News on ‘The Road to Samangan’ – the Story of an Afghan Family

I’ve had quite a few queries about my novels which make up The Midnight Pianist trilogy.  No, there is not a Book 4 in my mind.

Why? Because in early 2016 I also agreed to help with the history of an Afghan family who live in Pakistan as refugees since the Russian invasion and continuing conflict in their country. This during the completion of my novels Playing with Keys (2016) and Song for Emilia (2017).

Meanwhile I received frequent small texts by Messenger from the main author, translated from grandparents’ and parents’ stories of their lives in Afghanistan from the 1920s until it all began to go wrong in the 1970s.

The remarkable side of this endeavour is that the two writer brothers simultaneously graduated from two years at college (pre-engineering and pre-medicine) then worked on the farms until dark, translating the book into English past midnight so as to keep me busy!

Events since early 2018 have slowed the work considerably. 
But ‘The Road to Samangan’ – their province of origin – will be finished one day, and what a fascinating story it will be, told in the words of the family and two authors with little change, and a sprinkling of present day vignettes.

I’ve kept this post deliberately a little vague, until we get further along this long and difficult road. 
‘Tal kvshala osey’ – Be happy always.

Song for Emilia – excerpt


Sandra remembered it clearly – that fantastic summer day in 1962 when Nick arrived in Sydney to enrol at university. She’d watched for him from the lounge room window, just as she used to watch for him through the curtains of her upstairs bedroom in the Curradeen bank, on his regular Saturday trips to town from the family property.

At the end of the long drive to Sydney, at last he’d turned the corner into her street, swinging his dusty ute to park at the kerb in front of her house. He slammed shut the ute door, brushed a hand over his hair before clamping on his felt hat and strolling to the front door – ajar on this hot, sticky day.

As he raised a hand to knock, her heart skipping a beat, Sandra reached the door first. Almost sixteen and feeling brave, she’d said hello and kissed his cheek, delighted to have his quick kiss on her forehead in response. Old friends . . . but hadn’t Nick invited himself to visit her? It had been her mother’s idea to invite him for lunch.

She had led him through the house to the back garden where the family sat in the shade of an old tree. Nick Morgan – hers for today, and she knew that it was herself that he’d come to see. Wasn’t it?



Two years later, the first day of her Bachelor of Music degree: as Sandra crossed Macquarie Street and walked past the tall, imperious bronze rider on horseback, she could hardly believe her footsteps were taking her to this building. At the front, four crenellated towers built like a castle – the castle of her dreams – this was the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Where the road divided, to the left it wound beneath trees to Government House and the Botanic Gardens, and to the right . . . well, that was the Conservatorium, object of her ambition for so many years. Her fire for performance had fizzled . . . but the fire to compose burned stronger than ever.

The first time Sandra played in concert, she had been overwhelmed, but managed to complete the performance of her composition to the professor’s satisfaction. Tutors encouraged her, ‘Talent, hard work and lots of luck,’ they insisted. And passion, dedication! Sandra knew she had plenty of that. She’d learned to enjoy playing piano in ensembles – composing for the students with their violins and cellos.

By now, Nick was almost halfway through his degree in architecture at Sydney Uni. How many times have we met in those two years? Working it out, she ruefully calculated, makes a total of four or five times a year, plus an occasional lucky phone call from the university college.

Hardly a boyfriend . . . but she was sure Nick didn’t have anyone special. Even though he was five years older, if he was seeing another girl he wouldn’t spend any time at all with her. So what did five years matter?

One of those lucky telephone days, she’d hear Nick’s voice on the phone with surprised delight:

‘G’day, Sandra.’

‘G’day,’ she’d reply, trying not to giggle. Holding the receiver close to her ear, she’d hear his breath in the phone as if he considered what to say. Usually a suggestion to meet somewhere: coffee at a café, a stroll through the Domain to the Art Gallery. Or after the pictures, they’d go down to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in Woolloomooloo for a pie and mushy peas. They’d sit on the edge of the wharf, feet dangling over the water, revelling in the city lights, the slap of waves against the pilings; their freedom.

