Field of Poppiesis published in November 2019 by Transit Lounge.
“It takes years of experience for a writer to be able to pull off this kind of sorcery.”
The scarlet poppy is a reminder of the First World War, a war that tore civilisation apart in the 20thcentury. The poppy grows wild in the fields around Muckleton, a rural Australian town, where one night a woman called Alice vanishes. The village is turned upside-down. In the world outside Muckleton, the seas are rising, the climate is changing, millions of refugees are dying, forests and species are disappearing. The majority of affluent westerners appear to be living carefree, careless lives. Muckleton tree-changers Marsali and William are involved in the woes of the village, are aware of the worries of the world, and yet they seem to be merrily swept along with the tide that is threatening to overwhelm the planet.
Two Odd Sources of Inspiration for this Novel
A friend went to a gallery where she bought a fancy hair clip, which she gave to me. The image on the hair clip was ‘Woman with a Parasol’, one of Claude Monet’s many depictions of his wife.
I went on a little Monet spree, and naturally I came to ‘Field of Poppies in Argenteuil’. Sometimes it is easy enough to explain how and why an event is the inspiration for a piece of fiction, however I can’t really say why ‘Poppies’ set my imagination in motion, but it did.
Suddenly I had a character who loved, not just that painting, but a faithful copy of it, created by her aunt. The main figure of the woman in ‘Poppies’ is probably the same woman as the one with the parasol. For that matter, she’s carrying a parasol in ‘Poppies’ too. Before I knew it, I was writing about the poppies in Flanders, about the waste and horror of war, leading me on to meditate on the ravages that humans have visited upon the planet itself. Yet as I descended into the bewildering darkness of wars, refugees, climate, disease, overcrowding, starvation, thirst, extinctions – I saw all around me people who lead cheerful, comfortable Australian lives, playing sport, going to the opera, the café, the art gallery, flying to Paris, decorating their hair with fancy clips. The novel was beginning to take shape.
I am daily reminded of the urgency needed to attend to looming global disaster. Marsali and William are intended to foreground the dangers inherent in blithely living in a kind of fairyland. I live in something like this fairyland myself. At one level, they know everything is spinning out of control; at another level they are powerless to act. The ground beneath their feet is rich in gold that will betray them, and also seeded with the bones of historic tragedies and massacres. Such things are still happening around them in the wider world.
It’s ironic of course that something as innocent and sweet as the fancy hairclip should have set all this in motion.
Another source of inspiration forField of Poppies was an article I had saved from The Australian Women’s Weekly, June 4 1975. My filing cabinets are full of odd files of rather eclectic bits of information that I seem to have been collecting forever. This was a story about people in London who specialized in producing excellent legal fakes of great paintings. I am interested in the world of art theft (which I explored in my novel Child of the Twilight) and also in the matter of fakes. The character of Marsali’s aunt Clarissa in Field ofPoppies is an amateur painter who made the copy of the Monet Poppiespainting that is one of the key elements in my new novel. The magazine article from 1975 isn’t even particularly detailed or interesting, but it must have fermented away in the filing cabinet, and in my memory, to surface again when I came to construct Field of Poppies.
Comments on Field of Poppies
Fiona Wright: “Sharp yet sensitive, wildly imaginative, and layered with allusion and allegory. Bird’s vivid characters weave together local legend, small-town speculation, art, literature and science in their narration of their selves and lives, all but ignoring the social and ecological destruction taking place around them.
A truly remarkable achievement from a novelist at the height of her powers.”
Michael Sala: “Bold and playful, sharply funny and humane, Carmel Bird’s timely social satire shimmers with layers. Carmel has a gift for distilling the essence of her characters and locations and bringing them together in wonderfully unexpected ways. Her distinctive voice and lightness of touch shine in this penetrating and evocative novel.”
Gerardo Rodriguez Salas: “Highly engaging storytelling that blends and layers reality and extravaganza with ingenious irony, wit and subtlety.”
Michael McGirr: This is an absolute feast of wit and wisdom. Carmel Bird embroiders a seemingly simple story with the most wonderful observations and colourful mischief. This novel resonates with a long list of contemporary problems. It is wry, intelligent, searching, poised and astute, showcasing the human catastrophe with grace and charm. It takes years of experience for a writer to be able to pull off this kind of sorcery. It is wonderful to see Carmel Bird working with such zest and verve.
Gabrielle Lord: “All the Bird trademark strands – beauty, shock and horror, a genuine story based in the reality of the world, complex imagery, elegant irony and compelling prose.”
Robert Drewe: “How to describe Field of Poppies? A lush feast of wit and wisdom? Writing so rich you simply want to devour it? A forensic examination of an Australian country town? Literary tour de force will have to do.”