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Lucy Sussex

Lucy Sussex

I was born in the South Island of New Zealand, the landscape of which is now familiar worldwide from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. The city where I was born, Christchurch, doesn't figure in his trilogy, but in an earlier Jackson film, Heavenly Creatures (where Kate Winslet made her debut), about the murderesses Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker. Indeed I have a connection with the originals of that film: my father used to go out to Papanui Women's Prison to teach French to Pauline Parker. He said she was a very nice young woman.

The family was Australian, migrants from the British Isles, who all apparently emigrated voluntarily—although one ancestor was an absolute scoundrel, as I discovered at a family reunion. His deeds included selling one son into indentured servitude, little better than slavery, in payment of a gambling debt. He might not have been transported, but he surely improved Britain by leaving it. Nearly all the ancestors were working class, and such were the opportunities of the new land that within several generations we were solidly professional. My father taught French at University level, which meant I went to the Northern hemisphere twice by boat by the time I was eleven. My first school was a French convent, despite not being (a) Catholic, (b) speaking a word of French. "I'm afraid we're heretics," my mother told the head nun. Heretics or not, my sister Polly got the part of the Virgin Mary in the school play.

When I was eleven I wrote (but failed to complete) what would be now classed as a fantasy novel, called The Whisper Trees, about fairy mice. Prophetic though this exercise might have been, it got thoroughly sidetracked by more globetrotting, ending when my father got a job in Townsville, tropical Queensland. I hated it. The first Christmas I was there a major cyclone hit, and things did not improve subsequently. I started reading science fiction in quantity, no doubt because I wanted to escape. At that stage I wanted to be a poet and got my first publication as a teenager in the anthology Neon Signs for the Mutes (1976). It must have been a fruitful project, because, of the contributors, Paul Grabowski became a famous jazz musician, and there were three future novelists: me, Antoni Jach and fantasy writer Tony Shillitoe. But the chance of a Science Fiction workshop in Sydney, 1979, with George Turner and Terry Carr, set me off on the track of science fiction.

Which is where I've continued ever since, with diversions into children's fiction (after a children's editor sent me my first-ever fan letter), horror, crime, true crime and Victoriana. Due to a family history of late marriages and long lives, the Victorian era was only a generation or so away from me, recalled via anecdotes and artifacts, including a Victorian dollhouse. Little did I know that this (not necessarily an interest, but certainly a presence) would turn into a major research preoccupation. In the 1980s I got frustrated working as a librarian and got a job researching crime fiction for Professor Stephen Knight. Within months I had stumbled across a previously unknown early female crime writer, Mary Fortune, which led to a PhD and (nearly completed) a book on the mothers of crime fiction—a bunch of wild but prolific women.

These days I work as a reviewer, researcher (latterly in the fin de siƩcle) and squeeze in my original fiction where I can. The bibliography includes four books for teenage or younger readers, three editions of Victorian prose, and four anthologies, of which She's Fantastical (1995) was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. My one adult novel, The Scarlet Rider, combines crime, Victoriana and the fantastic. A second one is in process, involving quantum physics and werewolves. (Photo by Nicola Scott.)

Absolute Uncertainty