Since Sandra had first shown Nick the treasure of Rowe Street’s arty shops and galleries, the wonderful bookshop and Rowe Street Records, they’d sometimes met at the Teapot Café. But the café had closed so now they went to the Galleria Espresso, a popular coffee shop for artists, and more comfortable, they agreed, than the Teapot’s iron chairs. It was always busy, the walls crowded with paintings, many for sale – painted, they supposed, by the art students that came for coffee, or to sit reading for hours.

Who said that life was measured out in coffee spoons, she wondered, stirring another lump of sugar into her coffee.


The Korean War: from Playing with Keys

How did it all begin?  The Korean peninsula is a hot topic in the news right now. The Korean War began in 1950 and ended with a ceasefire in 1953. Being curious, I decided to write it into my novel set in 1961. Here’s a little chapter:

In the quiet of evening after dinner, Sandra went to look for her father in the garden. Since Meredith told her a little about William going to the Korean War, disturbing thoughts had plagued her. Why didn’t anyone talk about the war – wasn’t that the best way to make sure it never happened again?

She found him seated beneath the peach tree. The warmth of the spring day had passed with sunset and he was stretched out on the garden seat, puffing on his pipe. He shifted along to make a space for Sandra.

‘This is very pleasant,’ he said. ‘For once we don’t have to drive hundreds of miles for Christmas, and . . .’ he breathed out a stream of smoke, ‘I can watch the tennis at home.’

A smell of newly mown lawn filled the garden; an occasional drift of tobacco. Sandra kicked off her sandals and dug her toes into the warm grass. Should she let her father know that Auntie had told her all about William . . . but how else to begin?

With a glance at her father, she said, ‘Dad, can I ask you a question?’

Don smiled. ‘You can ask me anything you like, you know that.’

‘Auntie told me she had a friend called William who went to fight in the Korean War—’ She hesitated and Don pre-empted the question.

‘So Meredith’s told you about William, has she? Your mother says there’s a photo of him in her bedroom.’

‘I asked Auntie about the photo and she told me about how they met, because she said it was like me and Nick and how we each had to say goodbye . . .’ She rushed on, before words failed her. ‘She wanted me to keep the story of William a secret—’

‘That sounds like your Aunt Meredith. She can be melodramatic at times. Still, it was all pretty shocking. Your mother doesn’t know the full story – she never approved of how Meredith ran off – but the last couple of years she’s swept it under the carpet.’ He continued to puff on his pipe.

This was going to take some digging. ‘But Dad, if William came home and the Korean War ended not that long ago, why doesn’t anyone talk about it? I’ve never heard anything, even in school.’

‘It’s a mystery to me. I can only think perhaps it was too soon after World War Two. Around 40,000 of our forces died back then – that’s a huge loss for a country of only seven million or so. In the shadow of that global war, maybe people didn’t see the Korean War as a real war.’

‘You’ve never said anything either. So if it wasn’t a real war, tell me what happened?’

Don didn’t immediately speak as he considered where to start. It was true that no one seemed to talk about the war these days, least of all Meredith.

‘Well . . .’ he began. ‘Since 1910 the Empire of Japan controlled all of Korea, but after Japan’s defeat in 1945, America, with Soviet agreement, divided Korea into roughly equal halves at the 38th Parallel—’

‘Auntie told me that.’

‘All right, so you know all about it?’

‘No, sorry, Dad.’

‘Then don’t interrupt when I’m trying to think. In the south, the new Republic of Korea was supported by America, and in the north, the Korean Democratic People’s Republic, supported by the Soviet Union. By 1949 both the Soviets and Americans had withdrawn their armies—’

‘She said it was complicated.’

‘That’s true. The story goes there was a civil war when thousands of Koreans died fighting each other. There were supposed to be elections within a year to unify the country, and although the United Nations declared the Republic of Korea in the south as the only legal government, in 1950, with Soviet and Chinese back-up, North Korea invaded the South to try to bring the entire country under Communist rule.’

