20 Years of Poisoned Pen Press
Edited by Diane D Dibiase
you do not already know of her meet Phryne Fisher,
the 1920’s detective that took Australia by
storm. She came on the scene in 2006, the fabulous
character of author Kerry Greenwood. Made into a TV
series by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger in 2012 it aired
for three seasons and can now be seen on Netflix.
Those who enjoy the show and books might get more
of Phyrne since the creators are hoping for feature
films. Also, this year the publisher, Poisoned Pen
Press, released an anthology, Bound By Mystery,
celebrating its twenty years, with an installment
by Greenwood featuring Phyrne entitled, Taking
The Waters. As with all the books and TV shows
it encompasses a social issue, in this case, the shell
shock of WWI veterans intertwined in a riveting mystery,
the disappearance of a girl.
Below is an interview with
the author and creators.
Elise Cooper: Please describe Phyrne.
Deb and Fiona: A rebel who does not
like the pomp and ceremony. She is emotionally engaged
in whatever injustice she is investigating. She embraces
wealth and likes the fine things in life.
Kerry: Strong, sassy, unconventional,
independent, elegant, pretty, fabulously wealthy,
sharp, and has a sense of justice.
Elise: She is more of a role model because
she is realistic and believable and is not a super-hero
like Wonder Woman. Do you agree?
Deb and Fiona: She is a detective
without the official badge. Any girl can be Phyrne.
She makes her own choices. She feels she has nothing
to prove and never sacrifices her femininity or womanliness;
yet she is ahead of her times by driving a Hispano-Suiza
car and flying a plane. She is fun, proactive, and
has a social conscience.
Kerry: Wonder Woman is a goddess. I prefer
to think of Ms. P as semi-divine. Louise Brooks in
appearance. What I had in mind was a female James
Bond with better clothes and fewer gadgets. More specifically,
she was to be Simon Templar’s more level-headed
Elise: Please describe her counterpart, detective
Kerry: He was supposed to be my version
of Detective-Inspector Parker from Dorothy Sayers:
competent, initially suspicious, and later accepting
of the help of the gifted amateur sleuth. On TV he
did morph into her love interest.
Elise: Do you think the series appeals to
males as well as females?
Deb and Fiona:Yes. They really enjoy
the cars and the crimes.
Kerry: Judging by the fan mail I
get, her appeal is broadly impartial, especially to
older gentlemen. Who would not want to meet her?
Elise: Beyond the gripping mystery you also
cover social issues?
Kerry: The 20s were surprisingly
modern in outlook. Their issues were ours, in so many
ways. Women’s issues have changed little. Luckily,
if you are rich and entitled (then as now) and you
convince the world that normal rules don’t apply
to you, then you will get away with it. The 1920s
is a perfect time for Phryne, because the dearth of
surviving men from the Great War meant that women
took many spaces and occupations previously denied
them. It also helped that I had written my Legal History
thesis on the 1928 waterfront strike, so I already
knew a great deal about that year.
Deb and Fiona:We did a book per TV
episode. Each was part of a different world. We wanted
to make the book stories come alive. We think Phryne’s
consciousness comes from Kerry.
Where did you get the idea for the series?
Kerry: It was chosen for me! My first
publisher (McPhee Gribble) told me that they did not
want my historical novel, which had been a Vogel Award
finalist, but they would really like a historical
detective story. Overjoyed, I agreed, because crime
fiction suits me. There must be a plot, there must
be a mystery, and the mystery must be solved to the
satisfaction of both Phryne and the reader. My favourite?
Blues, because it all began there, the first
book. Phryne appeared, perfectly formed, on my way
back from that first meeting with my publisher. She
is named after a famous Theban courtesan mentioned
in Herodotus. Phryne is my wish-fulfilment figure.
But after I had written the first five chapters of
Cocaine Blues, thereafter I had no control
over her. Ever since, it is as though I have been
a medium, channelling her thoughts and reactions.
Occasionally she shocks me.
Deb and Fiona:After forming our company
we wanted to launch it with something really good.
