Interview: Gillian Polack on Langue[dot]doc

Dr Gillian Polack joins me to talk about her new book, launching at Conflux 2014.

Congratulations on the launch of your new novel, Langue[dot]doc. Please tell us about it and your experiences of the places in the novel on your recent trip.

It wasn’t my recent trip that fed into this novel (I suddenly feel very adventurous and travelled) but the one in 2011. The University of Western Australia and Arts ACT helped me get there and I did a bunch of things, starting with a masterclass in SF criticism and ending with a week in the Languedoc, which is where my novel is set. I was bitten by something nasty in York and by the time I reached Montpellier I had to make an emergency hospital visit, so my whole time there was coloured by sunshine, icecream, and quite powerful antibiotics. I don’t know what influence this had on the story, but my research in France was done in a pleasant summer medicated daze. I spent my evenings watching the French-dubbed version of Fringe and Clone Wars, which possibly added to the surreal atmosphere.

Most of the story is set in and near a place called Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert, which is spectacularly beautiful.

I didn’t know it was beautiful when I planned my novel, however. I chose the town because it has a lot of surviving Medieval buildings (so it was easy to construct in my mind), and because William was an interesting bloke and his bones were there and I wanted an excuse to say ‘hi’ to him. Let me give you a picture of Saint-Guilhem and of his bones, so that you, too can say ‘hi’.

The memory of the man features very heavily in the novel, but the story isn’t about him at all. It’s about a bunch of scientists (mostly Aussie) who are going to 1305 to change the world through their research. These people do not travel back to the Middle Ages and suddenly become perfect: they carry all kinds of problems back with them. The heroine is, of course, a historian. Her name is Artemisia and she’s an expert in Clemence of Barking. Clemence of Barking has nothing to do with the Languedoc in 1305. So why is Artemisia the in-house historian? And just how many things can go wrong when a bunch of very clever people travel back in time? I think I’m going to move onto the next question, very quickly…

 You can find a copy here.

A street in St Guilhem-le-Desert.
A street in St-Guilhem-le-Desert.

What were the other highlights of your trip?

This recent trip had an impossible number of highlights. I met two Drs Who (Tennant and Davison) and I presented a Hugo. I saw the Northern Lights and ate fresh-picked blackberries at a deserted Anglo-Saxon village. I fell in love with Croatian fandom and Finnish fandom and Irish fandom (and I was already in love with British fandom). I was taught to make basic Dothraki jewellery by someone who worked on such things for Game of Thrones. I ate many splendid meals and listened to many splendid people say interesting things.

I was travelling as the GUFF delegate for Australasia (as you know, for you supported me – I wasn’t expecting to win, so my amazing experience felt like a gift, which it was), and there will be a trip report. I thought I’d already finished my report, but I keep thinking of things that I ought to add. I’ll let you know when it’s released.

Being the GUFF person opened many doors: I met (online) Singaporean writers and publishers and (in real life) so many translators and writers and con organisers and academics and generally fascinating people. I don’t think I had a single day without new experiences or wonderful things happening. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

William's bones in the abbey of Gellone.
William’s bones in the abbey of Gellone.

It’s great to hear that Baggage (Eneit Press) is being relaunched as well! What is it about and how did it come to be relaunched?

Several people pushed to have it republished and spent a lot of time asking various publishers if they’d give it a go.
Wildside/Borgo said, finally “We’re willing to take it on.”
I said “It’s this strange Australian book, but the stories are spectacular.”
“We can do strange,” they said.
I miss Rob Reginald, who made these decisions: he died last year. We were swapping stories of seasonal change and then, suddenly, he was gone. I didn’t know Rob long and I never got to meet him face to face, but he supported Baggage and got it back into print and was so generous with it (allowed us to keep its Austraian character in its entirety, for one thing): he was a good bloke. He was also very easy to work with.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my regular academic stuff (mainly a monograph on how writers use history) and I’m starting a new novel. Right now it’s only at research stage, but it’s going to be set in the late seventeenth century and it’s going to be about Women Who Travel. It may take a while to be finished, for I have other novels being published soonish, and they will need their time. Satalyte didn’t just take on my time travel novel, you see – they signed up several books of mine.

The church at S-Guiilhem-le Desert. There used to be two, but this is the surviving one and is now a tourist office.
The church at St-Guilhem-le-Desert. There used to be two, but this is the surviving one and is now a tourist office.

What have you enjoyed reading, lately?

Seventeenth century books and pamphlets. I really enjoyed Memoirs of a Secret Service Agent (1699), but it’s one of about 50 books I’ve already read from the last decades of the  seventeenth century, and quite a few of them are rather cool.

I’m also reading for the Aurealis Awards, but I can’t talk about that, which means most of my favourite modern books are under a cone of silence. Ask me again in four months time!


Enjoy your launches, Gillian!


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