Kerry Greenwood is one of Australia's best loved crime fiction authors. A lawyer by training, Kerry worked as a criminal defence lawyer for Victoria Legal Aid until becoming a professional writer. She remains a duty solicitor for Legal Aid (and finds inspiration for her crime fiction while she is there).
In 2013, Kerry was awarded the Sisters in Crime Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. This added to her already impressive award collection, which includes her 2003 Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award, two 2005 Ned Kelly Awards for Crime Writing (for Heavenly Pleasures: A Corinna Chapman Novel and Queen of the Flowers: A Phryne Fisher Mystery), her 2002 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award (Younger Readers) (for A Different Sort of Real: The Diary of Charlotte McKenzie), and her 1996 Aurealis Award for Excellence in Australian Speculative Fiction (for The Broken Wheel).
Kerry is best known for the Phryne Fisher Murder Mysteries. The Phryne (pronounced Fry-knee, to rhyme with briny) Fisher series began in 1989 with Cocaine Blues. The twentieth (and most recent) book in the series, Murder and Mendelssohn, was published in 2013. The series was adapted for the TV writing Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries on ABC in 2012.
In terms of crime writing, Kerry also wrote the Corinna Chapman Mysteries and a book of essays on female murderers, Things She Loves: Why women Kill. But Kerry is more than just a crime fiction writer. She wrote the Delphic Women Series and a host of stand-alone novels. She is also known for her eccentricity. Kerry lives with a registered wizard, and researched Phryne Fisher's horoscope.
- Kerry is best known for her Phryne Fisher The first, Cocaine Blues, was published in 1989 and twentieth, Murder and Mendelssohn, published in 2013.
- Kerry was involved in the development of the TV show, Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries, which ran from 2012 until 2015. She approved the casting of Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher.
- She lives in Footscray Melbourne and is a fan of the Western Bulldogs AFL team. When we recorded this interview, the Bulldogs had just won the Grand Final.
- Kerry read R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Wind and the Willows by Kenneth Grahame as a child.
- Kerry was never a fan of Russian literature (she finds it too depressing), or anything by Jane Austen.
- But she does love all things Dr Who and Terry Pratchett.
- In terms of crime fiction, she reads Agatha Christie’s Poirot series, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series, and Leslie Charteris’ The Saint.
- Despite preferring happy stories, Kerry does read the Ancient Greeks, including Herodotus and Thucydides. The ‘Grecian books’ Kerry refers to are her Delphic Women Series.
- Kerry thinks all writers in Australia must be good because the market is so tough, but she does particularly enjoy Angela Savage.
Nicolas Brasch: Welcome to The Garret podcast. Kerry Greenwood is one of the most prolific and eclectic writers in Australia. She is unique, she is talented, and she has earned her place among the greats of Australia literature… Here is Kerry Greenwood on The Garret.
Nic: I’m absolutely delighted to be in the house of this week’s guest, after doing some interviews at the State Library of Victoria – the beautiful state Library of Victoria – but today I’m in the home of our special guest, Kerry Greenwood. Kerry welcome to The Garret Podcast.
Kerry Greenwood: Thank you very much.
Nic: Of course without Kerry Greenwood there would be no Phryne Fisher, and what a horrible thought that is. Kerry has written – for those of you have hidden under a rock – Kerry has written some twenty Phryne Fisher mysteries. But also many other mysteries, novels, science fiction works, essays, short stories, articles… just about everything. She grew up in Footscray, the Footscray area, she still lives in the area, and she no doubt still reveling in the Bulldogs Grand Final win. am I right Kerry?
Kerry: Hurray, whoopee!
Nic: (Laughs) Welcome. First of all Kerry, I will go back a long way. What were you reading when you were ten years old? What or who were you reading when you were ten years old?
Kerry: The Lord of the Rings, of course. Yes, and almost everything when it comes to –because I could only get…ah…two books, or I think it was three or four or something, from the library – so I found things that I was surprised or some that just weren’t interesting, I just liked everything. And you know, back packets and anything really.
Nic: Was it a school library or public library?
Kerry: No, the library – I didn’t have – I was very poor, so I didn’t have many books but the library did. After a while they were getting very friendly.
Nic: Did you read The Hobbit as well?
