Dear Vincent

A novel about painting, suicide and Vincent Van Gogh. 

Published by Random House NZ in June 2013.


dear vincent

Life is really tough for Tara; her older sister has died, her father is ill, and the future seems very bleak. Her only consolations are her love of painting, and Vincent Van Gogh’s art. Will these be enough to give her the strength to get through the dark days?

NZ Post award-winning author Mandy Hager tackles the difficult topic of suicide fearlessly, with a novel that’s not afraid to go to the dark places but which is, ultimately, positive and uplifting.

I’m thrilled to announce that Dear Vincent won the 2014 LIANZA Young Adult Award for the most distinguished contribution to literature for children and young adults aged 13 years and above. Thanks LIANZA!!  It has also been translated into Slovenian.

Below you will find links to the paintings, music and links mentioned in the book. I will also post reviews as they come in! I hope you enjoy your time with Vincent’s amazing art!

Where to start:

A link to all Vincent’s letters – a wonderful storehouse of treats!
and also at: – where the letters are sorted into categories.

For a quick biograpghy, try:

To find out more about the thinking behind Dear Vincent, check out the archived post on this website: Okay/Not Okay?

Now for some of Vincent Van Gogh’s beautiful paintings, as mentioned in the book:

Starry Night has to be one of Van Gogh’s most brilliant and recognisable paintings – it’s the kind of image once seen, never forgotten. His ability to depict the movement of the heavens is inspiring. When I was a teenager studying Art History at college, I had a copy of the print on my bedroom wall.


Branches with Almond Blossom was thought to have been painted around the time of Theo Van Gogh’s son Vincent’s birth and is seen as a hopeful celebration of new life.
Here are the two images Tara speaks about when she paints the portrait of her mother – first Van Gogh’s portrait of Gordina de Groot and also Arnold Bocklin’s ‘Medusa.’
Gordina de Groot

Van Gogh’s ‘Siesta’ – a tribute to Jean-Francois Millet’s ‘Mid-day’ from his Four Moments in One Day series – (see Millet’s beside it)   

            Van Gogh’s version

Van Gogh’s Portrait of Man in Felt Hat – which Tara transformed into a portrait of her sister Van.


Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows, as mentioned in the final chapter of Dear Vincent.


Van Gogh’s painting of the Potato Eaters, believed by some to be his first truly successful painting.


Several other artists of the time (and earlier) are referenced in the book, including:

The Kiss‘ – currently held in Austria The Kiss (Lovers) was painted by the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt between 1908 and 1909, the highpoint of his “Golden Period”, when he painted a number of works in a similar gilded style. A perfect square, the canvas depicts a couple embracing, their bodies entwined in elaborate robes decorated in a style influenced by both linear constructs of the contemporary Art Nouveau style and the organic forms of the earlier Arts and Crafts movement. The work is composed of oil paint with applied layers of gold leaf, an aspect that gives it its strikingly modern, yet evocative appearance. The painting is now in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere palace, Vienna, and is widely considered a masterpiece of the early modern period. I have been lucky enough to see it there – truly wonderful!


The painting of Ophelia mentioned in the book is by Sir John Everett Millais. The scene is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vii, in which Ophelia, driven out of her mind when her father is murdered by her lover Hamlet, drowns herself in a stream.

There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke; When down her weedy trophies and herself Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide, And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up; Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes, As one incapable of her own distress, Or like a creature native and indued Unto that element; but long it could not be Till that her garments, heavy with their drink, Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay To muddy death.


Georges-Pierre Seurat’s ‘Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand-Jatte’, as mentioned in Chapter One of Dear Vincent. Seurat is noted for his innovative use of drawing media and for devising the technique of painting known as pointillism. This large-scale work (1884–1886) altered the direction of modern art by initiating Neo-impressionism. It is one of the icons of late 19th-century painting.


One of the paintings referenced in Chapter One – Claude Monet’s Impression Sunrise. Born in France (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) Monet was a founder of French Impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting. The term “Impressionism” is derived from the title of this painting Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), which was exhibited in 1874 in the first of the independent exhibitions mounted by Monet and his associates as an alternative to the Salon de Paris.


Again from Chapter One – one of Edgar Degas’ beautiful ballerinas. He was a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is especially identified with the subject of dance; more than half of his works depict dancers. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist.


