“We feel like kin­dred spir­its”

The Mo­ri­arty sis­ters – hugely suc­cess­ful Aus­tralian au­thors Liane, Ja­clyn and Ni­cola – sit down with Stel­lar for a bit of sib­ling rev­elry

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy DAVE WHEELER In­ter­view MEG MA­SON

Aus­tralia’s best­selling au­thor sis­ters Liane, Ja­clyn and Ni­cola Mo­ri­arty on their spe­cial bond and the sup­posed “com­pet­i­tive­ness” they get quizzed about.

If nov­el­ists seem like an un­usual breed, con­sider the fact that the job it­self re­quires some­thing pretty un­usual. They spend hours each day in to­tal iso­la­tion, cre­at­ing worlds that don’t ex­ist and pop­u­lat­ing them with in­vented char­ac­ters. All of this has the ten­dency to, plainly speak­ing, make a per­son a lit­tle neu­rotic.

As US au­thor Anne Lamott once ex­plained, writ­ers are just nar­cis­sists with an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex, tor­tured by fail­ure un­til they are ru­ined by suc­cess. It is quite a com­bi­na­tion.

So when three of Aus­tralia’s most suc­cess­ful writ­ers tromp into the Pub­lic Din­ing Room at Syd­ney’s Bal­moral Beach on the first rainy day the city has seen in months, it is a re­lief to dis­cover there does not seem to be a highly strung artiste among them. And that’s not just be­cause they had spent the pre­vi­ous hour be­ing pho­tographed on the freez­ing sand, wind whip­ping at them from ev­ery an­gle. Th­ese three writ­ers, who be­tween them have pub­lished 23 books cov­er­ing gen­res from com­mer­cial fic­tion to sus­pense to young-adult sto­ries, are also sis­ters.

Liane, Ja­clyn and Ni­cola have been meet­ing here for years, and still do – as of­ten as their loaded sched­ules will al­low. Over cap­puc­ci­nos on the ter­race, Ja­clyn tells Stel­lar “there are six chil­dren in our fam­ily, five girls and one boy. Ours was a re­ally warm, close fam­ily and I like all my sis­ters. But the other two are much more sen­si­ble and prac­ti­cal than

the three of us. We’ve al­ways felt like kin­dred spir­its who share a slightly more side­ways way of think­ing.”

At 50, Liane is the old­est of the six sib­lings. Ja­clyn, 49, is sec­ond in line. Ni­cola is the baby, younger than Liane by 15 years. While they were grow­ing up in the Syd­ney sub­urb of Kel­lyville, their mother Di­ane also fos­tered more than 40 chil­dren while rais­ing her own brood; fa­ther Bernie sup­ported the tribe by work­ing as an aerial sur­veyor.their fa­ther didn’t be­lieve in pocket money, which may be where their fu­ture as a fam­ily y of scribes be­gan. “He be­lieved in en­ter­prise ter­prise and would com­mis­sion us to write a story and pay a dol­lar each for them,” Ja­clyn aclyn says. “We were all pro­lific read­ers, , and wanted to be writ­ers from quite early rly on.”

Bernie’s scheme paid off – it’s hard to re­mem­ber a time be­fore the Mo­ri­arty iarty name was a fix­ture on Aus­tralia’s s pop-cul­ture land­scape. This year, the fam­ily sur­name found it­self at­tached ched to a true phe­nom­e­non when HBO’S series adap­ta­tion of Liane’s 2014 novel Big Lit­tle Lies, spear­headed by and star­ring rring Ni­cole Kid­man and Reese Wither­spoon, rspoon, dom­i­nated world­wide wa­ter-cooler er con­ver­sa­tions for months.

But it was hardly an overnight suc­cess. uc­cess. The Mo­ri­arty sis­ters have ar­rived here thanks to un­told hours of un­flag­ging ng hard work. It was nearly two decades ago go that Ja­clyn pub­lished her first piece of fic­tion for young adults, earn­ing NSW Pre­mier’s emier’s Lit­er­ary Awards for her first and sec­ond d ef­forts, and qui­etly achiev­ing best­seller sta­tus with ti­tles that fol­lowed. She’s now up to book 13, a magic-and-dragons tale en­ti­tled The Ex­tremely In­con­ve­nient Ad­ven­tures Of Bronte Met­tle­stone.