Kerry: I liked, I liked, practically anything. I loved… libraries – [buying books] stood for optional luxuries – so I got The Lord of the Rings, I may have bought that one. But most of them I bought from an op shop, and at op shops you can get all sorts of stuff, from the The Lord of the Rings to The Wind and the Willows. Yes, David’s got it. Yeah and really, books are books. I sort of just ate it all.
Nic: Were… you parents, other family members into reading books? Is it something you inherited?
Kerry: Oh, yes, yes indeed. The fascinating thing is, my father was fascinated with science fiction and anything in American. Things like that, those sort of raves. And my mother loved anything English, and history.
They both – apart from Footscray – they were both very fond of each other but they didn’t actually agree at all. So I got both lots. So when I was putting… after my mother just died… we got the books that everybody had. And there were also my grandfather’s and you know, all sorts of stuff. And all sorts of stuff. When in doubt if it’s a book – I read it.
Nic: A little bit. Let’s go down a little bit, let’s go down a decade to when you were in your twenties, your early twenties. What were you reading by then? Who or what was you consuming then?
Kerry: I was at university. So I was doing everything in fiction. The only one I couldn’t stand was too much Russian. Too many Russians! I managed – I’d read them all – but after a while, I thought if you give me another one of those Russians!
Kerry: No, no; miserable, miserable, miserable, miserable! It’s too depressing but I read all of the English stuff. I read – everybody loves Jane [Austen] – I didn’t. Everyone was supposed to, you see.
Nic: I wasn’t a fan either.
Kerry: Sorry about it actually, yeah.
Basically – that was another one – where suddenly the university has lots and lots of new books, and so I read everything again. And I started writing stories to myself, because I thought ‘there should have been more stories from that writer!’. Sometimes, like Dr Who. I adored Dr Who. So I started writing stories to myself, as a present for myself. I would say ‘there’s more, there should have been more of these stories, so I’ll just write more’.
Nic: You were a pioneer in the art of fan fiction well before your time?
Kerry: That is precisely what I was doing. Yeah. It just made me feel much better. I made me very happy. Therefore, I knew I would be doing writing for the rest of my life because I love writing.
Nic: That’s the great thing about writing fiction, you create these worlds, momentarily at least, you can live in these worlds you’ve created.
Kerry: Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly.
Nic: And that’s what you were doing then?
Kerry: Yeah you were talking about Footscray – go Dogs! – were saying…ah that whole story is something I could’ve written myself. You know, I like ‘happys’, I like happy stories. This is a happy story in every form!
Nic: I can see why you didn’t like the Russians then.
Kerry: No, too many of them and I don’t like, I don’t like misery. I can handle Ancient Greece, because they’re very good about miseries and terrible things.
Nic: They do it in a very big, grand way.
Kerry: They don’t mess around, you know, it’s terribly effective. Yeah, but after a while… If I’m going to write it myself, it’s not going to be miserable.
Nic: And, ah…dare I ask this question: walking through the house and seeing all the books, what do you read now?
Nic: I dare not ask but I’m sure you’ve got a number on the go at once? But is there a particular genre or author or do you still read everything?
Kerry: I still like everything really, except –
Nic: Except Russians.
Kerry: I’m afraid not Russians, no. Ah…no I mean, there is of course the writers I absolutely adored and here he is.
Nic: Terry Pratchett.
Kerry: We were just finding the books around yesterday, when we were looking for some more books. We were just moving around books around looking for others, which are further away, that sort of thing. It isn’t as though I haven’t got too many books; its places, I just don’t have the places. The trouble is every time I fling a lot of books out, suddenly there’s these others.
Nic: It’s like finding odd socks.
Kerry: Yes, I know. They’re little darlings, they’re growing, I tell you, growing! There are some people I absolutely adore. Whom I’m hoping they’ll get around for another book, excuse me sir. Otherwise, I just go back to reading The Saint, I love The Saint.
Kerry: And I go back to the Classics again because I can read, um…The Caryatids, who is my favourite writer, and you could put them between Herodotus or Thucydides, and I like Herodotus. Another reason I like – my kind of laugh that man [referring to her partner David who waked into the room] – he dropped in a wondered around and said, ‘Ooh, it’s interesting’.
Nic: You were talking about being at university. You studied law, and I believe you still practice.
Kerry: Ah hum.
