Cerid­wen Dovey on the world of Liane Mo­ri­arty Kim Ma­hood on Pa­punya Tjupi Arts

She’s the first Aus­tralian au­thor to have three nov­els reach num­ber one on the New York Times best­seller list, and has sold more than 14 mil­lion books glob­ally, but she’s not in­ter­ested in re­peat­ing her­self.

The Monthly (Australia) - - FRONT PAGE - by Cerid­wen Dovey

In per­son, Mo­ri­arty is the kind of woman whom I imag­ine has to fend off wannabe best friends con­stantly.

You know you’ve read a great book when it changes how you move through the world. That’s how I felt after read­ing Big Lit­tle Lies, Aus­tralian au­thor Liane Mo­ri­arty’s sixth and best-known novel (thanks in part to its adap­ta­tion as an award-win­ning HBO TV se­ries star­ring Reese Wither­spoon and Nicole Kid­man). Mo­ri­arty’s cre­ative ge­nius in this book, as in all her work, is to scru­ti­nise a group of or­di­nary peo­ple forced to co-ex­ist in an emo­tion­ally and morally charged sit­u­a­tion.

In Big Lit­tle Lies, she keeps the bell jar firmly over a set of char­ac­ters whose kids are start­ing kinder­garten in Syd­ney’s north­ern beaches, ob­serv­ing how they nav­i­gate the pres­sures and plea­sures of this com­mu­nal ex­pe­ri­ence. I think about this novel of­ten while wait­ing in the play­ground of my son’s school – along with dozens of par­ents – for the chil­dren to be led out by their teach­ers at the end of the day. It’s a time of life when, as a par­ent, you are ex­pected to be as wide open as your chil­dren to those around you: there are new friend­ships to be made and al­liances to be formed, school au­thor­ity fig­ures to obey, teach­ers to get to know and im­press, rit­u­als and cer­e­monies to get your head around. In the novel, one of the school mums makes a wise ob­ser­va­tion: “Par­ents do tend to judge each other … Maybe be­cause none of us re­ally know what we’re do­ing?”

If I were a char­ac­ter in one of Mo­ri­arty’s nov­els, she would see ev­ery part of me, the good, the bad and the ugly, but she would never skewer me. I’ve be­come a lit­tle kin­der to the other par­ents, and to my­self, as a re­sult of read­ing her books. I’m more ac­cept­ing of the roles we play at dif­fer­ent times, more un­der­stand­ing that they’re not some sign of in­au­then­tic­ity, but nec­es­sary for sur­vival in the some­times sav­age so­cial worlds we in­habit. Mo­ri­arty is alive to the irony that we are of­ten put off by the peo­ple who, on the sur­face, seem most like our­selves, what Freud coined the “nar­cis­sism of small dif­fer­ences”. She also has a way of val­i­dat­ing the daily dilem­mas par­ents face, ac­knowl­edg­ing that while they’re in­signif­i­cant in the wider scheme of things they can still feel very real, very ur­gent. At one stage in Big Lit­tle Lies, the young sin­gle mother Jane – who al­ready feels as if she’s an out­sider among all the nu­clear fam­i­lies – is be­side her­self when she loses the class toy, Harry the Hippo. She has in­tu­ited, rightly, that the other mums will see this as a sym­bol of her more gen­eral fail­ings as a mother, and Mo­ri­arty cuts right to their voices, as if to a bitchy Greek cho­rus:

“Harry the Hippo had been with the school for over ten years. That cheap syn­thetic toy she re­placed it with smelled just ter­ri­ble.”

“Look, it wasn’t so much that she lost Harry the Hippo, but that she put pho­tos in the scrap­book of the lit­tle ex­clu­sive group who went to Dis­ney on Ice.”

“Those were the last pho­tos ever taken of Harry the Hippo. Harry the Her­itage-listed Hippo.”

“Oh my God, the fuss when poor Jane lost the class toy, and every­one is pre­tend­ing it’s not a big deal, but clearly it is a big deal, and I’m think­ing, can you peo­ple get a life?”

