Interview with Liane Moriarty

Posted by Goodreads on December 5, 2014
Liane Moriarty In the decade since her first novel was published, Liane Moriarty has written about family dynamics, amnesia, last confessions, and in her sixth novel, Big Little Lies, death in a small town—all with a common thread of mystery, drama, and comedy deftly woven throughout. Australia is the author"s home as well as the setting for all of her novels, but with hyperrelevant themes and sharply accurate characters she could be writing about your friends in your town.

In Big Little Lies, a 2014 Goodreads Choice Award Finalist for Best Fiction, the reader learns someone has died, but the who and the whodunnit remain a mystery. The novel centers around the lives of three women—their children in the same kindergarten class—and the events that lead up to the school"s trivia night fund-raiser. Big Little Lies explores the expanse between everything you think you know about someone and reality.

Regan Stephens spoke with Moriarty about "Mummy Wars," finding a role for Matt Damon, and the little sparks that make up a novel.


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Goodreads: Congratulations on Big Little Lies debuting on the New York Times bestseller list (and on being the first Australian author to have a novel debut in the top spot in the U.S.!). What was your inspiration for this novel?

Liane Moriarty: There were three little sparks. The first one: I was on tour with another author—an Irish-Australian author whose name is Ber Carroll—and we were in a little country town in New South Wales. Everywhere we went Ber was looking for the perfect outfit to wear to a school trivia night. She and some other mothers were going to dress up as Audrey Hepburn, so whenever we had to stop in a little town, we were looking for the perfect pearl choker to wear. I just loved the visual image that I had in my mind as all the ladies dressed up as Audrey Hepburn, and I remember I asked her to send me a photo afterward of how they looked. That's what gave me the idea. Then I imagined if ALL the women were dressed as Audrey Hepburn and imagined that all the men were dressed as Elvis Presley. And then I was thinking, Imagine if there were some sort of riot at the school trivia night, so then I just have to go back in time to think, OK, what would cause it?

So that was the first spark. The second spark was when another friend said to me that her little girl had just started kindergarten, and on the very first day two little girls came out of school and they both had bite marks on their arm. It was the first day of school, and they were saying a little boy had bitten them, and so everybody was horrified. They couldn't name who the little boy was because it was the first day of school, so they got all the little boys to line up. It just made me laugh so much. It seemed to have everything in it as a scene. It had the drama of imagining if you were one of the parents and thinking to yourself, I hope it wasn't my little boy who did the biting, and also just the comedy of it because it was like a police lineup. And in that case it turned out the little girls finally gave in and admitted they had just bitten themselves. So then I was thinking, Imagine, though, if they had just pointed out a little boy and said he did it and what that would have meant. And having read the book, you know exactly how that scene turned out.

And the third tiny little spark was the end of a radio interview that I heard, where it was an expert on domestic violence and she was talking about the story of a woman who had come home to visit her parents—an adult woman—and her father began assaulting her mother, and she automatically ran into her childhood bedroom and hid under her bed. That's all I heard of the radio interview, but that story just stuck with me, imagining her hiding under the bed, and everything that obviously signified about her childhood. Again, having read it, you see that I used a little part of that at the end. So those were my three sparks.

GR: Is that typically how you come up with ideas for your novels—these little sparks of things that you put together?


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LM: Yes, exactly. It's normally something that gets me thinking about a premise. For The Husband's Secret it was a little story I read about deathbed confessions, so things like that. Once I get the premise, often I look back and realize afterward what the spark was.

GR: The novel takes place in an Australian beach town, but these characters could exist anywhere in the world. Is your intention to address the universality of human behavior, or are you just writing about your own experiences?

LM: It's definitely not my intention, but I've since discovered that it is the case. I've lived in Sydney all my life, and I'm going to set all my books in Australia, but no, I never set out to address anything in particular. But now I've received so many emails from people all around the world saying that this is obviously the experience we all have.

GR: Throughout the novel "Mummy Wars" come up—Thea tells the reporter, "Of course, I don't have a problem per se with working mothers, I just wonder why they bother having children in the first place." While Renata tells Madeline, "See, I'm just the sort of person who would be bored out of my mind if I had to be a full-time mother." What's your take on the Mummy Wars?

LM: Oh well, obviously I don't have a side, I just think it's an amusing thing about ourselves as women. I'm not sure what it's all about—why we feel the need to think that the way we're mothering is the best way. Of course there can be a hundred different ways to be a mother. You can be a full-time working mother or a full-time stay-at-home mother, and whichever way you choose to do it, you can be a wonderful mother. There are different types of people in the world.

