In the Presence of a Master Writer: Gabrielle Lord Launches ‘My Hearts Are Your Hearts’ by Carmel Bird

My Hearts are Your Hearts by Carmel Bird, Spineless Wonders 2015, was launched by Gabrielle Lord at Berkelou Books, Liechhardt NSW on Saturday 25th July 2015.

my hearts are notTo read these stories is to know that one is in the presence of a master writer, someone who has not only unlocked the word hoard but has polished her craft. Like the soaring trapeze artists who make it look so easy, Carmel’s short stories appear deceptively simple. The rhythm of our language is used to full advantage. The stories are like poems or songs – “She was to live at the Sacred Heart hostel, safe and sound with the nuns, the curfew and the Catholic faith.” (‘The Legacy of Rita Marquand’)

‘My beloved is mine and I am his’ – is a wonderful evocation of two lives. The sweep and the dramas of the two once close friends, short passages of great intimate detail set among quite fast-moving time spans. It is delicious writing – sexy, warm and, although ironic in tone, it is never disdainful of the characters – a writer who understands human weakness and forgives it in advance. A compressed saga.

Deceptive simplicity Carmel’s writing reminds me of Coleridge’s technique of verbal ‘chiaroschuro’ – just mentioning the highlights on substantial object. Beautiful and shocking juxtaposition of ideas and words, “the warm dead child” from ‘Child of the Twilight’ comes to mind. A bold habit of running three adjectives together like a string of beads before a noun.

Her themes are the pulses of life: babies, lost or living, conception, pregnancy birth and termination, love, infidelity, religious faith and its loss, sacred objects, the passing of time, death, the mystery that lies at the heart of things and above all, life itself in all its splendour, misery and terror.

In the story “Your hearts are my hearts’ I felt I was reading about a real scandal and turned eagerly to the story of the stories at the back, hoping to get some clues about who these two naughty people were. The graceful way one writer smoothed over the lack of manners of the other– in the incident of the dish of foil covered chocolate hearts, the incident itself, shone with truth and were the telling details that convinced me that the story was completely true. When I read that little incident had in fact, been observed by the author of the story, I felt somewhat mollified.

There are stories of great beauty and tenderness, stories that ache with loss, such as “waiting for the green man”, which is told in “close-up” to use a movie director’s term. From the exquisite detail of a dew drop hanging from the end of the leathery, purplish leaf of a Canna lily, the story pans back to reveal the rest of the canna lilies growing along the fence in the wild apart of a church rectory garden. Finally, we get to the Rector’s wife, Faith, whose garden this is, and whose life is about to be changed dramatically but not the grief that lies in the depth of her heart. Her grief and her goodness come together in a burst of necessary energy that in a mysterious split second, brings heaven down to earth to save a baby’s life. But not her baby.

Another story, ‘The legacy of Rita Marquand’, has a matter-of-fact voice, that of an art collector talking about painting or rather, the particular painting of a lesser-known Australian morning artist, Rita Marquand and two of her children. This narrator keeps us at a distance from Dymphna and Dolores – interrupting the telling of the story sometimes, to draw attention to a detail that might not, otherwise, be noticed as well as it should be. There is a copy of a painting The Madonna of the Goldfinch, which leads the narrator into a very interesting series of facts about such paintings – and the telling of various legends concerning how the goldfinch got his red head. (I’ve never seen such a goldfinch – all the ones I saw were merely gold and brown)

It is almost forgotten now that a Catholic marrying ‘out of the faith’ was almost damned. The reader will discover too, that the door to Hell has a bell that certain actions activate. And that bell is certainly activated by Dolores. In this story, the incidents and people surrounding two paintings are discovered and their stories unfold.

‘Where the honey meets the air’ begins in the voice of a chatty, somewhat irritatingly verbose narrator – until with a shock, it’s revealed to the reader what all these words were holding at bay – the real story, the crime that even now hasn’t been exposed quite yet… domestic horror that jumps right up at you and bites.

Stories that are zesty, sexy and shocking. These stories demonstrate the graceful ease of an enormously gifted and practised writer, someone who is at the peak of her powers. The stories remind me of the work of a magical actress carrying a one-woman show comprising dozens of different characters, making them all come to life and seem as real as the reader. And yet, there is some strange, glittering atmosphere around the stories, difficult to pin down; a soft glow seems to come from beyond the stories themselves. It might be a bold observation, but my feeling is that this is the soul of the writer, endowing her stories with grace that comes from somewhere else.

– Gabrielle Lord


Gabrielle Lord’s first novel Fortress was translated into numerous languages and made into a successful film. Since then she has published another fifteen adult novels with another one, Whipping Boy, also made for television. She has also written a 17 book series Conspiracy 365 for Young Adult readers which has gone all over the world and was made into a successful TV series by Circa Media and Foxtel. It is currently playing on ABC 3. Gabrielle is at present working on another YA trilogy, 48 Hours, coming in 2016. She can be found at

My Hearts are Your Hearts is available from


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