Ep 254 Ebury Press looking for unagented authors. And meet Di Morrissey, author of ‘Arcadia’.

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In Episode 254 of So you want to be a writer: Meet Di Morrissey, author of ‘Arcadia’. Ebury Press is looking for unagented authors and Val and Al chat to Myf Warhurst on Radio National. Shout out to Tasmin Janu, who has been shortlisted for the 2018 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Plus, discover our new course an online Fiction Essentials course on Characters!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Shout out from MyMomCallsMePhat from USA:

I was referred to this podcast by an Australian peer I met via online through NaNoWriMo and was instantly hooked. These ladies literally get me through my day. I MUST listen to them on my drive to the office day job to keep me positive and excited about writing, with the mindset that perhaps I will not be stuck in my inane day job forever. I NEED these lady’s humor, wit, encouragement, support, advice, and excellent author interviews to get me there. The best things in life are free!

Links Mentioned
Tasmin Janu shortlisted for the 2018 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Calling all unagented authors with fiction manuscripts

Myf Warhurst talks NaNoWriMo

Writer in Residence

Di Morrissey

Di Morrissey is one of the most successful and prolific authors Australia has ever produced. She trained as a journalist, working in newspapers, magazines, television, film, theatre and advertising around the world. Her fascination with different countries – their cultural, political and environmental issues – has been the catalyst for her novels, which are all inspired by a particular landscape.

In 2017, in recognition of her achievements, Di was inducted into the Australian Book Industry Awards Hall of Fame.

Di’s titles include: Heart of the Dreaming, The Last Rose of Summer, Follow the Morning Star, The Last Mile Home, Tears of the Moon, When the Singing Stops, The Songmaster, Scatter the Stars, Blaze, The Bay, Kimberley Sun, Barra Creek, The Reef, The Valley, Monsoon, The Islands, The Silent Country, The Plantation, The Opal Desert, The Golden Land, The Winter Sea, The Road Back, Rain Music, A Distant Journey and The Red Coast.

Her 26th book, Arcadia, was published in 2018 by Pan Macmillan.

Follow Di on Twitter

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(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

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Interview transcript

Allison

Okay, Di. So your 26th novel Arcadia has just been released. But let’s begin by heading way back to 1991 and the publication of your debut novel, The Heart of Dreaming. Can you tell us how that novel came to be written and then published?

Di

Well, I have always wanted to write books – the dream is one thing, the doing is another – from seven. From when I was seven years old I started on my grandfather’s typewriter typing stories.

I couldn’t go to university. My mother couldn’t afford it. You didn’t have creative writing classes. So my very wise uncle led me into – who was an ABC foreign correspondent – said journalism. So I became a cadet journalist and trained at the Australian Women’s Weekly and you were marked up until I became an A grade journalist. Which was the absolute best thing that could ever have happened to me.

So of course I then had a career in journalism. And then eventually television. And life goes on, and I married and had kids. And then suddenly one morning you wake up and I’m 37, pushing 40, and thinking I haven’t written my book yet. And I thought, if I don’t try now I’ll never know if I can do it.

And I had no idea of how I was going to go about it. And so I just decided I had to try. So I walked out of my job in television. I was divorced, I had no money. Worst time of my life in many respects.

And I went to Byron Bay and rented a little cottage. And I wrote an outline for what I thought… I thought I would go the roundabout way. Because I was working in television and film that I would write a TV outline and it would all be made into a television series and then the book would follow on.

So I wrote this 30 page treatment, and I gave it to a friend to read. And she put it in her top drawer. She was running a bookshop. Anyway, she then became two years later a literary agent and decided it was time… She showed it to Pan MacMillan. And so James Fraser said, well, she can string a few words together because she’s been a journalist. She’s sort of known because she’s been on television. And they handed me a contract to turn this 30 pages.

So it was a stroke of sheer luck, which is how everything pans out, really, in writing. But then I had to sit down and write the book!

Allison

Well, yes!

Di

And it was 18 months of sheer hell. I rented a little cottage up in Byron Bay. I lived on my own. And I struggled desperately to finish the book. But with a lot of… There’s a whole other story about the ups and downs and the sagas and the things that happened.