Nic: Was is the study that got you interested in crime? Because you haven’t mentioned crime fiction as being a reader of it, when did you first become interested in crime fiction?
Kerry: My father liked American ones – you know—um…which of course usually ends up being very unhappy, which is why I don’t like them. But my father liked them.
Nic: Um, I think I like your father already because I grew up on those sort of thing, Mickey Spillane.
Kerry: Yes, he liked all of those. And Jenny, my mother, liked the English ones.
Nic: The who done-it?
Kerry: Yes. And the only one who hasn’t done it, is not the butler. And I like them as well. So I read all of them and because, the thing I liked about crime, is it got a stop. It has to go this way, because it’s got to happen, and there’s a person that’s killed, and we’ve got to find who, you have to find who did it.
There’s a beautiful little series of steps, ways of doing things, which makes it a lot easier if you want to know how the story has to go from the begging to the end, which is nice, because otherwise I keep writing until it’s about thirty miles, and miles and miles… I just keep going. So I always liked it.
But my kind of crime, the sort I worked at which was Magistrate stuff, wouldn’t work as my kind of book because I wanted that kind of stop on fixed things. And a lot of those things… You can’t imagine somebody did something that stupid! That sort of thing that I was just trying to find a place for the poor darlings to talk to the Magistrate.
Sometimes I think, tell me why! For example, you picked up a large… they tried to take a great big rock to break the front door. So I said, ‘alright, you tried terribly hard to break’… But t didn’t happen because they’re very heavy things, but they kind of tried to break it. So I’d say, ‘why did you do this? What am I going to say to the Magistrate about this, because its amazingly dumb and they’ve got to keep trying and the policemen are turning up and saying, ‘excuse me, I don’t think this is a thing to do.’
I thought it was because they are not paying… they don’t like their food… they changed the wages for their workers or do anything I could possibly want to say was a good idea? And they said, ‘The bus was late’.
Nic: You touched on something very interesting there because the thing about being a writer is that the character’s actions have to be totally believable.
Kerry: Yeah that’s the trouble.
Nic: And I’ve had situations where – if I’m teaching – a student will show me something that they’ve written and I’ll say, ‘No, no, no, that just is too unbelievable’ and they say ‘but that happened’.
Nic: And it is exactly that. The reality is so ridiculous and so unbelievable that you actually can’t use it in fiction because it won’t be believed.
Kerry: Yeah, precisely. A lot of it – I’m writing my Memoirs – because I’m thinking, the only thing I can do to write that to do is… I can’t write this stuff because it was so incredibly dumb!
You know that argument about ‘somebody stole his car and he’s saying I didn’t steel it’. And you’ve said yes, but you’re sitting in the car and the policemen in question suggests ‘Is this your car?’, and he said not. So therefore we’ve got a bit of a problem with this. And he said, ‘No it was open and the steps over there, so therefore it can’t have been stolen’.
It’s the sort of thing and you think, ‘all right kid, all right, we’ll give it another try. Let’s just say, it wasn’t yours in the first place, that was definitely not going to be your car’. And he would say, ‘Oh, you mean it’s not mine?’
Yeah anyway, the rest is too sorry and horrible I can’t walk with it into my own house, I’m not even going to bring it into my own house. Because they are the hideously dreadful things that will just walk in one day and say the sort of things that even the cops and me and the others will say will be something so dreadful. That they’re starting to make up funny stories like cops do because it’s too dreadful, and that’s not the sort of stuff I want to write either.
Nic: But gaining an understanding of the process and procedures involved in the law must have helped when writing?
Kerry: Oh it’s very useful, I love law, it’s such fun. It takes you the first year of law to say, ‘I think my head falls off’. It feels quite different; it’s a different way of doing things, a completely new method. It’s like a language. Then after that you think, oh right your head is different from the other person and doesn’t understand why it works, and they are going to get very cross with you.
Nic: Now back to Kerry Greenwood. Let’s talk about when you’re approaching a new book – let say a new mystery – how do you put it together? Is it like a jigsaw puzzle? Do you start with the solution, and work back to the problem? Does motive come before murder? Or does murder become the motive? What’s the process involved?
Kerry: It’s a very good question because no one’s actually ever asked me that before.
Nic: Is that right?
