says men with that hairstyle are gormless so she made Dad get his hair cut when they got married.

We’re all sitting in a gypsy camp garden. There’s plants in pots, a fire burning inside an old washing machine, and big cushions and rugs everywhere. There’s vegie patches with all sorts of vegies growing and a flippy-floppy scarecrow protecting them. I can see sweet corn, carrots, mint and yucky pumpkin.

I’m sitting with my legs crossed on some cushions talking to a man. It’s too dark to see his face but I can make out his shape beside the orange firelight. He’s tall and thin, but not thin like a stick, and his hair is a bit spiky on top. The main thing I like about this man is the sound of his voice. It’s not a kid’s voice or a teenager’s voice or an old dad-man voice. He has a kind voice, and he talks slow, not like he’s dumb but like he’s thinking about things. He doesn’t talk to me in that annoying, loud Play School voice lots of adults use for kids. We’re talking about music. I tell him I like Blondie because she has blonde hair and so do I. I like how her music sounds like disco and rock and roll all mixed up together. I like the song about glass hearts because it’s soft like hearts, and sharp like glass, all at the same time. The man says that he likes Blondie too, but his favourite band is The Clash because they sing about very important stuff. I agree with the man that it’s time for funny Beatle maniacs to go away and make room for something new. We talk and talk and talk; and I can tell by the sound of his voice that he’s a good man who knows a lot of things.

When I wake up the next morning I remember that I liked talking to that man. I try hard to remember more things about him, but I can’t. I miss him.

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Melbourne slang 1987 – 1992

The following gems come from my experience growing up in Melbourne's south east suburbs during the late 80s and early 90s. It's 1989 when the narrator of With the Music is 14, so she would have used these expressions to death. Please share your own memories in the comments.

Aggro: to be in a bad mood. Dad was real aggro that Yola got suspended for smoking.

Bag: to talk disrespectfully about a person. Kathleen told me to stop bagging Bert Newton because he's actually a very witty and informative man.

Bible basher: religious people. Some of the boys at Julia's youth group are spunks, but they're all bible bashers.

Bulk ace: something that's really good. Last night's episode of Neighbours was bulk ace.

Bush pig: an uncultured person, resident of the outer suburbs or country Victoria. Lucy has become such a bush pig since she moved to Ringwood.

Cube: a boring person, usually an adult who is so square they resemble six squares stuck together. Mum is such a cube, she won't buy me any Island Coolers.

Dero: short for derelict, someone who's rough. State school boys are such deros.

Drop: to break up with someone. Courtney dropped Con because he didn't have his own car.

Dud root: someone who's bad in bed. Melanie was never sleeping with Todd again; he was such a dud root.

Feral: disgusting and/or unpleasant. Tricia is so feral; she doesn't use Impulse and she listens to Simply Red.

Full on: extreme. Jimmy is a full on bogan; he lives in Laverton and goes to a state school.

Fully sick c*nt: a young male who is considered cool, but a trifle flashy and overly fond of cars. Jason is a fully sick c*nt; he has his drivers licence.

Get with / get on with (past tense is "got"): to kiss someone. I think it was around 1988 when "pash" was replaced by "get with" and you were a pariah if you still used the word "pash". Marilyn got with three boys at the blue light disco.

Go with: to date someone, be it for a day, a week or even longer. Charlene is going with Scott. 

Hanger: a boring kid who follows you around, they were leechlike and "hung off" a group of popular kids. Simone hangs off us all the time and she never has any good stories about boys.

Klepto: short for kleptomaniac, someone who steals things, can also be used as a verb. Tiffany kelptoed my Bros pencil case. 

Mole: a girl who was considered a bitch, the plural being mole patrol. Becky didn't want to go to the blue light disco because she hated running into that mole patrol from the Catholic school.

Palm: to break up with someone. Tara was turning into a clingy mole, so Will palmed her.

Rack off: expression used to tell someone to go away. Rack off, Stacey, you're such a hanger!

