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Tattooist of Auschwitz author talks about best-selling novel’s journey to miniseries

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As the world prepares to watch the much-anticipated miniseries The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris, the author of the novel of the same name, doesn’t know when she will next be back “home” in New Zealand and visiting Waipā – such is the life of a globe-trotting international bestselling author and script consultant. Morris talked to Waikato Herald editor Dean Taylor on the whirlwind ride with the series.

I joked to Heath Morris that her constant travelling around the world to meet demand was akin to being a rock star.

“Sort of,” she replied, “but without the groupies.”

Heather (nee Williamson) left Te Awamutu College and her family, parents Jock and Joyce and four brothers, in Pirongia “some decades ago” to make a bit of money and then escape small-town New Zealand to see the world.

Like many young Kiwis, she headed across the Tasman, where she met her future husband, Aussie Steve Morris.

For a while, they moved to Christchurch where they had family.

Steve worked in IT and was headhunted back to Australia in 1987, where they have lived since. Heather worked in social services within the medical profession – mostly at Melbourne’s Monash Medical Centre.

She has always been a keen reader and a movie lover, but nothing prepared her for the journey of more than a dozen years that led her to international fame when she released her first book – the historical novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Kiwi-born author Heather Morris with the new release of The Tattooist of Auschwitz to reflect the miniseries.
Kiwi-born author Heather Morris with the new release of The Tattooist of Auschwitz to reflect the miniseries.

That was in 2018 and when I first met Heather in April 2019 she was back at Te Awamutu College speaking to English and history students.

At that time I broke the news Morris was working on a second novel based on information from her interviews with the tattooist Lale Sokolov and further research – Cilka’s Journey.

And then amid the pandemic, Morris showed no sign of slowing down when I spoke to her in November 2020 and broke the title of her third novel – Three Sisters, the story of the Meller sisters, whom she had met on her travels.

At that time plans had been made, and then put on hold, for a miniseries of The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Morris was back in Te Awamutu in 2022, where she was inducted into the Te Awamutu Walk of Fame.

Te Awamutu Walk of Fame inductee Heather Morris with Waipā Mayor Susan O’Regan in 2022. Photo / Kate Durie
Te Awamutu Walk of Fame inductee Heather Morris with Waipā Mayor Susan O’Regan in 2022. Photo / Kate Durie

Speaking from her Melbourne home this week, she told me that when the plans for the series were revived it was back to the drawing board.

“The same cast and crew originally engaged weren’t all available, so a new team was put together,” she said.

Morris was the script consultant and said she learned a lot about filmmaking along the way.

“I would look over every script and make notes and then discuss it with the team.

“The producers and screenwriter Jacquelin Perske were fantastic.

“They worked in what they could and explained what wouldn’t work in the medium of film.”

Heather Morris (Melanie Lynskey) meets Lale Sokolov (Harvey Keitel) in Melbourne.
Heather Morris (Melanie Lynskey) meets Lale Sokolov (Harvey Keitel) in Melbourne.

She praised the whole production, especially the stellar cast which includes Harvey Keitel, Johan Hauer-King, Anna Próchniak and Kiwi actress Melanie Lynskey, who plays Morris.

“It was a beautiful collaboration with wonderful, thoughtful people,” she said.

“The miniseries includes me interviewing Lale, which has been questioned.

“The fact is the miniseries does not feature anything that wasn’t in the book, because the afterword explained the meetings and process which led to the book.

“It was also an effective way to break the heavy emotion of life in Auschwitz for the viewer.”

Author Heather Morris speaking at the Te Awamutu RSA in 2019 for the launch of her second book Cilka's Journey. Photo / Dean Taylor
Author Heather Morris speaking at the Te Awamutu RSA in 2019 for the launch of her second book Cilka’s Journey. Photo / Dean Taylor

Filming for The Tattooist of Auschwitz finished about a year ago, but work didn’t stop there.

As the six-part series was being finalised for release, work was under way preparing subtitles for a simultaneous worldwide release.

Morris was still involved, as sometimes interpretations were required – “especially around some of the Aussie and Kiwi sayings we used”.

A new edition of the novel was also released which featured the artwork to match the miniseries.

Lale Sokolov (Jonah Hauer-King) meets Gita Furman (Anna Próchniak) at Auschwitz.
Lale Sokolov (Jonah Hauer-King) meets Gita Furman (Anna Próchniak) at Auschwitz.

That saw The Tattooist of Auschwitz head back into the charts, making No 5 in Britain’s Sunday Times list and No 8 of all releases on Amazon.

What amazed her recently was the recording and release of the miniseries’ song Love Will Survive, sung by Barbra Streisand.

The music was written by Hans Zimmer, Kara Talve and Walter Afanasieff and the lyrics are by Charlie Midnight.

Morris said Zimmer was amazing.

“The decision was made to do the recording and he made it happen – all in 48 hours.

“The music was sent to the London Symphony Orchestra and they recorded it in Abbey Road Studios and then Barbra recorded the vocals in Los Angeles.”

Barbra Streisand has recorded Love Will Survive for the miniseries.
Barbra Streisand has recorded Love Will Survive for the miniseries.

Morris said she has exchanged messages with Streisand and is hoping to meet her during her travels.

Among all that Morris released her fourth novel – Sisters under the Rising Sun, the story of an English musician, Norah Chambers, and Australian nurse, Nesta James, who survive a shipwreck in World War II, only to be captured by the Japanese and held in a notorious prisoner of war camp.

It is the story of sisterhood, bravery, friendship and survival.

Morris said she has two or three other novels in the pipeline, but first, she has to meet all her publicity commitments, which will see her continued globetrotting.

Britain and the United States are the most popular destinations, but she said she doesn’t mind at all spending time in London and New York.

She has the honour of being a speaker at the George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, Texas as the guest of former First Lady Laura Bush next month.

Her talk is already sold out and is now being streamed into other venues to meet demand.

She then returns to Australia to visit Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane before going back to Poland.

Morris said while she is keen to work, she will also take some time to sit back and take a breath following such a whirlwind journey.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz miniseries launches in most international markets today. It launches in New Zealand on Monday, May 6 and will be available on Neon.

Dean Taylor is a community journalist with more than 35 years of experience and is editor of the Te Awamutu Courier and Waikato Herald.



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