Carmel Bird | Home About Carmel Bird Books Essays Stories MemoirsReviews

Patrick White Literary Award 2016

Portrait of Patrick White by Brett Whiteley

This annual award for an outstanding Australian writer with a substantial body of work is the legacy of Patrick White who donated funds from his 1973 Nobel Prize to support his fellow writers. In 2016 the judges selected Carmel as the winner.

The prize is administered by the Perpetual Trustees. Carmel has published thirty books, including her many novels, collections of stories, and books on writing. Her 2016 novel is Family Skeleton, which is written with Carmel’s signature sharp wit, intricate structure, and deep understanding of the human comedy.

Novel 2016


Published September 2016 by University of Western Australia Press

The family lives in luxury in the richest suburb of Melbourne.
The Second World War is pivotal to the story, which is set in the present day.  At the heart of the novel, in the cellar of the family home, is the old bomb shelter, a ghastly structure which speaks of the war, and of the depths to which human nature can descend.

Matriarch Margaret’s equilibrium is disturbed by the arrival of Doria, a distant relative, who is poking around in the family stories.
The question is – what will this woman discover that is not part of the official family narrative? Can Margaret block her somehow?
Then Margaret herself discovers the shocking family secret which she will do anything to keep from Doria.

A lifetime of apparent goodness can be undone in a split second.

This is a dark novel of manners, a sharp satire – comfortable lives can easily be threatened by the past, and also by the rapid changes in society.

“Dark comedy interwoven with a fierce, incandescent savagery.”
Peter Craven


VIDEO 2016
Carmel Bird and Michael Fortescue - a musical reading from
'An Affair at the Ritz'
[click here]



ESSAY 2015

Fair Game is a small book published by FinlayLloyd. It is a Tasmanian memoir, inspired to begin with by a cartoon from 1832. There was a great shortage of women in Hobart at the time, and the ship, the Princess Royal, sailed from England to Hobart with a cargo of non-convict women. The cartoon, which is reproduced on the cover of the book, illustrates this event.

The essay traces my knowledge of the cartoon itself, and delves into my own memories of growing up in Tasmania.

The book is one of what the publisher calls ‘smalls’, and there are four other little volumes being published at the same time as Fair Game.



My Hearts Are Your Hearts is a collection of twenty stories written over the past few years, most of them having appeared in a range of journals. I’ve added an essay which examines the origins of the stories, and also the history of their writing.

The stories pose questions regarding the workings of the human heart.
** Who kills his wife and dumps the body in the pool?  
** What are the hares getting up to among the sunflowers?  
** Who is paying $6000 for a raincoat?  
** What did the bishop say to the schoolgirl?
** How do you feel when you find your death was listed long ago online?



‘Bird’s wit and unsentimental hyper-realism play against her romantic imagery to summon the shifting truths of the human heart.’
-- Gerardo Rodríguez-Salas

‘Intimate and witty, romantic and ironic, and, above all, compassionate, Carmel Bird’s extraordinary stories do more than take you in — they abduct you.’
-- Robert Drewe

‘These stories tell whole lives, but—like a bowerbird—Carmel has caught up the very brightest bits and piled them into a glittering trove. Her witty, sharp-eyed narrators never fail to tell you what you really want to know about love, sex, death, art—and the heart, in its many guises.
-- Danielle Wood

‘Delicious and disturbing stories from a great Australian storyteller.’ 
-- Brenda Walker

‘Bird is on Song.’
Marion Halligan


Dear Writer Revisited, first published in 1988 as Dear Writer, has been revised and brought up to date for writers in the 21st century. It will be published in paperback and eBook in October 2013.

PUBLISHED BY Spineless Wonders

                        READ WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

"Carmel Bird has updated her brilliant guide to those who are perplexed by writing. Dear Writer is a dazzling, humane and witty book which will be enlightening for anyone who picks it up, however experienced she or he may be. This is a classic account of how to write. I know of nothing that equals it."   Peter Craven

“I first readDear Writer as a nervy, secretive scribbler-in-journals 20 years ago. Reading this revised version I’m struck again by its practical generosity on technical matters - but am also inspired by the deeper, more complex conversations I think I missed in those early readings: about courage, about the urgency and mystery and self-discovery of the writing process.Dear Writer Revisited may masquerade – convincingly – as a book for beginners, but its lessons are mature and wise.”  Charlotte Wood

“Bird generously shares her writing wisdom, gives courage and provides activities and inspiration (both concrete and abstract) in these reinvigorated letters from Virginia to Writer. From mining personal experience to overcoming self-doubt, tips on revision to keeping notes, Dear Writer Revisited is warm and nudging, firm and affirming.”    Angela Meyer

“Updated to accommodate the changes that the digital age has thrust upon us, this new edition of Carmel Bird’s imaginative, shrewd and reader-friendly guide for writers is still full of excellent advice, and is still a pleasure to read for its own sake.”  Kerryn Goldsworthy


Griffith Review 42, December 2013

As Guest Editor of this issue of the journal, it was my pleasure to work with Editor Julianne Schultz to put together fiction and essays on the topic of the folktales and fairytales in various realms of Australian life and literature.

My Introduction ‘Dreaming the Place’ can be read on my blog: 



A children's picture book, published in May 2012 by Penguin. The text is by Carmel Bird, and the illustrations are by Kerry Argent.

Carmel was inspired to write the story when she read that urban foxes often collect shoes which they then hoard in their dens.

Finola is a bright young fox, planning to open a gallery where she will display her collection of designer shoes.

She longs to find the pair to a beuatiful green shoe.

Helping her in her quest is Frederick Fox.

