Dr Gillian Polack is a historian, writer, critic, writer and general nuisance. Gillian has two published novels (Ms Cellophane/Life through Cellophane was a Ditmar finalist) and a third — Langue[dot]doc 1305 — out soon. She has also published over 15 short stories and two cookbooks. She edited two anthologies (Baggage was a Ditmar finalist). One of her stories won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award and three more were listed as recommended reading in international lists of world’s best stories. She has received two writing fellowships at Varuna, various arts grants, and a Ditmar award for her work. http://gillpolack.livejournal.com Twitter: @GillianPolack Facebook: Gillian Polack
News hot off the press: Gillian will be a Liburnicon Guest of Honour. Ouch, steam! Burnt my fingers.
You recently announced that Satalyte Publishing is publishing your latest novel, Langue[dot]doc 1305. What is it about and when is it coming out?
This is the novel I swore I’d never write. I’ve always twisted my history-in-fiction and made it clearly fantastical to keep the historian part of my brain away from the fiction writing part. The second PhD demonstrated that this really wasn’t necessary. It also demonstrated that it is possible to be intelligent without being boring. These things aren’t what the novel’s about, though, they’re the novel’s backstory.
The novel is much more exciting than the backstory. A bunch of scientists go to Languedoc in 1305. They want to change the world. (Of course they do.) They know they’ll change the world. (Of course they do.) Brilliant scientists aren’t always brilliant administrators, however, and very occasionally they can be irritating. (Just very occasionally.) All this brilliance and stupidity and irritating behaviour goes back into the past along with the brilliant minds. Add to this the obvious: villagers in 1305 are real people. Add one thing more, that at least one brilliant scientist assumes that 1305 is simply a backdrop in front of which he can dissect how the universe operates. All this and practical jokes and cave karaoke and disaffected knights and the Templars and…just one historian. It only takes one historian to entirely annoy a bunch of scientists, after all.
It’s coming out this year. Soon. Very soon. Very, very soon.
Update: A limited number of pre-press copies will be available at Loncon, and then it will be published in October. HS
Congratulations on being voted in as Australia’s GUFF delegate. You’re heading over to Loncon very soon! What will you be doing while you’re there?
I’ll be enjoying being a fan. I love fandom — so many fabulous people. I get to meet other fans in four (maybe five) countries, which is going to be simply magic. I’ll be going to Loncon (and giving an academic paper there as well as doing fannish things), to Shamrokon (the European convention), FantasyCon (the British fantasy convention) and maybe more. I’ll be visiting England and Ireland (obviously) but also Finland and Croatia. I get just one day in Vienna. I suspect what one does with one day in Vienna is wish that one could be there longer. The aim of GUFFishness is to meet fans and make friends and develop communities, so I basically have a license to meet people and enjoy myself on behalf of Australia and New Zealand.
What are you working on at the moment?
There are the fan books for GUFF (fundraising for the next delegate) — I’m doing a cookbook and an illustrated travel diary. These are not serious, however, and, all going well, will be out later this year. The serious writing is still happening. I’m almost finished a non-fiction book about writers and their history (but it hasn’t found a home yet), there are my Medieval projects and some articles, and I’m at the early stages of two novels. Which novel I write next year… depends.
The first I like to describe as ‘Stepford Wives meets Dorian Gray in Australian Suburbia’. This is a misleading description. It’s my excuse to get snarky about stereotypes of suburban women. It’s going to be dark and funny and dangerous and very, very close to home. This is the novel my friends want me to write. It will make me enemies. Many enemies.
The novel I want to write more, however is my second project. It’s also a novel about women (I write novels about women, that’s a given) and it’s kind of a road adventure, except there’s going to be a whole heap of what the travellers get up to at their major stopping points and not a lot of the road itself. It’s set in 17th century England and France and at that moment and time There Be Monsters. I’m looking at folk and religious beliefs right now, and working out precisely which ones I bring to life. The story isn’t about the monsters, however: it’s about friendship and women and life cycles. I’m tempted to put recipes in this novel. Just tempted, mind you. It would be a terrible trial to test the recipes, however, so I need to think about it a bit more.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
So many! I was explaining to writer-friends at Continuum that Australian YA writing is so amazing right now that books that would normally get a lot of attention fall under the radar. I have a long list of recent books I’d love to see others read. Of last year’s releases, though, there are two standouts for me: Allyse Near’s Fairytales for Wilde Girls and Kim Wilkins’ The Year of Ancient Ghosts. Two very, very special volumes.
There are also quite a few writers who keep producing terrific work: Lucy Sussex, Andrea Hoest, Margo Lanagan, Jannen Webb, Kate Forsyth, Jack Dann, Kaaron Warren, Maxine McArthur, Terry Dowling. (and that’s just off the top of my head — I could write a much longer list without much more effort)
There are ‘new kids’ who are going to change our landscape the way Margo did, a few years ago. Allyse Near is one of them, but so is Ambelin Kwaymullina.
It’s possible to read 25 top notch new Australian books in a year. It’s hard for writers to be seen the way they would in a less rich environment, but it’s a fabulous time to be a reader of Australian spec fic.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
I write as I write, regardless. My novels have their own pattern. Changes in the industry affect whether publishers take me on or how my books sell, but the bottom line is that I write with my distinctive voice – I’m not someone who can adapt that without losing important story elements and, to be honest, I’m a bit envious of those who can adapt – it’s a very special skill.
It’s just as well I teach and have my academic side. Except it’s not ‘just as well’ — they all work very closely together in my life. My fiction will always be linked to my research. Since I’m researching history and narratives and genre, then, the likelihood is that these things will appear in my fiction in strange and unpredictable ways. It’s also likely that I will continue to tell stories of women, and that my stories will focus on people with small voices. I haven’t felt the need to write about the peasant boy who becomes king, for his story has been told ten thousand times: I want to write about an individual whose story can only be told once and hasn’t yet been heard.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: