Australian author Kerry Greenwood, best known for her Phyrne Fisher series set in the 1920s, moves to ancient Egypt for Out of the Black Land.
What led to your becoming a writer?
My much adored dad was a longshoreman, so we were poor. I went to a basic school, which had children from all corners of the world, and met my best friend and had to learn Greek because she didn’t speak English. I fell in love with words in all languages, and I read everything I could find, particularly myths and legends and histories and archeology and any novels. I used to tell my three younger siblings stories because that was my household chore, and I told long stories in installments because it was easier and more fun than making up a new story every night. I loved it.
Why did you shift from crime novels and young adult fiction to historical fiction?
I loved it ever since I wondered what it was like to be a child in ancient Greece when I was eight, when I grew, reaped, dried, winnowed, and ground my own Iron Age wheat. And baked the unleavened bread. Because I wondered what it tasted like. Unanswered questions make my head itch.
And the choice of ancient Egypt as your stage?
I’ve been addicted to it ever since I saw the wall murals in a book about Egyptologist Flinders Petrie when I was a child. So much of it has been preserved—love songs and shopping lists and laws and prayers and cartoons and random comments on shards. I got very annoyed with the assumption that because the pharaoh reinvented himself as Akhnaten (a monotheist religion with himself as the only interpreter), it was considered a “Good Thing” because he was a monotheist. I’ve always liked polytheistic religions, which have a tendency not to start holy wars (I can’t think of one, apart from the Aztecs, and they just needed people to sacrifice). So I thought I would investigate what the Egyptians thought of Akhnaten, and found that they hated him so much that they deleted him from their lists of kings. Not without cause—he came damn close to destroying the country. There was famine. The civil authority, which for instance regulated how much wheat was stored against bad times, was scattered. It took 40 years to reassemble Egypt as it had been.
What did you learn about the 18th dynasty that really surprised you?
How much I would have liked living there. Even Herodotus was shocked at the position of women, it was so equal, and there were no laws against homosexuality. Relaxed and comfy, and they really knew how to party.