by Cynthia Chow
& Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we interviewed Australian mystery writer Kerry Greenwood. We also reviewed her latest book Unnatural Habits, and you can enter for a chance to win a copy of the book. There is also a link to purchase the book from Amazon & a portion will go to help support KRL.
Unnatural Habits By Kerry Greenwood
Review by Cynthia Chow
In 1929 Melbourne, Australia, beautiful and independent Phryne Fisher only wanted to have a pleasant evening of conversation and a good drink at the Adventuress Club with a friend when, the ladies interrupt an attack upon novice reporter Polly Mettle in the sketchy Little Lon part of the city. While Phryne’s bodyguards- sent by her illicit Chinese lover – ensure their safety Phryne discovers that Polly has much more determination than common sense or street smarts. Investigating the disappearance of three young pregnant women who have gone missing from a convent’s Laundry for “ruined” women, Polly has been brashly interrogating the owners of brothels, Clubs, and even a club for men where love dare not speak its name. Phryne and her friend Dr. Elizabeth MacMillan take bets on how long it will be before Polly will end up as an unidentifiable body, but neither of them expects her to be seen getting kidnapped the next day.
With her unwavering desire for justice for the weak, Phryne and the unorthodox household she created begin searching the city for Polly and the missing women. What they encounter are stories of women who have been continually victimized by society and where pregnancy, wanted or unwanted, forever sentences them to lives of poverty and loss.
As the reader follows the adventures of the unsinkable Phryne Fisher, one can vicariously cheer for Phryne has she wields out justice for society’s cruelty and experience a cathartic release, for someone is attacking the unpunished negligent fathers-to-be, rendering them unable to ever be in those positions in the future. Phryne is a woman far ahead of her times, and her disregard of society’s opinions of her makes her that much more desired and admired by that very same class. Phryne’s attitude is “Assume the rules do not apply to you and they don’t.”
While this mystery shares the humor and excitement of the previous Phryne Fisher books, Greenwood uses this entry to expose the plight of women who were banned by the Church from using contraceptives and paid too little to support the children they did have. Just as poorly treated were the unmarried mothers who were shunned from society while the responsible fathers skated away untouched. The degrees of slavery of Working-class women are definitely explored, including forced marriages and factory labor at slave wages.
While expounding on the exploitation of women and the environment of working-class Melbourne in 1929 Greenwood never sacrifices on creating fun characters or crafting a well-plotted story. Growing up with a sister who was kicked out of their home by their own father for her Sapphic tendencies, Phryne has created her own household with two adopted daughters, a best friend and maid, and fostering a young street urchin who yearns to be a detective. Events culminate in an exciting rescue that finally has Phryne realizing that she may have gotten herself a little over her head, but even then there’s little doubt that Phryne is more than capable of rescuing herself. Never afraid to deal out a little well-executed blackmail, take on the Catholic Church, or put on a disguise that could send her into slavery, the wealthy Phryne’s poverty-stricken upbringing gives her a ruthless sense of justice combined with a compassion for the helpless. She is a heroine of any time.
Author interview with Kerry Greenwood
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Kerry: Ever since I wrote my first sentence “The world is round and spins in space.” I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen, and was first published when I was thirty in 1989. I like writing novels. I now have sixty published works in a variety of genres.
Lorie: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? A little about it?
Kerry: My first published novel was Cocaine Blues, Phryne Fisher’s first adventure. 1928 Melbourne. A dashing lady detective. It was such fun to write.
Lorie: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Kerry: I started off writing historical novels. I have written speculative fiction for young adults, historical novels four young adults, three big novels about Ancient Greece and one about Ancient Egypt. If I want to find out about something, I write a novel about it.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Kerry: If we are talking about the last Phryne, Unnatural Habits, I wanted to explore the fate of “bad” girls and outcasts in 1928. Also I wanted Phryne to do her action hero. She held up a ship. Almost by herself. What a woman.
If Out of the Black Land, I was fascinated by the 18th Dynasty, especially the ruin of the reign of Akhenaton. I did a huge amount of research for this book, traveled to Egypt and taught myself basic hieroglyphics. I was absorbed in it for a whole year.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Kerry: I write to amuse, elevate and instruct. I want people to take away the sense, that in the novel at least, the world is just. Also funny.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Kerry: I write whenever it hits me. Then I write and write and write. Then I stop.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Kerry: I do not have an outline or even a good idea of the resolution. I do write odd bits of information on odd bits of pepper, until Mr. Wizard bought me a beautiful notebook (which was too pretty to write in so I’m still writing on bits of paper). I do have a list of people as they walk into the book, so I don’t have to leaf back looking for their name.
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Kerry: Not time of day, but weather. Hot weather flattens me out, I can’t think of anything useful. I want cool.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Kerry: Yes. I hawked a ms around publishers for four years, receiving nothing but rejections, until one novel caught the interest of a publisher who wanted me to write a detective story. So I did. Flexibility is key. I had never even considered writing a detective story before.
Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Kerry: “You will never be published. You have no talent for words.” The best revenge is living well…
Lorie: Most interesting book signing story–in a bookstore or other venue?
Kerry: I wasn’t even at a book signing, I was just in a bookshop, when a woman asked me if I would sign a book, so I did, and then she produced my entire works. It was flattering but that day I had a damaged wrist, so I scrawled on all of her books. Or the person who reached the head of the line with a book by Stephen King. And when I said that I wasn’t Stephen King, he asked me to sign it Stephen King anyway, because he had waited so long. So I signed it (sorry, Stephen).
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Kerry: Another book about Ancient Egypt, a new Corinna, the new Phryne on which I am working at present, would love to write a triple narrative with Eleanor of Aquitaine, William the Marshal, and the Troubadour Bertrand de Born, whose poetry I have translated. One day. I will never live long enough to write all the books I want to write.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
Kerry: P.G. Wodehouse, Dorothy L Sayers, Charles Dickens.
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
Kerry: I read everything I can, including graffiti, if it’s ancient, and newspapers maps and diaries and letters if it’s modern. I always look for the personal voices, not the official histories. If I can I walk around the streets myself.
Lorie: What do you read?
Kerry: Science fiction, detective stories. classics. If in a really bad way I read Bleak House (Dickens) or The Lord of The Rings. Again.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
Kerry: Blade Runner is my favorite Sci-Fi movie, though I did love Joss Whedon’s Avengers and Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth. I watch the Sci-Fi channel and am dying to find out what happened in Haven. I like Buffy and all Dr. Who.
Lorie: Yay a fellow Buffy fan! Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Kerry: Write what you want to write. Write slash or fan fix, it’s very good practice for writing and plotting without having to make up characters. When I was fourteen I was writing Dr Who slash (Tom Baker, he was scrumptious). Do not allow anyone to tell you how to write, as long as it produces good work it doesn’t matter if you don’t write for two hours every day between 10 and 12. And if a character waltzes into the novel, then go with it. You write from where you dream, not from where you think.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Kerry: Fine! It’s all reading.
Lorie: Do you read e-books yourself?
Kerry: Yes, they are so portable.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Kerry: Don’t stop writing until you have about 20,000 words. You can’t get the first chapter right until you finish the book. Just keep writing.
Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Kerry: I speak rudimentary Welsh.
Lorie: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Lorie: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKerryGreenwood Write books that people want to read. Which means, write books that YOU, the author want to read.
To enter to win a copy of Unnatural Habits, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Habits”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 9, 2013. U.S. residents only.