GR: Goodreads member Gemma asks, "A parent yourself, were there any personal experiences or influences that led you to explore the relationships between parents on the playground?"

LM: Definitely. Well, first of all, I'm lucky with the parents at our school. I've got a lovely new group of friends, which has been a surprise for me. You get to my age, and you don't expect to suddenly meet a whole new circle of friends. It's been wonderful. It's just being in this environment, you see all the potential for it. I'm definitely not using real-life situations, but it's a whole treasure trove of potential material. In the same way that if I started a new job at a hospital, I'd then have a setting or an environment, where I wouldn't necessarily be using things that happened, but I could then see this is what would happen in a hospital. It's just the material I've got. That's what I would always say to writers—the best way really to prepare would be to do a whole lot of different jobs so you've got lots of material at your disposal.

GR: The structure of Big Little Lies, as in many of your other novels, creates an incredible tension between the storyteller and the reader. By the end of the book, I felt as if someone were sitting on my chest. Where did the idea for this come from?

LM: I don't plan my novels. As I said, I came up with the idea of the school trivia night where things went terribly wrong, then I just tend to start writing. I remember I was originally considering killing off a few different characters. [Another] author said, "Don't do that, not too many of the Elvises!" It just seems to happen in an organic way. I guess I wrote it in that way because that's all I knew [about this story]. I'm not a planner, and as I look back, I find it hard to remember how it all came about. You know how I've got the little snippets, sort of the suburban Greek chorus? Originally I was thinking it would all be that way, with three main characters. I think I actually wrote quite a bit and scrapped all that, but then I used a little part of it. I just flail about a lot at the beginning. Obviously by the end I've worked it all out, so then I can go back and put in some little red herrings. I sometimes worry that when I say I just make it up as I go along that it sounds so easy. [laughs]

GR: Your novels center around some weighty themes—infertility, domestic violence, death. Goodreads member Irena Lawlor asks, "Does it take a lot out of you emotionally to write about such sensitive subjects?"

LM: Yes, it does sometimes. Especially with some of those more harrowing scenes. I would be pretending if I said I lie on the floor sobbing, but in a way it's still a process. Most of my books are a mixture of light and dark, so I know after I've written a particularly dark scene—for example, with Big Little Lies—after I've written a scene about Celeste, then I'd have great fun going back to Madeline or the interview snippets.

GR: Perception plays an important role in this novel—outside perception versus reality. One example is Perry's curated life on Facebook, which is such a common practice these days. Do you have experience with this?

LM: I'm not much of a social media person, but certainly I do sometimes, when I'm scrolling through other people's lives, and I do think, Gosh, they have a wonderful life. I don't know how to upload photos, so if I'm going out with someone who's good at that sort of thing, I say, 'Quick, take a photo of me, I look nice! Tag me so it looks like I'm somewhere!' It's something that everyone talks about—your social media profile compared to reality.

GR: I'm guilty of it, too—if you just looked at my Instagram you'd think I was a lady of leisure who just traveled and ate amazing pancakes for brunch.

LM: But of course, why would you put up with the reality?

GR: At the beginning of the novel Mrs. Ponder offers an outside perspective of the trivia-night happenings, while the reporter's interview peppered throughout relates characters' opinions. What purpose did it serve to have these outside perspectives on the central story?

LM: I think it just gives you a fuller picture—it's a way of finding the truth, the more perspectives you can give. And I just enjoy writing in that way. One of the complaints people have—if they're going to criticize something about my books—is that there are too many characters. I can't seem to help myself. As a reader, one of my earliest memories of reading was one of those huge sagas. It was a whole section of the book from one character's perspective, and then suddenly you went into a new section. He opened the door, and suddenly we switched perspectives to the person on the other side of the door. And I just remember getting goosebumps, suddenly seeing him from that other character's perspective, and as a result gaining a whole new perspective on that character. I just enjoy writing and reading in that way.


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Enid Blyton is a famous English writer; she wrote The Famous Five and The Secret Seven. I was very influenced by her. My early writing sounds suspiciously English. I don't sound Australian.

GR: Madeline experiences a realization toward the end of the novel: "There were so many levels of evil in the world." There were so many represented in this novel. Do you think it's harder for people nowadays to get out of their own heads and have empathy for the "evils" that are outside of their own bubbles?

