Today we welcome author Kirsten Krauth to discuss her new book Almost a Mirror, and the healing power of creativity and the everyday sacredness of family and friendship.
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ALMOST A MIRROR: Kirsten Krauth
I was sitting on the steps leading up to what used to be the Crystal Ballroom in St Kilda. The red velvet curtained bar downstairs. The St George and the Dragon window. The intricate carvings of goddesses on the ceiling. I could feel the ghosts of the Boys Next Door – later The Birthday Party – who always hung out in the bar. Nick. Rowland. Mick. Tracey. Phill. It was place of such atmosphere, such elegant wastedness, I knew I had to write about it.
The Ballroom scene brought together people who often saw themselves as outcasts from surrounding suburbs, artists, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, fashion designers, into one spot where they felt they belonged. Anyone could get up on stage and have a go. Women musicians were central in the scene for the first time. People could take drugs, smoke, hook up, dance. It was easy enough to get in when you were 15 and many experienced their first concert there.
I’ve always been an 80s tragic… I was a religious watcher of Countdown from when I was four.
I’ve always been an 80s tragic. I wasn’t old enough to experience the crazy energy of the Ballroom scene, where the likes of New Order and The Cure could be seen alongside punk and post-punk bands, but I was a religious watcher of Countdown from when I was four. Moving a lot as a kid, music was a constant, Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 following me around the country.
Nowadays, I perform in a dance troupe called Lady Fun Times: Crotch of Dancers. It gives me a chance to boof the hair, wear leotards and pink metallic leggings, and move like Pat Benatar in ‘Love is a Battlefield’. And not in an ironic way.
I had the idea of writing chapters that revolved around a particular song, looking at the connections between music and memory. The first chapter was ‘Change in Mood’ (Kids in the Kitchen). From that song, my central character Mona emerged, a teenager, naked, being photographed in a studio. She moves out of the frame and guides the narrative.
From then, each chapter responded to the mood, lyrics, video clip and melody of an 80s song, from Kim Wilde to The Smiths to Duran Duran – there’s definitely a New Romantic flavour. The book skips from the 80s to contemporary life, Mona as both a teenager and a mother, what it means for musicians to go on a comeback tour.
I also wanted to look at how art can be used as a way to deal with unexpected grief. After being photographed as a teenager, Mona becomes a photographer and art teacher herself, while Benny is a musician from the age of 15, dealing with sudden fame and its evaporation, before learning to make traditional instruments. As a writer, I use creative writing to move through all kinds of emotions to help work through difficult situations. Often, I don’t realise how close this is to me at the time until someone points it out.
I thought a great deal about the healing power of music and writing, and about how sometimes it takes being completely vulnerable, stripped bare, to produce your best work.
After watching the Nick Cave documentary ‘One More Time with Feeling’, about his experience immediately following the death of his son, I thought a great deal about the healing power of music and writing, and about how sometimes it takes being completely vulnerable, stripped bare, to produce your best work. In that film, the rawness of the music, and Nick’s commentary, is stark and beautiful, completely unlike anything we’ve seen of him as a performer previously.
In Almost a Mirror, though, it is a different Nick Cave I bring to life: as a performer on the stage at the Crystal Ballroom, making the video clip for ‘Nick the Stripper’ in a toxic wasteland.
The other aspect of creativity I wanted to look at was motherhood. I became interested in the dynamic of the mother as artist, and in particular as a photographer. What it means to photograph your children. Do they have agency? Having a son at the time who was so beautiful and tender (still is), I also wanted to capture something of his voice and nature, that intimate dynamic between mother and son that often moves beyond words.
Ro (short for Rowland) offers a counterpoint to the melancholy, a force of nature; sadness moves from centre-stage when he’s around. I guess Mona’s juggle was mine too. How to integrate the intense desires to make fiction while being present as a mother. I’m still working on it …
For more on the book visit @almost.a.mirror on Instagram or search out Almost a Mirror on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music to hear the playlist.
I am lucky enough to have a copy of this waiting for me on my reading pile.
Almost a Mirror Synopsis
Shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize
What we make of memories and what they make of us.
Like fireflies to the light, Mona, Benny and Jimmy are drawn into the elegantly wasted orbit of the Crystal Ballroom and the post-punk scene of 80s Melbourne, a world that includes Nick Cave and Dodge, a photographer pushing his art to the edge.
With precision and richness, Kirsten Krauth hauntingly evokes the power of music to infuse our lives, while diving deep into loss, beauty, innocence and agency. Filled with unforgettable characters, the novel is above all about the shapes that love can take and the many ways we express tenderness throughout a lifetime.
As it moves between the Blue Mountains and Melbourne, Sydney and Castlemaine, Almost a Mirror reflects on the healing power of creativity and the everyday sacredness of family and friendship in the face of unexpected tragedy.
(Transit Lounge, April 2020)
‘Imagine a perfect pop song covered by a hard-core punk band – Almost a Mirror will get stuck in your head in just the same way. A fierce, elegiac dissection of nostalgia, longing and loss, the novel fearlessly explores the true Janus face of art: creation and destruction, rebirth and ecstatic annihilation, trauma and remaking. The poised restraint of Kirsten Krauth’s prose makes everything else out there seem overwritten.’ — Kirsten Tranter
‘Kirsten Krauth is a damn fine writer of amazing insight and empathy. I don’t believe there’s any character she couldn’t get me to empathise with, any story she couldn’t make me care deeply about.’ — Emily Maguire
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About the Author, Kirsten Krauth
Kirsten Krauth is an author and arts journalist who lives in Castlemaine. Her writing has been published in the Guardian, Saturday Paper, Monthly, Age/SMH and Overland. She’s inspired by photography, pop and punk, film, other writers and growing up in the 80s. Almost a Mirror is her second novel. Her first was just_a_girl .
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