She’s one of Australia’s most successful and prolific fiction authors, with 23 novels published so far, not to mention three children’s books. Of course we’re talking about Di Morrissey, one of our favourite storytellers, who has just released her 23rd novel, Rain Music.
I think everyone has something they do and mine is telling a story. I’ve always told stories to people, ever since I was a very young child.
Di’s latest work keeps up her wonderful tradition of setting her novels against distinctly Australian ocales. Rain Music is based in Far North Queensland, among the Daintree Rainforest and the captivating and remote Cooktown. As the story unfolds, we feel what it’s like to live in these isolated settings, with Di incorporating interesting snippets of the area’s history into her tales.
Rain Music is an easy-to-read thriller which depicts the journey of a brother and sister in search of answers. Told as one account through ‘two sets of eyes,’ critics have already praised it for being “utterly compelling”.
Di produces a novel per year, each one packed with authentic research and filled with interesting plots and twists and turns. Where on earth does she find the time? Well, like most successful people, she adheres to a strict timetable and works hard.
“I’m pretty disciplined,” she admits. “The big thing I work on each year is the novel. I get up early every morning and work on it. I write seven days a week, virtually, but I always finish at 6pm and have my evening meal.”
“Once I start writing a book, all the people in it call to me. It’s a funny thing because when you’ve completed a novel, you then go and put it out in the world and hope everyone enjoys it.”
Rising early each day probably isn’t the challenge for Di that it might be for others – after all, she did for years work as one of thepresenters on Good Morning Australia, with Gordon Elliott on Network Ten in the 1980s.
“We did a lot of filming around Australia when I was at Channel Ten and it opened my eyes to the millions of stories out there. It was my way of discovering Australia because when I grew up, we never took holidays,” she says.
Di hastens to add she feels one of the reasons she can bring out novels she is “proud of” is in part due to her editor, Liz Adams, who also happens to be her friend.
“She’s been a school teacher and she has an English degree. She looks at the big picture and we work very much as a team,” Di says.
“When I write a chapter, I send it to her so it’s a constant editing process. By the time I’ve finished a novel, it’s been edited about five times. Each year, we go away together for three days and we sit down and I tell Liz where I’m planning to set my next novel and I go through a rough outline of the story. Then she shoots great big holes in it. I still don’t know how it’s going to end – I don’t have a formula. The book grows organically,” Di explains.
On asking Di how it is she creates all her different stories and plots, she laughs. “You don’t really know how you do it. I think everyone has something they do and mine is telling a story. I’ve always told stories to people, ever since I was a very young child.”
“All of my family are great readers and we loved getting books, but in those days you got a book for your birthday and one for Christmas and the rest of the time you had to go to the library. I knew Dorothea Mackellar when I was seven years old and she encouraged me to write – and I’ve made my living writing as a journalist, a screenplay writer, and an advertising copywriter ever since.”
Add to this the fact Di is a passionate advocate and activist for many environmental causes and you can see she is a woman on the go.
An example of her passion to help others is The Golden Land Education Foundation, which she established four years ago to raise funds to build a primary school in Myanmar, Burma. Earlier this year, Di launched The Manning Community News – a monthly newspaper covering in depth news about the Manning Valley, among other subjects.
AUSTRALIAN SETTINGS ARE A TRADITION
Di was born in Wingham, a small country town in New South Wales, 67 years ago. She’s recently moved back there. Just a girl when her stepfather died, she moved to Pittwater in Sydney with her mother. Growing up there, she counted famous Australian actor Chips Rafferty as a mentor and friend – he was one of the people who encouraged her to write about Australia.
“When I started, everyone set books out of Australia. But my then publisher, James Fraser, thought it was time to write Australian stories so my first novel was set in Australia. I was very lucky to have a lot of the right advice at the right time,” Di says. Now,
when Di sets out to write her next novel, she picks a location and then she spends at least one or two months in this area, so she can get to know the location and truly feel what it’s like to live there.