Don paused as he struck a match to relight his pipe. ‘South Korean forces and the American forces that rushed to help were pushed down towards the southern tip of Korea. It wasn’t looking good, so the United Nations called for international support—’

Sandra resisted a comment that Auntie had also told her this. Instead, she said, ‘Is that when William volunteered?’

‘Hold your horses, I’m getting to it . . . Menzies announced we’d send troops, along with Britain and New Zealand, to fight under British command. He was afraid the commies would infiltrate the trade unions and the Labor Party – the so-called Reds under the Beds. Menzies was very against the Communist Party of Australia and dead keen on Britain testing bombs in the middle of Australia. It was very divisive.’

‘I have heard of Reds under the Beds.’

‘The United Nations gave command of the troops to Douglas MacArthur, the famous American general, and together with the South Koreans, they pushed the North Korean army through the mountains and right up to the border with China. That certainly put the cat among the pigeons and the Chinese invaded – an enormous army that pushed the U.N. and South Korean troops all the way down south again.’

‘Did William talk to you about it?’

‘When he eventually came home . . . the only time we spoke together. After that day I didn’t see him again. We sat over a beer or two, and while he was talking, his hands shook so badly that his glass rattled on the table. He said at night they could hear the Chinese communicating with whistles and bugles, and it was terrifying because they knew what was coming . . .’

For a moment, Don didn’t speak, then he said, ‘Think of it, Sandy, thousands of Chinese – wave after wave charging with mortar and rifle fire, some of them carrying only buckets of grenades. The way William described it – my god, the hand-to-hand fighting—’

‘Did William fight like that, too?’ She held her breath, afraid of the answer, regretful that she’d wanted her father to explain the war.

‘I have no doubt, William too.’

While Don drew on his pipe, Sandra picked idly at a paint bubble on the garden seat. Over the back fence, she heard the murmur of their neighbours’ voices, the chatter of birds as they settled for the night in nearby camphor laurel trees.

‘If General MacArthur was so famous, how come the fighting was so terrible?’ she asked.

‘Macarthur wanted to take the war from North Korea into China. He wanted to use the bomb, but President Truman worried it would lead to world war three – Russia had tested an atom bomb in 1949, China had gone Communist – so in 1951 Truman sacked him.’

Sandra rummaged in her brain for something to say. Her father had painted a frightening picture of a remote war that had dragged people like William away, then sent him home, only to inexplicably vanish from Meredith’s life. She felt compelled to ask, ‘What happened after Macarthur got the sack?’

‘Fighting went to and fro till the armistice was signed in 1953, and Korea remained cut in half at the demilitarized zone. We lost over three hundred Australians, but thousands of Americans died – there’s still no final count, even today. As for the Chinese and Koreans, who knows . . . a million or more? And the poor civilians trying to escape the bombing and strafing, nowhere to go, everything destroyed.’

Her father’s story was getting worse and worse. Sandra wiggled her toes in the grass, finding comfort in the simple barefoot pleasure. ‘Can you tell me more about William?’

Don frowned into the bowl of his pipe. ‘He was pretty cut up. I don’t know how those blokes managed after the war – after any war. He told me that one day American planes accidently dropped napalm – that’s jellied petrol – on some Australian troops. He saw their terrible burns. Two men died that he knew of. A mistake, for god’s sake!’

Silence settled over the garden seat, Sandra’s head a muddle of ugly thoughts. ‘Auntie didn’t tell me anything horrible like that. All she said was William came home after the armistice. So how come we don’t see him, ever?’

After a long pause, Don said, ‘You asked me about the war . . . as for William, I think that should remain Meredith’s story. If she wants you to know, she’ll tell you.’

He puffed on his pipe and it gurgled unhappily. ‘The borders on either side of the two and a half mile-wide DMZ are probably the heaviest fortified borders in the world.’

Dissatisfied, Sandra continued picking at the paint bubble, turmoil in her mind. She heaved a breath, asked: ‘How do wars happen, Dad? How do people get like that?’