Kerry: Well all right pick a story, the first Phryne story. Is ah…I’ll think about that one, yeah? It is Cocaine Blues, that’s a song. ‘Have a sniff, have a sniff…’ It’s a 1920s song…um and I was making it up. I can tell you exactly how it happened although this will be one of those long stories.
Nic: No, go for it.
Kerry: I was writing books for myself and I finally thought , now I had actually finished and got to be a lawyer and everything, I’ll try to find a book publisher. So, I went around saying ‘Hi publishers’. I didn’t know anything; I didn’t know anything about them—
Kerry: I had no – that’s the thing with the west – I was in the west, and I didn’t know anybody. And this was not a period when I would be covering up my little tablet and contact people. So I thought I’d just fling things all over the place. So I spoke to someone (who must have spoken to someone else), and they said, ‘Come and talk to us’. And I did this fast ‘zoom’ into the place and said, ‘Hi, tell me what do you want! Anything!’
Kerry: And they said, ‘Well, what would you like?’ ‘You find us a book’. And I thought what do you want? I can write anything? It has to be historical, because at that stage I found it more difficult to get my people (my real people, my clients), I don’t want to throw anybody – they have enough trouble without my stealing their stories. And I didn’t want to do that, and I wasn’t sure about writing about the present.
The thing is, you can’t tell a publisher what they want.. What they want is what they want. But you can kind of lean a bit, and say, what I would sort of think would be a really good idea. But to start with you’ve just got to say – and be very bendable about it – say…what do they want? And then you can kind of find what you can agree to and what they want. And that’s what I was doing.
I’d just done a case about the wharves, and I’d just seen all those old men around that year and so I knew all about it because I found I could do, and assert myself. I loved it! I could look at all the pictures and read all the papers and all that information is around there as well. That was also something I adored.
So I thought right, I’ll go back and do this. All I know is – then I thought – no, what have I done? I’ve always done that. I thought I’ll just go decide and be a lawyer (when they told me at school I could work at Coles) and when I got to university they said, ‘Why are going waste, you’re a woman’. There were only six of us in the whole year, and they said, ‘Well you’re just going to have children and waste all this work, when it could be man.’ And I thought, oh no, it’s going to be depressing again!
So, I did that. And then I got through to be a lawyer and they said, ‘No women don’t do finals’. So I thought, all right I’m just going to do it. And it’s something I’ve always found, arguments like that, so I thought no, I’ll do it this way.
So when I was pitching pictures for myself in my head… I always used to start with the person, as I want to know whoever the person is? I want to have the character, because the story will go by itself I’ve found. I stuffed so many stories! The story would be there, it’s just the big collection of pictures over there that are going to go ‘cachuung!’. But I never lose the story if I’ve got the person, and so who is my character, I ask myself.
So I was watching all those pictures of ladies and women in all those beautiful clothes, and I thought I’ll just see what happens, and I’ll find her once I stop panicking. Which I was at that stage panicking, and I just thought I’ll find out what she’s like.
So I got in the tram going home to Footscray – luckily it was an old sort of one – so I’ll just sit here and I practically saw her sitting next to me. Her name was Phryne (which of course comes from my Grecian books), a remarkably impressive lady… who was extremely surprising and interesting, and her name is Phryne.
Since there was only ever two of these I’ve never had to ask where she came from, unfortunately that was all over the place. That was her name Phryne and I thought I’d got a picture that’s going to say… I want something surprising and interesting about the story, because once I find what her name is, I’ll see what she looks like, and there she is… Miss Phryne, she walked in and practically sat down next to me –looking I must say, stylish, dark red, you know, and her black hair cut like in a bob –
and I thought oh, that would be Phryne!
And by the time I got out of the tram and I got in home, I thought ‘here she is’. And once I knew her, I have her name, and I knew what she looked like and how she sounded … and her whole story was in my head.
So instead of trying to start writing things at once, I went to sleep and I dreamed her, and I always find dreaming is a very useful thing. And if the story – if when I thought of it came from something different – then I’d get the story that is different. Because if the story is here she’s not mucking around, she’s saying ‘now, right, pay attention. It’s mine!’
But luckily she fitted rather well, and it’s fortunate she’s in Melbourne (which I’m very familiar with because I’ve spent all my life as a child wondering around) and I thought fine.
So once she was there, I need the character, the person says – she’ll tell me the story. The stronger they get, the more real they get, and the story goes on.
