Friday, April 6, 2012

Of flappers and flights of fancy

If I could be transported in time to any era, I would want to be in a smoky jazz club, dancing the Charleston in a dress dripping with crystal beads, my eyes rimmed with kohl and my lips bright red.

So I was very excited when I read the ABC was running a competition to launch their new Phryne Fisher murder series, based on Kerry Greenwood’s novels set in the 20s.

The competition was to write the opening paragraphs of a mystery set in the 20s, entries to be judged by Kerry Greenwood. The winner was to receive high-tea for two at Melbourne’s art deco hotel The Windsor, and a 1920s makeover courtesy of the ABC’s costume department.

I love the Windsor, and a couple of years ago before I ran off to Scotland for the big adventure that changed my life, I had a bon-voyage celebration there with some good friends. One of those friends was with me last year for Chinese New Year in Hong Kong, and we enjoyed a scrumptious high-tea at the sublime art deco hotel the Peninsula.

But back to the competition, I immediately emailed Matty Hari (whose work you will have read on this blog) and suggested we both enter, doubling our chances by promising to take the other if either of us won.

I started playing around with some ideas, imagining I was peeking in a millner’s shop window:

You don’t expect to find a corpse trying on a hat. Even if the hat was from the latest collection by Madam Lisette. Despite scores of customers declaring they would die if they couldn’t be seen in one at next week's Irwin-Spencer nuptials, one didn't take them literally. Yet now there was a corpse with one of the season’s finest creation on its head. Surveying the corpse, Elsie Slipper, or the eponymous Madam Lisette as she was known to Melbourne’s most fashion conscious, had only one question: had the silver ice-pick protruding from the poor creature’s eye ruined the delicate silk and velevet concoction on her head?

For my final entry, I indulged my love of archaeology and murder mysteries, coming up with this entry (copyright me, Miss Mythology, aka Cassandra).

Dr Roberta Hargraves knew something was wrong with the mummy in the sarcophagus as soon as she saw the still damp blood soaking the cloth. Dead bodies were stock in trade for an archaeologist but they usually weren’t recently deceased. Despite the world’s thrilled horror last year at the deaths of Lord Carnarvon and his brother after Tutankhamun’s tomb was unearthed, Bertie refused to believe superstitious nonsense about a mummy’s curse. Yet looking at the ancient linen now stained with sticky blood, even she had a moment of doubt.

And this gem is courtesy (and copyright) of the genius that is Matty Hari:

Zenobia Maher could count on one hand the times she had lifted a Gitane to her precisely reddened lips only to find not one male prepared, with the hiss of a firmly-struck match, to light it for her.  At the exact time she was making this observation, a dozen or so members of His Majesty’s Victorian constabulary were preoccupied, swarming over Madame Russels ‘respectable’ Lonsdale Street establishment with a strange hum of alarm, horror and resolve. Zenobia sighed, glanced carefully at the sprawling, naked and bloodied corpses of Justice Berry and his prostitute, and ensured the Gitane situation did not spill over to two hands by replacing her cigarette case in her handbag with a firm, little snap.

Sadly we weren’t successful, and if you’re interested you can read the winning entry and runners up here,

Of course the real mystery is, why didn’t we win?

P.S. most of the beautiful fashion images are the work of the Russian fashion artist Erte, if you'd like to know more about his work visit

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