The Australian author of ‘Big Little Lies’ is back on screen with the adaptation of her book ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ and another exploration of the dark side of suburbia in new book ‘Apples Never Fall’. She talks to Charlotte Cripps about Hollywood, writing roles for Meryl Streep and why her novels lack diversity
Liane Moriarty has the Midas touch when it comes to attracting A-listers. The Australian author’s novels Store små løgner og Nine Perfect Strangers have become prestige drama gold, adapted into a Golden Globe-scooping series and a Hulu main event, henholdsvis. Even the biggest names don’t need asking twice.
“I’m so spoilt that I asked for Melissa and got Melissa,” she chuckles, as in McCarthy, who stars in Nine Perfect Strangers. “And I asked for Meryl and got Meryl.” She of course means Streep, who was gleefully sinister as meddling mother-in-law Mary-Louise in the second series of Store små løgner. Nå Nicole Kidman og Reese Witherspoon, who both produced and starred in the latter series, jokingly tell her: “Oh Liane, you’ve become so Hollywood.”
In the darkly comic Store små løgner, Kidman played the brittle Celeste, one of five Californian mums – including Witherspoon’s Madeline – who are tangled in a murder investigation. Kidman starred in Nine Perfect Strangers, også, having snapped up the film rights before the ink was even dry. In that, she was the unethical Russian wellness guru, Masha, whose nine guests at her retreat include McCarthy’s romantic novelist Frances.
Despite its mixed reviews, Nine Perfect Strangers was reportedly the most watched Hulu original ever. But there isn’t a trace of arrogance about Moriarty, who is talking from her home office in Sydney. The 54-year-old is promoting her new book, Apples Never Fall, a dark, twisty and compulsive family saga that is a sort of spiritual sister to Store små løgner, once again exploring the sordid side of suburbia. It’s propped up on the bookcase behind her.
Moriarty’s forte is unpicking seemingly perfect lives with knife-sharp insight and dark wit. I Apples Never Fall’s case, it’s the tennis-mad Delaney family, who go into emotional freefall when the matriarch vanishes into thin air.
Moriarty, who lives with her husband Adam and their two children, George, 13, and Anna, 11, has had her own crisis since finishing her ninth novel. Within two weeks of handing in the book’s manuscript, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was caught early,” says Moriarty, who was and is stuck in her house during Australia’s strict lockdown. “So I feel lucky that I kept my appointment.” There was a “silver lining” to her ordeal. “I had a valid reason to leave the house each day, because I was going through radiotherapy treatment.” She posted the news on her Facebook page “to remind people” not to forget check-ups. “I think because we’re so distracted by the pandemic, people are putting off appointments," hun sier.
Moriarty was popular in the US long before she was recognised in her home country, and has sold more than 20 million copies of her books worldwide. But it was her fifth novel, 2013’S The Husband’s Secret, about the aftermath of a child’s murder, that first hit the No 1 spot on New York Times Best Seller list and set her on a roll of writing about far knottier themes: grief, bullying, mord, and sexual violence. Her books have never been far from that taste-making chart since: Store små løgner debuted at No 1 the following year and Nine Perfect Strangers spent eight weeks on it, while also being the biggest-selling UK paperback of 2019.
Det er Store små løgner that made Moriarty pretty much a household name. The show has won eight Emmys and four Golden Globes – such a huge success that Moriarty was commissioned to write a 50,000-word novella to bring the story forward for series two. That’s how she ended up concocting the role of Mary-Louise with Streep specifically in mind. “I absolutely wrote the role just for her, just for the fun of it,” says Moriarty, following her younger sister Jaclyn’s suggestion that she wrote a character for her favourite actor. “And it seemed incredibly audacious that it ended up happening.”
But that was a one-off. Moriarty doesn’t write novels with “one eye on the TV screen”, hun sier, although “nobody believes me”.
“I definitely created the character of Masha first before I remembered thinking, ‘There you go Nicole’,” she says of the guru lead in Nine Perfect Strangers. “I just knew the role would be perfect for Nicole.”