I’ve be­gun to won­der how the up­com­ing K–2 kids’ disco would play out if scripted by Mo­ri­arty; there have been jokes about su­per­vis­ing par­ents sneak­ing in bot­tles of pros­ecco to make it bear­able. If the cli­mac­tic school trivia-night scene in Big Lit­tle Lies is any guide, we will earn the right to the orig­i­nal ti­tle she had for the novel: “Par­ents Be­hav­ing Badly”.

In per­son, Mo­ri­arty is the kind of woman whom I imag­ine has to fend off wannabe best friends con­stantly. De­spite her fame as an in­ter­na­tion­ally best­selling au­thor (she has sold more than 14 mil­lion copies glob­ally, and many of her books have been op­tioned for film and TV by ac­tors such as Jen­nifer Anis­ton, Blake Lively and, re­peat­edly, Nicole Kid­man), she’s more in­ter­ested in hear­ing about my life than in talk­ing about her own, and has a gen­tle sense of hu­mour and a self-pos­ses­sion that is most ev­i­dent in the sonorous tim­bre of her voice. Usu­ally she guards her pri­vacy, but she has a new novel, Nine Per­fect Strangers, so she’s emerg­ing from the co­coon of the writ­ing life for the pub­lic­ity hus­tle. She loves meet­ing her read­ers but is less en­thu­si­as­tic about in­ter­views and ap­pear­ances; she’s al­ready drawn lit­tle bal­loons in her di­ary on the date when her Amer­i­can book tour will be over. She knows that by the end of the me­dia trail she’ll feel like a “din­ner party guest who got em­bar­rass­ingly drunk and talked too much about her­self the whole night”.

We meet at The Bathers’ Pavil­ion cafe on Bal­moral Beach in Syd­ney, with a view of the still, clear wa­ter of the shel­tered bay. It’s a place that has spe­cial mean­ing for Mo­ri­arty: the fi­nal scene of her first pub­lished novel, Three Wishes, is set at the white ro­tunda on the grass nearby, and she and her hus­band and two chil­dren (aged 10 and 8) come here for a cel­e­bra­tory meal each time she fin­ishes writ­ing a novel. Her sis­ter Ja­clyn Mo­ri­arty, an ac­claimed au­thor of young adult nov­els, comes to the Pavil­ion reg­u­larly to write – we bump into her later that

morn­ing. But Liane has only ever made char­ac­ter notes here, in a very beau­ti­ful note­book she spends a lot of time pick­ing out – a fresh one for each novel.

She ar­rives right on time, wear­ing a polka-dot blouse, very lit­tle make-up, and a small sap­phire pen­dant around her neck that is the same blue as her eyes. She’s 51, and a Scor­pio. “Scor­pios are very pas­sion­ate,” she says mock­se­ri­ously, “and very good in bed.” Her hus­band, Adam, an ex-farmer from Tas­ma­nia and now a stay-at-home dad, did the school drop-off so that Mo­ri­arty could get to our in­ter­view. His spousal du­ties are oc­ca­sion­ally more glam­orous, though I had to dig a lit­tle for these de­tails: she says he stayed pro­tec­tively by her side on the red car­pet at the 2017 Emmy Awards (“There are pho­tos where he looks like my body­guard, which is hi­lar­i­ous”), and watched proudly as she got up on stage with Reese and Nicole (Big Lit­tle Lies won eight Emmy awards over­all).

He’d also helped her get un­stuck when she tried on some­thing that was too small dur­ing the ex­cru­ci­at­ing search for the right dress. “Peo­ple in the bou­tiques were ig­nor­ing the mid­dle-aged woman look­ing out of her el­e­ment. No­body be­lieved me that it was for the Em­mys.” (For the fash­ion-cu­ri­ous, the dress was an el­e­gant floor­length gown in taupe and cream.)

