Karen Comer’s ‘Grace Notes’

Article | Jan 2023

KAREN COMER’S debut novel, Grace Notes is an uplifting story about music, art and poetry. Read on for a Q&A with Karen and an extract from her novel.




A debut YA verse novel about what happens when the paths of a young busking violinist and an aspiring street artist collide during a pandemic. Set in one of the most locked-down cities in the world – Melbourne, 2020.

This song has a grace note, a tiny note that’s there for embellishment but can easily be ignored, not played.

Tonight, I add it in – just because.
We can all do with an extra note of grace.

Grace Dalfinch is a talented violinist who longs to play contemporary music in bars, but her mum forbids her. James Crux is an aspiring street artist who promised his dad he wouldn’t paint in public until he’s finished school.

When Crux witnesses Grace’s impromptu performance on a deserted tram, he’s inspired to paint her and her violin. When Grace stumbles across her portrait in a Melbourne alley by an anonymous street artist, she sets out to find its creator.

Age Guide 12+
Teachers’ Notes


Q&A with Karen Comer


What inspired this story?

I wanted to write a story about a teenage boy, an aspiring street artist. I’ve always loved looking at Melbourne’s amazing street art. I’m fascinated by the sheer audacity to paint something so large, so public. I started planning out Crux’s story but I kept seeing an image in my mind of a girl playing her violin in a tram.

Once I worked out she belonged in Crux’s story – perhaps because music performance is also so brave and bold – I began writing about Crux and Grace in February 2020. By the time I was a third of the way into this first draft, we were already in the first lockdown. I had no intention to write a pandemic book but the lockdown backdrop to my days crept into the story!


In what ways did your own experience with the pandemic shape your book?

In Grace Notes, I tried to reflect many different experiences of the pandemic. The health workers, families with loved ones in aged care, those who had too much work and those who had lost their jobs. Teenagers studying from their bedrooms, people who missed out on holidays, special birthdays or just a cup of tea in their neighbour’s house, teachers educating their students through screens while home-schooling their own children, everyone who adapted to ways of doing business online – there were so many stories. I also added in some of the lighter aspects – the constant conversations about making sourdough bread, decluttering the house, running out of toilet paper.


What can you tell us about Crux and Grace?

Crux and Grace are both creative 15-year-olds, trying to find their own way within their respective art forms. Their families support their art to a certain point – but Crux’s family want him to confine his art to the garage rather than paint in the streets and Grace’s parents want her to focus on an academic life rather than a music one.

Grace and Crux feel the same passion for their art, as well as frustration for the restrictions by both their families and the government


What do you hope your readers will take away from your novel?

Dear readers – play the grace note! I hope readers will see characters who can both love their families but want to carve out their own identities, who can feel both awkwardness and tenderness for a first love, and who can face setbacks and still rise up. I also hope readers appreciate the lyrical nature and imagery of a verse novel, and that art in its many forms is essential to all of us.





I walk to my painting, violin in case,
stand in front of me –
two-metre-tall Grace,
full of courage and protectiveness.

I didn’t know I could stand so tall.
Perhaps this is how actors feel
when they see billboards of themselves
to advertise a new movie.

I take out my violin
and play anthem after anthem.

There are a few people who walk by,
smile, clap their hands.
But it’s pretty quiet.

Read On … Extract from Grace-Notes

Author: Karen Comer


Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Lothian


RRP: $$19.99

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