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Beyond a novel and into the podcast charts

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For some it would be enough to publish a novel and receive glowing reviews.

But for Kirsten Krauth, the work beyond publishing Almost a Mirror has extended to turning it into a podcast and after its first week, it is Number 2 on the Australian Apple Music Podcast chart.

Of course, it helps that Almost a Mirror is a novel about Mona, Benny and Jimmy and their elegantly wasted orbit of the Crystal Ballroom and the post-punk scene of ’80s Melbourne.

It is literary material that almost screams for a podcast.

Kirsten won the University of Canberra Stephen Parker medal for the book and this year was the recipient of the Donald Horne Creative and Cultural Fellowship to develop it into a podcast.

She takes us through the journey of moving from published author to podcast queen.

How have you managed the process of turning a novel into a podcast—both the challenges and the delights!

I didn’t know how much work was involved in making one episode of a podcast, let alone a 13-part series. I’m an absolute beginner. But because all my book events were cancelled with musicians, and I had planned to do a series of gigs around the country to launch Almost a Mirror, I thought it would translate well into a podcast showcasing the ’80s songs in the book and the research I’d done by interviewing key musicians from the era.

What came first was the podcast soundtrack and luckily I was introduced to Richard Andrew, who has a recording studio down the road from where I live in Castlemaine (Victoria). We started recording my voice reading chapters, and musicians like Michael Simic (aka Mikelangelo) singing and playing instruments, and weaving them together in innovative ways. It worked really well.

I was hoping to do all the interviews for the podcast in person but lockdown made that impossible. So I did interviews over the phone when I needed to. Starting the podcast, I had about 50 hours of audio and transcriptions so it was a big task to write and edit down to the first episode, just the essence. I’m working on the second episode now and the whole process is much easier as I have a structure laid out and I know how to use GarageBand and record my voiceovers.

The joys have been many, especially collaborating with musicians to see the world of Almost a Mirror move in different directions. It’s been hugely exciting seeing artists like Amanda Brown bring these 80s songs to life in new forms.

On a writing level, it’s been a very different way to find a voice and to create intimacy with a listener. I’ve learnt a lot about narrative, especially by working with sound designer Jed Palmer who can create suspense or excitement or irony through the careful placement of music and sound (or pausing it).

What music do you listen to these days and what do you feel (in your very soul) when you listen to your favourite 80’s songs?

The Almost a Mirror novel is structured as a mixtape of 80’s music with each chapter inspired by a song. As each podcast episode is sparked by a particular song in the book, I’m immersed in that particular song when I’m working or at least music from the same band.

For example, the first two episodes are on Nick the Stripper and Zoo Music Girl by Nick Cave’s early band The Birthday Party so I’m listening to their work, and that of Anita Lane. I think songs work on a subconscious level to inform the creative process.

When I’m not listening to music for the podcast, my tastes are wide. I like supporting Australian independent artists and my current favourite artists are The Broads and Inga Liljestrom, but I’m also obsessed with the album Truckload of Sky, where David McComb’s (The Triffids) unreleased songs have been performed by singers like Rob Snarski and Angie Hart. I think that album is a masterpiece.

One of the podcast episodes is on Wide Open Road and I fell in love with Inga’s voice so much that I asked her to sing a version of this song and to my joy she said yes!

I’m passionate about music and when I work with musicians or interview people from the scene, I can only say that music for me is about an emotional response, it’s about how it feels in the body.

As with anyone, really, music is closely linked to my memories and especially when I was a teenager in the 1980s it was everything to me. Moving around a lot as a child, too, music was my centre, wherever I was. I could switch on the radio or watch Countdown and feel connected.

I’m a bit younger than the characters in my book and I was in Grade Six when Duran Duran came on the scene so for me it was pop and the New Romantics, Cyndi Lauper, who took me into teenage life, until The Cure shifted my thinking.

But I was also very open to all kinds of music and never really understood the need to define yourself completely. I wanted to like pop and punk and everything in between and didn’t understand why I had to seem to take sides to be cool.

How powerful are these melodies, lyrics and atmospherics in your life? And where do you go when you hear them?

I’m not sure I could live without these songs. I see art and music as able to help you process all kinds of emotions, especially grief, as essential as breathing.

I’m fascinated by the idea that a certain song, at a particular point, will always make you cry. I’m not sure if that happens to other people but I wonder at the power of that. When writing Almost a Mirror I listened to the song first and let it lead me to memories, to hidden places, that then became part of the characterisation.

Interestingly for a writer, my focus is not so much on the lyrics when I listen to music. I’m more interested in the mood and how it makes me feel. That’s what I remember. I particularly like songs that take me into the dark and the light at the same time. The Go-Betweens, The Triffids—their songs are melancholy and yet revelatory. Spring Rain captures that all in two words. 

How enriching has it been to weave the soundtrack of your youth into a novel?

While it started out as my soundtrack—the pop of Madonna, Duran Duran, A-ha—the revelation of the novel was when I started looking further into the post-punk scene, The Birthday Party in particular, and the Crystal Ballroom.

It was such a vibrant and culturally rich time for music in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra, and it set me off into a research area that has so much to explore. But I’ve also liked the chance to revisit the ideas and passions of being a teenage girl and how music encouraged friendships and creative pursuits.

The tastes of teenage girls too easily get dismissed. I’ve listened to the playlist of Almost a Mirror hundreds of times and I still enjoy it. I guess that’s saying something!

Why are the 80s so perennially cool? I mean, they bloody just ARE aren’t they!

Great question. Well, I’m an ’80s tragic, but what I love most about the ’80s is it’s a celebration of all that is uncool.

I’m in a dance troupe called Lady Fun Times and we dress in hot pink lycra and leotards and sequins and big hair and there is something wonderful and freeing about that, but also the women musicians of that time were so unique in style and different to one another too. Blondie, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Joan Jett, Siouxsie, Whitney Houston, Chrissy Amphlett, Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, Tina Turner. I loved them all!

Everyone is always drawn back to the music of the times when they were teenagers and in their early 20s, emotions heightened, fresh and excited by love and the possibilities of the world around them.

It’s been interesting talking to musicians, because many of them aren’t so keen to revisit the music from 40 years ago, but for the fans like me, the songs are evocative and visceral, and have shaped the narrative of our lives since.

You can listen to the Almost a Mirror podcast here.


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