Rage: used as a noun or a verb, to party. The after party was a real rage. We raged all night at the after party.

Schitz out: to unexpectedly lose your temper. Mum schitzed out because I got orange Twistie crumbs all over my blazer.

Scrag fight: a physical fight between two girls. Bianca and Marilyn got into a scrag fight after Bianca got with Marilyn's boyfriend.

Skeg: a cool boy into surfing or skate boarding, normally dressed in fluoro board shorts. Angus is such a skeg; I love him sooo much!

Skinner: a younger kid, named so because of their lack of pubes (people had pubes in the 80s). Abbie is going with that little skinner in Year Seven.

So excellent: very good. It was so excellent that Tara got detention cos she's a real mole.

Spewing: feeling disappointed. Gita was spewing she didn't get tickets to the Boom Crash Opera concert.

Splendo: posh, probably owns a yacht. The boys at Scotch College are such splendos.

Spunk: a handsome male. George Michael is such a spunk!

Sux: sucks. School sux.

Tight arse: a person who places restrictions on your fun, or doesn't give you money. Dad is such a tight arse; he said I have to get up before eleven am even on the weekend. I need $50 to buy some clothes from Cherry Lane but my tight arse parents won't give it to me.

Try hard: an unpopular kid who tries too hard to impress. Look at Kim in those try hard fake Converse from K-Mart.

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Main Characters

Dot Kelly is the narrator of With the Music, four years old at the start of the story and in her early 40s by the end. Drawn to late 70s post-punk, Dot is looking for an unknown something, and the music is her only clue. Her shyness is masked by her love of music and pretending to be aloof. Slightly judgemental about things she thinks aren't cool, Dot is intellectually smart, but not emotionally smart. Life seems to just happen to Dot, and she doesn't always make the best choices, so it takes her a while to work out her path. As an adult the things she treasures are olives, the smell of spring in the air at the end of winter, the way her lungs feel after a long swim, her brother's cheeky jokes, her best friend's slang, hearing her father play the accordion, red wine, salami, dogs, cheese, conversations about nothing that last all night, getting tipsy and feeling a connection with someone new, never forgetting her childhood, the inner city, little old workmen’s cottages, the colour green, judging bogans, Dr Ivanskiy’s funny sayings, mod-style dresses, black mascara, tapas, walking through the streets without a destination, the yellow colour in the air before the sun starts to set, little bars and sailing even though she's never been sailing.

Colin Kelly (Jack) is Dot’s brother, two years her junior. Although his real name is Colin, he starts calling himself Jack at an early age (because he likes the name) and it sticks. Jack is a popular and outgoing larrikin, with lots of luck with the girls, much to Dot’s annoyance, as she is reserved and has more complicated relationships. Jack appears to cruise through life and he likes to be the funny guy. As a kid he gets kicks out of teasing Dot, and their relationship of a squabbling yet very close brother and sister duo continues through into adulthood. As a teenager Jack is into skateboarding and Public Enemy.

Gerald Kelly is Dot and Jack’s father. He likes early nights, healthy food, exercise and can’t drink caffeine after 10am. Intelligent and highly strung, Gerald loves Irish music and board games. Despite finding Catholic rituals comforting, Gerald is an atheist. He plays the accordion in an Irish band which, as a teenager, was painfully embarrassing for Dot, but by the time she's a young adult, it’s a source of hipster coolness. Gerald bans Dot and Jack from watching commercial television and eating junk food.  He scrimps and saves to send the children to private secondary schools, and constantly threatens them with the local government school should they be seen to be squandering their education in any way. Every holiday Gerald makes the kids do volunteer work and deducts their pocket money if they get fillings.  He believes in honesty and contribution, and strictly enforces those beliefs on his children.

