Hunter author Todd Alexander was recently in the Manning Valley to promote his memoir, Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga.
While there, he caught up with popular author Di Morrissey. In Di's stunning home over a glass of bubbles, they spoke about writing, publishing and Di's latest novel, The Last Paradise - her 27th book.
Todd: "Twenty-seven books is a phenomenal achievement in itself. How has the writing process changed for you between the first book and this one?"
Di: "I'd like to think I'm more efficient, but I'm not. My desk gets buried, I fret and worry and at some point I have a melt down and panic. But my editor calms me down, saying 'You do this every book, don't worry'."
Todd: "I'm not sure if that's reassuring or terrifying to think that doubt still creeps in on book 27. Is there any part of the writing process that you enjoy less than others?"
Di: "Well [James] Michener talks of 'bum glue' - putting in the slog all day every day for months. Dealing with the editor's notes can sometimes be frustrating. I know she's right, but I still get twitchy."
Todd: "Much of The Last Paradise is set in Bali. It's clear you have great fondness for it - when did you first visit and why did it capture your heart?"
Di: "My American husband was a Peace Corps volunteer in Sumatra and we went to Lake Toba for our honeymoon. There were no tourists at that time. Plus, I have retained friends there so have been back regularly over the years. My daughter and I did a Bali trip after she finished college. We lived in a little shack in a rice paddy and loved it. I keep away from most of the tourist spots, but have a few fave restaurants."
Todd: "I think all of your readers are going to wish Bali was like it was back when you first visited. In the book, the character Grace feels there are holes in her marriage before a major event challenges her to look at things objectively. Why do you think some people stay in flawed relationships?"
Di: "Well you have to first recognise it is flawed. Women can get manipulated that the issues are their fault, so guilt and control by a partner can wear them down trying to 'fix' things. Until they wake up to the fact it's not their fault and they then have to face the war of leaving."
Todd: "It's when she gets to Bali that Grace, perhaps for the first time, rediscovers some of her lost confidence. What is it about being in a foreign environment that often encourages us to make changes in our life?"
Di: "A new landscape gives you fresh eyes and perspective. Combine that with being away from the place or people who drag you down and you start to unwind and think: 'Wait, I'm going to change my life'. And being in the gentle culture of beautiful-hearted Balinese people helps a lot. You don't have to go overboard with the Eat Pray Love scene. Just walk through quiet rice paddies, sit and watch the sunset. Watch the local people observe the simple and beautiful ceremonies each day. Enjoy new taste delights, meet new people."
Todd: "This story is a wonderfully uplifting celebration of women, and women finding strength within themselves and in friendships with each other. Do you think women's relationships have changed over the years?"
Di: "No I don't think so. Maybe women can be more 'out there' in celebrating their friendships and the things they can do together. But women have always shared secrets over pots of tea, helped each other in tough moments, held each other's confidences and the knowledge their trust will never be broken."
Todd: "Reading The Last Paradise, there was a real sense that paradise doesn't exist on our planet anymore. Do you think it's inevitable the developers and commercial interests will destroy any paradise we do find, as happened with Bali?"
Di: "Sadly yes. Especially at the rate this government is allowing clearing of precious land and rainforests (like the Tarkine in Tassie), the theft of water and the over-development of ugly infrastructure and housing estates and, especially in Sydney, the loss of our heritage buildings and landscape."
By The Rules
We've been writing recently about dress codes at pubs and clubs. We questioned why a hat can't be worn inside a club [it's just a hat, after all].
Following this, Bob "Minmi Magster" Skelton recalled a pub in Darwin back in the day that wouldn't let him in with shorts, unless he was wearing long socks.
Mount Hutton's John Ure knows what we're saying.
"Years ago, I helped a mate sail his yacht from Lake Macquarie to Pittwater. He dropped me off at Church Point and another mate picked me up to give me a lift back to Newcastle," John said.
"We went to Manly Leagues Club for a feed. We walked in - bear in mind this was back in 1975 - and I was in a shirt and a pair of trousers. I was respectfully dressed."
The doorman said, "Sorry mate, you can't come in without a coat. I'll lend you one".
"Fair dinkum, the coat came down to about my knees and the sleeves came about six inches past the end of my arms. I looked at him and said, 'it's a bit big'," John said.
The doorman replied: "As soon as you get inside, take it off, hang on to it and give it to me on your way out."
"That was their answer to getting around the club's coat rule," John said.
On another occasion, John and his mate were working on a Ford motor vehicle. When they finished, his mate had a shower and put on clean clothes, including a T-shirt.
"I'm in the clothes I've been working in all day, which had grease on, including an old shirt with a collar," he said.
"We went to Newcastle Leagues Club and the doorman looks at my mate and says, 'You can't come in with a T-shirt'. I was right in my scruffy, dirty clothes because I had a collar."