Nic: That’s very interesting, because I think when people think about writing a mystery crime fiction, they’re always trying to think, ‘OK, I’ve got to have this sort of crime, I’ve got to have this leading up to this and this. But when you think about crime fiction, it’s almost as if – and this isn’t meant as a slight – it’s almost as if, the plot is irrelevant. What lives on in people’s memories is the character. So what I mean, plots to crime fiction are pretty much the same from one book to the other. There’s a murder, there’s a mystery, and everyone is trying to solve it.
Kerry: Yeah, that’s with everything.
Nic: But it’s the characters you remember. I grew up reading crime fiction and I remember the characters. Whether it is Poirot, whether it is Phryne Fisher, whether its Kay Scarpetta — whatever. Whether its Dalziel (now the great British television detective and crime solvers) it has to come from character.
Kerry: Yes, it runs the story all the way through. Because as we said, in a way it’s a box. And it’s comfortable for the writer, and also for the person who is reading it. They want to know ‘this is Phryne’, and after a while you know Phryne does this or this, but she’ll also know that Phryne isn’t killing kittens. Which would never under any circumstances, would happen.
Nic: But according to my daughter, who loves the TV series, when she was thirteen, her pronouncement on Phryne was ‘all she does is have sex and go out’.
Kerry: That’s right, yep, yep.
Nic: Which was a pretty good way to live (laughs).
Kerry: Which is the idea actually. So I did have… Corinna is the same in the way, she’s got a comment that says ‘I’ve comments I have to say, I’ve got things to say about lots of things like kindness, intelligence and various social ‘thingies’ that I want to talk about.’ There’s more like that in Corinna because its modern – well its more or less modern – but… what I want to say, this is the character even though between Phryne and Corinna…
Nic: Corinna Chapman.
Kerry: Yeah, they are quite different – they’re not the same people. But the things that… because I’m going show someone who is going to be nice, kind of, I don’t know, who’ll find kittens and both of them will find kittens. One in another one, they’ll do different things about them; but they are going to do the same thing – I don’t know why kittens come into the subject, but you know what I mean.
They’re not going to be – Phryne also won’t be surprising – in words suddenly saying having done something incredibly nasty or something incredibly vicious (unless there’s someone who really needs it).
So, the writer has got to agree… of the writer, cause the whole thing is a process having agreed that this is true and this is true, even though it is a book…
Nic: Sure, sure.
Kerry: So, I’ve got to agree with it, they’ve got to agree with it, and we’ve all got to agree with it, and it’s going to be perfectly fun and they know in my books it will always be a happy ending. Even if it’s slightly, not actually, entirely lawful, it’s going to be right.
Nic: When you’re writing a Phryne Fisher book or Corinna Chapman book, do you sometimes think a book or two ahead? What I mean is, do you put some ideas aside because it’s a great idea but it’s not going to fit into this book?
Kerry: Oh yeah, I do.
Nic: Use it later on?
Kerry: I’ve still got a bunch! I’ve still got a bunch. The trouble is I keep more extra ones. Ah but yes, well I found some pictures of my grandfather (my mother’s grandfather), riding a motorbike… and I found all the pictures and stuff. I love stuff, I love stuff, which as you can tell, is why my house is full of stuff. And I found it and he’s sitting there as a small child sitting in – what’s it called? A side bag?
Nic: Oh a sidecar?
Kerry: Yeah, um…I thought they’d be wonderful. I’m not sure, but I know who it is and know where he came from, and unfortunately I couldn’t use it. So I’ve got it there, a whole box of stuff. This is a good idea, if…
Nic: You set yourself a bit of a task, so crime fiction attracts people who are often practitioners in the area, whether lawyers or police officers, whatever…
Kerry: Yes, yes.
Nic: And historical fiction attracts people who are interested in a particular period, and they’re both very finicky, and getting the details right is so important. I’m wondering – you obviously love research – otherwise you wouldn’t write about those sort of things…
Kerry: Yeah, yeah, I really do.
Nic: But have there been times when people have picked you up on certain things? Can you give an example of something that comes to mind?
Kerry: Oh all the time yeah, yeah. For example, someone will say ‘This ship that came in, the Phryne’ they’d say, ‘nope it can’t be that sort of ship this time’. And I’d say no because it isn’t. Fortunately, most of the time it’s wrong and I’m always so pleased, because I’m always very careful.
