Richard C. Morais
The Hundred-Foot Journey,
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in 1960 in Lisbon, Portugal, the youngest of four boys. My parents were American and Canadian ex-pats stationed, by my father’s company, in Spain and Portugal in the 1950s and 1960s. When I was just 10 months old we moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where I went to private British and American schools.
At age 16, I left Switzerland to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a small liberal arts college on the perimeter of New York City, well known for its writing faculty. I was an American who had never before lived in America. When I graduated at age 20 and hit the streets of New York, it was the early 1980s, and the Reagan recession was in full swing. Down to my last $100, I took the first job that came along, which was in reinsurance. I freelanced for local Brooklyn papers at night. Eventually – and supported initially by my wife – the American business magazine, Forbes, hired me as a junior report in 1984 and then sent me abroad in 1986.
I worked for Forbes for 25 years, 18 of those years in London, where I was Forbes’s European Bureau Chief and its longest-serving foreign correspondent. Our daughter was born in the UK. We returned to the US in late 2003, and last year I left my position as Forbes Senior Editor to devote myself entirely to the dream I had long cherished – to make a living as a fiction writer. The Hundred-Foot Journey is my debut novel, has sold in 18 territories around the world, and is now in active film development. My next novel, Buddhaland, Brooklyn, is about a Japanese Buddhist priest sent by his superiors to an Italian neighbourhood in New York and instructed to build a temple.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
12 – Actor
18 – Writer
30 – Decently-Compensated Writer
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Back then I was convinced I knew what I was talking about.
The Decameron by Boccaccio
My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
As long as I can remember I have wanted to live off my imagination. My first love was acting, but I also knew I wanted a stable environment to raise a family in half-decent comfort. So writing seemed the most “practical” of the artistic professions on offer. My journalism career taught me technique and paid bills, but never quite satisfied the compulsion to “create.” Becoming a novelist was always, even when I was a boy, the hallowed ambition.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Hundred-Foot Journey: The story is about Hassan Haji, an Indian chef of Muslim descent, and his curious journey through life (usually alongside his eccentric family.) Destiny propels this talented young chef from Mumbai to London to the French Alps and ultimately to Paris, where he conquers the elite and insular world of French haute cuisine. (Read Booktopia BUZZ Editor-in-Chief, Toni Whitmont’s review here)
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
First and foremost I want my readers to have fun. So, on one level, the book is simply an amusing road trip, driven by lively characters, filled with lush scenery and mouth-watering meals. But I believe good writing should be like daily conversation – at times it is appropriate to be witty and amusing and light, but, at other times, circumstances demand we are serious and thoughtful. So I hope my readers also spot the deeper issues and nuances woven through Hassan’s story: How do we, in this noisy world, find our destiny or calling, particularly when it is at odds with our family and culture? How do we find our “home” in a frenetic world where people are increasingly of mixed heritage and often moving from place to place?
Kazuo Ishiguro. He is talented and principled and a total pro. Besides simply loving the incredible craftsmanship of his fiction, I am awed by his similar mastery of the novel-writing business.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To earn a living from my novels, while giving my readers some inspiring respite from the world. Setting yourself too “grand” an ambition invites, I think, hubris and self-destruction.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Never follow a formula or emulate others. Find your own unique voice and path – and stick to it.
Richard, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.