We read the Phryne books and thought this would be
perfect. It is a period drama that appeals across
the ages. It has a mystery, social issues, and historical
content. When we met Kerry we knew it was a match
made in heaven.
Elise: Phryne reminds me of Marlene Dietrich
with her sexual independence. She loves the falling
in love and the sensuality of it all, the romance.
Did you base her on the legendary actress?
and Fiona:I think Kerry said she is based
on her sister. But she certainly has Marlene’s
sophistication, her playful manner, and her European
attitude. We did have a little controversy since she
was called promiscuous. We responded that no one should
judge a woman considering no one judged James Bond
who had many sexual liaisons.
Elise: The casting down the line was perfect:
Essie Davis as Phryne, Nathan Page as Jack, Hugo Johnson-Burt
as Hugh, and Ashleigh Cummings as Dorothy (Dot). What
was the process?
Deb and Fiona: We knew the qualities
we were looking for. We realized we needed an actress
who could be mature, sophisticated, womanly, and someone
with theatrical skills. The role calls for deliberate
acting, a Noel Coward kind of deliberate. Both Nathan
and Essie had the language down and knew how to use
it. They were the full package. It was lovely to be
there when Kerry was introduced to Essie.
Kerry: They were all wonderful. Exactly
what I had in mind. Essie is magnificently insouciant
and perfectly sure of herself. And the camera loves
her. Ashleigh Cummings, without question is my favourite.
Her Dot is sensational and absolutely right: devoted,
iron-willed (in her own way) and the perfect foil
to Phryne’s extravagance.
Elise: Since it is off the air will there
be any other projects with Phryne?
Deb and Fiona: We are hoping to make
feature movies. In order to make it happen we need
the fans support so we launched the crowd funding
campaign to show we have world appeal. Crowd funding
has fans put in money for rewards such as visiting
the set for the day, being an extra, getting a tote
bag… depending on the amount of money pledged.
Elise: Would you ever attend any conventions,
such as Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, or the Romance Writers
Deb and Fiona: We know conventions
are more popular in the US than here in Australia.
There is a fan created and operated
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Convention that
will be held in Oregon in the US.
I hope the casting will remain the same?
Deb and Fiona:The cast is so perfect
it would be hard to cast anyone else. We were asked
to change them but we refuse to dump people including
our director Tony Tilse. We have to get around these
barriers. We have had some interest including Netflix,
but they want a marquee cast with famous people. We
want to stay with all the TV cast and not just put
in a ‘movie star.’
Elise: Can you give a shout out about the
Deb and Fiona:Deb wrote it with input
from Kerry who is our inspiration. She contributes
as a consultant and is an integral part of the creative
process. Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears takes
place in the late 1920s and has Phyrne attempting
to find the missing treasure, solve numerous murders,
and break all aviation records as she wings her way
home again! Phryne meets a young woman who lost her
whole family in a sandstorm. Her Uncle is a Sheik
who works with the British and through him becomes
enmeshed in the British world. The social issue will
focus on colonialism, the relationship between Britain
and the colonies. It is an adventure for Phyrne and
Dot as they travel from Australia to Jerusalem to
England and back to Australia. We also resolve what
happened with her and Jack. Both come together to
solve the case.
Elise: Any other projects?
Kerry: The next Phryne book? On hold
until I finish the next Corinna, another series I
write, which will be soonish. There is a short story
in the latest Poisoned Pen Press anthology in the
USA called Taking The Waters.
Deb and Fiona: There is a spin-off
in the wings. It is a prequel on how Phryne learned
her skills, became so independent, and used her womanly
ways to get information. It is set during WWI. Obviously
it will be with a completely different cast. It also
has her befriending a wealthy suffragette who lives
in a mansion. From her she gets her understanding
of women and the glamorous world. Another friend of
hers, Bernie, is a butch woman who teaches Phryne
to ride a motorbike, drive a car, and handle a gun.
Jack is a young police officer and we might see him
in the background.
and Elise want to thank Kerry, Deb and Fiona for taking
the time to give this interview.
Mark de Castrique
Books of the Month
in Mystery, Thriller