Valerie Kirwan's interest in the theatre began at the age of 15 when she played the main roles with the Box Hill Repertory Group. She went on to play many Shakespearean roles with Melbourne University and Melbourne Youth Theatre. She worked as stage manager and director's assistant for university productions at St Martin's Theatre, Melbourne. She trained at Crawford's Television school in 1956 and took small parts in several television series.
In the 1970s Kirwan wrote, directed and performed plays in Melbourne, and her first play was Marmalur. She was the first Australian woman playwright to be produced at La Mama in 1974, and five years later she became the theatre's first playwright in residence.
In the early 1980s Kirwan gave up theatre to concentrate on fiction writing. Her publications include the novel The Will to Fall (1984), Wandering: Short Stories (1984), and Lovers and Losers of the Last Century, a collection of novellas published in 2000. In 2003 she made a return to La Mama theatre with her play Michael, which was adapted from a novella included in Lovers and Losers of the Last Century.