In re­al­ity, though, theirs is mostly a more rooted do­mes­tic ex­is­tence, with a few lux­u­ri­ous perks. They moved a few years ago into a stately home not far from where Mo­ri­arty grew up on Syd­ney’s up­per North Shore, and have just bought a sec­ond home in Ho­bart, where Mo­ri­arty plans to se­clude her­self ev­ery now and then to write. She is the el­dest of six chil­dren and is very close to her par­ents and sib­lings, most of whom still live in Syd­ney; when they all got to­gether for her 50th birth­day, there were 24 peo­ple to feed. In her web­site bio, Mo­ri­arty de­scribes her­self in her sig­na­ture tonguein-cheek tone as a home­body who likes to eat choco­late, fall to her knees on the side­lines of her kids’ soc­cer games (“the grief, the joy, the drama!”), walk “around the block to avoid writer’s block”, and read in the bath be­fore bed. Her home of­fice, she tells me, is far from a hal­lowed place of fever­ish cre­ation; her hus­band and kids use the com­puter as a “hot desk”.

After our cof­fees ar­rive – and she’s taken a big, ap­pre­cia­tive sip – she makes a joke about be­ing open now to an­swer­ing the harder ques­tions, so I take the chance to bring up some­thing I’m not sure she’ll want to talk about, given her aver­sion to name-drop­ping or brag­ging. (I’m con­scious that things never end well for char­ac­ters with these bad habits in her books.) What can she share about her ex­pe­ri­ences on the set of Big Lit­tle Lies in 2016, watch­ing her book be­ing turned into a hit TV show, some­thing most writ­ers would give their eye­teeth to ex­pe­ri­ence?

True to ret­i­cent form, she says she re­cently turned down an of­fer to visit the Amer­i­can set where sea­son two of Big Lit­tle Lies is be­ing filmed be­cause she felt it

was time to take a step back. While she’d been warmly wel­comed on set for the film­ing of the sea­son one trivia-night fi­nale, she re­mem­bers feel­ing un­com­fort­ably over­whelmed see­ing so many peo­ple hard at work breath­ing life into some­thing that had pre­vi­ously only ex­isted in her mind: every­one from the cater­ers, to the stunt peo­ple prac­tis­ing how a body dou­ble would fall, to the set de­sign­ers show­ing her their early draw­ings of how the school hall would be dec­o­rated on that fate­ful night.

All that seems now, she says, like a sur­real fog. She val­ues the way that Adam and her chil­dren keep her grounded, not just in terms of deal­ing with the hul­la­baloo of be­ing sud­denly rich and fa­mous but also in bring­ing her back to her­self after days spent with make­be­lieve char­ac­ters, go­ing to places in her fic­tion she doesn’t al­ways feel com­fort­able ven­tur­ing. Her books of­ten have comic el­e­ments, but she wants her next book to be a pure com­edy, to cleanse her­self in a fash­ion after hav­ing imag­ined her way into trau­mas such as the loss of a teenage child to sui­cide, the fail­ure of a mar­riage, the un­solved mur­der of a child, in­fer­til­ity, fam­ily vi­o­lence. In her fic­tion, she tack­les these sub­jects with sen­si­tiv­ity, con­scious that she may be seen to be tres­pass­ing into realms of pain out­side her own di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence.

Mo­ri­arty has been crit­i­cised, for ex­am­ple, for “dar­ing” in Big Lit­tle Lies to write about fam­ily vi­o­lence, a “se­ri­ous sub­ject that only au­thors of lit­er­ary fic­tion should be en­ti­tled to write about”, as she puts it rue­fully. She is not de­fen­sive about this crit­i­cism; if any­thing, she’s too open to it. “I can get my­self all caught up in that be­cause I do un­der­stand what they’re say­ing,” she tells me, with a wor­ried frown. “If a book’s not well writ­ten enough, then you may feel too de­tached from what­ever it’s de­scrib­ing. So I won­der, did that re­viewer have a point?”

Her sis­ter Ja­clyn, she says, likes to re­as­sure her by ask­ing, “Why should peo­ple who read com­mer­cial fic­tion not be al­lowed to read about tragedy, about bad things that hap­pen to many of us?” Mo­ri­arty also takes heart from how many read­ers have told her that see­ing the cy­cle of abuse Ce­leste suf­fers with Perry had given them the courage to leave abu­sive re­la­tion­ships. (Long be­fore I was as­signed to write this pro­file, a close friend of mine called me up and said, “I’m leav­ing my hus­band. If you want to know why, read Big Lit­tle Lies.” She lit­er­ally gave the book out to her friends so that she didn’t have to ex­plain over and over why she was es­cap­ing her out­wardly per­fect but se­cretly toxic mar­riage.)