“You need that time to settle in and then the locals will open up to you and take you to places you would never have found by yourself,” she says. “In the last couple of years, I’ve gone a bit offshore to Malaysia, Vietnam, Burma and Hawaii – but there’s always a very strong link to Australia.”
For Rain Music, Di adds: “Sometimes a place chooses me – Cooktown and the far north of Queensland has always been sitting in the wings, in the back of my mind, waiting. I always knew I would be writing a novel set there”.
“I THINK ‘GREY NOMAD-ING’ IS GREAT…”
Among the bustle of her life, perhaps retirement is not on the cards for Di– not in the full sense, at least. When asked about the subject, she’s clear: “no”. Laughing, she explains she feels no need to retire from her current lifestyle. “I swim every day and I often play tennis. I do pilates. I eat very well – I grow my own vegetables and we have a neighbour who is a butcher so we are very lucky.” Di firmly believes in the importance of keeping active, and why shouldn’t she? If it has any relation to her success then we should all be taking note.
She mentions, too, her fondness for the concept of being a grey nomad. “I love getting out there and seeing more of Australia. But now, my fear is that I’m on the wrong side of the hour glass. I’d like to write a lot of other different books and I’d like to produce a film.”
WRITE YOUR LIFE STORY
The author says she feels that as people approach retirement age, they have a wonderful opportunity to write their life story because otherwise, people won’t know how things have changed. “I think it’s very important for families to write the family history. When you’re in your 30s and 40s you just can’t do it. But when you get a bit older, it’s the perfect time.”
“Don’t leave it too late,” she advises. “Write down your history and then it’s there for your descendants to know. Everyone wants to know where they came from,” she adds.
As well, Di says she feels it’s great for the older generation to get involved in community work. “Volunteer – it’s so rewarding. You have skills and gifts so pass them on.”
She says when she’s been involved in community work, it’s often the older person who can do the job and show everyone else how it’s done. “Young kids need to learn how to do things the oldfashioned way. When you volunteer, it’s the ideal Christmas gift.
I’ve always done it,” she adds.
PASSIONATE AND COMMITTED ACTIVIST
As well as being a writer, Di is a passionate and committed environmentalist and it shines through in her work, as she tends to weave environmental issues into her popular narratives.
“I’ve always been involved in marine research. I helped Tim Winton when he had his campaign to save Ningaloo Reef. I don’t think people realise how fragile the environment is,” she says.
“You can make change by raising your voice. Look at those ‘Knitting Nanas’ in Lismore. They stopped coal seam gas mining in their area and they are still going strong. Recently, we stopped these huge power lines coming into the Manning Valley. There are things you can do,” she urges
IS THERE ANY TIME LEFT TO REST AND RELAX?
Being an active, committed person doesn’t provide one with an abundance of spare time. But when that time is available to her, Di speaks fondly of cooking: “I find [it] relaxing”.
She admits she does get a lot of help around the home from her partner, cinematographer, Boris Janjic. “Boris also cooks and he does most of the boring domestic stuff which is great,” she adds.
Di also likes to spend time with her son and daughter, doctors Nicolas Morrissey and Gabrielle Hansen, and her four grandchildren.
“My son lives in America and so every alternative year we go and meet them in Kauai (a Hawaiian island). My daughter lives in Texas and they’re visiting us this year, which is so much fun,” she says.
Di says she and Boris love living in the Manning Valley and it’s a great place for her children and grandchildren to visit. “I had 20 years in Byron Bay and so I’ve only been back in the Manning Valley for seven years. We felt Byron Bay was getting a little overdeveloped and so we thought we’d buy a little house here.
“We’re on a river and we’re surrounded by cows. We have a two-acre garden and we can live off the land. It’s only nine minutes to the store or six minutes to Wingham. We love it.”
Write down your history and then it’s there for your descendants to know. Everyone wants to know where they came from.