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!
It’s the exacting details in this book that means it has dated so dreadfully that for all it’s an interesting enough story, I just can’t imagine anyone born after about 1980 enjoying it. Except possibly for its historical value.
The ghost story aspect holds up, as one would expect, in that it’s not context-reliant; you could have the same story set in 1850 or 2050. Syb’s new house is always cold, and the new housekeeper Hille starts talking spooky things as soon as she moves in. Hille wears an amethyst and claims to see ghosts, or spirits, all over the place. Syb is dubious, but….
The technology aspect, though – oh, I giggled. This was published in 1997. Syb is really lucky because she has an email address and can dial up the internet with her modem any time she likes. She wins a competition and gets an internet camera. People are able to get hold of each other’s email addresses quite easily, there’s only a few websites to search for on any one topic, and hacking is a breeze. I have no doubt that Sussex was going for close-to-bleeding-edge experience with this story, and going for serious verisimilitude with the intricate details. But all of that means that it really hasn’t travelled well. Which is a shame, because Sussex does write well and engagingly.
The inside cover calls it a Children’s Book; it’s what I would consider the younger end of YA. Syb’s parents are going through a rough patch, and this is dealt with brusquely but (and?) sensibly. It’s a “this is not the end of the world” attitude, but not “this doesn’t matter.” Intriguingly given how many such novels get rid of the parents completely, Sussex does it a bit differently: the mum goes away but stays in contact via email; the dad is always a bit absent in his attitude but is always present and still relevant. Also, the romance interests are just barely present but more usually as an irritant than anything else.
This book was read as part of my read-all-the-books-I-own-but-haven’t-read effort, and conveniently also contributes to the Australian Women Writers challenge for 2014.
This is the delightfully-packaged third book in the Twelve Planets series, from Twelfth Planet Press. I should mention that I am friends with the editor/publisher, Alisa Krasnostein, and a passing acquaintance of the author, Lucy Sussex. But don’t worry; I would have no trouble saying I didn’t like it much, if that were the case…
The first story is, for me, the blazing outstanding story of the four. Called “Alchemy,” it is set in Babylon, a city as evocative, perhaps, as it is foreign. We are presented with a story told from two perspectives. The first is that of Tapputi, a perfumer from a long line of such. She is a mother, a widow, and a skilled artisan. She has also attracted the attention of Azubel, a spirit whose point of view we also read. Azubel has knowledge of the past and the possible paths of the future, with a particular passion for and understanding of what we would call chemistry. The stories of these two, over a long span of time (by human standards) has many strands, weaving in examinations of knowledge and the dangers thereof; juggling career and family; tradition and innovation and the pitfalls of each; and that essential conundrum, discerning good from evil when the world is grey, not black and white. Tapputi is finely, delicately drawn, the balance of concerns inherent being in being a widowed mother and artisan nicely indicated. She is both practical and romantic and, perhaps most wondrously, is actually based on a woman known to historians because her name and trade are recorded in cuneiform from the second millennium BC. This is a story that mixes fantasy and history in a glorious blend, and is one of my favourite stories for the year.
The second story in the collection is Krasnostein showing her readers that the Twelve Planets series is not going to follow the path set by the first two sets (Nightsiders and Love and Romanpunk), because it neither follows “Alchemy” (sigh) nor falls into SF/fantasy. “The Fountain of Justice” was first published for the Ned Kelly Awards, given in Australia to crime authors, and is indeed a story of crime and policing set in Melbourne, Sussex’s home city. It wasn’t really my sort of thing – crime never really has been. We get the story predominantly from the point of view of Meg, a solicitor who works mainly for the Children’s Court, and with the juveniles accused there. It’s a convoluted story questioning issues of justice and truth, asking I think whether our legal system delivers justice and even whether it can/should. It is clever, but it didn’t ultimately work for me.
Thirdly, “The Subject of O” is again completely different, and perhaps on the face of it far simpler than the preceding two – although it would be a mistake to actually believe that. Petra, a probably twenty-something university student, is the focus, as a stupid comment from an acquaintance sends her memory over the past few weeks and months in which she has been thinking about, and learning about, women and orgasms. On one level it is quite a funny story about students and their conversations, and plays into the common theme that university students are all rather busy with sex and drugs. But the reality is that underneath is a genuine questioning of why discussion of women’s sexuality and experience of sex is more often than not hidden, or spoken of only hazily, or left to blokes leering and imagining them as God’s gift to womankind. It’s frank and honest, refreshingly spiked with wry humour. But don’t read it on public transport if you are the blushing type.
Finally, the collection is rounded out by the eponymous story, “Thief of Lives,” which itself contains a book of the same name (confused yet?). This is the most complicated story of the set, although fortunately almost everything is clarified by the end, making hindsight a wonderful thing. It’s set in Bristol, and told from the first person by someone who is not what they at first appear to be, and whose intentions in Bristol are far from straightforward. It’s impossible for me to give a good idea of the narrative, really, without spoiling it. Let me say that it toys with ideas like a cat with string: why (as the blurb puts it) do writers think that other people’s lives are fair game? How do writers get their ideas? Can writers and their writing have a concrete impact on those around them, especially when drawing on them for inspiration? It’s a little bit labyrinthine, which is echoed somewhat in the maze-like qualities of Bristol itself for our protagonist. It’s very, very clever, and the main character herself is a little bit hypnotic.
Also, isn’t it a totally lovely cover?