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A Funeral Hearse Started It All: Carmel Bird on writing Family Skeleton

November 19, 2018

About the Author:

Carmel Bird is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Her first collection of short stories appeared in 1976. Since then she has published novels, essays, anthologies, children’s books and also manuals on how to write.

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One day I was sitting on a bus that went from my home town of Castlemaine in the Victorian Goldfields to Melbourne airport. As I stared absently out the window into the wild bush country beside the road, I saw, emerging from between the trees, an elaborate nineteenth century funeral hearse. It was like a vision in a dream as it sailed from the forest onto the road and disappeared. It had driven straight into my imagination, and by the time I arrived at the airport I had the outline of a new novel in my mind.

I made some notes as I waited for the flight. My memories of the more modern hearse in which a teenage boyfriend and I sometimes went to dances in the 1950s came back to me, and his family’s funeral business took on new meanings. I recalled the cemeteries I visited in California in the sixties, and so I invented the weird and wonderful Heavenly Days Cemetery of the novel, which is set in the present day. The scandals (including a murder) of the O’Day funeral people began to come to life, and I couldn’t wait to get home again and start writing in earnest.

There is always some form of research to be done. One thing this time was to visit a vast fantastic automobile museum near Castlemaine. There I found, in sparkling reality, the very hearse that had inspired me. It seems you can hire it for a funeral (or for a wedding, whatever takes your fancy). My own family, in the early part of the twentieth century, used to train and provide the black horses for funerals in Tasmania. So all this is in the blood.


  1. Lisa Roberts

    I love this insight into creativity. I love how your stories reveal truths about humanity when there’s no line between the data and experience.

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