By Amanda Smuin
Australian writer Liane Moriarty talked about what it’s like to be a suburban Sydney mum and an internationally bestselling author at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. And she has an impressive list of accomplishments.
She is the author of six bestselling novels including Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist’s Love Story. In 2013, her fifth novel, The Husband’s Secret, was a New York Times best seller within two weeks of its release in the U.S. Then last year, she became the first Australian author to have a novel debut at number one on the New York Times best sellers list with her most recent book, Big Little Lies, which has already sold over one million copies worldwide.
It was “pure envy” that drove Liane Moriarty to write her first novel. Her sister is Jaclyn Moriarty, the popular Australian author of books for young adults, whose novel, The Cracks in the Kingdom, won the 2015 NSW Premier’s Award for Young People’s Literature on Monday night.
“When she called me and said that her first novel had been accepted for publication I was very happy for her because I’m very fond of her but I was also desperately, desperately jealous,” Liane Moriarty says, adding, “I know if she hadn’t done it first, I would have just kept giving up after the first chapter.”
Liane is the oldest of six siblings, three of whom are authors. As children, their father encouraged their literary ambitions by commissioning them to write novels. “He’d pay a dollar. But then he had a little plastic roulette wheel and he used to win all the money back.” She says the only difficulty in having several writers in the family is the “fight for material, to the family anecdotes”.
Much of Ms Moriarty’s material comes from her life as a school mum. Big Little Lies, a “suburban noir” story about a murder that occurs at a primary school trivia night, is no exception. One of the sparks for the book came from a friend’s story about her daughter’s first day of kindergarten. One of the other little girls had a big bite mark on her forearm but she couldn’t identify the perpetrator, as she didn’t know his name.
“The only thing the teacher could think to do was to get all the little boys and line them up, like a police line up. Listening to this story all I could think about was all the drama that goes on in an ordinary suburban day.”
Fortunately for Ms Moriarty, the community from which she draws her inspiration is very supportive. “The school where I go to is genuinely a lovely school and they do just seem proud of me, which is nice,” she says. More often than not, people come up to her with stories. The bestselling author still frequents the West Pymble shops and is the manager of her son’s soccer team.
“There was a little bit of conflict between myself and another mother and even in those emails she put “p.s. feel free to use this in a novel’.”
Ms Moriarty believes that one of the reasons for her international success is that everyone can relate to her books even though, being set in Australia, they are “a bit different”. In the beginning, she had to fight to keep those differences but now her American publishers are nicer to her.
“I’d have a student doing the HSC and I’d think, well I know, from books I’ve read, I know about A-Levels and I know about the SATs that they do so why not let the rest of the world know that we do the HSC?”
Her novels have been translated into 35 languages but in their letters, her readers mostly talk about the similarities to their own lives. “They all say, ‘I’m writing from Mexico. I can’t believe that life as a school mum in Mexico is the same as being a school mum in Sydney’.”
The darker aspects of her books also stem from Ms Moriarty’s own life experiences. In her first book, Three Wishes, one of the characters had an abusive boyfriend, which she kept a secret. “I did have a very angry ex-boyfriend and I did put a version of him in Three Wishes and then took great pleasure in killing him off.”
In Big Little Lies, the exploration of domestic violence was inspired by a snippet from a radio program. It featured the story of a middle-aged woman who responded to a domestic violence incident between her elderly parents by going to hide under her childhood bed. “For the rest of the day I kept thinking about the events of her life that must have led to that reaction,” Liane Moriarty says.
Big Little Lies hit the headlines last year when Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon optioned the film and television rights. The book will be made into an HBO TV series starring the two actors. The Husband’s Secret has also been optioned by SBS and What Alice Forgot is going to be made into a film by the director of The Devil Wears Prada. Although she was asked, the author does not want to write the screenplays.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel but for now I always have said, ‘No, it’s your film and you do with it what you will and I just hope that I like it’.”
Instead, Ms Moriarty is focused on her next book, which she describes as “about an incident that happens at a barbecue”. When she tells people this, everybody immediately thinks of The Slap by Christian Tsolkias. “He’s doesn’t own the family barbecue! Mine will be different,” she says jokingly, adding, “there’s a cellist and a pole dancer.”