It is my absolute pleasure to showcase my latest interview with the wonderful Kerry Greenwood, an acclaimed author who has written books spanning many genres, but who is perhaps most famous for her Miss Phryne Fisher novels about a titled lady in 1920s Melbourne who solves crimes, as well as her Corinna Chapman books, which center around a baker and reluctant crime solver with an equally fascinating life who is drawn to adventures. I have been a big fan of Miss Fisher’s for a while (check out my POST to see my top five picks if you want to introduce yourself to her) and I was thrilled when Kerry very kindly sent me over these answers to my interview questions. They are truly fascinating and give a great insight into how she came to create these two amazing characters. Enjoy!
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?
I was trying to get published: a soul-destroying, painful process I never wish to repeat. At my critical moment I had reached the final shortlist for the Vogel Prize, and I was summoned by a publisher who told me that my book (a historical novel) was not what she wanted. Wishing then to throw myself under the nearest tram, I listened in growing astonishment as Ms Publisher then told me she would like to commission me to write two detective novels. I accepted, naturally. I would have been mad not to. That said, I have been avidly devouring detective novels since I was old enough to read. This helped a lot.
What is your background in writing and how did you come to do it as a profession? How does your work as a lawyer influence your writing?
I have been writing all my life since the age of four, when wrote my first ever sentence: ‘The world is round and spins in space.’ I wrote seventeen historical novels before Cocaine Blues. It was, in retrospect, the ideal apprenticeship for a professional writer. My long years in magistrates’ courts have not really affected my writing much, except by contrast. In fiction, we can supply a happy ending which may not be available in real life. And I made a promise to myself not to steal my clients’ stories. Unlike writers who lead more sheltered lives, I know that real-life criminals are almost invariably depressingly dull, stupid, and boring.
Talk to me about Phryne Fisher. What’s the inspiration behind this particular character and why do you believe she has become so popular?
I dreamed up Phryne on the tram trip home from the publishers that day. By the time I got home I had everything I needed (her name, history, background and attitude). She was named after a famous courtesan in ancient Thebes, and I decreed that she would be a wish-fulfilment figure for all women. She would be James Bond, Simon Templar, Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey all rolled into one. She would be titled, and have wealth, beauty, brains, courage, and a sufficiently humble childhood to ensure that she appreciated her life to the full. She would never need rescuing, and she would never obsess about the things real-life women feel they have to suffer. For so many women, Phryne is their pinup role model. I am very, very happy with this.
With regards to Corinna Chapman, why did you choose to make her a baker as well as a detective? This is an unusual combination; why do you believe she has become so popular despite this?
The bakery places Corinna at the centre of a small urban community. And since I was writing the first ever American-style cosy set in Australia, I wanted food and comfort to be at the dramatic centre of the books. Being a baker is an immense advantage for a fictional detective. I am very surprised nobody else thought of this.
Writing across such a vast array of genres, how does your style differ between each? How do you adapt to the needs of each audience to ensure that your books are always well received?
As always, it’s all about respecting your audience. Each genre has its rules, and devotees want to know that they will be getting what it says on the cover. I think myself into the characters, and they tell me what to say, and how to say it.
How do you go about researching your novels and ensuring that they are as accurate as possible?
Like my hero Dorothy Sayers, I research everything I can find about the period and themes I am writing about. I will probably use less than a tenth of what I have found out. I take great pride in getting the details – as well as the overall picture – exactly right. My readers expect it, and I provide it.
Having already undertaken a number of writing collaborations, who would be your ideal co-author, living or dead, if you could choose utterly anyone, and why?
Lindy Cameron. I am co-writing with her right now. She understands me and my writing perfectly.
Have you got any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
The new Corinna! It is under construction even now.
Within the wider literary market, what new books or writers are you looking forward to later in the year and beyond?
Any more Rivers of London would be wonderful. Ben Aaronovitch writes novels the way they should be written.
Anything you’d like to add?
Books are wonderful! I am glad people still want them.
I just want to say a massive thank you to Kerry for her time. I’ve wanted to hear her thoughts for quite some time now and it has been amazing hearing what she has to say. Her publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, were kind enough to help me arrange this, and you can read about her on their site HERE.