Lucy Sussex was born in New Zealand. She has published widely, having edited five anthologies, written five short story collections, and the award-winning neo-Victorian novel, The Scarlet Rider (reprinted 2015). Her Blockbuster!: Fergus Hume and the Mystery of a Hansom Cab (Text) won the 2015 Victorian Community History Award.
The pic shows Sussex and Prof Chris Browne in costume for a Fergus Hume walk, last July, for Rare.
One of your most recent works is Victorian Blockbuster: Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, which has been getting some good reviews around the place. What brought you to Hume’s story, and what kept your interest as you researched him and his work?
Actually Blockbuster!, because Victorian means different things in different contexts. Yes, good review in Washington Post, to my astonishment.
I knew about Hume when I was working as a researcher for Stephen Knight on his history of crime fiction in Australia. There was clearly a story behind the HANSOM CAB becoming the best-selling crime novel of the 1800s, but it wasn’t to be found. Then the digitisation of newspapers revealed the tale–and what a saga it was. Brilliant marketing, bank fraud, copycat murder, gay blackmail. It got more and more interesting as I joined the dots
Similarly, you’ve done a lot of work in investigating female crime writers of the nineteenth century. What value do you see in this ‘literary archaeology’?
We really ought to know about these women, how tough, productive and simply talented they were. They’d been elided from the HIStories. I put them back in.
Have you discovered things that surprised you?
Well, Mary Fortune, who wrote the longest early crime serial (1868-1908) in Australia, was a bigamist with a career criminal son. That completely upsets notions of Victorian values.
You’ve written in a variety of genres – including crime, fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction varieties too. Is there one genre you’re hoping to write more of in the coming years?
If I can get my hybrid crime/fantasy/quantum physics/neo-Victorian novel into print, I’ll do more of the same
Are there genres that you feel you haven’t explored sufficiently yet?
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I like a lot of stuff I’ve seen recently. Liam Moriaty. Kaaron Warren. The late lamented Paul Haines.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Probably Sensation novelist Mary Braddon, an ex-actress who had five illegitimate children with her publisher and managed to be a best-seller in the middle of the Victorian era. She was fun.
Crossposted to Australian Snapshot, along with the other interviews!
I read it in a day.
I gave it to my mother for her birthday; she had previously loved A Trifle Dead. About this one, she says:
I was thoroughly entertained by this latest book from Livia Day. I appreciated her heroine’s inability to combine detective work, cooking skills and a complicated love life with aplomb! The plot kept me interested to the end; the recipes for summer drinks, gelato and ice cream almost made me want to spend more time in the kitchen, and her dealings with Bishop and Stewart made me want to take her aside for a maternal chat.
It’s just the sort of book I like for holiday reading while watching the cricket – enjoyable with no necessity for deep thinking!
As for me… well, I have moved somewhere and have room for some frivolous things, and after reading this I decided that yes indeed I did want an ice cream maker. I will, however, be making neither beer ice cream nor Shay’s butterscotch, for completely different reasons.
I am not maternal and so did not have the same reaction as my mother; instead it had me reading with one eye metaphorically closed as I waited for something to go deeply wrong.
As to the plot – I know I am no author when I hit the twists and turns and I am utterly amazed at the devious brain that comes up with the sorts of things that happen to Tabitha. Poor lass. Livia, you are So Mean.
Hobart and its surrounds come to life beautifully, if not quite as much a part of the plot as in A Trifle Dead. There is a love of food, a love of friends, and a general love of life evident in this book. Hugely enjoyable. You can get it from Twelfth Planet Press, hard copy or ebook.
My mum and I don’t share books all that often. Not for any good reasons, but just… because. She is still game to buy books for me, all of which I read and enjoy, even if (like Amazons of Black Sparta) it sometimes takes me a while. She has promised me that when she can get her hands on it she will read China Mieville’s The City and the City; when that happens I may re-read and do another of these conversational reviews.