The de­sire of her crit­ics to cen­sure Mo­ri­arty for what she chooses to write about per­haps re­veals more about the parochial­ism and pet­ti­ness of the lit­er­ary world than any­thing else. Un­til sur­pris­ingly re­cently, Mo­ri­arty was not widely known or cel­e­brated in Aus­tralia as a home­grown suc­cess, even though she’s the first Aus­tralian au­thor to have three nov­els reach the num­ber one spot on the New York Times best­seller list. One of the char­ac­ters in Nine Per­fect Strangers, Frances, who’s had a lu­cra­tive ca­reer as a ro­mance writer, aims a few sharp ar­rows at the Aus­tralian high-lit­er­ary es­tab­lish­ment, which has shunned or crit­i­cised her work since she first started pub­lish­ing. She’s been told, for ex­am­ple, that she has a weak­ness for ad­jec­tives and ad­verbs: “Ap­par­ently she scat­tered them about her nov­els like throw cush­ions.” It made me chuckle that the re­viewer who has panned Frances’s work as “For­mu­laic. Trash. Drivel. Trite” loses her life sav­ings in a cryp­tocur­rency scam and lives “in a state of quite pro­found un­hap­pi­ness for the rest of her days”.

While Mo­ri­arty’s nov­els tend to be de­scribed as “com­mer­cial fic­tion”, they’re ac­tu­ally not easy to clas­sify. When I ask how she feels her work should be cat­e­gorised, she re­sponds, “I hon­estly could not say where I should be. I can­not see my own work clearly, so I have no idea.” Some­times she’s claimed as a crime writer (one of the only lit­er­ary awards she’s ever won, she tells me, was a crime-writ­ing award for Big Lit­tle Lies), and has been urged by past ed­i­tors to keep fea­tur­ing “dark, dra­matic twists” in all her books, mak­ing them closer to thrillers. Yet, like any writer com­mit­ted to her craft, she is not in­ter­ested in do­ing the same thing re­peat­edly; she is led first and fore­most by what the project de­mands. “I don’t want ev­ery book to have a twist,” she says adamantly. “And I cer­tainly don’t want the twist it­self to be­come con­trived, ma­nip­u­lated into be­ing.” She feels she’s still grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing as a writer; she’s still dis­sect­ing the books that have come be­fore, analysing what she could have done dif­fer­ently. She be­lieves, for ex­am­ple, that she made read­ers wait too long for the fi­nal re­veal in her 2016 novel Truly Madly Guilty.

Mo­ri­arty main­tains a fierce loy­alty to the printed word. For her, be­ing pub­lished is the end goal, the true re­ward. Ev­ery­thing else is “an ex­tra­or­di­nary gift”. Now that her books have been trans­lated to tele­vi­sion and are in the process of be­ing adapted for the big screen, and she’s had a taste of writ­ing in an­other for­mat (she wrote a novella that formed the ba­sis of David E. Kel­ley’s scripts for sea­son two of Big Lit­tle Lies), she is some­times dis­mayed to be held up as an ex­am­ple of a writer who has “made it” – as if ev­ery book’s se­cret am­bi­tion is to be­come a movie or TV show. Sketch­ing out the sea­son two sto­ry­lines was “fun and easy”, be­cause she didn’t have “to get the char­ac­ters from room to room” (she

“I’m leav­ing my hus­band. If you want to know why, read Big Lit­tle Lies.”

finds de­scrib­ing scenery dif­fi­cult), but at the end of it, she felt kind of empty, won­der­ing, “Where’s my book?” She’s not sure she would do it again. “Maybe I’m just not a team player. I don’t know.”

