Sometimes an author’s experience of a writers’ festival seeps into their fiction. Think of future and past guests of Perth Festival Writers Festival Odette Kelada, Patrick Gale and Carmel Bird, to name but a handful. Di Morrissey, arguably Australia’s most popular female author and a guest of this year’s Writers Week, is no exception.
In her latest novel The Red Coast, which sees Morrissey return to one of her favourite subjects – the landscape and life of the northwest of Western Australia – Broome becomes the setting not only for romantically and politically charged intrigues but a quirky writers’ festival. Like the bookshop in the novel, it’s based on a real festival, one that Morrissey attended and loved.
That Morrissey – who has with one exception published a novel a year since 1991 – will have just as much fun at our Writers Week is not in question. But will you? I’ve been fortunate enough to be in conversation with Morrissey in a number of meal-based events over the years, and can’t wait join her at The University Club of Western Australia for what promises to be another seriously entertaining lunch event.
I remember the last time we got together, for a sundowner at the Perth Hilton. Not only did our conversation range from the centrality of landscape in her fiction to why she decided to found independent newspaper The Manning Community News; she also had the audience in stitches with her hilarious tales of small-town politics. Morrissey is a born raconteur and it’s hard to imagine a better lunch companion.
This lightness of touch, this conviviality, can sometimes belie her intense seriousness of purpose in her fiction. ‘I come across things I find interesting and hope others will find interesting as well,’ Morrissey told me in a 2016 interview. ‘There’s still a large part of our history that’s not being explored. Like the blackbirding, the slave trading that went on in Queensland, which I explored in Rain Music. The trick is to do it in a way that’s not polemical or preachy. It’s a fine line between entertainment and pure research.
‘As you become better known and more in the public eye, you realise you have a voice and therefore a responsibility to reflect upon who we are and where we’re going,’ she also said, adding that every book she’s written has changed her as well, and taken her on a different journey.
The great thing about a writers’ festival lunch is you get to sit down with an author and just have a relaxed chat. But you also get, in the following in-conversation, those kinds of insights that only occur to a writer on the wing, as they answer a sometimes provocative question, in that post-lunch glow. Not to mention the laughs along the way. I hope you can join us.