You need to get with my reading program. I read C and the C many books ago – and loved it!
… MA!! You need to tell me these things!!
And it was. Can’t beat the crime and food combo.
I’ve been looking forward to A Trifle Dead for a long time now, and except for about four chapters – which I read one evening and then had to exercise a great deal of will-power to put down – I read it in one sitting. It’s a classic crime novel in that way, because it just kept on sucking me on.
My limited exposure to crime fiction means I think of them being set either in picturesque country towns or big cities. And I’m sorry Tasmania, but Hobart is no New York. I don’t know Hobart, but I still got a sense that the book is set in the real town – and PLACE is a really important part of the whole story, given that proximity matters a lot. I’m almost tempted to take a copy of the book with me to Hobart sometime and try to match up bits of the plot. That could be a bit freaky though.
I’m right into setting and atmosphere at the moment (writing an essay on its place in Henry James’ Turn of the Screw) and as I HAVE been to Hobart I was very impressed with its realism as regards setting. Not so sure I came across anyone who was nearly as interesting as these characters though.
Day has made Hobart seem waaaay more interesting than most mainlanders would assume. I think my favourite bit is the Botanical Gardens description – and if she made up those bits, I’m going to be very cross.
My recollection is that the gardens are very lovely but it’s been a long time since I was there. Salamanca Place is fantastic if my memory serves me correctly.
I’m still tossing up whether I most enjoyed the characters or the plot. I think the characters might be winning. Tabitha is an unlikely detective, no matter how much she like gossiping and prying and despite (really because of) being the child of a policeman. This aspect – her ambivalence towards the police force because of her father is totally believabe, as is her attitude towards her parents’ divorce and career changes. Mum, are you running away to a hippy commune any time soon?
I think I like my home comforts too much to do that.
And hippies don’t play golf.
That hadn’t occurred to me, but is probably true as would be too busy tie dying or growing stuff. Nothing like a good bit of generalisation!
It’s a really strong part of the whole novel, actually: complicated families and unconventional characters in general written with honesty and love and just a dash of slapstick. Many of the characters fit very broadly into general categories, but they also keep slipping out of them, refusing to be buttonholed. The female friends? Well, one keeps judging Tabitha with her eyebrows, and another hasn’t spoken to her for years and could break her with a little finger. The love interests? One is on the dark and brooding end but that’s because he’s a cop, and he’s more exasperated and brooding; the other is Scottish. And the housemate, Ceege, absolutely refuses buttonholing and I LOVE HIM A LOT I WANT MORE CEEGE. Because, fashion from an eng student will never cease being hysterical. Also I’m now inspired to have my own Oscars party.
I found all the characters highly entertaining and wish I knew a few people like them. Only in books, I fear. Ceege is definitely a winner. If you hold an Oscars party you’ll have to frock up pretty early in the morning.
I know a lot of Engineering students, but I don’t think any of them could get away with the clothes Ceege does. If I had an Oscars party I would do the same thing as Tabitha – ignore Twitter and the news, and have it in the evening!
The plot would, I think, meet the requirements of the crime lover – do you agree Mum? It’s got a slow unravelling of clues, and tantalising hints of what’s going on and who might be involved and then POW something completely unexpected happens. Because I definitely did not suspect the true culprit.
It’s a good plot. I found the book a really entertaining read which met the requirements of a crime novel lover like me and gave me a welcome break from Dickens, James and Woolfe!
Um yes. Which is good because otherwise your brain might EXPLODE.
Also I liked the food.
And if nothing else, the book does convey two essential truths: it’s all about food. And never try to outdrink engineering students.
You can get A Trifle Dead over at Twelfth Planet Press. Buy one for your mum, or your grandad, or your neighbour while you’re there.
In just a few days, A Trifle Dead will be launched – a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for rather a long time. Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, another voice of Galactic Suburbia and overall awesome author. I decided to throw some questions at her and see what happened…
OMG I hadn’t even thought of a Livia Day autograph. I only have a few days to figure that one out before the launch! Thanks for the head’s up.