All the pain and dif­fi­culty of writ­ing a book is made worth­while by her in­tense plea­sure in fin­ish­ing it, she says, para­phras­ing Zadie Smith. Mo­ri­arty ac­tu­ally writes “The End” on the fi­nal page of a draft, and feels ex­hil­a­rated for days. There are a few rounds of edit­ing – made slightly more com­plex by the sheer num­ber of agents and ed­i­tors she has around the world – and then, right be­fore the book goes to print, her eu­pho­ria is re­placed with shame and self-loathing: the af­flic­tion of many women writ­ers. Even­tu­ally these feel­ings fade, and then the ir­ri­tabil­ity sets in if she doesn’t get to work on some­thing new.

It’s thanks to her sis­ter Ja­clyn that Mo­ri­arty took the leap into writ­ing fic­tion, while work­ing as an ad­ver­tis­ing copy­writer. (Her claim to fame was writ­ing the copy for the back of the Sul­tana Bran box.) She re­calls sit­ting in her cor­po­rate of­fice and feel­ing time slow when she re­ceived the news that her sis­ter was go­ing to be pub­lished. Writ­ing books was some­thing Mo­ri­arty had al­ways dreamed of do­ing, and this was the mo­ti­va­tion she needed. It wasn’t jeal­ousy – she and Ja­clyn joke about their sis­terly ri­valry in in­ter­views but are each other’s big­gest fans. “Once some­one you know gets pub­lished, it sud­denly be­comes imag­in­able, pos­si­ble, that you might be too.”

When her own first novel, writ­ten for young adults, was re­jected, she signed up for a cre­ative writ­ing de­gree at Mac­quarie Univer­sity. Dur­ing that time she wrote Three Wishes. “My main feel­ing while I was writ­ing it was re­lief,” she says, her hand right over her heart. “This was what had been miss­ing from my life. And I’d found it.” More nov­els fol­lowed – each set in Syd­ney and clev­erly un­fold­ing around a se­ries of eth­i­cal dilem­mas and dra­matic wrong­do­ings, of­ten one in the past and one in the present. She has a spe­cial in­ter­est in cre­at­ing women char­ac­ters, but her dis­sec­tions of mod­ern man­hood are just as tren­chant. Here, for ex­am­ple, is an ob­ser­va­tion of Thomas in The Last An­niver­sary:

It was as though all his life these achieve­ments – home, wife, baby – had been weigh­ing heavy on his mind, and now he’d fi­nally checked them all off he could re­lax and be­nignly ob­serve the rest of the

world still flail­ing about try­ing to reach their own lit­tle is­lands of se­cu­rity.

By the time Mo­ri­arty and her hus­band had their first baby (after sev­eral years of bat­tling in­fer­til­ity, a fre­quent topic in her nov­els), she had pub­lished four books but was still of­ten de­scribed in pro­files as a bored sub­ur­ban mum who’d stum­bled on novel-writ­ing in her spare time.

She seems more be­mused than an­noyed that peo­ple as­sume she and her fel­low-writer sis­ters (her youngest sis­ter, Ni­cola Mo­ri­arty, is now also a pub­lished au­thor) are locked in mor­tal com­bat over who will be the most suc­cess­ful. The only del­i­cate is­sue, she says, is ne­go­ti­at­ing who gets to use shared ma­te­rial in their books. There is a scene in Ni­cola’s most re­cent book that made Mo­ri­arty cross, be­cause she had planned to use it. And she got her­self “very worked up” after fin­ish­ing Nine Per­fect Strangers be­cause she sud­denly be­gan to worry that she’d been in­flu­enced by the self-help theme of a book Ja­clyn has been work­ing on for years. “I’m go­ing to beat her to mar­ket, and I felt ter­ri­ble that peo­ple will think they see par­al­lels.” Ja­clyn read a draft and, luck­ily, did not have any com­plaints, ex­cept over one anec­dote Mo­ri­arty had stolen from real life, in­volv­ing Ja­clyn call­ing an­other of their sis­ters on her birth­day to leave a lov­ing mes­sage and then – not re­al­is­ing it was still record­ing – say­ing “Right, that’s done” and bang­ing down the phone. Mo­ri­arty does not, how­ever, feel guilty about us­ing it. “To me, that was up for grabs,” she says, with a cheer­fully wicked ex­pres­sion. I could see for an in­stant how much she had en­joyed ril­ing her sis­ter about it.

