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Big Little Lies Author Liane Moriarty on Why Her Story Is Universal

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Liane Moriarty’s head is still spinning from attending the recent red carpet premiere of Big Little Lies, the miniseries based on her 2014 novel of the same name coming to HBO.

The show explores the darker sides of the domestic lives of elementary school parents who live tucked away in a sleepy California beach town. Jealousy grows and tempers flare as a troubling accusation of bullying results in a mysterious death. And while the adaptation diverts in some ways from Moriarty’s book—the novel is set in Australia, for example—the author was happy to hand over creative responsibility, seeing the series as something totally separate from what she wrote.

“I think sometimes it was easier for me that it was American rather than Australian, because I could feel a little bit disconnected,” she said, speaking by phone from her home in Sydney. “That way I couldn’t critique the changes.”

When Nicole Kidman (who plays Celeste in the series) approached her about optioning the title in 2014, Moriarty didn’t want to get her hopes up until they actually started shooting. But after filming started, Moriarty was thrilled to see her words come to life. She was especially impressed with the stars attached to the show: The mothers at the center of the story are played by Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley.

“When I saw Nicole dressed exactly as I’d described her [in the book], I was unexpectedly teary,” she said. “The outfit had her exactly as I’d described her. It was just something from a fairy tale.”

Big Little Lies is dreamy, soapy and full of characters who constantly gossip and speculate about the lives of their fellow parents. But the story is underpinned by serious themes like domestic violence and bullying, which Moriarity says were inspired by a few different real-life anecdotes. One spark of inspiration involved a story Moriarty heard on the radio about an adult woman who reverted to a childhood instinct of hiding under her bed when she saw her elderly abusive father repeat the violent behavior toward her mother that he had exhibited while she was growing up.

“I couldn’t get that feeling of that woman hiding under her bed out of my head,” Moriarty said.

Although Moriarty has written several other novels, Big Little Lies is her second major hit; The Husband’s Secret topped U.S. bestseller charts in 2013. She said readers connected to the book because “being a school parent is a universal experience.”

“When my little boy started school, I could see the potential for this sort of thing, but most of the mothers are lovely people,” she said, noting that her characters are very exaggerated. “It created a framework to work with.”

Big Little Lies premieres Feb. 19 on HBO.

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Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com