Don took her hand, held it loosely in the warm evening. ‘Power, greed . . . possession. Religious beliefs. Trade. Lots of theories, dear, lots of theories. And people become swept up in the conflicts and lose sight of themselves. Strange things happen – a couple of months ago, East Germany built a wall overnight, right around West Berlin – it’s hard to understand sometimes. So we’ve still got the Cold War but perhaps that’ll be a balance between the great powers, and perhaps this time, Neville Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” might last.’

Sandra could hardly see her father, close by in the fading light; the rare comfort of his hand holding hers. The Cold War didn’t mean anything to her right now, or Chamberlain, whoever he was. Not tonight. She tried to blot out the picture of men rushing at each other, filled with furious efforts to kill, terrified of dying. William among them . . . his face from the photograph.

Tomorrow was her music exam. Concentrate on that now.

I hope that helps answer your question?’ Don tapped his pipe on the garden seat. ‘We’d better go in before the mozzies find us, eh?’


Oh, the irony of Don’s recollection of ‘peace for our time’

Publisher’s response, a great achievement: Song for Emilia

‘Song for Emilia’ is the final book in the trilogy, ‘The Midnight Pianist’ and Playing with Keys’.

Tom Thompson of ETT Imprint writes:

You have completed a quietly considered but great achievement with this trilogy, found a way to keep interest in multiple characters , explored a long impending love story, that traverses the big issues of aloneness and loneliness of bush life vs the inner city glare.

It does work: the core of the book, the middle chapters, are very touching with something like Russell Drysdale’s archetypes living on the edge, on the lonesome parched verandahs. The Morgan’s dignity and sadness …  are very well handled indeed.

The love story works, and you have been very careful in exposing it without an excess of emotional rendering, so it is very believable (as indeed, Sandra wants to believe). The alternate love story of Billy is nicely delivered, taking the reader up that garden path of novelty/naivety, first passions.

Song for Emilia is expected to be published later this year.


Seniors News article: Julia Osborne – a complex spice mix

Belinda Scott

27th March 2017

If Julia Osborne was a food, she would be a complex spice mix.

The Nambucca Heads based author and artist is a mix of peppery and mild, tangy and tart.

She thinks people who don’t join social media are missing out on the modern world, but she likes to live in old houses and has renovated three in order to restore their original features.

She is keen to publicise her work , but is fiercely protective about privacy.

“I don’t want to be a predator who copies people into her writing,” she said.

She travels widely, but does not own a car; has lived for years in the country but thinks of her self as a city girl.

A sharp observer, she can be very funny about some of the reactions to her work.

At one literary event, a reader of her story Dogs, said, “you must have shot dogs yourself to be able to write that”.

“I wish I’d been quick enough to say; ‘wait until I write about a murder’,” Julia said with a wicked grin.

One of her favourites was the reader of one story who complained of “foul language and explicit sex” to a puzzled Julia, who said there was actually very little sex in the piece, but one hilariously vulgar character.

“That’s terrific – can I put it on my website?”, was Julia’s response. And she did.

“I read a lot of erotic fiction which is [often] technical and boring,” said the author, who found it was fun to write sex scenes from a man’s point of view in her self-published novel Falling Glass [pub. 2002].

Teaching herself to play complicated classical pieces on the piano was her solace in dark and lonely days, but she has given away her piano because seaside Nambucca Heads was not the best climate for the century-old instrument.

Music is central to her latest work, a trio of coming-of-age novels which takes two girls through their teenage years in a country town, into the city and into adulthood.

A slow and careful writer, Julia said she changed her style to write The Midnight Pianist, intending it as a stand-alone novel for younger readers.

Two things changed her mind.

Readers told her they wanted to know what happened next and senior readers began borrowing the book, causing librarians to shift it into the adult section.

Older readers relish the 1960s setting, as well as the nostalgia of a childhood in an Australian country town.

“I hadn’t intended to write Playing with Keys,” Julia said. “I spent several months entertaining myself with writing letters in different voices.”

She found she had the bones of a sequel and Playing with Keys was published in 2016.

Readers still wanted more, so she has written a third book, Song for Emilia, which is now with the publishers and due in book shops some time this year.

