Guest Blogger, Kerry Greenwood: I shall always remember the day that Phryne Fisher walked into my life. I was on the Brunswick Street tram, with a two book contract in my hand (which later practically needed surgery to remove) and no idea of what to write.
And I found her name in the remnants of a classical education. Phryne the courtesan. Fisher to out-scholar the critics of detective stories (Fisher of Men, Roi Pechoneur, grail legends, etc) And I saw her. Small, slim, stunningly dressed in a red woollen coat with an astrakhan collar. Shiny black hair cut in a cap. Russian leather boots and gloves. Enough style to knock your eye out. That was Phryne Fisher. She hasn’t paid any attention to me ever since. I just have to type fast enough to get the story down before it vanishes. Sometimes I think I hear the roar of the Hispano-Suiza coming round the corner of my little street in humble Footscray. Very late at night after I have been binge writing for a few days, I can see a vaporous, but very elegant, shade, perched on the corner of my desk, leaning over so I can smell her scent: Jicky or Floris Stephanotis.
And she stayed with me. The first book, Cocaine Blues, was published in 1989. Thereafter I have written at least one a year, all different, all very carefully researched because without meticulous research I cannot start the novel. Besides, I love research. It was reading 1928 newspapers that got me into this.
I have written a lot of other novels in between – classical Greece, Ancient Egypt, the Depression, The Gold Rush, the Influenze epidemic. I have written five fantasy novels about an uncertain future. But I always came back to Phryne, because her prose is so elegant, her humour so pointed, her time so enthralling, her mysteries so interesting.
So when I was asked to SELL her to the film people, I was firm. I had to choose the Phryne, I had to vet all the scripts, otherwise, no deal. The books were optioned since 1990. I began to think they would never be made and didn’t greatly care. I loved Phryne as she was: written. But then two remarkable women made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse. They’d pay attention to every period nuance. They’d let – indeed, encourage – me read and medddle with all the scripts. They’d show me all the auditions and let me choose my Phryne. That was a different proposition, indeed.
I went to Byron Bay to a script conference with a group of people who knew more about my books than I did. So I agreed, and it has all been fascinating. I knew nothing about making films, but they knew nothing about making novels, so we were even and courteous and polite. Of course it is different from the books. It’s film. It has actors in it. But it’s true in essence to what I wanted it to be. They found a Hispano-Suiza. They set the costume department to trawling Vogue 1928 (the lady at Spotlight in Cheltenham said they had such a lot of fun amongst the fabrics). They built Phryne’s house so exactly that I was astonished. The right wallpaper. The lalique glass birds of exactly the right period. The Warrander’s essences in the perfect 1928 kitchen. The ineffable Robbie Perkins painted all the pictures, including a very good early Cubist Phryne nude and a Fantin Latour of white roses which I could not immediately recall. Then I remembered that Phryne was given an armload of white roses at the end of Queen of the Flowers and arranged them in that manner. That sort of attention to detail was SO gratifying. Marion Boyce’s costumes would have earned her a place in Erté’s atelier.
Then I had a bit part in Blood and Circuses. They insisted. I demurred.
They told me that I was prettier than Hitchcock. I had to agree. So is anyone. Made up and costumed I saw Farrell’s Circus, MY Farrell’s circus, big top and horses and snake-lady and even my Sherlock Holmes joke, the tent show with the Giant Rat of Sumatra. It was like walking into my own head.
Everyone on the set knew about Phryne. Everyone wanted to be there. It was beyond wonderful. It is going to be fantastic.
Booktopia would like to take this opportunity to thank Kerry Greenwood for sharing her thoughts with us on the filming of the Phryne Fisher novels. Thank you, thank you, thank you.