Australia’s bestselling female author, Di Morrissey, recently took some time out from her busy schedule to answer some questions on behalf of Swimming in the Nile.
Jordan: Firstly, let me say that you’ve certainly lived an incredible life. You worked as a journalist and editor, travelled the globe, married and had kids – before putting it all on the line to pursue your dream. Can you tell me what was going through your head when you decided to take this leap? And what advice can you give to anyone who feels like taking a similar path through life?
Di: I didn’t plan the day I’d sit down and start my first novel. I’ve written all my life, but one morning I got up and just knew if I didn’t start today I never would. I leapt off the cliff at what was possibly the most difficult and complicated time of my life. Things tend to simmer away under the surface and then you just wake up and know today is different. So it’s actually not as sudden as it might appear.
Jordan: As I stated before, you have been heavily involved in both print and television media. What is it like working in this fast-paced industry? Can you recount some interesting experiences you had in your roles?
Di: Fast paced is right. That’s one of things that started to get me down, the pressure and the deadlines to just get the story done whether it was as good as it could be or not. I longed to have control over what I produced. But I miss the collaborative aspects of TV and journalism and the fascinating people you meet. I’ve had too many experiences, good and bad, wild and funny to recount here. They turn up in my books!
Jordan: You’ve befriended some real icons over the years. I understand that it was Dorothea Mackellar herself who first pressured you to try your hand at writing. Can you tell me more about your major influences?
Di: Yes I was very lucky to meet the wonderful poetess Dorothea when I was very young and when I told her I made up stories to entertain myself she told me that one day I should put them in a book for other people to enjoy. So at seven, I had a life plan and dream. Well, the dream no plan as to how I was going to achieve it! My other big influences have been my grandfather who instilled the love of books and good writing and reading in my mum’s family. My uncle Jim, mum’s brother,’ has been a great mentor and influence in my life and still is. He was a foreign correspondent and an old fashioned ethical journo of great integrity so he has instilled a lot of strong beliefs and do’s
and don’ts to me over the years.
Jordan: Was storytelling something which came innately to you, or was it something you picked up on your journey through life?
Di: Storytellers are born. I made up stories from when I was five. You can pick up tips and tricks but a sense of a good yarn is either there or its not. It really can’t be learned.
Jordan: How do you approach the physical act of writing? Do you have a ritual or is it more spontaneous?
Di: Despite not liking deadlines, I do need a deadline and I’m very lucky that I have gone from book to book under contract so that gives some sense of security but it imposes a routine and a worry that can you do it again and will this one be as good as the last one. I’m an early morning person so I start writing very early each morning. I spend two months travelling to the places I write about to do the research then I sit down and write for six months, every day really.
Jordan: Who are your favourite authors? Do you have a favourite novel?
Di: I don’t have favourites. There are some books that have made an impact on me over the years and I have to say I suppose they are the first books I read by myself from Enid Blyton to Norman Lindsay to books in my teens to discovering an author at a time in your life who seems to be writing just for you and so you devour everything. I read like I eat – I tend to enjoy everything!
Jordan: How do you go about creating characters? Are they based on real life individuals? Are they entirely fictional? Or are they composites?
Di: While my characters are fictional they do tend to be composites but I often don’t realise that or recognise who they might be till the book is finished. Or someone tells me. I absorb people’s habits and traits by osmosis and file them away and out they pop without me knowing.
Jordan: Your writing often draws upon settings and themes which are uniquely Australian. What does Australia mean to you, and where does this fascination stem from?
Di: I lived overseas a lot and left Australia and went to work abroad as everyone in my generation aimed to do. I married and lived away fro a long time, so I’d never travelled around Australia or knew it very well till I started working on the brekkie show “Good Morning Australia” on TEN in the 80s. In moving around talking to people all over Australia I fell in love with my country and knew that’s what I wanted to write about. Landscape inspires all my books and I have subsequently become a very passionate environmentalist which creeps into my books. I am patron of the Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre and I’m currently involved in the fight to save the wonderful pristine last great wilderness of the Kimberley in WA from mining and gas development.
Jordan: A little bird told me that, at one stage, you were almost recruited into the CIA! Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Di: Oh, it was a long time ago. I was married to a US diplomat and were living abroad in a country that was rather anti-USA. I was one of the few Embassy wives who managed to work in many countries, either in the media, advertising or doing things like TV and theatre. So I got to meet a lot of different local people and tap into the community more than embassy staffers could. So I was asked, but I politely refused to assist in passing on any information about people I met.
Jordan: You must have experienced some of the highest highs and the lowest lows throughout your long career. How important do you think your personal experiences are in shaping how you write? Furthermore, do you write for a reason and, if so, why?
Di: Yes, personal experiences count for a lot. It’s hard to imagine some experiences in order to write about them if you haven’t had them…like a death in the family, having a child, getting divorced, being
successful, failing – whatever it is. Maybe because I’ve had so many experiences in my life when I write about things, readers can identify and believe what I write. As to why do I write… it’s there, I can’t stop and I simply could NOT not write!
Jordan: Thanks for your time and those fascinating insights!
Di’s latest bestseller, The Islands, can be viewed on TheNile via this link.