Ja­clyn be­gan writ­ing as a side­line, while study­ing for a PHD in me­dia law at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge. “Re­ally, I was just try­ing to ex­tend my stu­dent life and put off be­com­ing a lawyer for as long as pos­si­ble,” she says. “I knew Cam­bridge was my last chance to write, be­cause as soon as I started work­ing it would get shut out. So I made a pact with my­self to fin­ish a book be­fore I came home.”

She is be­ing mod­est – be­fore the PHD she earned a Masters de­gree at Yale Univer­sity, which she only men­tions in pass­ing. And she ne­glects to men­tion how dif­fi­cult it is to find real suc­cess in Aus­tralia’s small fic­tion mar­ket. Sell­ing 3000 copies of a book is con­sid­ered a good out­come by pub­lish­ers, and au­thors can re­ceive as lit­tle as $3 per copy from the cover price. So be­ing able to pay the bills with­out a day job is a rar­ity, but Ja­clyn – who is a sin­gle mother to 11-year-old son Char­lie – has man­aged to do it.

Liane had a ca­reer in mar­ket­ing be­fore be­ing in­spired by Ja­clyn to fol­low her into the trade. As she tells Stel­lar, “I’ve al­ways said Ja­clyn can never write a bor­ing sen­tence in her life. Her use of lan­guage is ex­quis­ite.” Big Lit­tle Lies was a ru­n­away suc­cess with read­ers long be­fore it be­came an Emmy Award-win­ning TV show, and Liane’s 10-novel out­put has moved a healthy six mil­lion books world­wide. She is such a fix­ture on The New York Times best­seller list that she ap­pears on it even in years that she doesn’t re­lease a new ti­tle.

Still, as re­cently as last year, one news out­let de­scribed her as “the most suc­cess­ful Aus­tralian au­thor that you’ve never heard of”. And in some senses she hasn’t shaken the “se­cre­tive Syd­ney w writer” tag that at­tached it­self to her eea early on. “I don’t know where that cam came me from, the id idea that I’m reclu­sive reclu­sive,” e,” Liane says. “We all joke about it.. it. I find it hi­lar­i­ous.”

“Our only ri­valry is over the use of fam­ily anec­dotes in our books”

Liane says be­ing at the school gates one day and on an Emmy red car­pet the next is sur­real, but that the process of col­lab­o­rat­ing with Kid­man was a to­tal joy. “Of course it was spe­cial,” she says. “I must ad­mit I thought that ev­ery­body in Hol­ly­wood would be quite ego­cen­tric and shal­low, but in fact they were so wel­com­ing and made me part of the process, which they don’t have to do. [Ni­cole] has been so lovely and warm, and that has been one of the un­ex­pected ben­e­fits of this whole thing.”

A sec­ond series has been mooted and yet Liane re­mains trailed by what she calls the “whole sub­ur­ban mum thing”. As she tells Stel­lar, “I spoke to a young jour­nal­ist once who ob­vi­ously thought Big Lit­tle Lies was my first book. Maybe be­cause I was so much older than her, I seemed like some mum who’d scrib­bled it down in the kitchen while cook­ing the lamb chops, rather than a mid-list writer who man­aged to break out.”

There is ar­guably a note of la­tent sex­ism in the mum nar­ra­tive. Women’s com­mer­cial fic­tion (where Liane and Ni­cola’s books sit) and young-adult nov­els, which is what Ja­clyn writes, tend to be sniffed at by crit­ics who con­sider them a lesser art than lit­er­ary or gen­eral fic­tion. As Liane points out, “I do doubt a male au­thor would ever b be de­scribed that way.”

