Here is the speech I made:
On Launching A Trifle Dead, by Livia Day (and Tansy Rayner Roberts)
Thank you all for being here again – it makes me so happy to be able to fill a bookshop with friends and family and loyal readers, even when I confuse you by changing my pen-name. I’m particularly grateful that the books decided to grace us with their presence tonight because that led to some stressful moments that were very not fun.
Crime is supposed to be fun, right?
The first adult crime novel I ever read traumatised me for life. I was ten years old, and it was a Dick Francis book about a man whose brother died when scaffolding fell on him. I still have serious issues with walking under scaffolding. It was bad enough already that the Trixie Belden mysteries had taught me that apple pips have cyanide with them, and if you chop apples whole into your waldorf salad, you could die!
(I wonder if that actually counts as the first time I read culinary crime?)
Crime as a genre can be scary and confronting and deeply traumatic, but the books I really loved, enough to read them over and over even when I knew who the murderer was, were the ones with a sense of humour. Robert B Parker’s Spenser does some horrible and ethically dubious things, and he lives in a tough scary world, but those books have some of the best banter known to humankind. He’s also a really good cook.
Dick Francis’s heroes can often cook well too, and don’t get me started on the importance of food in Agatha Christie novels, Janet Evanovich, and Kerry Greenwood. Food in fiction is often used for character development – for nourishment, for comfort. And sometimes you need something comforting to get you through all the dead bodies and grim psychology.
So by the time I started writing my own crime novels – and I started pretty early – the elements of murder, food and banter had programmed themselves into my head.
As for setting, well that was never a question. Every crime writer has their city, or their village, the place that becomes a character in its own right – and pretty much the only character who is free of suspicion about being the murderer, thanks to the legendary Agatha Christie who taught us you can’t even trust the narrator of the book. She never did one where the city was the murderer, did she?
But yes, Boston, Trenton, London, St Mary Mead. My crime stories were always going to be set in Hobart. Quite specifically they were going to be set in one particular building.
When I was a little girl, the Greensleeves Bookshop moved from its pretty sandstone building in the middle of town, to an equally pretty shop in Sandy Bay. It was a favourite of mine, not least because it was there that I discovered the wonders of heavily discounted Star Trek Next Generation novelisations.
But I always felt a little sorry for the building that was left behind. It was in a beautiful position, next to the Hadley’s Hotel, opposite St David’s Cathedral and the Walsh’s art supplies store. Over the years it had many businesses come and go – offices, a surf shop, nothing that I found personally inspiring. (Most recently it had a gorgeous children’s design shop, Ruby’s Room, and I was really sad to see they had moved because that was the first time in decades something stylish had been in there)
But back when I was first inspired to write this story, far too many years ago to count, I didn’t think any of the businesses that had followed Greensleeves really gave the building much to work with.
During my matric/college years, I wrote three complete novels. One was a comedy about a space assassin, and two were completely different murder mysteries featuring the same characters and set in that stone building that used to be the Greensleeves Bookshop. Only now it was called The Troubleshooters Cafe.
The first thing that writing that book in my teens taught me was that I didn’t know anything about writing or plotting crime novels. I remember throwing myself on the mercy of my good friend Isabel, who threw a pile of classic detective novels at my head, and forced me to think, seriously think about how the genre worked then and now. It really helped to have someone there poking holes in my writing and demanding that I do better not just for the reader, but for the crime genre as a whole (no pressure), and Isabel gave me the closest thing I had to professional editorial feedback until I actually started selling novels.
(And found out that professional editors are way less mean.)
(So that is why the book is dedicated to her)
So here we are, many years later, with A Trifle Dead. Many of you know that this particular book did not have an easy road to publication. There were bumps along the way, bodies that had to be buried, evidence destroyed, nasty blood stains on the ceiling that we never talk about. But at the end there was trifle, and what’s that if not a happy ending?
So many people to thank for bringing this book into existence, including my publisher who is about to have her own launch party in West Australia, and our brilliant cover designer Amanda Rainey, and the whole Twelfth Planet team. Tehani and Steph for their contributions this evening, Chris and Janet and everyone at the Hobart Bookshop for giving us the space and the wine. My family for their support and enthusiasm.
And I wanted to give a particular shout out to the writers who produced the luscious trifle recipes in the back of this book – Kathryn in Perth who just upstaged us all by having a baby this morning – hooray!) and our own local Louise Williams. If you buy a copy of the book today, and I hope you will, you not only get a chance to see me practice my new Livia Day signature, but you can also ask Louise to sign her recipe!
(I have talked for long enough, I will read you a tiny bit from the book because I don’t approve of long readings at launches, and then we can get on with the wine and the book buying.)