Australian author Liane Moriarity hit the bestseller list for the first time in America with her fifth novel, The Husband's Secret. Her follow up, Big Little Lies, is just as riveting and insightful. This time, the action centers on a kindergarten class, where parental tension and family secrets ignite on one fateful evening: the school's trivia night. We asked Moriarty a few question about her new book, the power of secrets and her personal mantra.
In Big Little Lies, the reader immediately knows something horrible has happened, but it takes until the end of the book to find out exactly what it is. How did that affect your writing process? Did you write the book in the order the events happened, or in the order of the text?
I wrote it in the order of the text, and I, like the reader, didn’t know at first exactly what that horrible thing was that had happened. I’m not a planner, I prefer to make it up as I go along, so I can sit down at my computer and think, “I wonder what will happen today?” The only problem with that process is that it can make me feel a bit panicky, because what if nothing at all happens today?
The Husband’s Secret was your fifth novel but your first American bestseller—what do you think it was about that book that struck a chord with readers? Did you feel pressure while writing the follow up?
I think readers seemed to like the fact that I took a darker, more suspenseful turn than in my previous novels. I should also point out that a large part of my success was due to the fact that generous authors like Emily Giffin and Anne Lamott mentioned my book to their legions of fans. I was already well underway with the new novel before The Husband’s Secret was released, so it was too late to feel the pressure!
The women in this book are keeping some pretty big secrets. Sometimes those secrets can cement a friendship and other times they destroy it—can you talk a little bit about the power of secrets?
When I was writing The Husband’s Secret I did some research on the psychology of secrets and discovered that the brain simply doesn’t like keeping them. Neuroscientist David Eagleman believes that secrets create a “neural conflict.” One part of the brain is desperate to spill the beans. The other part wants to do the right thing.
Researchers have found that carrying a secret actually feels like you’re carrying a physical burden. When people confess or write down their deepest held secrets, there are measurable decreases in their stress hormone levels.
"Researchers have found that carrying a secret actually feels like you’re carrying a physical burden."
Your main character, Madeline has a lot of mantras, like “champagne is never a mistake” and “never forgive, never forget”—what’s your mantra?
A nice warm bath will fix you.
(This is what I say to my children and my husband always makes fun of me but it’s true!)
“Bring back the good old days of benign indifference, I reckon," says one character about the pressure to parent today. Why do you think parenting has become such a competitive sport? As a parent yourself, how do you handle it?
I have no idea why parenting has become such a competitive sport. Perhaps because we have smaller families so we have more time to think about it? I’d like to pretend I’m immune to it, but then I think of myself jumping up and down like a madwoman when my son kicks a goal at soccer.
You’re excellent at describing the friendships—and rivalries—between women. Do you have any theories about how and why they differ from those between men?
Sometimes I think women could learn a lot from men in regard to friendship. I love the casualness of their relationships, the way they can forget to return phone calls for weeks on end and nobody gets their feelings hurt. But then other times I think men could learn a lot from us. Return those phone calls!
The Australian setting plays an important part in your work. While it’s hard to speak for an entire country made up of individuals, how do you think the culture there differs from the U.S.?
When I ask American expats living here about the cultural differences they most often mention our laid-back, “no-worries” approach to life and our focus on outdoor activities.
I was recently in the U.S. doing a book tour and what I noticed was how wonderfully friendly people were to strangers. I don’t mean we’re impolite to strangers (I hope we’re not), but maybe we’re so busy being laid-back we’re not quite as friendly as you!
What’s one thing Americans should know about Australia, but probably don’t?
Our seasons are upside down from yours. So Easter really does take place in the autumn here, not the spring. I have received so many emails pointing out that significant “mistake” I made in The Husband’s Secret.
Two of your siblings are also writers. To what do you attribute the creativity that obviously runs in your family?
Although our parents aren’t writers, they’re both natural storytellers. When we were growing up Dad would spin tall tales for us. (His mantra is, “Never spoil a good story with the facts.”) Mum can turn a five-minute trip to the shops into a saga complete with tragedy, pathos and unexpected twists that leave you saying, “Uh . . . what?”
What are you working on next?
I’m thinking my next book should be set on a tropical island, which will obviously require days, even weeks of meticulous research but I’m prepared to make that sacrifice. That’s just the sort of dedicated writer I am.
Author photo by über photography
RELATED CONTENT: Read our review of Big Little Lies.