But then Heart of the Dreaming was published. And it worked on many levels. But I think the main reason it worked, it was absolutely Australian. It was timing. James Fraser saw it, and I had seen it because I’d been living overseas, it was time to tell Australian stories, our stories of our people, our country, the Vegemite on the table.

And the book worked and they said, what are you going to do next? I think they wanted me to stay in the outback, but I have tried to make sure that every book is different. Because I’d be bored, let alone my readers.

Allison

Okay. So you’ve written a 30 page treatment. Had you the whole time… Like, I know you had an extremely successful journalism and TV career, and we will talk a little bit about that later, but you’re doing all of that stuff. Now you sat down and started writing stories when you were seven. Had you, while you were doing all of those amazing things in journalism and television, were you still writing fiction in your spare time?

Di

No.

Allison

Because I can’t imagine what it would be like to sit down with a 30 page treatment and think, okay, now I’m going to write 100,000 words. How did you work through that?

Di

No. No. I put the television treatment out there to people in television who weren’t thinking books and whatever. Plus, I was working, getting up at 3am, going into Channel Ten and working until 10 or 11 at night, and then getting up at 3am again five days a week for eight years. So there was no time to be coherent, let alone sit down and write a book.

But when I made that decision that I had to concentrate on turning this 30 pages into a book, and I had the backing of Pan MacMillan, they gave me $5000 to live on for a year.

Allison

Woohoo.

Di

So that was, you know, you just have to do it. And by then, it was just like it was the key to my dreams. And looking back now, I don’t remember feeling – oh my god! If this doesn’t work, what will happen? I seemed to have a confidence that, well, if it doesn’t work, I’ll just do another one until it does work.

And you’ve got to have that faith in yourself, and that resilience. You hear about all the thousands of rejection slips. I went the other way, and never got a rejection slip. I was asked to turn this into a book. But then putting your money where your mouth is is also equally terrifying. And then when you finish the first one, you think can you do it again?

Allison

Yeah. Basically, when you wrote that first novel, you were teaching yourself how to write a novel as you wrote your first novel.

Di

Oh yes. And it was a shambles. I was used to writing short, concise paragraphs. But the good things I learned from journalism was that you have to grab the readers interest right at the beginning or they just turn the page. Or the subs cut, you can’t save the big scenario to the end, because subs will cut, there’s no space, they’ll want to put an ad in there, so they’ll cut half your story out.

So getting the reader’s attention early on, by default I discovered was one of the essential things you do. To write clearly and concisely as you do in journalism. No big fancy words. No trying to impress people. To keep it very clear and conversational and so that it’s as people talk. And they don’t have to run off and find a dictionary.

And writing simply and clearly is actually very hard. I get dismissed, I think, because they’re easy to read. Well, easy to read is hard.

Allison

Yes. Well, that was something I was going to ask you about. Because that very successful journalism and TV career that you had has obviously had a big impact. That background has had a big impact on, I would say, your career as a novelist. Because I would imagine, as you said, you learned to write clearly and simply, which is actually really difficult. But also, do you think that the work ethic and the deadline ethic that that has introduced to you has had a big impact?

Di

Oh, hugely! And research. See, I go and live… My books are inspired by a landscape, a place. But the place chooses me. I don’t stick a pin in a map and go, oh, I’m going to Tasmania for this book. There’s a reason. Something has happened, I’ve met someone, there’s some incident. It’s sort of like your antenna, grassroots antenna as a journalist tunes into the zeitgeist of what people are interested in. So there’s that.

Then there’s a deadline. I mean, I would no more miss a deadline than fly. You just don’t! So I’m disciplined. I was disciplined to sit at my desk and start writing.

And the shambles was the editing process. And working with a really good editor is essential in that you’re talking too long about this, you’ve done all this research, we don’t need to know every single piece of how to build a boat or whatever. You don’t want to preach, you don’t want to show off. And just those kinds of things. And we need to hear more from this person, this person’s really interesting, so we need to hear more from her. That kind of structural stuff is really important than an editor, that when you work with an editor, that they give you.

But the journalism, as far as researching. So I go to the place when it has chosen me, for whatever reason. And then I just lob into town and I spend a month or three weeks or four weeks and talk to people. You go to the local museum, the art gallery, the pub and talk to people. Hear stories, travel around, smell the roses.

When I come back to my studio and I go upstairs to start work in the morning, I shut my eyes and the smells and the sounds and the essence of that place is immediately with me. So I’m kind of in the place. I don’t think I could write about a place if I hadn’t been there.

So all of that is what I start my days work with. And I have my characters, my central characters. People often walk in totally out of the blue, I hadn’t expected, or they change. I think, oh yes, he’s going to be a lovely man but then he turns out to be a bastard, which I had nothing to do with! And so you follow them.

And I never plan ahead. I mean, in the beginning Pan MacMillan said, oh, give us a bit of a synopsis so we know what you’re doing. And I just went, oh! So I just made up whatever. I wish I’d kept them. God knows they bear no resemblance to the final book. But anyway, the accountants wanted it or something. Now they don’t ask me to do that.

So it’s just a process. And it’s a huge element of trust. I still panic. I still get nervous. I’m still terrified, 26, writing this book. I thought this book, Arcadia, was going… Oh, it’s not working, and I don’t know where I’m going, and all of this angst-ing. And then my editor Georgia’s going, “I think this is the best book you’ve ever written! Just keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t care.”

So there’s all of that. And I work from six in the morning until the sundowner time at six o’clock, and I turn the computer off, I go and have a glass of wine, and I don’t think about it until I wake up and I go back and sit at my desk.

Allison

All right. Wow. Okay.

Di

And there’s no writers block. I can’t afford to have writers block. I lived in Byron Bay and everybody was sitting on a beach looking at their novel and they’d all been there for seven years writing a book. And I went, oh no, I can’t be like that.

Allison

Now, I’m going to probe a few of those details a little more closely as we go through. But let’s start now, tell me a little bit about Arcadia. Tell us about your 26th novel. What is it about?

Di

Well, Arcadia, I wanted to… For a start, let me say, that after 25 books, to start your 26th book you go, oh no, I’ve done that. Oh, did I write about that? Oh, I’ve had one of them. Oh, what am I going to call them? Have I used Mabel? I haven’t.

It’s just like, oh god, where do I…?

But then it just sort of falls into place. And then I remembered… See, when I was doodling around Tasmania last year, I saw a couple of young girls, young to me, in their 30s, and they were twirling around, just two girlfriends had taken leave and they were old friends and they were taking a road trip around Tassie. And I went, that’s it. That’s it.

And so I had the two young women who were old childhood… The renewal of friendships. So friendship became an element. They grew up together as little kids and then they went their own way. But you never really lose touch. There are times in your life where you have a connection with someone that you never lose.

And so I had, okay, I had friendship and I had two young girls. But then when I got to Tasmania, I fell in love with the endangered Tasmanian owl that I discovered. I found these other elements. The incidents. So it’s about friendship. So it’s also about animals, it’s about wildlife. But essentially, the key character in the book became the forest, the old growth forest.

And then learning about the forest, it’s like the equivalent of rainforest. They still hold the saviour of the planet. I mean, they are the… I can’t bear now, I’m fighting my council chopping down a tree. They’re the lungs. They’re our lungs! Particularly the old trees. But they are saving the planet. So there’s an environmental thing.

Then I learned about the fungi that is only found, those strange mushrooms and growths and lichen, that only grow on old wood in old growth forests. And then I found the world famous mycologist who then led me into another whole world. And I thought, this is so extraordinary!

So I needed a character to learn what I was learning but in an entertaining way. And so I had a flashback character of… I love those wonderful botanical lady artists who never got a lot of credit, who did all of the… You know Ellis Rowan.

Allison

Yes, I love them, too.

Di

And dozens of them. And there’s a very famous one in Tasmania. So I had one of the girls have a grandmother, or great-grandmother, no grandmother, who was a botanical painter who trotted around the old growth forest on their property.