Particularly around that ship, because I love ships. I used to work for a ship. I worked for a ship, just from here to Australia and Australia into New Zealand, and it was such fun but it was – you know, work, I was cooking, I wasn’t sleeping there like the others, I liked cooking, cooking was good… But I know how the ship worked and I always put in one deliberate joke that is definitely an impossible joke. The one thing you can’t put in a ship is billiards…
Nic: Because of the level, the balls can’t stay still…
Kerry: There a plenty of things in place there but not, as it happens, billiards. And only one person picked it, I was so pleased! But the other people are picky but I do put in one deliberately and that’s the one. Because sometimes that just amuses me
Nic: Just to taunt people and to amuse yourself and to taunt someone. You’ve also written true crime?
Kerry: Yep, yep.
Nic: Different approach? Different process, and in what way?
Kerry: Quite. Oh completely. Well, what I was talking about (sometimes, that was one), which was the real mystery was in Tamam Shud. That was really interesting because I…in the same way, it was short, but work. But I had to ask and find everything from everywhere else. I just really had to find everything. Even then we still don’t know what happened. I just thought nope, I can think of 427 different other ways it could have been, but we don’t know.
Nic: You couldn’t get the happy ending?
Kerry: No, I couldn’t in that one, no.
Nic: So when you were writing that, was that more about… less about character?
Kerry: We can’t even talk about him, poor boy, because he’s unfortunately, you know, dead. And we couldn’t find out anything about him. That was a much different thing altogether, that was more of writing about law.
Nic: What made you write about true crime?
Kerry: They asked big money.
Nic: Well that’s always a good motivator.
Kerry: It was always very interesting. My father told me about it. My father was a very good talker, but my mother was very accurate, and my father wasn’t. But his stories were really good. I never really asked if they were really true. It was another method of talking, like an Australian one. You know, Australian talkers.
So he told me about the story of this man who was found in this ship in Adelaide and I thought…ah yes, well I’ve heard about that, because it was one of his stories. So when I found out later that what he was telling me about was true — I mean what he was telling me about was true — it was a bit of surprise and it was a good story. But I’m not used to surprises about it but that was surprising.
Nic: Australian’s generate a lot of great crime writers. Are there any particular favourites that your read, come across or admire?
Kerry: Ann um…
Nic: Angela Savage?
Kerry: Yes, she’s very good. She’s got the right kind of ‘sneaky’, a ‘sneaky-way’, I really like. Actually I tend to like most people.
Nic and Kerry: (laugh)
Kerry: I always find something interesting from anyone’s story. Because getting published in Australia is so difficult, there a so few um… we haven’t got a lot of writers, and when you’ve got writers they’re going to say, ‘Not quite Kerry’, or something like that or say ‘We don’t quite like…’. Anything or anyone we get out here is definitely going to be worth reading.
Nic: Just finally we got to wrap up but I can’t interview you without talking about the TV series…
Kerry: They were so pretty!
Nic: A beautiful series.
Kerry: Oh really! So beautiful.
Nic: Magical. What was your involvement in the TV series?
Kerry: Right from the beginning. Luckily I’m a lawyer, I write my own scripts and plots. I had a lot of people say, after all these years, somebody really wants to find Phryne. And I said well talk about it, think about it, and they were all wrong. And – please darlings, forgive me – they were all men.
And Phryne’s thing is very, very, very, female. There’s Phryne, there’s Dot and her two children — and her stuff — it’s all very, very, female. And I didn’t… everything they thought of… couldn’t understand it.
And the first thing I would always find myself saying, does Phryne at any point want to be carried out herself? Is there a moment where she needs to be rescued? They said – oh of course – and so I said well then of course, and you’re not going to have my story! Cause the whole point about Phryne –
Nic: Is that she’s very independent.
Kerry: She never has to be rescued, and she always helps herself.
Kerry: The very important thing. From the very beginning, from the first one, she does it herself.
And so when these two ladies said, ‘Alright, well, tell you what, we’ll write you a long rave and we’ll come and talk to you about what we’ve got.’ And I thought, you’ve read everything? You’ve read all the books? You’ve got huge amounts of work ahead of you! and you will find… We will agree, if you get Phryne and your Phryne’s the right one. An I thought ok, well go to it.
