Book Review / Dear Writer: revisited by Carmel Bird

Suzanne Rath reviews Dear Writer: revisited by Carmel Bird.

Twenty-five years after its first release, Carmel Bird’s Dear Writer has been re-launched with updated advice for the modern writer. The result is a writing guide that is accessible, fun and packed with useful projects to try.

Dear Writer: revisited consists of twenty-one letters to the unnamed writer of a fictional short story, ‘The Scream at Midnight.’ Signed by Virginia O’Day, a character who would later appear in one of Bird’s novels, each one addresses a common mistake found in fiction, while referring back to the writer’s story. From, ‘So you want to be Agatha Christie (The Importance of writing about things you know)’ to ‘When all’s said and done (The final draft)’, Virginia’s letters take the reader on a crash course in writing without the burden of reading an academic text. Throughout, the reader feels privy to a personal literary correspondence.

‘Titles, as I said, are one of my favourite things and I would be quite happy to sit here staring at my bookshelves and writing down the titles for you. However, I had better suggest that you do some work. Look at your own books and write down the titles you think are good and then those that are bad.’

As Bird tells us in the introduction, today this correspondence would surely be via email, a fact that would change its tone and structure completely. For the most part, the original format remains, with author’s notes at the end of each chapter dealing with the present day. While the method of communication is different, the lessons are the same today as always.

So who is this book aimed at? Bird predominantly references short stories, however the tips are equally useful for long form fiction writers. Those who have completed programs such as ‘The Artist’s Way’, or attended short courses in creative writing are sure to recognise some of the techniques; others will be entirely new. If there is a shortcoming, it’s that the 2013 notes are a little sparse. A note on software programs for writers may have been useful in the quaint ‘discussion of pens, typewriters and word processors’ chapter, while the advice on submitting to magazines offers little new information. Overall, the voice of Virginia is so unique, and the book so rich in information, there are few writers who won’t find Dear Writer: revisited a helpful volume on the bookshelf.

Suzanne Rath is a reviewer, aspiring novelist and screenwriter and NSWWC member. Some of her work and musings on writing can be found at or via Twitter @Suzowriting.

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