Anne here, introducing Kerry Greenwood, best-selling and award-winning Australian author of the Phryne Fisher crime novel series, set in the 1920's, and the Corinna Chapman cosy mysteries (contemporary), both set in Melbourne (my home town), as well as the Delphic Women historical novels, set in ancient Greece. (Photo by Harjono Djoyobisono)
Kerry's written more than forty novels and several plays, and still finds time to offer her services one day a week as a legal aid barrister. Kerry, thank you for visiting the Word Wenches. Did you always want to be a writer?
Kerry: Ever since I wrote my first sentence. Which was 'the world is round and spins in space.' An important truth.
Anne: Indeed, and not a bad opening line for a seven-year-old, as well. So, onto the novels. Let's start with the Phryne (pronounced fry-nee) Fisher series. The first book, which was your first novel, COCAINE BLUES, came out in 1989. You're now up to book #19 in the series and Phryne is still going stronger than ever. Tell us about Phryne.
Kerry: She walked into my life in 1988 when I was trying to find a character for the two book contract I was holding in my hand (it practically required surgery to get me to let go of it). She is the perfect 1928 hero. Clever, ruthless, ambitious, with a strong sense of justice and none of entitlement. Phryne does exactly as she wishes and her philosophy could be summed up by "do as the nice lady says and no one will get hurt''. She is, by the way, NOT me.
Anne: Phryne's a lot of fun, and she's no pushover. Here's a short excerpt from FLYING TOO HIGH.
"How do you do. My name is Phryne Fisher. I undertake investigations and I have been retained by the McNaughton family to act for them in this matter."
The policeman took up a commanding position at the mantlepiece and glanced quizzically at Phryne.
"There is no room for amateurs in murder, Miss Fisher," said the policeman condescendingly. "But I am sure that you will be a comfort to the ladies."
"I hope that I shall," replied Phryne with all the sweetness of a chocolate-coated razor-blade.
Anne: This best-selling series grew from your very first novel. If you could do it all again, would you do anything different?
Kerry: If I could do it all over again, I'd have her come to Australia earlier in the year. Of course if I wrote the earlier books now, they'd be different, because I am different, but I still love them as they are.
Anne: Phryne's adventures are set in 1920's Melbourne, a time of great social change. Your historical research is meticulous and, as with any research for a novel, only the tip of the iceberg shows. Do you start with the story idea, and then research it, or has some of your research sparked stories?
Kerry: Oddly enough, I just wait to get curious about something and then research it and the story arises out of that. I am, at the moment, writing the 20th Phryne novel, and I am researching soldier-settlers, convents, brothels, and eugenics. I will be fascinated to find out how THAT lot fit together.
Anne: Sounds fabulous. Phryne Fisher is soon to appear on our TV screens, which is very exciting. How did that come about?
Kerry: The books were often optioned, but I held out for my conditions: I get to pick the actress for Phryne and I get to vet all the scripts for historical accuracy. No one would agree to that until the ABC and Film Australia decided to fund Everycloud Productions and they agreed to my conditions. And Essie Davis is PERFECT as Phryne and the set designs and the dialect is wonderful.
Anne: Yes, that's Essie Davis on the left and with a 1920's bob, I can easily imagine her as Phryne. It certainly sounds like a quality production, an ABC (Australia's version of the BBC) production with some top quality people leading the team. I believe you've been quite closely involved in the production. How does it feel to have your characters come to life?
Kerry: I just went to see Farrell's Circus, and I walked into my own imagination, which was a very strange experience.
I had a cameo part as a fortune teller. I had my picture taken with most of the crew, who are all Phryne fans. I met the designer, Robbie Perkins, who went through the books with a pencil and found, for instance, Phryne had Lalique glass birds, and even the American Refrigerating machine for her kitchen or – this impressed me most – an eighteenth century French flower painting. I could not remember mentioning this, then recalled that at the end of one book Phryne is given a bunch of white roses, which she arranges in the manner of Beverley Nichols and Fantin-Latour, and there was a Fantin-Latour of white roses. You have to admire that attention to detail.
He had also done the fairies for Away With The Fairies and the big canvas banners for the circus, including the Sherlock Holmes joke, The Giant Rat of Sumatra. It was a very believable Giant Rat. And a very good bearded lady, who asked David my wizard partner for advice on not getting crumbs in beards.The only thing wrong with the circus was that it did not smell of frying and fairy floss (cotton candy).
I had a wonderful time. I was convinced to do the cameo by the director telling me I was better looking that Hitchock. True, but so is everyone…
Anne: I'm really looking forward to seeing it. Phryne is something of a fashion icon — her clothes are described quite lusciously in the books — and I'm looking forward to seeing them on the screen. They've also become a feature of the covers — a great improvement on the early editions of your books, which had covers with guns and bullets and champagne — though I do like the one with the blindfold Teddy. I believe you "design" Phryne's dresses.
Kerry: With my mother, who has excellent design skills. We have a lot of fun with it.
Anne: I love the way Phryne always chooses the perfect clothes for the effect she wants. Usually she dresses for seduction and to please herself, but here's another short excerpt from FLYING TOO HIGH where she has donned Serious Lady Private Detective clothes:
Physically, Phryne had been described by the redoubtable Lady Rose as ' small, thin, with black hair cut in what I am told is a bob, disconcerting green eyes and porcelain skin. Looks like a Dutch Doll'. Phryne admitted this was a fair description.
For the interview with Mrs McNaughton, she had selecred a beige dress of mannish cut, which she felt made her look like the directress of a women's prison, and matching taupe shoes and stockings. Her cloche hat was of a quiet dusty pink felt.
Anne: I've been reading Phryne since the books first came out, and I also have your excellent Delphic Women series, but somehow I missed your Corinna Chapman series, set in contemporary Melbourne in the central laneways/arcades area. I read the first one after the conference and have devoured all six in the series since. I've also sent the first, EARTHLY DELIGHTS (coming soon to the USA), to several friends overseas, who I know will love the delightful mix of intriguing characters, quirky mystery, yummy food and cats with personality. What brought this series about?
Kerry: Corinna came about because I was tired of the contemp. female detectives obsessing about their weight, and I thought, why not just have a fat lady (ie, me) who isn't ashamed etc of being fat (note that this predates Precious Ramotswe). I wanted to write a modern day cosy crime series which didn't insult the reader's intelligence, and I always liked apartment house soaps, and books based on a trade. I was a baker when I was a student (the hours are a killer). So Corinna is a baker and she lives in a real building in Melbourne with a selection of my favourite friends and cats. They all get a huge kick out the next Corinna, identifying each other. Each books begins with a variation on '4 a.m. Who invented four a.m.?' which is what I always thought at that hour.
Anne: They're wonderful books and I look forward to reading many more. (I've blogged about them here, too.) What's next on the agenda for Kerry Greenwood?
Kerry: A new Phryne and a true crime book on a very strange murder in Adelaide in 1949, which will also be a memoir of my father. I like keeping busy…
Anne: Thanks so much for visiting the word wenches, Kerry. Kerry will be giving away a book to some lucky person who leaves a comment. And here's a question for discussion: What qualities do you admire in a female investigator/detective?