Kerry Greenwood


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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 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 socially unassailable.

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 canon?

KG:  Possibly new heroines - I don’t know. No plans for real life crimes, though; I stick to fiction.

NMR: 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?

KG:  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.

NMR: 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?  

KG:  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...

NMR: 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?  

KG:  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 are...

NMR: 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?  

KG:  erk.

NMR: What is it about crime novels that makes them so consistently popular?

KG:  I think it’s the puzzle. There has to be a plot. And a conclusion. It defeats post modernism.

NMR: 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?  

KG:  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.

NMR:The 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?

KG:  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.

NMR: 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!

KG:  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 keyboard...

NMR: Thank you for your time and trouble.

KG:  My pleasure!