Her Fidelity: Herstory of a record store tragic coming of age

Her Fidelity, the first book by Dr Katharine Pollock, is an ode to the local record store, but it’s also a lot more than that too.

Her Fidelity cover

Her Fidelity is a feminist coming-of-age story, with a nod to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, a story for anyone who has ever felt that a song understood them more than their own family.

Writer Katharine Pollock spoke to the Broad about her book, record stores and her research on women’s music writing. The idea for the novel had been sitting with her for some years but it wasn’t until her dissertation that it turned into something more. “I actually originally conceived of something like it way back in my undergraduate degree,” she said.

“I wrote one chapter vaguely approximating the novel, but abandoned it for years. I returned to it as part of my PhD, where an early version of Her Fidelity comprised 50% of my thesis.”

As soon as I discovered Dusty’s, it immediately became my favourite indie record shop. Of course, in a one-horse town like Brisbane, I had limited choices, but still. Habitually visiting the shop after school and on weekends, I attempted to ingratiate myself with what I ambitiously considered to be my tribe.

Her Fidelity, by Katharine Pollock

Pollock said she worked in record stores since the age of 14 until a few months ago, and at nearly 34, that’s a two-decade love affair with the institution. “I love music, and while they can have negative aspects, record shops can be fun and joyous spaces to share this passion with like-minded others.”

Being accepted at Dusty’s to do work experience turned out to be a breeze. After all, I was unpaid labour, offering myself on a veritable platter. Getting hired afterwards would also be surprisingly easy, considering how few girls made the cut. Maybe I was brought on board because they deduced that I’d be hanging around regardless, so they may as well pay me. Either way, it turned out that getting in wasn’t the issue. Leaving . . . well, that would be another story.

Her Fidelity, by Katharine Pollock

The bulk of the writing was done during her studies, so it was interwoven with researching, writing her exegesis and reading a boatload of music memoirs. “I wrote about 10 or 15,000 further words once publisher Penguin accepted it, while in lockdown.”

She writes more or less every day, aiming for between 500 and 1500 words, although it can vary. “So long as I have coffee and some free hours, I can generally get it done.”
The Broad wanted to know if she’s a fan of Nick Hornby and the connection between her novel Her Fidelity and his book High Fidelity. “I’m a big fan of Nick Hornby, and High Fidelity in particular. My title is a cheeky tip of the hat, but my novel is not a reimagining or a tear-down!”

With her novel, Katharine Pollock has created part homage, but also takes that idea and develops it further as a unique story that works to amplify the voice of a young woman who loves the record shop. “I felt there was a dearth of women’s voices in this area so I wanted to prioritise that: and I think the title conveys this quite well,” she said.

“I love the film version with John Cusack, and I also enjoyed the series. Zoe Kravitz is very talented, and I liked that it was a more diverse telling of the story. It was very cool and New York; whereas my novel is very Brisbane, and while my protagonist is cool in her own way she’s also quite daggy and even bungling! I think this makes her relatable, and gives my novel a very different tone to any version of High Fidelity!”

And what of the record store customers? She has speculated on some of the different types of customers, from the connoisseur to the whinger, who shares commonalities with The Connoisseur but unlike him isn’t happy about anything. And that’s not to overlook The Girl. “The Girl isn’t actually a regular. She’s been made to feel unwelcome in record shops, so she visits infrequently. But I’m including her in the hopes she’ll become a regular as more girls and people like her are included in these spaces.”

In her PhD studies, Pollock examined women in music writing confessionally about their experiences in the industry. She looked closely at Lily Allen’s memoir My Thoughts Exactly and Caitlin Moran’s novel How to be Famous, but also loads of smaller instances of various women in music writing truthfully about their experiences for better or worse in music. “The research was heavy at times, but also a great opportunity to celebrate women in music.”

Her research looked at a broad selection of women in music, finding sexism and misogyny in the industry as it is in broader society. There’s also joy, laughter and resistance, both on and off stage. “Anger is important and necessary but so too is love and celebration.”

“I argued that these women did not just write confessionally in their memoirs and lyrics, but even confessed with their bodies on stage and in music videos: their provocative costumes and dancing is used to signify who they are as people.

“The Kathy of Her Fidelity likewise confesses to the good and bad in her life, without shame or compunction. When she dances to music, she uses her body, too, to confess to who she really is.’”

Now she’s well into her second novel, which she tells the Broad is very different to Her Fidelity “but should hopefully strike a chord with fans of it”.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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