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I had to Make a New Life for Myself. A Different Life: Q&A with Mary Moody, Author of The Accidental Tour Guide

October 8, 2019

About Mary Moody

Mary trained as a journalist on Australian Women’s Weekly in the late 1960s and spent several years as a reporter and feature writer on various Sydney magazines and newspapers.

In the 1970s Mary moved to Leura in the Blue Mountains with her young family, and became a passionate organic gardener. She used her journalistic skills to write and edit more than forty gardening books and magazines, and for ten years she was the NSW presenter on the ABC’s top rating show Gardening Australia.

In 2000 Mary spent six months living alone in a small room in a medieval town in southwest France. At the end of her sabbatical she bought a nearby village house that she still visits every year. She wrote four memoirs about her experiences as an Australian woman living part time in France, as well as a cookbook and several new gardening books.

Mary’s passions are still family, food, gardening and travel. She leads tours in France and the Himalayas and has written a book and made a film on a local rural French restaurant, ‘Lunch with Madame Murat’, for the SBS Network.

After the death of her husband David Hannay in 2014, Mary sold the farm where they had lived for 15 years and moved back to the Mountains where she is developing a large garden in an extended family home with her son Ethan, his partner Lynne and their three children. She now has eleven grandchildren.

Words by Mary Moody

Accidental Tour Guide is described as a powerful memoir of love, loss and discovery – the third act in an extraordinary life. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?

It took me five years to feel brave enough to write this book. I thought my life was in order – loving husband, house, children, grandchildren and successful career. Then my husband David was diagnosed with incurable cancer and our lives turned upside down. I stopped working to care for him and also for my sister in Canada who had Alzheimer’s disease. Being a carer made me prioritise my reasons for being alive. Facing the death of the people you love is gruelling and grounding. Through all of this I maintained my role as a tour guide, taking small groups to remote destinations and somehow this broader view of the world gave me the courage to face my own personal pain and loss.

What inspired the idea behind this memoir?

I have always found writing a therapeutic method of dealing with the challenges of just being human. Documenting memories and emotions helps me to crystalize the events of my life. Before computers, people kept diaries as a way of chronicling and understanding. I have found reflecting on the beautiful, joyous and painful aspects of being a woman of my age, has helped me to accept life’s journey.

What do you hope the reader will take away from this book?

I am sure many readers will identify with my story. I would like to think that the decisions I made, as described in the book, will give others courage to ‘take charge’ of the events of their lives. With the support of my children I managed to make my husband’s death and his farewell exactly what he would have wanted. We didn’t ‘hand over’ control to the medical profession or the funeral industry. Then afterwards, I had to make a new life for myself – a different life. I hope my book opens the window of possibilities.

I read that you’re walking the Santiago de Compostela. Do you find it to be an inward journey as well as a geographical one?

Walking anywhere – along a beach, through the bush or even around the block – gets the oxygen an endorphins flowing. I am fortunate in my work as a tour guide, and every destination I travel inspires me and gives me courage. I have loved walking sections of ‘the Camino’ but I am just as comforted by walking the around the escarpments of the Blue Mountains where I live.

What’s another big adventure you have planned?

I have recently returned to Mongolia after nine years and I find the history, the people and the landscape exhilarating. Experiencing another culture so closely gives me a perspective – travel opens the heart and the mind.

What’s your writing routine like and what are you working on at the moment?

When I am writing I approach the task as ‘a job’. I get up early every single day, have tea and toast and go to my computer. Then I jump up and down – go out and weed a bit of the garden or water the vegetables. Then back to the computer. I set a ‘word count’ for the day and don’t stop until I have reached it. It’s NOT a hobby.


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