Best-selling Australian author Di Morrissey drew on her early career as a globe-trotting journalist for her latest book Before the Storm which focuses on career woman Ellie Conlan and her new life as a reporter on the trusted local newspaper run by her grandfather.
Ellie retreats to Storm Harbour, an idyllic Victorian beach town, but things aren’t what they seem. She is confronted with many challenging situations and must face her own demons from the past before she finds happiness.
Morrissey was a copy girl on the Australian Women’s Weekly before working overseas as a journalist, but her affinity with newspapers goes back even further than that, she tells Have a Go News from Wingham NSW.
“My grandfather used to walk me up the street when I was five or six years old and sit in the office of the old editor of the Wingham Chronicle, the little country town where I was born and am now living. The editor had the eyeshade and silver arm bands and there was the old printing machine. I just loved the smell of newspapers and how important they were and then my uncle Jim Revitt became an ABC foreign correspondent and was a war correspondent in Vietnam so we had it in the family.
“Ellie’s grandfather in the book was also in Vietnam so I borrowed some of that. Newspapers run strongly in my veins. When I left school I wanted to write novels but you can’t just do that so my uncle put me onto the Australian Women’s Weekly and said: “get a job as a copy girl and move your way up the ropes,” and I did all of that.
“It was the best thing I could have done for novel writing. Then I worked as a journalist around the world and I was in my 30s working in television and thought, why am I doing this? I want to write books. So, I turned my attention to books and, about five years ago, I moved back to the area where I was born.
“I was shocked by the standard of local papers, all owned by big conglomerates and they wouldn’t criticise the council because they advertised with them and they weren’t telling a lot of the terrible things that were happening, so I decided to start my own newspaper, The Manning Community News.
“It comes out once a month. I have managed to access a lot of friends to write columns and I have a lot of local talent who I have persuaded to write. For instance, the girl who works in the nursery knows all about plants, so I said: “why don’t you write a gardening column?”
The main stories I do mostly by phone, people come to me now because the paper is very established.
“I put aside one week a month when I put the paper to bed. I gather all the information and off it goes to be printed in Sydney. I wanted to use someone local but they were too small and three times the price. I email the PDF and the newspaper is trucked to my gate. A team of volunteer retirees deliver the paper, some driving up to 200km. Many older people don’t want to read the news online, they want to pick up a paper.
“So my newspaper and some of the incidents mentioned in Before the Storm overlap a little. Some issues in the book actually happened.”
Before the Storm went to No 1 Australian fiction for week or so, Morrissey says.
“There were so many books coming out in October after Covid. I have published a record 28 books now. A new book comes out each October and I have to have the manuscript finished by July which means I do the research the previous September, but last September we had bushfires so I couldn’t travel.
“I went to Victoria in February-March and just got back before the Covid lockdown; otherwise I would still be in Victoria.”
Revered Australian writer Thomas Keneally is a good friend of Morrissey’s. She met him in London years ago through a mutual friend.
“Back in Australia, I moved in next door to him, his daughter and my daughter are a similar age, a nice bond. He has been a wonderful friend and he sits and talks and you learn a lot.”
Morrissey says Covid has meant she hasn’t been able to carry out research but she is planning to write a book about her childhood which makes it easy.
She has a deep affinity for Broome and is hoping David Jowsey will make a television series of her most popular book Tears of the Moon.
“I try to get to Broome fairly often to visit my good friend Susan Bradley. I love Broome and go fishing in the Kimberley. Any chance I have to travel I will go to Broome.”
Before the Storm (Pan Macmillan, $34.99 hardcover) is out now.