About Carmel Bird  
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from the Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (2nd ed.). William H. Wilde, Joy Hooton, Barry Andrews eds.


The author

A brief CV

an entry from The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature

BIRD, Carmel (1940- ), born Launceston, Tasmania, was educated at the University of Tasmania and lived for a period in Europe and the USA before settling in Melbourne. Bird's fiction blends real and surreal, mundane and macabre with inventive irony, reflecting her perception of Tasmania itself as an 'ironic' island, whose picturesque surface masks deep secrets and is haunted by the ghosts of Aborigines and convicts. She has published two novels, Cherry Ripe (1985) and The Bluebird Cafe (1990), and four collections of short stories, Births, Deaths and Marriages (1983), The Woodpecker Toy Fact (1987), Woodpecker Point (1988) and The Common Rat (1993). She has also written a guide for writers, Dear Writer (1988), and edited a collection of short stories, Relations (1991).
A witty writer with a wide but always highly original tonal range, Bird raises what is often potentially dour or even sinister or horrific to something approaching comedy. Disease, deaths and violence are staples in her fictional world, which has similarities with Barbara Hanrahan's Gothic sensuality and feminist irony, although Bird's deadpan humour is a distinctive, determining element. The stories of Woodpecker Point, for instance, focus on the common emotion of sibling jealousy which has the uncommon consequence of a dual death, on marital infidelity and the sterility of close relationships, on failed lives, madness murder and extreme domestic violence; the stories of The Common Rat are linked with common themes of death, madness and crime. Bird's approach to these themes, however, is both detached and involved, a search for a pattern which may have simply the satisfaction of art or approach a more essential truth, which may represent meaning or just the arbitrary effect of language. As the semi-autobiographical narrator of 'The Woodpecker Toy Fact' comments after describing her childhood inference of a special meaning in 'Toy Fact', a result of her ignorance that a toy factory's shop sign was truncated, and her subsequent search for imaginatively significant facts, 'trapping them, bright birds in flight, planets in amber', the quest offers either the possibility of metaphysical discovery or aesthetic production: 'I am still uncertain as to whether I will ultimately discover The Toy Fact, and so complete the pattern, or whether, by placing the final fact I will produce The Toy Fact.'
She is fascinated by the power of memory and the capacity of mundane scenes, incidents and sensations to trigger it into life as well as by the truth-telling power of fiction and its ability to mine and represent the past more effectively than the single-minded pursuit of documentary fact. As she has commented in an article titled 'Fact or Fiction', 'Life is a crude inventor; fiction will only be convincing if it is more artful than life'; she has also described herself as 'interested in the play between fact and fiction, interested in the moment when the metamorphosis takes place, when the grub of fact becomes the butterfly of fiction'. Finely observed details -- snails crawling over love letters, a grandmother's patchwork quilt, the solemn brown eyes of a cow -- are often the hinges of her short fiction, the points at which external sketch and first-person reminiscence blend in epiphanies of insight. Some of her stories, such as 'The Woodpecker Toy Fact' are as much demonstrations of the art of fiction-making as they are themselves fictions, although artful play and seriousness exist side by side as do gloom and joy.
The Bluebird Cafe is set partly in Copperfield, a once prosperous mining town in north-west Tasmania, but now a ghost town, inhabited by a single inhabitant, Bedrock Mean. Bedrock mourns the disappearance of Lovelygod, her perfectly formed but stunted daughter, conceived in an incestuous relationship with her brother Carillo, whose fate resembles that of several real-life Australian children who have mysteriously disappeared. Meanwhile, at Launceston, Copperfield is replicated in the 'Historic Museum Village of Copperfield, a theme park under an immense crystalline dome. Here Virginia O'Day, now a successful New York novelist and playwright, who has returned to her birthplace, finds her memories of childhood both simulated and distorted. Underlying the novel's quirky semi-Gothic surface is a polemical concern with the commercial destruction of the Tasmanian landscape and with the isolationist attitudes of its inhabitants.