Will romance blossom between these two gorgeous creatures?



by Fourth Estate
1st July 2010


Child of the Twilight


The novel was launched by Ian Britain
in February 2010

Ian: "These days I give a new novel I may pick up about twenty minutes to get me hooked. I give it up after that if I’m not confident of two things: that it’s going to be about everything, and that I’m going to find myself coming into it. ‘My idea of a writer,’ says Susan Sontag, is ‘someone interested in everything.’

Carmel Bird’s new novel is not just about everything but is set in everyone’s favourite places and written in every manner and mode. There’s birth, death, sex, religion, art, food, fashion, war, family, schooldays, technology, magic, innocence, crime, love, pain and the whole damned thing. There’s Sydney, Melbourne, New York, Rome, Venice, Paris, Barcelona, Portugal, Mexico, Gethsemane and Woodpecker Point. And it’s all wrapped up in a style that, with brilliant, knowing playfulness, makes Gothic and Grand Guignol seem colloquial, normal, everyday, while lending a sublimity to cliché, a transcendence to bathos.

My favourite character, lethally portrayed, is a headmistress, Dr Silver, who’s a Mrs Malaprop of platitudes. ‘Medieval legend or soap?’ the narrator asks at one point. We get the best of both worlds here, as Dr Silver might answer. But it’s true. Where in this fantastic confection could I possibly find myself? As it turns out, in several strands of the plot, and in various aspects of nearly all the characters, even minor ones. The action centres around the hunt for a missing religious statue, and celebrates the ‘thrill of getting control of an object that should be out of your reach’.

Only a few weeks before I came to read this book I was involved in a hunt, not for a sacred object, but a very profane one – the missing diaries of a notorious artist whose biography I’m writing. These had been missing for nearly 65 years. Through extraordinary luck I turned them up in the most unlikely place.

Carmel Bird’s novel not only captures the thrill of the chase, the fanatical urge, the mad hope that I came to feel so keenly but also the inordinate sense of miracle when the grail is actually located. But this is only one of multitudinous connections I found with my own life, career, sensibility. ‘I am drawn to secret autobiography expressed in code,’ says the narrator at another point. Any other reader, I’m convinced, will find his or her own autobiography here too.

It’s spooky, but this book knows you better than you’ll ever know this book. That’s part of its enduring mystery, both in the sense of a deeply spiritual drama and the curliest crime fiction. Thus does it combine in one the two genres of which Carmel has long been a recognised master. Rush out to buy it and be spooked."


Click on the video below to hear Carmel discussing the book.

The video clip here requires QuickTime


About the Novel

"It is strange and fascinating to me to think of people – Avila in particular – praying me into existence."

Sydney Peony Kent is a nineteen year-old American. She was a longed-for IVF baby, 'product of an unknown egg and unknown sperm' implanted in her mother, Avila. Avila not only used the latest scientific techniques to conceive Sydney, but also prayed to the Bambinello, a small carved and jewelled statue of the infant Jesus housed in the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome and is said to have miraculous properties. Avila's distant relative, Father Roland Bruccoli, was conceived in a more conventional manner, but his mother too prayed to the Bambinello before his birth -- and that of his twin sister Eleena. It is when the adult Roland is visiting the church of Santa Maria one evening that the Bambinello is stolen. Roland hopes that Father Cosimo, an archivist, poet and riddler said to speak in the ancient green language of the troubadours, can assist in discovering what has happened to the Bambinello. But when matters of belief are involved, nothing is straightforward, as Sydney discovers herself when she too becomes caught up in tracing the Bambinello's fate.

Deftly weaving together religion, science, pregnancies wanted and unwanted, love, loss and belief, Carmel Bird has created a luminous novel that both questions and celebrates the miraculous.


"Earthy, grounded, yet singing to the heart and spirit with its delicious writing, Child of the Twilight by Carmel Bird invites the reader to consider the enormous mysteries of existence—the winking in and out of earthly existence that we call ‘life’-- from a highly original perspective. The filmy boundaries between worlds are tested as 19 year-old Sydney, herself the result of Assisted Reproduction, without any knowledge about her genetic origins, narrates the stories of the lives, dreams, prayers and desires of the people in her orbit. This creates a rich, multi-layered novel.The mystery of the stolen Bambinello an image of the Holy Child, vanished from his shrine in an act of sacred theft (the Furta Sacra of medieval times) provides a subtle template for readers to understand the events of our lives. The writing, always fresh and brilliant, alternatively dances and pounces. Child of the Twilight is the sort of book that keeps on unfolding in the imagination, long after you’ve finished reading it."
Gabrielle Lord


IN JULY 2010



Carmel's most recent book on writing is a manual on how to write memoir, Writing the Story of Your Life, which was published in 2007. In 2006 she published a collection of short fiction,
The Essential Bird. In 2005 she published a literary novel
Cape Grimm. These three examples of her work are a reflection of three of her strengths - novel, short story and the teaching of writing skills. She has also written essays which are collected in
Automatic Teller, published in 1996. In 2000 Carmel edited an anthology of short fiction spanning the twentieth century,
The Penguin Century of Australian Stories, and in 1998 she edited the oral histories of members of the stolen generations of indigenous Australians in The Stolen Children, Their Stories.

There is a full list of publications on the BOOKS page.

Carmel grew up in Tasmania, and the influence of the landscape and history of the island is often apparent in her work, in such examples as the ballet she wrote for Tasdance in 2003,
Fair Game, and in her radio play on the life of an indigenous Tasmanian girl, Mathinna, titled In My Father's House, broadcast on ABC Australia and on the BBC.

In 2000 Peter Long's film version of Carmel's story
A Telephone Call For Genevieve Snow won the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival.

Carmel has taught writing to students in schools, universities and communities, and has edited several literary journals.