2007 Snapshot Archive: Lucy Sussex

Interviewed by Kathryn Linge

First published at ASiF!

Lucy Sussex has degrees in English and Librarianship and is a freelance researcher, editor and writer. She has published widely, writing anything from literary criticism to horror and detective stories. In addition she is a literary archaeologist, rediscovering and republishing the nineteenth-century Australian crime writers Mary Fortune and Ellen Davitt. Her most recent collected works are ‘A Tour Guide in Utopia’, published by Mirrordanse in 2005, and ‘Absolute Uncertainly’ published 2006 by Aqueduct Press as part of the ‘Conversation Pieces’ seres. Her story ‘Mist and Murder’ can be read in Issue two of New Ceres: http://www.newceres.com/doku.php?id=issue_2:inside_issue_2 Her website is: http://lsussex.customer.netspace.net.au/

1. I really enjoyed the sense of fun (and the importance of cheese!) in ‘Mist and Murder’, published in New Ceres. You’ve also written in the shared world of ‘The Quentaris Chronicles’, publishing ‘The Revognase’ in 2003. What are the attractions – and deterrents – of writing in a shared world? What drew you to taking on La Duchesse and Pepin, the lead characters from Tansy Rayner Robert’s ‘Scandal at the Feast of Saturn’?

If you can’t have fun when writing, why bother? Shared worlds have the advantage in that some of the thinking has been done for you in terms of setting, and you can then concentrate on other things,like character and style. Limits are set for you, and then you have to work out how to challenge these limits. I had something like six short stories to write, in the middle of a family crisis, and other writing to do. The only way I could do the shorts was in a row, because that kept me in the right mindset, and working in the one form. They ranged from kidlit to crime to sf. With New Ceres I started out with an idea about C18th Chemist Lavoisier & demons, but that was clearly going to turn into a novel if I didn’t watch out. Try another tack. I’ve got a partially completed female detective novel on the back burner, so I was familiar with the figure of the inquisitive female. And la Duchesse is a fun figure!

2. The other really interesting aspect of ‘Mist and Murder’ is that is a reworking of a story by Mary Fortune, the first woman to specialise in crime fiction in Australia (and probably the world). Did your interest and extensive research into Mary naturally lead you to consider a homage? Were there any fundamental changes needed to transfer the story from 19th century Australia to ’18th century’ New Ceres?

One way of dealing with the commissions was by writing metafictions, from stories that intrigued me, and with which I wanted to play. I’ve already partly fictionalised Fortune in the novel THE SCARLET RIDER. Her ‘Mystery and Murder’ was appropriated by her collaborator James Skipp Borlase, and published under his name. It was only a computer analysis that showed she’d written it. But it fits with other stories of hers where the tension between reason and the supernatural meets. Such is a very C18th century concern, that you see in the Gothic of Ann Radcliffe, and which leads directly to the rationalism of Sherlock Holmes. The New Ceres setting meant I had to move the narrative essentially backwards in time, which also involved rethinking the language, from high Victoriana to C18th cadences. That was the most interesting exercise, and it involved consciously thinking in Latinate words and using elaborate expressions or euphemisms. The other fun bit was researching C18th technology.

3. What do you think of the state Australian speculative fiction (and Australian fiction in general) as it stands today? Has the community changed much since you first became involved? Who do you think are the writers to look out for in the future?

It’s increasingly crowded, with everyone scrabbling for a small market. ‘Tis scandalous the little speculative fiction (as opposed to fantasy) gets picked up by the major oz publishers–and editors moan to me how hard it is to find good new writers! Especially when literary and popular fiction are increasingly using genre elements. It becomes harder and harder to make genre distinctions. I’d also add that it’s harder to get reviewed in the likes of Locus, etc. As for new writers, the general rule is that the most talented tend not to continue, which is why there is so much drivel in the marketplace.

4. Enough about the writing, what’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

Probably GHOST PLANE, by Stephen Grey (Scribe) a feat of investigative journalism which uncovered the CIA’s fleet of planes taking suspects for extraordinary rendition.

5. Finally, and certainly most inappropriately, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who will it be and why?

Oh gawd. I can think who I’d like to sit next to in a plane: Mary Braddon, the C19th English detective writer. But as for sex… Are fictional characters likely to be good in the sack? Isn’t it like screwing the author, by proxy…and the majority of authors aren’t attractive. I once was introduced to Will Self, and as I shook hands with him, thought: ‘This man wrote a novel about masturbation.’ I think I’d rather stick to the real world.

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