It is fas­ci­nat­ing to out­siders that three of six sib­lings should have the same writerly im­pulse, but Mo­ri­arty says it’s only be­cause their par­ents were both sto­ry­tellers. Her fa­ther has that “Ir­ish tal­ent of telling a good yarn”, and used to en­cour­age the kids to tell him bed­time sto­ries be­cause he was so tired in the evenings. Her first pub­lish­ing ad­vance came from him: as a child, he paid her the princely sum of $1 for a book she wrote called “The Mys­tery of Dead Man’s Is­land”. He loved his job as an aerial sur­veyor, and her mother was ful­filled in her work rais­ing the kids as well as fos­ter­ing more than 40 chil­dren while Mo­ri­arty was grow­ing up, so she was for­tu­nate to have par­ents who en­cour­aged her to fol­low her heart when pick­ing a ca­reer.

“To me, that was up for grabs,” she says, with a cheer­fully wicked ex­pres­sion. I could see for an in­stant how much she had en­joyed ril­ing her sis­ter about it.

Be­ing part of a big fam­ily meant she got a lot of prac­tice at ob­serv­ing oth­ers and de­sign­ing sto­ry­lines. Ja­clyn has de­scribed in in­ter­views how, dur­ing their child­hood, Liane used to di­rect all her sib­lings, as well as the neigh­bour­hood kids, in elab­o­rate, mag­i­cal games and plays. While her im­me­di­ate fam­ily was hap­pily tight-knit, the more com­pli­cated back­grounds of her fos­ter sib­lings gave her in­sights into how much of life comes down to luck. For­tune’s un­pre­dictabil­ity is a theme she keeps com­ing back to in her work, ex­plor­ing it from slightly dif­fer­ent an­gles.

In Nine Per­fect Strangers, for ex­am­ple, among the peo­ple who come to the health re­sort Tran­quil­lum House in the hope of sal­va­tion are a young mar­ried cou­ple who’ve won a mas­sive amount of money in the lot­tery. Their mar­riage is fail­ing, their ex­tended fam­i­lies are feud­ing over who was given how much money, and long-lost friends keep mak­ing “pas­sive ag­gres­sive” re­quests for fi­nan­cial help. They both long to be nor­mal again. Dur­ing a ses­sion of un­con­ven­tional guided ther­apy at the re­sort, the hus­band, Ben, ad­mits to his wife that he feels the money is like “a great big out-of-con­trol pet dog”, a dog that they’d al­ways dreamed of hav­ing but has changed ev­ery­thing about their lives now that they own it:

It’s … re­ally dis­tract­ing, it barks all through the night want­ing our at­ten­tion, it won’t let us sleep, we can’t do any­thing with­out tak­ing into ac­count the dog. We have to walk it, and feed it, and worry about it … See, the prob­lem with this dog is that it bites. It bites us, and it bites our friends and fam­ily; it’s got a re­ally vi­cious streak …

Read­ing this pas­sage, I found my­self think­ing that it’s the per­fect com­pan­ion anal­ogy to Emily Dick­in­son’s poem “Fame is a bee”:

Fame is a bee.

It has a song –

It has a sting –

Ah, too, it has a wing.

I ask Mo­ri­arty whether she’s pro­cess­ing through the lot­tery win­ners her own am­biva­lence about the wealth and fame that have landed in her lap; it must feel as if she’s won the jack­pot in her pro­fes­sional life. “Maybe on a level I’m not yet aware of” is all she will say. It’s the only time she shifts in her seat and dodges the ques­tion, and I un­der­stand why: in po­lite con­ver­sa­tion it’s rude to ask an­other per­son about their fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances, yet some­how man­ners go out the win­dow when it comes to cu­rios­ity about some­one who has be­come wealthy un­der the pub­lic gaze.

In her nov­els she is es­pe­cially at­tuned to awk­ward mo­ments like these, en­coun­ters where there is a mi­nor ten­sion be­tween (of­ten false) as­sump­tions made on one side and re­sis­tance to be­ing pi­geon­holed on the other. Here, for ex­am­ple, is Ce­leste in Big Lit­tle Lies de­scrib­ing how her peers typ­i­cally re­spond to her north­ern beaches man­sion:

She saw it on the faces of peo­ple when they saw her house for the first time, the way their eyes trav­elled across the wide ex­panses, the soar­ing ceil­ings, the beau­ti­ful rooms set up like lit­tle mu­seum dis­plays of wealthy fam­ily life. Each time she bat­tled with equal parts pride and shame. She lived in a house where ev­ery sin­gle room silently screamed: WE HAVE A LOT OF MONEY. PROB­A­BLY MORE THAN YOU … Yes, they did some­times sit on that glo­ri­ously com­fort­able-look­ing couch … But that was also the couch where Perry had once held her face squashed into the cor­ner and she’d thought she might die.

Mo­ri­arty rests her el­bow on the table, cup­ping her chin in the uni­ver­sal thinker’s pose. I can see she feels bad for not an­swer­ing the ques­tion more di­rectly. She ex­plains to me that she’s still in that lim­i­nal phase where she doesn’t yet have her “spiel” ready for why she wrote the new book or what any of it means. All she knows is that be­fore she started writ­ing it she’d been plan­ning to write about two lot­tery win­ners who take their fam­i­lies on a trop­i­cal is­land va­ca­tion, but she couldn’t get the story to work. Then she’d started writ­ing about two sis­ters whose mother buys them each a lot­tery ticket. The tick­ets are car­ried up in the wind, chang­ing hands; only one of the sis­ters wins. She mimes one of the sis­ters pluck­ing the ticket from the air, and smiles a lit­tle sadly.

A sec­ond re­cur­ring theme in her work is the taboo of fe­male rage. Many of her women char­ac­ters are sick of wear­ing the de­mure masks ex­pected of them by the wider cul­ture, and are search­ing for out­ward re­lease of the fury they ex­press in in­ter­nal mono­logues. In Nine Per­fect Strangers, the ro­mance writer Frances is menopausal, pissed off about be­ing un­lucky in love,

A sec­ond re­cur­ring theme in her work is the taboo of fe­male rage. Many of her women char­ac­ters are sick of wear­ing the de­mure masks ex­pected of them.

and anx­ious be­cause she has not heard back from her edi­tor about her lat­est man­u­script. One of the other re­sort guests dis­cov­ers Frances in her car, hav­ing a fit of rage, hit­ting the steer­ing wheel and scream­ing. “I’m al­ways fas­ci­nated by what we show to the world and what we don’t,” Mo­ri­arty says, when I men­tion the scene. “But what I also love about women is that we can rage one mo­ment and laugh the next.”

It’s al­most time to head into the Syd­ney sun­light: I have to fetch my son from school; Mo­ri­arty has a bunch of over­seas in­ter­views await­ing her re­sponses via email. Out­side The Pavil­ion, a group of women in ac­tivewear are jog­ging back and forth be­side a playpen filled with their ba­bies; nearby a dad is power-walk­ing with his mewl­ing new­born strapped to his chest. Se­nior cit­i­zens who’ve braved the freez­ing wa­ter walk hap­pily bare­foot, wrapped in tow­els, along the prom­e­nade. I de­cide to test out a the­ory I’ve been de­vel­op­ing, and ask Mo­ri­arty if she was per­haps in­spired to be­come a writer – hov­er­ing above her char­ac­ters, all-see­ing – in part be­cause her fa­ther’s aerial sur­vey pho­to­graphs, taken from his small plane, had given her a taste for the bird’s-eye view.

She laughs and says I’m not the first to sug­gest it. In Au­gust, au­thor Ash­ley Hay floated a sim­i­lar idea when she in­ter­viewed Mo­ri­arty in front of a packed au­di­to­rium at the By­ron Writ­ers Fes­ti­val. “I might start us­ing that in in­ter­views,” Mo­ri­arty says, with a play­ful gleam in her eye. “It sounds so beau­ti­ful. I could change my whole ori­gin story.” M

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