So these are little elements that then start together. So we then have the property and where is it and why is that particular place interesting? And so there’s a bit of the politics, the history, the characters, the period.

I was only going to have the grandmother in as a little bit, but everybody… My editor, and I’ve got sort of two editors, the Pan MacMillan editor and my day-to-day editor, I’ll tell you about that in a minute, and they just went, “oh no! You’ve got to put Stella in. We love Stella, the grandmother.”

So Stella became a much bigger character because everybody loved her. And through her, I was able to fill in this background. And then because I was there in September and it was wintery and freezing and it was gloomy and misty and dark and you’ve got these brooding mountains over you wherever you drive. So I went on the road trip. And wherever you drive, and there’s sort of a sinister feeling, and you’re on an island! And there’s that trapped feeling. So a sinister element and then a mystery came into it.

So there again, it’s the landscape and the places and the people that kind of were dictating the plot. So I have all of this as the grist that goes in that then surfaces back in my little sunny office in the Manning, when I’m sitting there and writing.

Allison

I find that fascinating. So you basically, you’re absorbing the place. And from the place is coming the characters, the story and all of the other things.

Di

The story.

Allison

And you’ve always done that? You’ve always gone to the place and absorbed the place?

Di

Yes, always. Yes.

Allison

So how do you choose the place, then? How did it become Tasmania?

Di

Well, things just happen. I mean, I tell the story of the song master. Which is probably little recognised. It’s probably one of the first mass market fiction books about Aboriginal culture. And now you get criticised, a white person maybe shouldn’t do this. But I was on the Gold Coast and I ran into my friend I hadn’t seen for years and years and years, Susan Bradley, who is a very, very famous Kimberley pastoralist. Extraordinary woman. And I said, oh, what are you doing up here? And she said, I’m flying back to the Kimberley. I’ve just been up visiting, I’ve got two hours to fill in, so I’m shopping.

So we went and had a cup of coffee. And she’s always involved in something magnificent and special, as that place is. Or political. She sits on boards and she’s now doing the Kimberley Rock Art Foundation. So I said, “what are you doing?” And she said, “well…” Now, this is 1987 I think it was. No, 1997. I think 1996 or 1997.

So we hadn’t heard of Pauline Hanson and we hadn’t heard the word ‘reconciliation’. And she said, “the most senior elder out near me, David Mowaljarlai, has asked me to find a group of significant white fellas to go and sit down in their summer, in their camp up at the Mitchell Plateau and Murrumbadidy*, to sit down with my elders and we work out how Australia goes forward, black and white together.” And I went, holy cow, Susan, who are finding? And she said, “well, that’s what I asked Mowaljarlai. And Mowaljarlai said to me, don’t you worry, Susan, they will find you.” So Susan said, “you found me! That means you’re coming.”

So I was on a plane to the Kimberley the next week. And I was able to take Gabrielle with me, my daughter, who’d just finished college in America and was at a crossroads in her life. And went and we slept on the ground in pop tents and stuff up there with an extraordinary group of white people and Mowaljarlai’s mob, his elders and special people, including some very… There were young women teachers, there were old guys. It was a mixed group. And the women and elders as well.

So for two weeks, we sat there and I have to say, we white fellas went thinking, well, we’ll help sort all this out and everything. And we’ll be nodding sagely. We were absolutely smashed and pummelled into the ground in the gentlest and nice way around the campfire. Realising we knew nothing. We knew nothing. And they had answers that we… How they raise their children, the whole concept of the depth of… It was just extraordinary.

So the upshot was that we decided that we should start what was called Bush University, where other people, white people, could have the opportunity to go and sit down with Aboriginal elders and share ideas and learn from each other.

Allison

Wow.

Di

I think we do all the learning. And then Mowaljarlai said to me, “and you will write the book.” And I went, oh no, Mowaljarlai, you need a scientist or academic to do this book. He said, “no! You sell a lot of books. You tell this story!”

So that’s how The Songmaster happened. And it was life changing. So there’s always been a bit of a catalyst that leads me to the place. And I just wait until I know something has happened. And my publisher says, “has anything happened yet? Where are you going for the next book?” And I get anxious.

