Lightbulb moments: Liane Moriarty on writing Apples Never Fall

True crime podcasts, a story in the newspaper and a sisterly writing prompt all led the bestselling author to her latest meaty thriller.

A photograph of Liane Moriarty next to the cover of Apples Never Fall
Liane Moriarty. Image: Penguin

The Delaneys are an extraordinary ordinary family. The four adult children and retired couple that exist at the heart of Liane Moriarty’s latest thriller, Apples Never Fall, have normal jobs, live in normal houses and have the normal family bickerings. Or at least, on the surface they do. When matriarch Joy disappears after an altercation with Stan, it sets in motion a fresh examination of the four Delaney siblings and the rivalries, histories and ambitions that have built up over the years.

It’s fitting, then, that it was a writing prompt from Moriarty’s sister, also an author, that gave Apples Never Fall its first scene. From that eerie cliff hanger, an intertwining family history and a modern-day mystery surrounding a troubled stranger who turns up on the Delaney’s doorstop late one evening. How do the three tie together? That’s something only the readers will be able to find out.

We spoke to Moriarty to learn about her writing process and the inspiration behind her new book.

What were you thinking about when Apples Never Fall started to gestate for you?

There were a few things. First of all, there was one particular newspaper article I read about an elderly couple who let a young woman into their house, who said she was a domestic violence victim and she then committed some crime. I was intrigued by the idea of the poor elderly couple thinking they were doing the right thing by letting her in. So that was one, the other was a few true crime podcasts that I'd started listening to. There was one case that really made me think, “How would you feel if your father was accused of murdering your mother?” and about those conflicted feelings, especially if you had siblings. What would happen if one of you thought he was guilty and the other didn't? That was another thought.

And you took some inspiration from a writing exercise too, right?

Yes. I was having a year off from writing, and I asked my sister to send me some writing prompts, just to do some writing, not to necessarily get started on anything. She sent me a little description of a bike lying in the grass with apples lying next to it. And that became the opening scene of the book.

'I’m a word counter because it makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere'

Apples Never Fall is preoccupied with the Delaneys. How did they come about?

I wanted the book to have a relatively big family so that there could different factions within it; with one faction that thought he was guilty and one that didn't. Originally I had Amy as the youngest in the family, but I thought that was too obvious – to have the youngest as being the most haphazard – and so I enjoyed the idea of the youngest being the more organised one instead. As for Joy, who’s the mother and centre of the narrative, she was just very fun to write. The trick with her was not to make Joy too annoying; I wanted her to annoy her children, but not annoy the reader. She’s 69 but she’s not the stereotypical elderly lady.

What’s your writing process like?

I just start writing, I don't plan ahead or do any plotting at all. I knew I had this girl knocking at the door, but I didn't know how that connected to Joy, and I knew that Joy would disappear but I actually didn't know if she was dead or alive. I just start writing and work

it out as I go along. I always have a separate document called “Things I Need to Fix”. In some ways it's a difficult way to write because you're going back and filling all those pieces together but I enjoy it because it keeps me interested.

When I’m an into a book I do try to write at least 500 words a day. I’m a word counter because it makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere. A friend gave me a really lovely egg timer and sometimes if I'm getting stuck I just turn that over and write for 30 minutes without doing anything else. “Can you at least do that?” I say to myself, and that sometimes gets me going.

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