One of my recent tasks has been to finish writing The Midnight Pianist, a novella for readers aged from 12 years. I wanted to write a story the opposite of many novels – no vampires or were-wolves, no dystopian future – I grounded it in reality, albeit set in 1960, with a shy, uncertain but clever girl aged 14 as the central character – a brilliant pianist torn between life in the country where her heart belongs, and the need to pursue her studies in the city.
The evocative country setting and forays to Sydney in mid 1960 make it a story for all ages: small town life with its backdrop of horses, polocrosse and sheep farming, and for adults, the added memory of Sydney in a time when trams made way for buses, and Col Joye and the Joy Boys was top of the hit parade; the magic of ‘bohemian’ Rowe Street and the remarkable buildings of Sydney such as the Hotel Australia that were demolished in the 1970s.
These days, apart from the obvious changes with electronic devices and the web, life in the bush remains much the same. The Midnight Pianist touches on contemporary issues for younger readers, with Sandra as the girl in the centre of the story who shows her determination and courage in the face of changing circumstances over which she has no control. And beneath it all, flow the rainbow ribbons of music.
It’s 1960. Sandra’s in Second Year High School in a country town. She’s a shy but ambitious piano student, and life is complex with school, music exams, and a concert. Sandra’s got a crush on Nick, who left school after his final year, but Nick doesn’t know she exists. Nick has his own problems with his father’s insistence he take over the family grazing property. Everything changes when she meets Nick at a polocrosse match and there’s a dance. As she gets to know him her dreams begin to merge with reality, not always to her liking. A flood threatens the town and disaster strikes… Finally, Sandra has to learn that everyone has their own stars to seek.
Extract from a letter of support in 1990 from TOM THOMSON, based on an early draft when Tom was publisher with Collins, Angus & Robertson
‘This story is heart-felt, for the young – in the same way that Tim Winton […] has touched on contemporary issues for younger readers with a literary eye for the big story. In this case – young love, creative instincts, country or city options, death and the perception of a future. It is an unusually good book’.
My bid to the Australia Council for a Writer’s Project Grant was unsuccessful and the lid was closed on The Midnight Pianist for many years while I continued to write short stories and later, concentrated on research for my novel Falling Glass. Now the time has come to publish.