 
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A BRIEF CV

PUBLICATIONS

2002 Open For Inspection - psychological thriller

2000 Unholy Writ - psychological thriller
          The Penguin Century of Australian Stories - a hundred  
          short stories by Australian writers, spanning a hundred 
           years. (editor)  

1999 The Cassowary's Quiz - a picture book for children illustrated by Anita Mertzlin.

1998

March: The Stolen Children -- Their Stories (editor)
February: Red Shoes, a novel and CD-Rom

1997

Daughters and Fathers, an anthology of essays by Australian Writers (editor)

1996

Crisis, a  comic novel
Automatic Teller, a collection of stories and essays written since 1993
The Mouth, a teenage horror story with illustrations by Anita Mertzlin
Red Hot Notes, an anthology of Australian writing on music (editor)

1995

The White Garden, a novel
(short-listed for seven major awards including the Miles Franklin)

1994

Not Now Jack -- I'm Writing a Novel , a manual for writers

1993

The Common Rat, a collection of short stories

1991

Relations: Australian Short Stories (editor)

1990

The Bluebird Cafe, a novel, was short-listed for three major awards including the Miles Franklin

1988

Dear Writer, a manual for writers

1987

The Woodpecker Toy Fact, a colection of short stories; also published in US and UK as Woodpecker Point

1985

Cherry Ripe, a novel

1983

Births, Deaths and Marriages, a collection of stories

 

RESIDENCIES AND TEACHING

2003 Writer in Residence at La Trobe University

1996

Victoria College of the Arts - three month writer in residence
Canberra Centre For Writing - one day masterclass for novelists

1995

Methodist Ladies College - two-week residence
Canberra Centre For Writing - one-day masterclass
Council of Adult Education - three lectures
National Book Council - two-day workshop on how to teach writing
RMIT - lecture to design students on book design
Box Hill Library - lecture
Caulfield Library - lecture
Victoria College of the Arts - lecture
Siena Convent - four-day residence

1994

National Book Council - two-day workshop on how to teach writing
Victoria University - lecture
RMIT - lecture
Presbyterian Ladies' College - one-week residence
Box Hill Library - lecture
Lauriston School - one-week residence
Mandeville Hall School - residence

1993

RMIT - lecture
Victoria University - lecture
Camberwell Girls' Secondary College - one week
Box Hill Library - lecture
Ruyton School - lecture
Melbourne Zoo - two weekend workshops in writing

1992

Canterbury Girls' Secondary College - residence
Preston Institute - lecture
RMIT - lecture
Methodist Ladies' College - residence

1991

Deakin University - short story course

1990

Rollins College Florida - residence
MLC - residence
San Antonio Texas - lecture at language conference
Deakin University - short story course
Fintona School - residence

1989

Council of Adult Education - short story course
University of Technology Sydney - lecture
Sydney University - lecture
Monash University - residence
MLC - residence
Arts Victoria - young writers' program

1988

RMIT - course on writing novel
MLC - residence

1987

Holmesglen College - short story course
Box Hill TAFE - lecture
Cheltenham TAFE - lecture

1986

Holmesglen TAFE - short story course
Council of Adult Education - short story course

1980 - 1985

Council of Adult Education short story courses

1961 - 1973

various appointments as secondary school teacher of English and French

FESTIVALS

Between 1989 and 2003, reading and speaking at Australian Writers' Festivals, as well as Vancouver and Toronto.

EDUCATION

Bachelor of Arts (Tasmania)
Diploma of Education (Tasmania)
Diplome de Langue (Paris)
Licentiate of the London College of Music
Spanish 1 (Monash)

AUSTRALIA COUNCIL GRANTS

1988, 1989, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2002

EDITING

Founding co-editor of Syllable and Fine Line
Fiction editor of Voices 1995
Former fiction editor of New Post (formerly Australasian Post)

Formerly on editorial staff of Aurora Australis, an electronic magazine about recent Australian writing (no longer current).

 
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