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J D Barrett

J D Barrett wrote her first book, The Secret Recipe for Second Chances, in a cabin at the top of Topanga, an area overlooking the San Fernando Mountain Range.

This debut novel follows Lucy Muir, who's fresh from divorce and prone to driving despondently around the backstreets of Sydney's Wollomolloo. During one of these depressing escapes she happens across the hollowed-out building of a previously infamous restaraunt, and decides to revamp the establishment with a pop-up bistro. She happens across the cookbook of the former head chef, the fiery Frankie Summers. As she dips into his recipes it's almost as if she can feel him beside her - an unconventional and quirky love story ensues.

Off the back of the success of The Secret Recipe for Second Chances, J D Barrett has released her follow-up novel, a new story about music and misplaced love. The Song of Us follows Zoe Wylde, a musical thanatologist - someone who comforts those at the end of their lives by playing music beside their beds. We asked J D Barrett about her experience in screenwriter - she's worked as a writer on shows such as Love Child and Wonderland - and how she came to form her harp-playing character who falls in love with all the wrong people.  


Zoe Wylde is a woman at a crossroad. Five years ago, she fled her successful career as a concert harpist in London to return to her Bondi home. She still plays, but now her audience is on the way out ... literally. It's complicated and complication is something Zoe understands well. Her best friend is chasing a new love, her brother's chasing too much love and her father has been married far too many times. Compared to them she thought she was doing okay. She's met the guy she is sure is the ONE. He wooed her and has been sleeping with her for almost five years. It would all be perfect ... if he wasn't married.

Zoe is learning that hearts, like harps, are capable of beautiful music if treated the right way and can be tricky to manoeuvre. She's over the old tune. But does Zoe have the courage to rewrite the song of her own life?



After graduating from university in theatre and joining a performance art troupe, you’ve worked extensively as a television writer, and now you have two novels under your belt. Are there recurring themes that run through all of your storytelling, regardless of the form? What are you trying to achieve with your stories?

Great questions! I had this conversation with a friend who pointed out a lot of my work revolves around women recreating their lives following some major setback – for Lucy it was her divorce, for Zoe it’s the loss of her concert career. I guess a major theme for me is living a life that’s authentic, finding the confidence, the support and the courage to do that. Also, what connects us all, what bonds certain characters but separates others.  My main goal in writing my stories is to provide good company and a sense of hope.

When talking about your debut novel, The Secret Recipe for Second Chances, you said that ‘food is pivotal to emotional experiences’. The same could be said for music. Is music important to you? Do you use it to chart emotional experiences in your life?

Music is as essential to me as food! It’s a major passion. I don’t play an instrument, but I am always listening to it, mainly classical. I absolutely use it to chart my emotional experiences. I think most of us do, because of its ability to connect purely to emotional memory. Most of us recall the song that was playing when we first fell in love, or lost a dear one, the break up song that’s too painful to recall, the song that gets you out of bed and back into life.

You’ve said that an image of your character Frankie popped into your mind one day, ‘sitting on my kitchen bench in a kaftan’. Did Zoe arrive in a similarly strong image? How did her character come to be?

Zoe arrived via her name, Zoe Wylde – it was a musical name, with edge. And there was a vague outline of a young woman carrying a harp into a hospital.  Someone who is full of life – as we see by her name – but terrified of embracing it for herself.

Where did the idea come from to make Zoe a musical thanatologist?

It came from a story on Australian Story over a decade ago … I’ve never forgotten it. I didn’t know musical thanatology existed till then. Though I had been around a number of deaths and music was always key. But the thought of spending time with a character who played for others to help them leave this world resonated. Also I guess because I’ve lost quite a few loved ones from a young age, I’ve always had a heightened sense of mortality, mine and others… and what a thin veneer exits between life and death.

And why the harp?

The harp is one of the oldest instruments in the world, it’s soothing and its sound penetrates straight to the heart. It is the instrument of choice for a lot of bedside musicians.

Where did you write The Song of Us, and how did the location in which you wrote influence the novel?

I began the novel in Bali and certainly used my environment as inspiration. The majority of it was written in the Byron Bay hinterland, a place I find stilling so I can spend my time deep in my imagined world.

A New Year’s resolution kicks off the book and motivates Zoe to confront Ross about their situation – has a New Year’s resolution ever significantly affected your life?

Many… some didn’t last. A few major personal ones did, because I think when you really decide something has to change there’s a quiet knowing you can’t ignore any more. My major resolutions were private ones but they were of great importance to me.

Which books, writers, movies or music had an influence on the writing of The Song of Us?

The novel An Equal Music resonated deeply with me, the way Vikram Seth writes about music and the playing of it, the passion of the musician. The poetry of Maya Angelou and Mary Oliver, the Swedish film As It Is in Heaven and there’s a tiny bit of Amelie in Zoe too. 

The Song of Us is published by Hachette, rrp $29.99.