By Nicky Pellegrino, Herald on Sunday Oct 17, 2010
But if that's what Morey's publisher Huia was expecting from her latest book, it must have got a fright when she delivered the manuscript of Quinine ($35) because it's a world away from anything she's written before.
Set in the early-20th century Quinine is the story of Marta Mueller, a 33-year-old Austrian woman who longs for escape and adventure. Marrying Bernard Schmidt, a copra planter from German East Neuguinea, she sets sail for a new life in Oceania.
Quinine is an unconventional love story, vibrant with history and packed to the rafters with eccentric characters. What it isn't, on any level at all, is a New Zealand story.
"I went out deliberately to find something that had nothing to do with New Zealand," admits Morey, "To write a proper, solid story, something that people might actually want to read. That's a failing of my earlier stuff - they're a bit inconsequential. I mean they're nice, gentle and well written and the characters are great, but they kind of go nowhere."
She describes Quinine as "a parody of a historic novel with lots of post-modernistic references" but immediately laughs, "And now I've haemorrhaged 500 sales at Borders. But that's truly the best way of describing it. I rob fairy tales, I rob history, I rob other writers. It's all good fun for me."
For Morey it was liberating to step away from her own experience and steep herself in the details of another time and others' lives. "I planted myself in my first three books," she explains. "I'm the archetypal creative writing graduate. But now I never want to write another book about someone like me ever again."
In a small way, her own experience underpins sections of Quinine, as she spent the first part of her childhood living in Papua New Guinea where her father was working as a land surveyor.
"We moved around a lot through the East New Guinea Territory living in small places where there were perhaps only a couple of white missionary families," she says. "My brother and I were both sent to boarding school when we were young so I don't remember much about it. I had to do a lot of research, hours of poring over photographic archives and even tourist books trying to get a feel for the land. The greatest triumph for me has been my father saying Quinine is vivid and spot on."
Many of the characters are based on real colonists and researching them was a challenge for Morey who didn't have the budget to return to Papua New Guinea or travel to Germany and go through archives there. "This was my difficult fourth novel and I've spent 4 years writing it," she explains. "It cost me money just to sit at home and do it. I didn't have the resources to travel as much as I'd have loved to."
Morey leads an isolated novelist's life in Kaipara, often with only her dogs and ponies for company. She combines writing fiction with part-time work although was recently made redundant from her job at the Navy Museum. "While I miss my salary, it was a blessed relief because I hated working there," she confesses.
A prolific photographer, Morey is currently working towards a PhD in Art History. She is one of those multi-talented people whose career could have taken any number of paths.
She wrote her first novel, Bloom, because she was filling in time while she tried to find a job. "When you're bored, unemployed and depressed sometimes the best thing in your life is your imagination," she says.
In 2006 she announced that she had "retired from novelling" but immediately set to work on Quinine. "I always do that just before I'm about to kick into a new book," she explains. "It really invigorates me to think I don't have to do this, there's no onus on me, I'll only do it if I want to ... but really what else am I going to do?"
Morey has started working on her next book, based on Lizzie Borden, who was accused of the hatchet murders of her father and stepmother in 1892 Massachusetts.
"I've realised I like doing the historical thing and getting inside someone else's shoes. I've already got the crime scene photographs and court transcripts. Lizzie Borden's house is a B&B now and you can sleep in her bedroom. I so want to go and do that. Still, I can see the idea isn't going to get the Maori Literature Trust excited ..."
By Nicky Pellegrino