And then yes, it was the same with Tasmania. I’ve been to Tasmania. I have a lot of friends in Tasmania. And then I learned about the fungi and then I became obsessed with this Tasmanian owl. Because I had an owl in my garden that was just a tawny frogmouth, but it was sick and I nursed this owl. And I just made this connection with this owl. And he died. And I felt terrible.

And then I found out about these endangered owls and so I wanted to go to Tasmania and see the owls. And that became… And I found this wonderful professor, and this guy that is looking after them and training them and trying to protect their habitats and everything. And the owl is a tiny mention in the book. But that kind of was my way in. And then all of these other things come to you when you’re there.

Allison

So given that place is so incredibly important, and such an important part of your stories, what are some of the techniques that you use for creating that sense of place for the reader? So when you go back to your studio in the Manning, how are you bringing it to life on the page? Because it’s one thing to experience it and to be inspired by it…

Di

Well, once you’ve experienced it, it’s embedded in your skull. I mean, you shut your eyes and you can hear it and see it and smell it. However, to be practical, as a journalist, I take photos and I travel with Boris, my partner, who’s a cinematographer, and he takes videos.

And I sit down and where there’s knowledge that I need that’s technical, like wooden boats, the history of wooden boats in Tasmania, the botanical gardens people, the owl man, those sort of specialists in their field, I sit down and interview them on tape. So that I’ve got that. And then I continue to email, bombard them with emails and questions over the next seven months, and then we all end up becoming lifelong friends. Which is all very nice. So all of these people that help me. So that I do have that as a…

Because I’m paranoid about having my facts right. It’s fiction, but facts have to be right. So it’s a combination there of when you do refer to an event or a historical event or how you build a boat, there have to be some bits in there that are correct. So I combine those.

So I have my fiction story can just roll on and I go along following that, but then when I need to check a fact I have that resource at my fingertips. I never Google. I don’t look up anything on Google.

Allison

Oh. There’s a… Wow. That’s impressive in this day and age.

Di

That’s no offence to Mr Google.

Allison

No, no.

Di

But you know, that’s a kind of a bland statement that everybody else could look at it and use or whatever.

Allison

You’re looking for something different.

Di

I go back to the source.

Allison

So your tagline on your website is “Australia’s favourite story teller” which given the bestselling status of so many of your books seems incredibly fair. What do you think is the key to writing a story that appeals to so many people? And not just one story that appeals to lots of people, but consistently. What is it about your books that people are picking up over and over again? And such a broad demographic of them, as well.

Di

Yes. I’ve got male readers and… And that’s why I try to keep the covers of the book, that was a bit of a little standing my ground in the beginning, my instinct. I didn’t want pretty ladies on horseback. I wanted the place. So I’ve always had the place. So it’s a very generic cover. So from a marketing point of view, because I also worked in advertising, so that men would pick them up.

Allison

Yep.

Di

But men also. They appeal to men because men, particularly men in the bush, are very sentimental. They’re very soft. They have, they’re very tuned in to the environment and stuff. So they touch men. Women love them because they can relate to them of all ages. Grandmothers hand them on to their daughters and now the granddaughters.

People write to me and say, “oh, I just inherited my mother’s collection of your books, she died, and I’m starting them all, and oh, I wish I’d read them earlier.” And all of that, which is lovely to hear.

If I could bottle or could tell you, this is what you do, I would be a rich woman. But I think, a) it’s to be genuine. Not to try and impress. But I just feel like I’m a bit of a conduit. That what comes to me, I pass on to you. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I’ve talked to this man. And I’ve just slightly fictionalised it and here it is for you, the reader.

I try to… I think I’m able to visualise, because I think visually, I can put you in the place. A lot of people say they’ve never been there but after reading the book they feel they’ve been there. So they’re able to see it.

And I suppose, look, we all just have gifts. I’d like to be able to sing and I’d love to be able to paint, but I can’t. But I can tell a story. And I think storytelling, it’s like my old mate Bryce Courtenay used to say, it’s the oldest art form. It is the sitting around the cave around the fire to tell the stories. It’s passing on knowledge, it’s passing on all kinds of things.

