f 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
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.”