Margaret Kelly is the kids' mother. She likes tea, knitting, England and researching her genealogy. Once the kids are at school Margaret takes up a modest but steady career in bookkeeping. Margaret and Gerald are a unit, often enmeshed, so their personalities can be indistinguishable. They are known as the Parental Units until Dot and Jack are well beyond adolescence. Margaret isn’t a gambling addict, but she's famous for the annual roulette party she throws. Margaret and Gerald are young parents – both were only 20 when Dot was born.

Caitali Nepal is Dot’s best friend. They meet in Grade Prep and have been friends ever since. Caitali is popular and wild as a teenager and Dot socially lives on her coat tails. Her parents are very strict but never get wind of her antics due to adolescent cunning. Dot and Caitali drift apart a little in high school as Dot is less adventurous, but they become closer again in their early twenties when Dot takes up Caitali’s love of clubbing. By then it’s the mid-90’s so they hit all the Indie clubs, taking turns picking up and getting into mischief. Caitali settles down and gets married, quickly followed by kids, but she still manages to retain a fun life. One of her quirks is she likes whatever slang is popular at the time, much to the embarrassment of her two daughters.

Jordan Gregory is Dot’s first boyfriend and is a DJ at her favourite nightclub. Jordan is skinny, not terribly attractive, weak-willed and boring; but the social status of being a DJ appeals to 21 year old Dot. In actual fact, he's a homebody and just working as a DJ to pay his way through his Commerce degree.  Sick of being single in her 30s, Dot reconnects with Jordan via Facebook and engineers things so they start going out. By now he has a successful career in middle management and his DJ days are long over. Jordan grows into a kind-hearted but rule-loving man, and to Dot he’s just a means of satisfying her status anxiety.

Trevor Cook is an office bogan Dot who has a crush on when she’s in her mid-twenties. He’s charismatic, arrogant, materialistic and not suited to Dot, although it takes her a long time to realise this. Trevor is six years older than Dot, and with a little more worldly knowledge that he uses this to capture the hearts of attractive young women, exaggerating his achievements with the Eksnep Account (read that backwards). He’s a loud, insecure man, obsessed with gadgets. Trevor lives off closing the Eksnep Account, and is borderline alcoholic. Throughout the novel he is slightly overweight, bald, has a silver earring and wears acid wash and chambray on casual Fridays. Her friends are at a loss as to why the style-conscious Dot is attracted to this man, but she’s painfully in love/obsessed with him.

Dr Ivan Ivanskiy is a Kelly family friend and dentist. Jolly, full of politically incorrect sayings, thick eastern European accent and love of Vodka. Many of Dr Ivanskiy’s stories involve him crawling home after a night on the Vodka. Even though the kids see him as daggy and a source of mirth, he speaks four languages and they are taught to respect him. Throughout the story, it is revealed that Dr Ivanskiy went through terrible experiences during the Second World War and is a hero to the older Kelly family as he saved the life of an inebriated Grandpa Kelly who, back in the late 40s, stumbled out of a pub pissed as a fart on the 6 o’clock swill, walked in front of a tram but was luckily pushed out of the way by an equally pissed  Dr Ivanskiy. The two returned to the pub to get even drunker and were firm friends from then on. Following Grandpa Kelly’s death Dr Ivanskiy becomes a father figure to the family, often financially helping out the money-hopeless Kellys. Despite being separated from his original family, Dr Ivanskiy is always cheerful and devoted to the Kellys, who have taken him on as one of their own. Bits of his story are revealed throughout the book. Dr Ivanskiy is someone who overcame odds, a foil to Dot and her “first world problems”, who helps a lot of people, but is largely unseen.

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Dot is not me!

One of the things I've struggled with when writing With the Music is to separate the main character, Dot, from myself. This is all the more difficult when the story is narrated in the first person. Of course there are elements of me in her, and for that reason I found her easy to write about, but I'm trying to make her into her own person. This is only happening in the third draft, but slowly and surely Dot is stepping out of my shadow. At first I couldn't see Dot because she was too much inside me, and then it was just like looking in a mirror, but now I can see the differences between us and she's standing by me rather than in me. One day she will leave me altogether.

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