LM: In a way it's not possible—if you allowed yourself to feel complete empathy for all the terrible things that are going on in the world, you wouldn't be able to get out of bed. So in a way you have to protect yourself by living in your own little bubble, but then at the same time finding a way to do what you can and not close yourself off completely. It's something I personally struggle with. When you watch something on the news about some terrible atrocity, you can cry and allow yourself to feel it. And then you switch the channel, and something else is going on. So how do you adjust to that? I don't actually know what the answer to that is. There's so much more awareness. Obviously in the world today we hear straightaway of terrible things that are going on. We know what's going on, but what we do with that information, I don't know.

GR: All of your novels are set in Australia. Goodreads member Melissa asks, "Have you ever considered giving your characters (in future novels) an opportunity to travel outside of Australia? If so, where would you send them?"

LM: I've been joking a lot that I'm going to set my next novel on a tropical island, and I need to do a lot of meticulous research. I should send them to somewhere—a particularly beautiful tropical island. [laughs] I find it hard—when I look back on my own travel stories, I can't ever remember quite enough to feel confident in sending my characters elsewhere. I'm just a bit hopeless with all the memories of where did I go? What was the name of that place? That's why I do tend to set them in somewhere that I know well.

GR: Your characters are so relatable and real. Who inspires them? Are they women you know?

LM: I always say that I never steal an entire personality, but I do take little bits and pieces from people. For example, the character of Madeline—there's a friend who's one of those people who's always beautifully dressed with the right accessories. I just find those people fascinating. It's a pleasure to look at them. I started out with that little personality attribute, and then from that I just build them into somebody entirely different. Some authors have little folders, and they really plan out their characters. But I just start writing the characters, and in the beginning they're quite wooden and I can't make them move properly, and I sort of get to know them by writing. And I go back again to the beginning and say, OK, Madeline wouldn't say this, because now I know her.

GR: In your bio I read: "The problem was that she didn't actually believe that real people had novels published." Is this true? Did you have to overcome a confidence issue to start writing?

LM: Definitely, and I always say that if my sister hadn't been published first, I'm quite sure I would have never pushed myself to finish that. It was pure envy that drove me to finish that first novel. [laughs] You feel a little bit silly writing your first novel, thinking, What's the point of this? Even right now I still feel silly, to just sit down and make up a story and think—this is my job—sitting at my computer, making up a story. It just feels sort of foolish sometimes. I can't let it take hold of me, that every single time I start a novel I think, I can't do this.

GR: CBS Films has acquired the film rights to The Husband's Secret, and Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon have acquired film and television rights to Big Little Lies—it must be so exciting!

LM: I'm very starstruck by it all! So many authors have said you shouldn't get excited until the day they start shooting, but it's just good fun to dream of it all.

GR: Are you imagining which actors might play the roles?

LM: I don't tend to think too much about all of that. I have a lot of fun saying that Matt Damon should absolutely have a role. [laughs]

GR: Can you describe your writing process?

LM: It's now driven by when I have child-free time. In a way I've found that's really good for me. I'm a more productive writer than when I had whole days to mess about and put it off. The only other things I do—I use that program Freedom that turns off the Internet. I love that! It's become part of my ritual, to set it for a period of time. It's almost like that makes me write. It's crazy because it's only $10, and it stopped working for a while. I thought, I'm not going to pay again for this program, I'll try to live without it and just turn off the Internet myself. But I couldn't! I had to pay again to get the program!


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GR: Have you read anything you've really enjoyed lately?

LM: A Man Called Ove by a Swedish writer, Fredrik Backman. I loved that.

GR: What authors or books have influenced you?

LM: When I was little, it was the children's book writer I mentioned, Enid Blyton. Then as I grew up, my favorite authors now are Anne Tyler, Carol Shields, Elizabeth Berg, a lot of American women writers. I love their work. I'm just looking at my bookshelf—Anna Quindlen. And of course, all the Narnia books as I grew older. So I would read the books from my father's bookshelf—he had a lot of airport thrillers, and my grandmother had all the classics. I would take all her old dusty classics and dad's big chunky thrillers, and they were my two influences.

GR: Are you working on your next book now?

LM: Yes, I'm just in the flailing-about stage—the stage where I think I can't do it. Hopefully I can!


Interview by Regan Stephens for Goodreads. Regan lives in Brooklyn and contributes to People.com.

Learn more about Regan and follow what she's reading.

Would you like to contribute author interviews to Goodreads? Contact us.