“I said: all right, I’ll throw everything into it,” Julia said.

The slim books are simple but memorable. “I sweat a lot, trying to write well,” she said. “I’m a bit allergic to big, thick books.”

Many of Julia Osborne’s short stories and plays have been published in periodicals or produced on radio.

At one point she had stories in both literary quarterly Meanjin, lad’s mag Penthouse, and the Women’s Weekly at the same time.

The Midnight Pianist and Playing with Keys are available through bookshops and libraries and are also available as e-books.


Published by ETT Imprint in association with Paper Horse Design & Publishing.

An Autumn Message for Playing with Keys

I have been neglecting readers who follow my news, and I must apologise.

My Facebook writers page has been busy, which is hardly an excuse.

Playing with Keys is sailing along very nicely with a lot of interest, 2 interviews in local newspapers and one to come via the regional Seniors paper. There’s a lot of interest as usual from baby boomers, revisiting their connections with country towns, a touch of romance and the difficulties of moving from the bush to the city, which many experienced.

Average age for younger readers seems around 15, and very good feedback. We have n idea what life was like in the 1960s, they tell me. Read on!

Song for Emilia, the sequel and final book in the series, has in layout stage and a cover is being designed – this my Paper Horse Design and Publishing.

ETT Imprint will again publish, some time this year. I’m afraid the months travel far too quickly.

Here is a story from the Guardian News:


It’s all happening: Playing with Keys, Book 2

Well, dear friends, ‘Playing with Keys’ arrived with a tinkle in B flat major – following ‘The Midnight Pianist’ – for the young and young at heart …

It’s 1961 and life turns upside-down when Sandra and family move to Sydney from their country town. Back in the days of letter-writing!

The Midnight Pianist became Book I and who knew that this teen romance would breed another two books?

Many readers told me ‘I want to know what happens next!’  and I couldn’t resist as ideas popped unbidden into my brain. I had extra incentive knowing that many older readers loved the story.

Limited copies are available right now at “Micasa” – that’s my place in Nambucca, east coast Australia : RRP $18.99

If you live far far away, I can post to you for small p&p.

Both paperback and eBook may be ordered via the usual online sites or through your bookshop – if you’re lucky enough to still have one in your locale.

I’d love to hear from you! And remember, Book 3 is to follow.


The Sequel is Coming

I’ve been telling people that Playing with Keys will be released any minute, but I think perhaps December might see the sequel to The Midnight Pianist.

Some people write a book every year. I can only write a book every few years. Falling Glass took about 10 years to surface as I changed addresses, changed jobs &etc. Genuine interruptions.

However, The Midnight Pianist was a joy to write, and the sequel only happened because readers asked so many times, What happens next? You haven’t finished it !!

So I wrote another little novel, and it bred the third one – something I never expected.

Perhaps you’ve read TMP, but if not, it’s easy to order as a paperback or ebook, at a bookshop or online.

And if you’re in a hurry to buy Playing with Keys, please keep an eye on my Facebook page

I’d love to hear from you!


Review in Antipodes Journal blog

Women of the Bush: Equanimity under Threat — Barrie Smillie on the short stories of Julia Osborne

