Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Carmel Bird is the Australian author of ten novels and six collections of short fiction (her seventh will be published in 2015.) She has also written three books about writing. In 2013, Dear Writer was revised, updated, and published again as Dear Writer Revisited. Another book, Writing the Story of Your Life, is a manual for writing memoir that follows a progressive program of exercises. Carmel has edited The Stolen Children, Their Stories, a widely consulted anthology featuring the stories of indigenous people who were taken from their families by government authority. She has also edited various literary journals and taught writing at several universities over the years.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
Inventing narrative has, since I was a child, been my way of sorting through the world. And I have always enjoyed writing the stories down for others to read. I started writing plays as a child, often inspired by the books I read.
In Melbourne in the eighties there was an independent publishing house run by two amazing women, Hilary McPhee and Diana Gribble. I got my official start when McPhee Gribble published my collection of short fiction The Woodpecker Toy Fact. They continued to publish my books until they ceased to be. It was a great start.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
I am right now waiting for the edit of my new collection of stories, My Hearts Are Your Hearts, which will be published in August 2015. This is nineteen new stories and also an essay discussing how the stories came into being. They are not linked narratives, but of course they have come from the same imaginative source, and so there are common motifs and ideas.
I am also finishing a novel, as well as finishing a long essay which is part history, part memoir. And there are always papers, reviews etc… to write for conferences and festivals. Sometimes I blog and update my website, too.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I live in rural Victoria, in Castlemaine, a small town in the bush about two hours from Melbourne.
When I write, I sit in a big old carver chair facing the window beyond which is a golden ash tree whose moods change with the seasons. On my left is a wall of books. To my right, the table stretches out to accommodate the printer, the scanner, the modem and jars of pencils and pens. Behind me is the piano, and on the far left is another window looking out under a pergola where there is a wisteria, the moods of which alter with the seasons, filling the window with blue, or with shady green, or with the witchy twists of winter branches. It is a really peaceful place to work. The only sounds are the sounds of birds, or of the postman on his motor bike.
Behind the ash tree there’s a high wall covered in ivy, and the whole space has the air of what I can only call a fairy dell. On the desk behind the laptop there’s a big disco ball and in the late afternoon the rays of the sinking sun strike the mirrors on the ball and the whole room fills with coinspots of light. If I push the ball, the spots all shift about. It’s lovely.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY IN YOUR WRITING LIFE?
Except when I am seeing my family or friends, I am generally working. I start at about seven A.M. and keep going with plenty of breaks to go for walks and drink tea.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I always have ideas for stories, and I get great pleasure out of responding to these ideas, and seeing them take shape in fiction or essay. I write for a while and then I read it and edit it a bit and keep going like that. There’s also planning and researching and thinking, and also plenty of communicating with other people about what I’m doing. It’s all work, really.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
I just love what I do and always have. And I have been fortunate enough to be able to make a living doing it.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOUR WRITING?
The foibles of human beings are my real inspiration. Life is so complex and often strange and funny. I like to pay attention to all that and to sort it into narrative.
Ideas are everywhere but I think sometimes people have a problem deciding which one to choose. In my case, I find that certain ideas grab my attention and insist on being followed.
I think it’s about paying attention to what really moves one, what really matters to the writer, and taking those ideas and developing them.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A WRITER?
There is always so much to write. I sometimes feel impatient that writing is so slow, although on the face of it, I’m reasonably fast.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION AS A WORD ARTIST OR BOOK INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL?
I have always just loved writing and being read, and I think my personal goal is no more sophisticated than that.
The literary world is exciting and dynamic. New writers appear; old writers do something new. I must say I lament the gradual disappearance of newspaper reviews, but such disappearance is just a result of the disappearance of print media. It’s important to adjust, of course. But when the papers are finally gone, I will miss the pleasure of sitting down and analyzing what has been reviewed bedside. I do read the book reviews in various English and American papers online, but it’s not quite the same.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LOVE TO HEAR MORE FROM?
I love the work of Hilary Mantel and also of Fay Weldon. I will always rush to read their new books. Recently I was invited to launch Danielle Wood’s book Mothers Grimm, and I really enjoyed that. Danielle’s voice is fresh and sharp and compassionate. And funny, too. I also really like reading Annabel Crabbe’s column in the Sunday paper.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Danielle Wood Read Danielle Wood’s WordMothers interview here
Thank you, Carmel Bird!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Gail Hardy
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