Eduard Munch’s ‘The Scream‘ – I have a plastic blow-up model of the Scream in my writing room – the first thing my visitors see when they arrive! Munch painted four versions of this and they have been the target of several high-profile art thefts. In 1994, the version in the National Gallery was stolen. It was recovered several months later. In 2004, both The Scream and Madonna were stolen from the Munch Museum, and were both recovered two years later.


In the book, Tara goes to Belfast (Ireland) to visit her relatives, and sees the murals there painted to commemorate the Irish ‘Troubles’. The following are photograpghs I took when I went on a research trip there – all of which are mentioned in the book.


The mural below relates to the story of the Red Hand of Ulster:
(from Wikipedia) It is generally accepted that this Irish Gaelic symbol originated in pagan times and was first associated with the mythical figure Labraid Lámh Dhearg or Labraid Lámderg (Labraid of the Red Hand).

According to one myth, the kingdom of Ulster had at one time no rightful heir. Because of this it was agreed that a boat race should take place and that “whosoever’s hand is the first to touch the shore of Ireland, so shall he be made the king”.

One potential king so desired the kingship that, upon seeing that he was losing the race, he cut off his hand and threw it to the shore — thus winning the kingship.


Other links include:

Pictures and info about The Hill of Tara, Ireland

A link to Oscar Wilde’s story of the Happy Prince as told to Tara by her sister Vanessa (Van).

The light show at Notra Dame, Paris – a hand-held video, so a bit wobbly, but gives you a feel for the magnificance of the event. Notre Dame light show

Kate Rusby singing ‘I am Stretched on Your Grave’ – traditional Irish folk song – a beautiful and haunting song, as sung by Tara in the book.  Kate Rusby

Tara’s most favourite piano piece (surprise, surprise, mine too!) – the second movement of Chopin’s Concerto No 1 in E minor.  Chopin best ever!

 The Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madam Butterfly – quite simply one of the loveliest (and shortest) pieces of music in the world (and very sad, when you know the story depicted in the opera) – as listened to by Tara in her school art room.  Humming Chorus

Photos taken at the time of Northern Ireland’s Bloody Sunday – a little insight into what Tara’s parents lived through.

Speaking out about depression and suicidal thinking

An intersting development:


‘This is Mandy Hager’s best novel and she has had some good ones. It is beautifully crafted, extremely well written with characters whose lives burst out the pages…’

My Best Friends Are Books  ‘Dear Vincent is one of the most powerful, emotionally-charged books I’ve ever read.  I don’t think I’ve had such an emotional response to any other book, both adults or YA…’ 
‘I loved the story, I loved the characters and I loved that it made me cry…’
This book is raw and honest. Family secrets are hidden deep but the consequences are devastating. It is an emotional roller coaster which leaves the reader gasping for breath…’ 
‘Weaving hope and tragedy seamlessly throughout her novel, Hager sustains its momentum to the very last page…’


Radio New Zealand Interview with me:,-vincent-and-menton

 A lovely review from John McIntyre of The Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie. Thank you John!

 Here’s a lovely email I received the other day (July 2013) – this is what makes writing worth the slog! Thanks so much Joy!

Hello, Mandy! I just finished reading ‘Dear Vincent’, and I really want to let you know how much I enjoyed it. I’m Joy, a 15 year old New Zealander who would love to be a published author herself one day! What drew me to ‘Dear Vincent’ was my own love of Vincent Van Gogh’s work. He always has, and most likely always will be my favourite painter. If I’m being completely honest, at first I didn’t understand how Tara’s life could be so bad, how her parents could be so cold. But when I got to the part of the book when you find out about her parents past suddenly it all made so much sense. I could understand her parents and Van so much better from then on. I feel like you understand so many teenagers with this book, the way they can twist the idea of suicide into something it really isn’t. You perfectly capture the way suicide can seem like a part of our destiny, like it’s what we’re supposed to do. I honestly believe so many teenagers could benefit from this book, from Tara’s realization that suicide is ugly, and if you just wait a few more seconds you will realize it is the wrong choice. So many books make suicide seem intriguing and glamorous, but this book actually shows the truth about suicide and I really appreciate that. Thank you for writing this fantastic book. I will definitely be recommending it to people.