She has millions of adoring fans, and has been on the bestsellers lists more times than you can count, but one thing has always alluded Australia’s doyen of popular fiction – the recognition of her peers.
Until now, that is. On Thursday May 25 Mondrook resident (near Taree) Di Morrissey was inducted into the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA) Hall of Fame with the Lloyd O’Neil Award for service to the Australian book industry.
The award was presented by Di’s old friend and neighbour, fellow author Tom Keneally at the 17th Annual Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs), at a “star-studded ceremony” at the Art Gallery of NSW.
The event took place during the Sydney Writers’ Festival and was attended by the who’s who of Australia’s publishing industry.
Di only found out about her win two days before the award was presented to her.
“My publisher rang and said, ‘now, you’re appearing at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, and then there’s the big award dinner night,” and I said “I won’t be going to the dinner”, and he said “oh yes, you will!” Di laughed.
The Sydney Writer’s Festival tends to the literary, so I never felt totally embraced by the literary establishment who sometimes can turn tend to turn their nose up at popular fiction.Di Morrissey
“And then he explained how important the the Lloyd O’Neil prize was, and so I’ve just been in a bit of shock, really! It’s just lovely after all that hard work … years and years. I was overwhelmed.”
Twenty-five years hard work, to be exact. Every morning Di rises at the crack of dawn and heads straight for her studio, writing all day, seven days a week. Those 25 years have seen her publish 24 books – she missed only one year when her mother passed away – and three children’s books.
The night will remain as a glittering highlight in Di’s memory, not just for the accolade, but because of the people who celebrated it with her.
“The Sydney Writer’s Festival tends to the literary, and I never felt totally embraced by the literary establishment who sometimes can tend to turn their nose up at popular fiction,” Di said.
“But it was a warm reception. The 300 most important people in publishing were there. It was like the feeling in the room was ‘well it’s about bloody time’, which was really, really lovely.”
Tom Keneally, who was a recipient of the Lloyd O’Neil award himself in 1995, gave what the ABIA called “a moving homage to one of Australia’s favourite storytellers” while presenting Di with the prestigious award.
“Your success has made it possible for your publishers to undertake more Australian titles than they otherwise could. You have become an essential element in the ecology of publishing. The readers, booksellers and publishers love you, and this award confirms that,” Tom Keneally said in the conclusion of his speech.
Another of Di’s old friends, Stan Grant, delivered the opening address for the gala ceremony. Stan was mentored by Di’s late uncle from Wingham, Jim Revitt, a foreign correspondent who started the cadet training program at the ABC.
“I had a lot of family connections. My Uncle Jim was a mentor to me, but he also discovered Stan Grant, so it was lovely. And it was Jim’s birthday that night, so Stan and I both thought that was special,” Di said.
But as wonderful as the recognition of her work and the presence of old friends at the night were, by far the most important thing to Di was the reaction of her children to the news.
“My children are so thrilled for me because they know what a struggle it’s been – writing as a poor and single woman – and I took a gamble and left television to try and fulfill a childhood dream. So they hold me up as something of an inspiration to chase your dreams and take a punt,” Di said.