Comments Showing 1-50 of 326 (326 new)


message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan Brusco I tried two times to read this book just couldn't get into it.


message 2: by Dennis (new)

Dennis I couldn't get into this novel at all. I found it very disjointed


message 3: by Sherry (new)

Sherry I've just discovered Liane Moriarity with What Alice Forgot. I'm looking forward to reading Big Little Lies! I love her writing style and do enjoy all her many varied and well-defined characters. I'm definitely adding her to my eBookshelf!!


message 4: by Sherry (new)

Sherry And now I want to ask -- what do comment 1 about a sham artist named Papa Justus and comment 3 with a link to some "philosopher" have to do with this interview, the author, Goodreads or this discussion in general?? Hopefully these comments and this comment will be deleted ASAP. Thank you!


message 5: by Emily (new)

Emily Gutierrez I agree with Sherry. Is someone asleep at the switch? The author of the comment obviously can't read nor write. They don't belong on this site, take a hike!


message 6: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Percival I enjoyed The Husband's Secret which I bought on impulse in a pop-up bookshop where I was helping out. I look forward to reading more of of Liane Moriaty's books.

Yes, Sherry and Emily, those comments are very odd. Have either of you clicked on the 'flag' link to sound the alert?


message 7: by Sherry (new)

Sherry Wendy -- I must say I've never noticed the "flag" option. So I have now flagged the link to the "philosopher." I also see that the first comment has been removed. This is good.


message 8: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Percival Sherry wrote: "Wendy -- I must say I've never noticed the "flag" option. So I have now flagged the link to the "philosopher." I also see that the first comment has been removed. This is good."

I'm glad they've done that, Sherry. I tried to flag it and all I got was an error message saying the resource wasn't available! Glad it's been sorted. :-)


message 9: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Ahlstedt Just finished Big Little Lies and loved it! Talk about a page-turner! I was so desperate to find out who died, but I didn't want to skip ahead. I feel very virtuous that I waited (Santa, are you listening? LOL!).


message 10: by Brooke (new)

Brooke This is next on my list of books to read! I read The Husband's Secret when it was released, which was my first exposure to Moriarty. I really enjoyed her style and storytelling ability, so after finishing Secret I read What Alice Forgot, The Last Anniversary, and Three Wishes. All were great, although I think Secret was the best of that list. I'm looking forward to reading Big Little Lies as well as future novels by Moriarty!


message 11: by Whitney (new)

Whitney This book has become my new favorite, it is the only book I've happily read twice.


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan Browne The Husband's Secret, Big Little Lies and What Alice Forgot are the best books I've read in years! I love Liane Moriarty's inventive story lines too--and can't wait to get my hands on her first two novels. Great interview too!


Lis Ann - The Indigo Quill I haven't gotten a chance to read these yet, but I definitely look forward to it. They sound really interesting!


message 14: by Louisa (new)

Louisa Reid The best read I've had in a long time. I can't wait to see it translated to film! Such a gripping story line.


message 15: by Deb (new)

Deb Jannerson Wonderful book. I think it's the best of 2014, hands down, and was sad when it didn't win. I was terrified wondering who would die, but that ending... perfect.

It's also cool that she mentions her sister here; I first looked up Liane because I was such an avid fan of Jaclyn Moriarty. Jaclyn's books meant everything to me as an adolescent, and Liane's mean everything as an adult (though her children's series is great too). If my work is ever compared to either of theirs, I'll probably die happy.


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message 18: by Yonatan (new)

Yonatan Lopez that was a nice one keep it up


message 19: by Jane (new)

Jane Just finished Big Little Lies. You are the author I wish I was.


message 20: by Kbullock (new)

Kbullock I really wish Goodreads would stop posting these items to my homepage. This might be a fine author, but she has nothing to do with my reading preferences, and these pointless suggestions are really cluttering my homepage. Make it stop!


message 21: by Nicki (new)

Nicki Chen I gave "Big Little Lies" five stars. As Dennis says, it feels a little disjointed at first. But it isn't. Everything fits in. The characters are varied and interesting, the events are sad and funny, and the surprise near the end was worth waiting for.


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Tanya Judd I loved to book, I read it in 2 days! The husbands Secret is still my favourite though


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Edna Fuller Big Little Lies is not the kind of gossipy, suburban-secret, pop-lit kind of book I favor, but this one won me over with sheer readability. It covers many characters, many themes, and also includes a murder mystery concerning which you guess not whodunit until the final chapter, but also whogotit and why. Very involving, very surprising, and also a fascinating glimpse of Australian middle-class life and to what extent it mirrors the American the American version. I've heard it's her best, but am tempted to try the others.


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