Tag Archives: Paul Kelly

Dialogue, voices, Queenie and Rover

I’ve been thinking a lot about narrative voices lately, prompted in part by a book where the characters were strong but their voices all sounded a little same-ish to me. They might have been speaking and acting in unique ways but their voices – which take in thoughts and personality and experience and so much more than just dialogue – felt a tad monotone. It diluted my experience of an otherwise powerful story.

Elsewhere on this site I’ve posted about reading your work aloud to see how the sentences sound. It’s also a good way to hear whether the dialogue sounds real. Would your characters actually converse that way? To create authentic voices, you need to listen … and then dig a little deeper.

There’s a snatch of dialogue in the song below (approx 2 mins 53 secs) where the master storyteller Paul Kelly gives us the words of Queenie, one of the title characters. It’s only a handful of phrases but, based on my experience with indigenous Australians, it’s enough to get a real sense of character and voice. To my mind, that passage is the heart of the song. Where the friendship begins.

Storytellers in song

Back when I was a kid, Dad had a Johnny Cash single in his record collection featuring ‘A Boy Named Sue’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. I don’t ever remember him playing it but the curious title led me to to putting it on the record player one day and I’ve loved those tracks ever since.

I’m generally not a fan of country and western music although some of my favourite artists, such as Paul Kelly, The Waifs and Bruce Springsteen, regularly stray into C&W territory. Despite this I recently purchased┬áthe two Johnny Cash live in prison albums, those recorded at Folsom and San Quentin. I’m┬ásucker for a live album containing artist-audience banter at the best of times* but these are brilliant. Cash, who had his share of dealings with the justice system, really connects with the inmates in his audience. Indeed, I almost wonder why the prison authorities let him return, given his criticism of the correctional system.

Anyway, returning to old favourite tracks made me think much how I enjoy a story told in song and I’ve started putting together a Storyteller playlist. It’s a work in progress but here are some of the tracks and influences that I’d highly recommend.

Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue; John Henry’s Hammer; I’ve Got Stripes

Paul Kelly – Other People’s Houses; Bradman; Everything’s Turning to White (based on the Raymond Carver story); Maralinga; Our Sunshine (based on the Robert Drewe Ned Kelly story) and many more

Bruce Springsteen – The entire Ghost of Tom Joad album; The River; Thunder Road; Nebraska; and many more

Bob Dylan – Hurricane (I’m a latecomer to the Dylan canon)

The Waifs – Bridal Train; Vermillion

Weddings, Parties, Anything (and Mick Thomas) – Scorn of the Women; Sergeant Small; A Tale They Won’t Believe; Fathers’ Day

John Butler Trio – Caroline

I could go on but this post, like my playlist, will become too long. My point is that enjoying short stories doesn’t necessarily involve scanning the printed page. Check out some of these lyricists and you won’t be disappointed.

* Springsteen’s Live 1975-1985 is absolutely sensational and contains personal stories as well as his musical snapshots of back-streets America. It’s hard to find but well worth hunting down.