Australian writer Julia Osborne spent many years in outback parts of rural Australia. These three stories, “Maitland’s Cow”, “Hard Grain” and “Always, Never” have cried out to me to be analyzed side by side, because they have something in common: a female central character facing and overcoming challenges to her equanimity. To the remoteness and the harshness of the setting are added problems of human relationships—with a brother and a friend (in the case of “Hard Grain”) and with an unsympathetic male partner (in “Maitland’s Cow” and “Always, Never”).
Like Henry Lawson’s “The Drover’s Wife”, these stories by Julia Osborne concern outback women coping with the threat to their equanimity, but her narrative is more drame intérieur than a mere linear sequencing of events. There is a strong feminist message. Julia Osborne, once an artist in pen and water colour, reveals in these stories her discerning eye and with great economy she carries forward each story to a fine dramatic climax.
In all three cases, too, dramatic irony arises from discrepancies between what the reader sees and how the central character sees the world—for at least some of the time. The woman with the baby is unaware that she has set her loving man at arm’s length, the farmer girl unwittingly invests her female visitor with the evil garb of a spider, and in “Always, Never” the woman lives in the nostalgia of their romantic past, while her partner abuses her psychologically and physically before she finally succeeds in escaping this torment.
André Gide’s work is redolent with the aveuglement of such self-deceiving personalities—Alyssa and Jérôme in “La Porte étroite”, and the pastor in the well-known “Symphonie Pastorale” being just two of them. The depictions by Osborne, while perhaps exhibiting less permanent afflictions, are arguably keeping with that great Gidean tradition.
In “Maitland’s Cow”, a sex-starved partner finds solace in drink. The mother’s first loyalty is to her baby. Unaware of terrible events, she is pleased to be freed from her man’s importuning behavior. The visual, auditory and tactile images are rich. A cold morning in the country: “mist and the bark of a fox as the stars vanish. The early sun touches dew on the grass [….] a horse snorts, blowing misty clouds.” The man’s feet feel cold on the veranda while inside “a dark, warm cave” mother and baby are snug, the mother not unsympathetic to her man’s needs: “he has already gone. Peace […] He needs me too much.” Maitland, her man, reflects, “Why is she like this? It isn’t me. It’s her. Selfish bitch.”
In “Hard Grain” Jenny narrates. She and her brother form a superb work team. Girlfriend Noma from the city stays with them, annoying Jenny by flouting certain canons of rural life. Jenny is also suspicious of Noma’s flirting. “Did she slide closer beside him as they drove squishing across the field? [….] I wonder if he reached to hold her as she folded her pale arms around his neck, waiting for his kiss.” To Jenny, Noma takes on spider-like attributes: with “a domed look” she likes to walk in the garden at night. Her dress “hangs from such thin straps” and in the rain, Noma “steps onto the lawn, points one foot in front, her arms over her head.” More luscious word pictures abound: a “vast field, shimmering in summer haze.” Moths “sketch their erratic geometry around each globe.” As a storm develops, “indigo clouds are piling, lit within by sporadic stabs of lightning.” Dinner is a veritable feast of visual, auditory and olfactory images: “the room smells comfortingly of roast meat and the wine glimmers in our glasses, casting circles of colour on the tablecloth.” In the water tanks, “frogs boom.” Unaware of her effect on Jenny’s equanimity, Noma heads home. The sibling relationship is intact. Sound rural practice prevails. But spider-like Noma makes our flesh creep.
The narrator of “Always, Never” flings at us her anger and desperation: “If I don’t get out of this house I think I’ll smash something.” Her wretchedness results from physical isolation and a male partner’s mental and physical violence against her. The opening paragraphs amply demonstrate Julia Osborne’s expository skill. In a series of time slides, she devotes three paragraphs to the present moment, then three paragraphs that recall Matt’s story, their early relationship and her girlfriends’ adulation for this man. Back in present time, Matt embraces her. Significantly, her fellow prisoner drags its chain outside. Alone all day, she is “spinning time into unnatural skeins” and reflects, “Did I imagine once I’d be a teacher?” She is now “Matt’s extension, stunned by circumstances into a sort of accepting limbo […] The women covertly watch my silhouette for signs of pregnancy, […] try to be friendly […] but we are flying on different thermals. I am higher, higher, unreachable. They wave their fingers at me, their recipes, their childcare books.”
Loneliness places her very persona under threat. Her partner ridicules her reading. She’d happily help in the yard but he won’t have that. Marriage has taken her to a magical place. The rising sun fills her with girlish wonder: “the giant fiery sphere like I’d never seen before. Never awake so early. Never lived out so far. It carried with it all power and poetry, fixing my feet to the boards. “Look at the sun!” I called. Matt’s view is prosaic: “he came, hauling on trousers. “It’s going to be bloody hot!” he said, dismissing it.”
Her life with Matt has failed. She still loves him. He has been everything to her—childhood sweetheart, lover, tutor on bush lore, but is often away. Agonizingly, she exclaims, “Matt, oh Matt, where is the man who showed me the colours of new crops, the emu’s egg, the fires of sandalwood in a room lit with candles?” We sense heat, dryness, remoteness. “Mid-morning sun is already sucking up moisture […] eyes glitter beneath wide brimmed hats; […] women will stand in darkened rooms cracking ice in their mouths.” Our woman says to herself, “You don’t have to put up with this shit, kid!” Her initial bid to escape provides the pretext to try again. The conclusion carries the explosive drama of a Hedda Gabler final curtain.
These stories are engrossing reading and are highly recommended. Julia Osborne’s women of the bush are resilient, they are tough—like Henry Lawson’s drover’s wife. And in subtlety and the emotional strength of their loyalties, these three leave their male counterparts behind.
These stories can all be read on Julia Osborne’s website
Maitland’s Cow – Regime Magazine, Vol 1/01, 2012
Hard Grain – Meanjin 1/1992; Families: Modern Australian Short Stories, Five Mile Press, 2008 – broadcast by ABC RN 2005, 2006, 2009
Always, Never – Antipodes 17 (USA) 1991; Panurge (UK) 1992- broadcast by ABC RN 2006, 2007