I have actually just finished writing an article I was commissioned to do for Writing Queensland about this whole topic so I’ll keep it fairly brief this time: I wanted to differentiate between my crime writing and fantasy writing selves. Livia is after my favourite imperial Roman woman, the one I never managed to name one of my children after (believe me, I considered it!) and Day is from teenage newspaper editor Lynda Day in Press Gang, one of my first fictional heroes.
Given the title, and its setting in and around a cafe (I’ve read the first chapter thanks to Salvage), clearly food is going to play some role in the novel. How important is food, do you think, in setting up a world? I can think of lammas bread from Lord of the Rings, and vaguely remember exotic English teas from ancient kids’ books, but a lot of the time food doesn’t seem to get much of a look in.
Food is a great storytelling device! I do a lot of worldbuilding through social customs in my fantasy writing, and food is key to that – in A Trifle Dead food is certainly relevant to character traits. Almost everything in crime fiction comes down to the psychology of characters, the reason why people do what they do. My protagonist is a professional cook and cafe manager and she uses food in many ways – to heal, to nurture, to manipulate, to bribe, to cement friendships. In the opening chapters she is actually using food as a kind of anti-siege weapon, to rid herself of the over-protective men in her life.
I think part of the reason that culinary themes work so well with crime fiction is because it gives us something comforting to balance out the scary or more confronting themes to do with murder and darker psychologies. I love Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman and the baking she does in those books – and one of my favourite crime series of all time, the Roman historical mysteries about Falco the informer (by Lindsey Davis) uses food as worldbuilding as well as to express character.
Then there’s Agatha Christie, of course, herself an experienced chemist – every bite in those books could potentially kill you!
Why Hobart, aside from it being your home town?
Well you see, it’s my home town… but that doesn’t mean it was the default for these books. I actually found it quite confronting to write something set in my own home town, especially when I was much younger. One of the oddest things about doing that is how your own version of a place you know intimately can clash with other people’s perceptions – I think I’m going to have a much better time selling the idea of Hobart being a fun, arty and cosmopolitan centre than when I first started working on this manuscript years ago, because we’ve had a bit of a media renaissance around here in the last year or two thanks to MONA and other cultural events.
But of course the short answer is that Tabitha grew out of this city – her story couldn’t be told anywhere else.
It certainly has a different skillset – much tighter plotting is required! You can’t just take people off down a meandering path, or let your imagination run completely unfettered. It’s harder in some ways and easier in others – the biggest difference is not actually the genre aspect, but the difference between writing in an imaginary world and the current world. Being able to throw in pop culture or technology references, and so on. I had to think a lot more about the constraints because in all the crime fiction I grew up reading, no one had mobile phones or Twitter or DNA testing, and that sort of thing makes it kind of difficult to get away with a lot of the more traditional crime fiction twists. Sure you can have your character’s mobile phone get broken but that’s cheating…
Do you have further stories in mind for Tabitha Darling?
Oh, yes, I’m contracted for a sequel, Drowned Vanilla. Even more than A Trifle Dead it is about internet culture and creative culture and how these two things interact. The story is about a girl who goes missing from a house that’s full of webcams. But mostly it’s about ice cream. Oh my goodness I know so much about the history of vanilla that I didn’t know before writing this book!
After that, we’ll see – if the readership is there, I will happily continue with Tabitha’s adventures in catering and murder mystery solving – I’m deeply in love with the eccentric ensemble cast she has gathered around her, and any excuse to spend more time with them.
Is there anything else we should know? Like other exciting books?
Just that my early fantasy books are being made available as e-books by Fablecroft – Splashdance Silver is up now on Kindle, Wizard’s Tower and Weightless Books, and the other two Mocklore Chronicles are shortly to follow. The third one was never officially published before so that’s quite exciting to people like yourself who had a fondness for my funny pirate witch explosive magic books…