More per­ni­cious is the as­sump­tion that three fe­male sib­lings work­ing in the same in­dus­try must be com­pet­i­tive, and riven with jeal­ousy to­wards who­ever has achieved the most com­mer­cial suc­cess. “I have been asked, ‘Are you en­vi­ous or com­pet­i­tive?’” Ja­clyn says, “And I al­ways say ab­so­lutely not. I am so happy that we all write, can act as each other’s first read­ers and sup­port each other that way. Liane can be ruth­less but I trust her ed­i­to­rial judge­ment. And be­cause we all un­der­stand the im­por­tance of praise, she will al­ways read any­thing of mine and im­me­di­ately say this is the best thing I’ve ever writ­ten.”

Still, she con­cedes, “All au­thors have crises of con­fi­dence. I’ve def­i­nitely wo­ken up at 2am think­ing, ‘Why am I writ­ing when my sis­ters are such stars?’ But in the day­time, I feel con­fi­dent in my writ­ing and the space I’ve carved out for my­self. Even grow­ing up I al­ways thought of Liane as the leader, so I just get happy for her and think, ‘Well, maybe I will be a New York Times best­seller and get movie deals, too.’”

Liane adds, “Like both my sis­ters, I’ve been asked on many oc­ca­sions if there is sib­ling ri­valry be­tween us. I have al­ways an­swered that our only ri­valry is over the use of fam­ily anec­dotes in our books.”

Ni­cola says she grew up “idol­is­ing” Liane and Ja­clyn. And as the last to join the fam­ily busi­ness, she tells Stel­lar that she ben­e­fited from her sis­ters’ in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence, while at the same time feel­ing the weight of their name. For a time, she con­sid­ered sub­mit­ting her first man­u­script to agents with a pseu­do­nym. “It was def­i­nitely good and bad,” she says of the fam­ily con­nec­tion. “I didn’t re­ally know how you go about be­com­ing a writer, un­til Ja­clyn and Liane did it and you start to feel it is pos­si­ble.”

Given her sis­ters were al­ready so well es­tab­lished, Ni­cola re­veals that “I couldn’t even ad­mit to my­self that I was writ­ing a novel, in case I pan­icked and couldn’t do it. It prob­a­bly wasn’t un­til I was five or six chap­ters in that I started to feel more con­fi­dent to let that be my aim – and con­fess to my sis­ters that’s what I was try­ing to do.” Ni­cola’s third book, The Fifth Let­ter, was re­leased this year; she is cur­rently ne­go­ti­at­ing film rights for one of the three.

With their cap­puc­ci­nos emp­tied, the sis­ters be­gin to gather their things in prepa­ra­tion for – yes – the school pick-up. (Liane and Ni­cola each have two chil­dren.) As they head their sep­a­rate ways, Liane re­flects on their mu­tual suc­cess. “I have al­ways felt like any­thing good that hap­pens to one of us hap­pens to all of us,” she ex­plains. “Ja­clyn has re­ally good legs, so that means I have re­ally good legs, too. And Ni­cola has that Ju­lia Roberts smile, so we’ve got that cov­ered as well.”

“We have al­ways felt like kin­dred spir­its who share a side­ways way of think­ing”

THE Best­selling WRITE au­thors STUFF and sis­ters (from left) Ni­cola, Liane and Ja­clyn Mo­ri­arty share a spe­cial bond in their love of sto­ry­telling.

BOOK Liane, who CLUB found (from suc­cess top) in 2014 with her book Big Lit­tle Lies, reg­u­larly tops The New York Times best­seller list; as well as be­ing a pub­lished au­thor, Ja­clyn has a PHD from the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge and a Masters in Law from Yale Univer­sity; Ni­cola is rights for one of her nov­els.

IN­SIDE from above STORY left) (clock­wise Ni­cole Kid­man, Liane and Reese Wither­spoon at the pre­miere of HBO’S Big Lit­tle Lies; the sis­ters say they are each other’s big­gest sup­port; Ja­clyn’s book tally now stands at 13; her lat­est of­fer­ing.

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