Please welcome Kerry Greenwood, our February's featured author!
Kerry Greenwood has written more than 50 books,
including the Hon. Phryne Fisher series set in Melbourne, Australia in the late
1920's; the "Earthly Delights" series centred on a gourmet bakery in modern
Melbourne; several books for younger readers; and the Delphic Women books set in
ancient Greece. Her day job is as an advocate for the Legal Aid Commission at
the Magistrates Courts. She lives with a registered wizard who has so far not
turned anyone into a frog at her behest, but door-to-door salespeople should
approach with caution.
Interview for NewMysteryReader.com with Kerry
Greenwood, creator of The Hon. Phryne Fisher and Corrinna Chapman.
(Interviewer: Karen Treanor)
NMR: Your two best-known protagonists are
very different characters: Phryne Fisher, slender, fearless, and verging on
amoral; and Corinna Chapman, well-upholstered, well-grounded, and monogamous.
Can you tell us something about the genesis of these two very different women?
KG: Phryne is a hero, set in her own time
like a cabochon emerald: a hero like The Saint or James Bond (both 20’s
conceptions), who will never lose, die, or irretrievably stain. I wanted to
write a hero who was female, and find out what she would do (she frequently
shocks me). I made her beautiful for her time, because she had to be unafraid of
anything: so she is small and slim and fearless, and titled, which makes her
Corinna is a real person, who makes
mistakes, has a traditional figure, and works hard for a living. I wanted to
reflect a lot of women’s lives without any of the angst felt by the modern
private eyes about their weight and body size, etc, all of which strikes me as a
waste of time ( I am a perfect size 20 myself). I invented Corinna because I
wanted someone else to write about and I have always wanted to do what TV calls
an ‘apartment house soap’. Women form networks. Both of these ladies do that.
NMR: You chose to set the Phryne Fisher
novels in late 1920’s Melbourne. What is it
about that period that appeals to you?
KG: It was like the late 60’s—a
brittle decade, free love, free beer, gay rights, companionate marriage, women’s
rights. I did a university essay on the 1928 dock strike (my father was a
longshoreman) and was hooked. Also I LOVE the clothes.
NMR: On first acquaintance Phryne seems
to be way ahead of her time‹she¹s independent, sexually liberated, physically
tough. Then one thinks of Amelia Earhart, Osa Johnson, Freya Stark, Karen
Blixen and many others. Does Phryne have origins in any real women of the era?
KG: All of the above, really. I was
also thinking of Nancy Mitford. But she walked in - I swear - fully formed, and
took over, and I have no control over her now.
NMR: Has your work as an advocate
been useful in your writing; have real life court cases proven useful in your
fictional heroines¹ adventures? And what is the writer¹s moral responsibility
when it comes to using real life events in fiction?
KG: Real court cases do not happen in
Phryne, and I use the social background all the time in Corinna. In fact ,Jason,
her recovering drug addict apprentice, is a real person, saved by pastry. I
asked his permission to put him in a book, and he loved the idea. I think one
should always ask. There are things I want to say about social justice and law
that I can say in a Corinna but not in the same way in a Phryne.
NMR: Are there any real-life crimes you¹d
like to write about in the future? Can we expect any new heroines from
different decades to appear in the Greenwood
Possibly new heroines - I don’t know. No plans
for real life crimes, though; I stick to fiction.
Anyone who appreciates good bread and pastry
reads your Corinna Chapman series with a bib on; would you explain your
knowledge and interest in the baxter¹s art?
I used to work for a baker when I was a
student. I was fascinated by the alchemy of bread, and also how old baking is,
as an art. I was less impressed by how back-breakingly hard work it is. I have
been cooking ever since, including doing medieval feasts for the SCA which
involves researching recipes. It’s fun.
Corinna lives in a marvellous apartment
building designed as a Roman insula, which often seems to give a pocket-mirror
reflection of the wider world. Is this building based on a real construction,
or is it a place you wished existed?
It’s the Majorca building on the corner of
Flinders Lane and Centreway in Melbourne. It is a Moorish building, with green
tiles and Decorative ironwork and I love it, and I thought, why not a Roman
building? So I built one...
Aside from your crime novels, you¹ve written
a number of other books, many set in the distant past. What is it about past
eras that interests you?
I am not sure. Perhaps there are less facts,
the further back you go, to constrain the story? Or that you can - if pushed,
and I did it - read everything there remains about Ancient Greece in Ancient
Greek) in a year? But it’s amazing how people stay people, wherever they
Would you like to comment on the trend of
crime novels and crime television in recent years to delve ever more deeply into
the goriest details of death and dying and murderers?
What is it about crime novels that makes
them so consistently popular?
I think it’s the puzzle. There has to be a
plot. And a conclusion. It defeats post modernism.
The cover art on your books, particularly
the Phryne Fisher ones, is very apt and evocative; do you have any input or is
the artist a fortuitous choice of your publishers?
No, but I am very fortunate in Beth Norling
particularly, she is marvellous. I sent her all the newspaper cuttings ad
pictures for1928, specifically, and she does these amazing pastels.
biographical thumbnail in your books says you live with a registered wizard.
This is incredibly intriguing: with whom is he registered? Does having such a
companion give a writer an extra advantage?
Of course. He is registered with the Archwizard
in Christchuch, New Zealand, and he casts a spell for success every time I start
a book. Also if you want to know where all my heroes come from—from Corinna’s
Daniel to Heracles in Medea - they’re him.
Are there questions you¹d like to answer
about your characters or yourself, but nobody ever asks them? If so, please
pose them and answer them!
Useful saying: if you can’t write, you can
always dig out couch grass. It’s amazing how fast this sends one back to the
Thank you for your time and trouble.