And I mean one thing I learned in this book in Tasmania about the fungi, that the earliest people, when the first people came to Tasmania, they carried fire. They had the fire carrier who carried fire, the embers, in a mushroom, in these rare weird mushrooms that you can hold fire in. The stories of fungi, I was just…

If I get interested in something, I think, well, someone else must be too. So if it interests me, it might interest you. There’s that. And I’ve just learned to trust my judgement.

I don’t write for specific… I write for me. And I think if I kind of enjoy doing this, and then I stop and I’ll read it and I cry, or I’m right back there, I think, well, maybe someone else might feel like that too. Because it’s only two people: it’s me the writer and you the reader. You don’t have to try and impress a big audience and think you’ve got to write for a hundred people of different ages. It’s a very intimate thing. It’s just you and me.

And so I don’t feel… It’s a very close sharing thing. Start by writing a letter. If I was to write to you and say, Allison, look, I’ve just come back from Tasmania, you wouldn’t believe dah dah dah. I mean, that’s the start of a book. It can be as simple as that.

The reason I can do a book every year, I get sometimes criticised that she sprays them on the page like hairspray, just poofs them out. But anyway.

Allison

We wish, right?

Di

Never mind I’m there for seven days a week for seven months! Is that there are techniques and skills. So that now, I’m very fortunate that I have my editor at Pan MacMillan. Georgia has the final say.

Allison

I was going to ask you about this. Have you worked with her the whole time?

Di

No, I haven’t. They’ve all, Nicky, Christa and early publishers, have all gone on to be very famous and running publishing companies and stuff.

But I did have when one editor left and there was no one around and I just said, I’ve got this friend Liz. And Ross Gibb, my publisher, just kind of rolled his eyes. But I said, “look, she’s been a schoolteacher, she’s a scientist, she does all of these things. She’s really smart. She’s a neighbour. I use her as a sounding board. And she’s a bookseller.” Well, he rolled his eyes at that.

But anyway, Liz, we tried Liz. And it was a very, very productive way to work. And Liz retired, sold their Dymocks franchise. So she was my editor for eleven years. And then Liz has just retired. And Georgia, this is Georgia’s first time as my editor in Pan MacMillan. I love her dearly.

And then Bernadette Foley, who had been my editor a couple of years before Liz came along, left and she went to Hachette, and then she’s been doing other things and she teaches editing. And so I thought, well, I’ll just ask Bernadette. So Bernadette works with me and then it all goes to Georgia at Pan MacMillan.

So what I do is I start my chapter, here I am, I’m writing chapter three. I send chapter three or one or two to Bernadette as soon as I’ve finished it. And then I start chapter two while she edits chapter one.

Allison

Wow.

Di

Chapter one comes back to me, I send it to… So this could be four days. It could be seven days. It could be three weeks. But once I finish a chapter it goes to Bernadette. So we have this rotation. So over and over, so I get Bernadette’s notes. And then I incorporate or not, or we fight or we argue or I say that’s terrific. I redo it. It goes to Georgia. Then it comes back to Georgia, to Bernadette. So we have this round robin so the book is actually edited week by week virtually.

Allison

As you’re writing it.

Di

And the book is rewritten and redrafted at least five times. It’s not like you write the book… I angst for authors where you write the book, you turn the manuscript in and they go, oh, look it’s good, but chapter three, if you’d just done this it would have been a better book. And then you think, do you stop and rewrite the whole goddamn book? Oh no! To get that feedback as you go along has halved the time and made it a better book. So that’s the system.

Allison

That is an extraordinary process. I’m just thinking about that. Because obviously everybody works in different ways. And I wondered how you managed a book a year or thereabouts the way that you do. Because you produce quality books and if it takes you seven months to write them, I’m thinking, how do they fit the editing in. But this is how it works. You do it on a chapter by chapter basis. Extraordinary.

Di

Yes. I mean, I have the luxury of doing that. I’ve earned my straps.

Allison

Of course.

