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Summer 2013-4

Kerry Greenwood, Phryne Fisher's Mistress of Murder

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Kerry Greewood photograph by Harjono Djoyobisono; 220x259

Kerry Greenwood, author, researcher and solicitor has written across a range of genres from science fiction about the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) in a post-apocalyptic Australia, to erotica, from ancient legendary women to Phryne Fisher, detective in the Jazz Age and Corinna Chapman, voluptuous baker. Her women are brave, bold, have a social conscience and friends who cross the social strata. Her heroines have friends as varied as the ground-breaking women Dr MacMillan and Bunjy the flyer, and the witch Meroe and a religious sister who feeds the poor of Melbourne at night.

Greenwood heroines provide a fun read and without pose or preachery are role models. Police detective Jack Robinson learns to embrace Phryne's detective acumen, the delicious Lin Chung and Daniel revel in the exploits and love of their heroines, and blokes like Cec and Bert and Mr Butler, like Jason the bottomless eating machine and apprentice work with Phryne and Corinna with unbridled respect.

book cover Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood; 149x220

In recent years Phryne has come to the small screen (Miss Fisher's Murder Series) and gathering to her creator more admirers. We can only hope that we will soon have Corinna Chapman collecting television fans to her capacious bosom.

The Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries are now in their second series. What was it like seeing Phryne portrayed on screen?

Kerry: Wonderful. Essie David is just PERFECT as Phryne, and all the others are very good, too. The clothes are gorgeous, and the speech, mannerisms and settings are very accurate. I love it. It's not a book, because 57 minutes of television doesn't allow a whole plot, much less one of my very convoluted plots. But its very true to the spirit of the books. I desperately hope they'll make a new series.

Did you miss the characters the television series wrote out?

Kerry: Yes, but as I said, TV is a different creature. The characters are still there in the books, and in my head.

Did the writers justify changing the relationship with Lin Chung? Was it too racy to 21st century ABC?

Kerry: It's surprising what one can get away with in a book, and can't display on screen, through Lin Chung wasn't a problem, just that they wanted Phryne to have multiple partners and her main interest to be in Jack Robinson. I didn't mind that. But Sue Turnbull has said that to portray my sweet, erotic, whole hearted love affair between two MEN would convert the TV series into an R rating. And me with such a subtle description that there isn't a penis being even mentioned. TV is different. Luckily, I get to write what I like.

Has there been an increase in the sales of the books? Has it increased international interest in the series?

Kerry: Yes, the series is a best seller all over the world, especially in America, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil (for some reason) and Paris (which is a real surprise, considering how insular the French are). And consequently a lot of people have bought the books. Thank you, one and all. My accountant thanks you. My cats thank you.

book cover Earthly Delights by Kerry Greenqood; 148x220

Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman are both inhabitants of Melbourne. What is it about Melbourne that you enjoy? What inspires you?

Kerry: I have loved Melbourne since I was twelve and allowed to come into the city from Footscray on my own. Every Saturday morning I would go into Flinders Street and spend four hours wandering the back streets, marvelling at the library and the museum and the churches and the shops. I loved the grid pattern, the combination of very formal and the rough-as-guts tumble of the back alleys. I learned Melbourne like one learns the body of a lover, with observation and kisses. And despite the best endeavours of wreckers everywhere, they have yet to destroy it entirely. Though they try hard, every day, to turn my Lady of a city into a Berlin whore, bruised by Brutalisme.

Phryne was modelled on your sister, is Corinna more autobiographical?

Kerry: She certainly is. I had a happy childhood, Corinna didn't, but she is a size 20 and proud of it, and so am I. I wrote Corinna as a way of comforting all those ladies of luscious size, who are nagged by everyone to lose weight -- as if that is going to happen, they might as well change eye colour or swap ears -- and otherwise while they are grotesque and unsightly, are told that they have no right to be useful or busy or loved or happy. And it isn't true. Young women die from this pressure.

Men have no reason to hate us, when we hate ourselves so much.

book cover Cassandra by Kerry Greenwood; 141x220

The detective series are different from the Delphic Women books, which are being re-released. What inspired you to write the historical novels?

Kerry: I read a novel about Cassandra the Trojan Princess which was so stupid that I had to write my own. I have always teen fascinated with legends, and I am an honorary Greek. My advisor and dear friend Professor Dennis Pryor was kind enough to approve of them, and to translate Orphic Hymns for me. I wrote the Ancient Egyptian book partly, at least, because I was so annoyed with people referring to the Pharaoh Akhnaten approvingly, when he nearly ruined Egypt, but had to be a good guy because he was a Monotheist ( i.e., like us, with a God beginning with a capital G, not invalid, like polytheists, whose gods don't begin with a capital letter) so I investigated, taught myself hieroglyphics, went to Egypt. And I am very pleased with the novel. I had already visited Greece several times and knew what it looked, tasted, smelled and felt like.

What type of research did you do? Myths? Historical studies?

Kerry: I read everything that is written in Ancient Greek pertaining to the Trojan War, which is a lot of plays, even commentaries and epigraphs and graffitti. Then I travelled around. But I adore research, anyway.

For a city which is still extant, I walk the streets, climb buildings to look at views, consult maps, read directories and newspapers and diaries and every scrap of original material I can find. Talk to old persons about what they remember.

My professor Ruth Campbell told me not to believe historians, even her, so I don't. I have read historical studies, but talking to historians I usually end up in an argument. Oral history is a great resource.

Phryne Fisher (Essie Davis) photograph courtesy ABC; 220x284

What would you like to write next?

Kerry: I've got five chapters of a Corinna, presently called The Spotted Dog, I have been writing male erotica short stories between gigs, to be published by Clan Destine Press early next year, and I will just exist beautifully until something pokes me in the back at 3 a.m. and demands, write me down NOW or never sleep again, which is how my Muse usually manifests herself. I thought of applying for one of those Leonardo angels, draped in white samite with butterfly wings, but I probably wouldn't get as much work done.

December, 2013

See also: our 1998 interview with Kerry Greenwood, Kerry answers The Usual Questions, the Phryne Fisher page, the Corinna Chapman page, the Delphic Women (and other titles) page.

Above right: Essie Davis as Miss Phryne Fisher, photograph courtesy ABC.

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