Denne gangen, selv om, Kidman hasn’t optioned the TV adaptation of Apples Never Fall. “There isn’t a role for her [Kidman] i Apples Never Fall… there really isn’t,” says Moriarty.
I stedet, it’s been snapped up by David Heyman, the Harry Potter and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood producer, although it’s not clear yet whether for the small or silver screen.
From the new book’s strapline – “The Delaney family love one another dearly – it’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other…” – it’s clear we’re in for another Store små løgner-type look at dysfunction behind the closed doors of seemingly idyllic family life. Former tennis coaches Stan Delaney and wife Joy have just retired when Joy disappears. Even the waitress in the cafe overhearing the siblings discussing their mother’s whereabouts gets hooked in – as do I within six pages. “She’s not technically missing. She sent us that text,” says one. “Maybe Dad did have something to do with it,” says another.
It’s impossible to predict where Moriarty will take a story. Even she can’t; she never plans a book. “I don’t know the twist,” she adds about her see-where-it-takes-me writing. “So I prefer the twist to surprise me in the same way that it surprises the reader.”
Moriarty is the eldest of six siblings, including her two sisters Jaclyn and Nicola, who are also both best-selling authors. Her father inspired her to write her first novel while she was still in primary school, offering her an advance of $1. It led to the three-volume series The Mystery of Deadman’s Island.
After university, Moriarty started an ad agency, then did freelance copywriting. The idea of getting a novel published always seemed out of reach, so she didn’t bother. It wasn’t until Jaclyn’s first young adult novel, Feeling Sorry for Celia, was published in 2000 that Moriarty felt driven by sibling rivalry to get a book out, admitting feelings of “envy” because, unlike Jaclyn, she hadn’t fulfilled their shared childhood dream yet. And so in 2003 she published her first novel Three Wishes, about triplets with issues.
Siden da, she’s become the biggest-selling author in her family by far, though Moriaty claims that she and her sisters aren’t competitive about sales. Heller, they fight over who gets to use family anecdotes. “There’s definitely rivalry for material… there’s competition to see who can use it first because, selvfølgelig, once one of us has used it in a book, then it’s off the table.”
If there’s one thing Moriarty’s books might be lacking, it’s diversity. It’s been suggested that she mostly writes about privilege – especially privileged white people. “I think people think that because of the HBO series [Store små løgner]," hun sier. “I made Celeste glamorous and wealthy, but none of the other characters in that book were particularly wealthy.”
Legger hun til: “I’m sure my books are probably too white … I think that’s a natural tendency for any author to write about characters too similar to themselves. And I think that’s something everybody’s trying to catch themselves out doing. We do need more diversity, og, egentlig, in some ways, just automatically giving characters similar sort of Irish Catholic names to myself… it really doesn’t take all that much to add more diversity to your cast of characters.”
But to even complain about the pressure on writers to get it right, hun sier, “reeks of privilege”. “You have to put all that aside while you’re writing and then just write your story. I appreciate having look-out readers before it goes to print, making sure I’m not offending anyone… which I never meant to.”
With Moriarty being such a word wizard, why doesn’t she write the screenplays to these adaptations herself – like, si, George R R Martin or Margaret Atwood? “I think I would try to hold on too tightly to my own storyline, and I think that’s a mistake," hun sier. “I don’t think adaptations should be completely faithful to the source material.”
Fortsatt, some changes must bother her. It’s one thing that in TV’s Store små løgner, Madeline ends up having an affair – something Moriarty’s character in the book would never have done – but what about Kidman’s long flowing locks in Nine Perfect Strangers? She described her in the book as having “almost no hair”.
Moriarty laughs. “But I think it looks so beautiful. It’s quite different… they changed more of the story than they did with Store små løgner. Maybe it needed more twists.” Will she always take a back seat? She pauses. “I might one day write an original screenplay – that might be fun.”
I can almost hear the sound of A-listers stampeding.
‘Apples Never Fall’ is out now