Di

But I mean, I would recommend to someone before you submit something, do that process. Find someone that is a, even just who is a good reader and gives you good feedback. As a journalist, you can’t be precious and not take criticism. So I don’t mind it if someone says, “oh this is so stupid. No one’s going to say that! For God’s sake.” You know?

Liz was very blunt. And she was an older, you know, she’s my age. She’s a mature woman. Whereas a 24 year old new young editor was too scared when I’m half way through my career and have earned some straps. This young girl is nervous about saying, this is a load of crap, Di.

Allison

Yes. It’s a very important relationship, isn’t it? That trust that you build with an editor.

Di

It is a marriage. It is a marriage. And then I spoke to Liz every single day. We would finish… And she was a master bridge player. Strategic. She looked at the big picture and I’m fluffing along doing what I’m doing.

But then at the end of the day, we sit, she’s up at Lismore where I’m done in the Manning Valley, and we have a glass of wine, we sit down and we have a glass of wine, and we talk about our families, things in general. And then I might ask something, I might not. But then when she’s read it, then that comes, then it is a very long phone call.

And emails. See, I used to have to post her the chapters when I first started writing. So there’s that instant, stop, stop! Go no further! You’re totally on the wrong track! No, no, that could never happen because….

Allison

Fantastic.

Di

Because she also was, she had a history, politics, logic, as the bridge player, she had all of that kind of stuff at her fingertips. And just say, no they wouldn’t have done that because. And she was a mother and a grandmother. She was on the same wave length and you can look back. She was very, very political and very active.

So that was… And Bernadette and Georgia are dear friends. And it’s a relationship as friends that even when I’m not writing, we’ll all have lunch today. I’m in Sydney, so we’re all having lunch. And they come up and stay.

Once I have contact with someone, they stay in my life forever.

Allison

Fantastic. We love Bernadette, because she’s a presenter at the Australian Writers’ Centre. So she’s a big favourite around these parts.

Di

She’s very smart.

Allison

So just to finish up today, because this has been an extraordinarily interesting and fabulous interview, and I could talk to you all day, but we do have a timeframe, and I know that you’ve got fabulous lunches to attend. So, let’s finish up with your top three tips for writers. If you’re talking to aspiring writers, or people starting out, what do you think are the top three things that you would say to them?

Di

I don’t know. See, I’m asked to teach creative writing classes and go and talk to people, and it’s like, I never learned. I don’t know any of this stuff.

But all I can say is, write from the heart. Write what interests you. They say write about what you know about, which is all very well. But I don’t want to know how the back of a computer works or whatever happens to be your specialty.

But write about things that you feel passionate about. If you are really concerned about something or you’re wildly in love. Write about what touches you and what interests you.

And then I would say do your research. Some people can write blindly. But I do think it’s helpful if you can find somebody else, if you’re going to have a doctor who’s a doctor, for god’s sake go and talk to a doctor. Go and find out a little bit. Because you get insights.

And Jackie Collins always used to say to me, “I go into a bar and say, set em up Joe, and everybody tells you your life story.” On an aeroplane! People tell you stuff on an aeroplane they would never tell… Go away and write it all down and change the names. It’s amazing stuff! Where you pick up stories from.

And things that, really it is what touches you, that you feel. And then try to transfer that on the page.

And the old thing about just sitting there. Oh, I’m not inspired today. You just think, there’s a newspaper that has to come out at 4pm and there’s got to be something on your piece of page or you’re out of a job. Somerset Maugham said keep writing your name, or someone did, Stephen King, someone.

So I suppose self-discipline is really good. I mean, I get emails from people saying, how do I start? And I always say, just sit down and write a letter to yourself. Or to someone. And put it in a letter. And it’s surprising how that, you just need that kind of kicking off thing.

Allison

It frees you up, doesn’t it?

Di

And keep going forward. Don’t stop. You can go back and fix it up later no matter how crappy it is. It’s fixable and usable or you see another way of doing it. Don’t just leave the page blank. Just put anything on it.

Allison

Fantastic. Beautiful. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Di Morrissey. Best wishes with your 26th novel, Arcadia, which of course is in stores as we speak. And I hope that there are many more in the future.

Di

Thank you, Allison. It’s been lovely to talk to you.

 


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