This is the second part of the Lucy Sussex interview I conducted via email over the past month or so. The first was published yesterday.
As I stated in part one, Lucy has been writing for the past twenty years or so, and in that time she has been awarded the Ditmar (Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award) for "My Lady Tongue" (1989), The Scarlet Rider (1997) and "La Sentinelle" (2004). "La Sentinelle" also won an Aurealis award in 2003.
Matilda: I seem to remember you saying you were rather annoyed when you read POSSESSION and came to the realisation of how similar it was to what you were working on at the time. Did that realisation change the direction of the book or cause you any "trouble" later on?
Lucy Sussex: Not really. I heard about it well before I read it, and even by then I had SCARLET RIDER pretty much planned (up to chapter outlines, although you never quite know what will come out of the subconscious). I read POSSESSION essentially to see whether I would have to kill off the project. But the two books weren't much similar, after all. And I figured that by the time I got my novel written, edited and published, POSSESSION would have less currency. Which doesn't stop reviewers making the comparison, of course...
M: THE SCARLET RIDER was released in 1996. Have you been working on any other novels for adults since then, or concentrating on shorter fiction and young adult material?
LS: What happened is that I've been doing a PhD thesis, which will be a book, on the mothers of detective fiction. This involved rethinking the early history of detective fiction, and also a number of surprises, such as the writer Catherine Crowe, who necessitated a research trip to the UK. So much research and work...
I've written many short fictions, for adult and younger in my spare time (ha ha) - some of these will be collected later this year (title to be announced) by Mirrordanse. I just published the story "Matricide" on SCIFI.COM. I did a book in the Quentaris series (THE REVOGNASE, 2003). Several times I started novels, but the goer so far is a mixture of C19th female detective novel, werewolves and er, quantum physics. I may, or may not, be able to bring it off.
M: Sounds like a very strange mix - I look forward to it. You mentioned the novel you wrote for the Quentaris series, how did that come about? And did it require a special sort of mind-set on your behalf?
LS: What happened was that I wrote one of the first two texts in the series. Paul Collins and Michael Pryor approached me to write 3 chapters of a Quentaris text. Michael had written a complete Quentaris novella, but Paul had time constraints. They basically paid me to write a text as part of a sample for publishers. If the series didn't sell, then I had the beginnings of a fantasy novel for teens I could probably adapt and sell independently. If it did sell, then I paid them back, and wrote the whole of my novel for the publisher.
I had two free weeks, so I did write the sample, using as plot outline a device I'd found in a 1930s crime novel (which I acknowledge at the beginning of THE REVOGNASE): hot potato. You have a object that nobody knows what it is, but everybody wants it, and so it passes from hand to hand, the viewpoint basically going with it. Of course being me, I started the text not knowing what it was either, and the subconscious supplied the answer, which was actually quite disgusting.
I think I was supposed to write three chapters but I was enjoying myself so much I wrote six. I had a ball writing what was basically screwball fantasy comedy. Now I know why Terry Pratchett is so prolific: it's fun.
In terms of constraints, working to a pre-existing setting meant that you didn't have to do world-building, which freed you up in other areas. After all, Shakespeare used pre-existing plots for nearly all of his plays.
I'd actually got to the end of the text, and found Paul & Michael had made a change in their Quentaris Bible: consolidated the fantasy security elements. I'd actually gone to some trouble to set up tension between the bodyguards' Guild and the Watch, and now there was only the Watch. But making Storm, who is one of my protagonists, the head of the watch worked very well, and was surprisingly easy to do.
I'd love to write another Quentaris book sometime.
M: To finish up, I know you've been reviewing a large number of books lately but what is the best you've read over the past twelve months?
LS: Best true crime - THE GATTON MURDERS (Pan) by Stephanie Bennett. I respect a true crime writer who can really research, as Bennett does. I'm not the only person to think she solved the crime. Remarkable.
Best younger readers: THE SCARECROW AND HIS SERVANT (Dobuleday) Phillip Pullman. Here is a work in lighter mood than the dark materials, but showing enviable control of form and style. Also delightfully inventive.
Best novel - the best novels are the ones you come to blind, which stand totally on their own merits. Such is CRESCENT by Diana Abu-Jaber (Picador) about middle eastern exiles living in LA. It avoids every possible cliche you can think of about Arabs and the Moslem world.
Best non-fiction. Kevin Phillips' AMERICAN DYNASTY: ARISTOCRACY, FORTUNE AND THE POLITICS OF DECEIT IN THE HOUSE OF BUSH. The title says it all. Thoroughly researched, by a former Nixon staffer. Quote: 'I am not talking about ordinary lack of business ethics or financial corruption.' Indeed.
Best out of left-field: TROLL, by Johanna Sinisalo. Imagine Tom of Finland and the Moomintrolls in the same book. Only a Finn could get away with it.
M: Thanks for your time and patience.