And I was sitting… I was so sick of seeing what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of…what seemed like a hundred girls! Very nice girls, but they were too young. Because Phryne’s age in this world be a lot older, in that era, that time. And I thought they’re all sweet but they’re all too young, and Phryne is not sweet. Many things, but not sweet. I saw a young woman who was excellent and she tried every possible way and she couldn’t do it.
And I thought then, Phryne… Essie came in and I said, ‘there she is, she is perfect!’
And she was. Surprising, interesting, beautiful. And at that time she even had long hair and she still looked utterly perfect. And she moved… also she is small, and Phryne is not a huge seven foot person, she’s small and fast. And the actress actually agreed to cut her hair, so that she’s got that beautiful black hair. And she was excellent. From the first moment, I said, ‘Yes, yes, I want that one, now, now, please.’
Nic: Was that how you envisaged her—
Kerry: Perfect. She looked exactly like Phryne and so… then they said that’s funny, the ABC thought they liked her too. So good everybody is good, I want her.
And when the scripts came in, I was allowed to… I saw the processes and they’ve got it really, really well that fixes everything. I was surprised they it was very, effective because I was going to start saying, ‘no sorry, it’s the wrong date or the wrong time’, and then they’d fix it.
And they didn’t have any problems working out that Phryne does things by herself and she will… if she’s trapped, caught or in trouble she will find a way of getting out by herself.
Which is the process, which I couldn’t find anyone to agree with me, because that’s just what she does. They could argue about it with the books because they, nobody thinks like that sort of thing in books…They’d think, ah that’s Phryne, she’s worked out a way to get behind that pot or whatever. But it is different with fiction people, they really find it hard to agree about the whole, you know, where is the person who’s going to pick Phryne? And I’m thinking, ‘no, Phryne doesn’t do that’…
And that was my way of choosing which one. So I was really lucky even though it took me twenty years, or whatever.
Nic: It’s must be extraordinarily satisfying when the new show is on, the new series is on a Sunday night and there may be one million people around Australia all watching your creation?
Kerry: I know, I know.
Nic: That must be extraordinary?
Kerry: It was absolutely amazing, it was so nice, it was delightful. Slightly, I didn’t believe it there for a while, but there it was and it was real and absolutely delightful.
And then the strange thing is, I was expecting a whole lot of writers, readers, were going to say, ‘Ah, what have you done?’ Really very few of them were saying ‘Scream, shriek!’. And I could always say, its different, this is another kind of process, so why don’t you go back and read the book.
And the really good one was a lot of people who saw it on the TV said, ‘oh, look there’s more in the book, lot’s more information, it’s really good!’. And they ended up… they gave me money, which is so nice.
The whole thing was wonderful but the whole process of writing books, you have to do it because you love it. Because you start of knowing that it’s not going to get you anything, anything, that looks like money.
I’m not exactly making a fortune, you understand. But I was able to do it because I would be really sad if I wasn’t writing. Because especially when I had my um…even though I was a very happy child, I was very lucky, and I had — you know –remarkable numbers of people and I was a very happy person. I was lucky.
But I still just liked… I need more pictures, I need to know more things. I was lying—I think I had measles – I was very sick and had to lie in bed the dark and I wasn’t allowed to read. Even though I had all my different people came over to talk to me and everything, I was getting extremely depressed and unhappy because I couldn’t read. So I made a picture, my blind in my room had little holes in it and I could see light inside it, and I could see water and I saw an island, and I saw kidnapped. And I move into it…
Nic: Into the world…
Kerry: And after that I was never unhappy again.
Kerry: Thank you very much for coming to see me.
Nic: Pleasure, it’s been great being in your kitchen having a chat.
Kerry: Oh, thank you, lovely to see you. Just to tell someone, if you’re writing, write for yourself. Do what you want, as you want. And that will work. If you start forcing yourself and think I’ve got to write like ‘x’ or ‘y’, your mind will say, ‘excuse me madam, I’m not going to write that!’. And it will give you a pain in your arm or your head or something, and you’re not going to do it. Go with it and keep going with what you want. Sooner or later, someone will like it and then you’ll be on the way.
Nic: Fantastic advice from Kerry Greenwood, she really is one of a kind.