Playing with Keys – chapter One

In Brief:

Fifteen year-old Sandra is daunted by life in Sydney after her father’s transfer from the Australian country town, Curradeen. She is confronted by a big new school and upset with leaving best friend Emilia and her beloved piano teacher, and Nick Morgan – never quite her boyfriend.


On the first morning that she woke up in her family’s new home, Sandra looked out the bedroom window but all she could see was the neighbour’s brick wall. She sat on the side of her bed to think about it . . .

In Curradeen, her upstairs bedroom window in the bank residence overlooked the main street, where on countless Saturday mornings she’d watched through her curtains for Nick Morgan to drive into town, park his dusty ute across the road, and stroll into the newsagency.

All gone now. Gone, Nick and the polocrosse ponies. Gone, her dear piano teacher, the familiar high school, bicycle rides to the creek. And gone, best friend Emilia, consigned to a papery chaff of letters.

Her parents were happy with the move; she could see it in their faces. It was a good promotion for Don to the Randwick branch of the bank, and Angela was pleased to be back in Sydney after so many years in a country town. While her younger sister Prue danced around with excitement, it was only Sandra who rebelled.

Stupid brick wall. Prue’s bedroom had the same dull view, but she’d shrugged and said she didn’t care. Still, Sandra had to agree it was a very nice house that her father had bought, in a quiet street lined with similar old houses: tiled front veranda, hallway down the middle, and a garden out the back. After pouring over glossy catalogues with Prue, it had been fun choosing their furniture in a city department store, and Sandra was happy with her brand new bedroom suite . . .

Searching for a handkerchief in her dressing table, she found the Violet Crumble wrapper – souvenir of the rainy winter evening when she’d bumped into Nick at the Silver Moon Café. Back then, she hardly knew Nick – a hello at the polocrosse, a brief barn dance at Denalbo hall . . . little more.

She smoothed the wrapper with a fingernail, remembering how Nick had smiled in recognition, raised a quizzical eyebrow at her damp hair, the briefcase clutched to her chest.

Thrilled by this unexpected encounter, words had tumbled from her mouth: ‘I’ve been to a piano lesson, my sixth grade exam’s next week . . .’ She stopped, suddenly tongue-tied.

‘Wow, maybe one day you’ll be a famous pianist,’ he’d answered, his eyes dark under the café lights, glisten of rain on his hair.

‘I’d love to try . . .’ she’d managed to say.

Then Nick had shouted Sandra the Violet Crumble bar, and told her he’d won at poker. She remembered her shiver of excitement. Nick was a gambler! But he’d gambled with his life, that October night when he stepped into his ute with Angus.

* * *

. . . Gradually Sandra’s ambition to be a concert pianist is overwhelmed by an unexpected, dangerous friendship, testing her loyalty to family and friends . . .

PWK is in layout stage by Paper Horse Design & Publishing