The Wizardry of Jewish Women

I’m delighted to welcome Dr Gillian Polack to my blog today, to talk about her new book. I found her discussion of Jewish magic particularly interesting, because the Greek women of my family practised a sort of magic too. I look forward to picking up a copy of her book at Conflux. To order your copy head over to Satalyte Publishing.


Helen suggested I talk about my new book The Wizardry of Jewish Women. I instantly wanted to write you a post about why she suggested it, the contexts, the places, the people. That’s because my new novel is about all these things. I’m living in a world that’s got History and Culture and Much, Much Cooking until I move back into writing mode. When I’m back into writing mode, I’ll be thinking about genders (many genders) so I think you’ve got the simple end of things here.

While The Wizardry of Jewish Women isn’t autobiographical (which is a shame – I really would like those children to be mine!) it borrows a lot from people I’ve known and things I’ve done. Those cold corridors in Parliament House and the meetings and the policy papers that keep one character up at midnight: they’re stolen from my life. How they operate in Judith’s life has nothing to do with my life, however. I transformed my experiences when I gave them to Judith.

I’ve transformed things the whole way through. Even my mother (who makes a guest appearance) has been transformed.

This is nothing new, and it’s nothing unusual. Fiction is not reality. Fiction is invention based on whatever threads we spin and whatever weave we choose to make with those threads. The reason it’s particularly important in this case is that early readers thought the novel was autobiographical. Some thought the historian was me, while others thought the enthusiastic feminist was me. I put both characters in, so that readers could see that just because a historian appears in fiction, doesn’t mean that I’m that historian and just because I use places I know (like Parliament House) doesn’t make it autobiographical.

Some writers thinly disguise their lives and use novels to explain the truths of their existence. Me, I’m more likely to take something I’ve done and make it into something entirely new. My life is the ground under a trampoline, and my novel is the trampoline and my characters only touch the ground by mistake.

A lot of fantasy writers do this, especially those that write at the realist end of fantasy. We take our reality and we transform it. That transformation always happens. It has to happen. Without that transformation, the novel wouldn’t be a fantasy novel. Without that transformation it would be an entirely different story, but also an entirely different kind of story.

To create the transformation I start with things I know (the corridors of Parliament House) and I place them in the world of the novel. I spend a lot of time creating the world of the novel, because it’s the trampoline and without it my characters end up on the ground or suspended in midair. For the world of this novel, for example, I invented a house in Newtown and one in Canberra and one in Ballarat and one in Melbourne. I know the floorplans and the squeaks of the floorboard and the colour of the carpet. None of these houses are real. This is unlike the house in Ms Cellophane, which is quite real. Ms Cellophane is a different novel, and I created the world of the novel differently.

When he launched Wizardry, the wonderful Michael Pryor commented on my complex magic system. It’s complex because it’s real. I didn’t follow writerly instructions on how to invent a magic system, I studied historical magic (wearing my ‘historian’ hat) until I had a good sense of how various forms of Jewish magic would meet at a point in history and create the one my characters discover. In the process, I also learned how Jewish magic was similar and quite, quite different from Christian magic and how the cultural mindset that created it also created what we see as modern scientific thought. Creating the world for this novel changed the way I see our world. It made me realise that my family has no magic tradition due to what it has suffered historically.

The big lesson I learned in creating the world for my novel was that people change and adapt in order to survive. I learned that one of the things I was doing in this novel was re-creating a world that could have been. The magic in the novel was one of the traditions lost to most of Western Judaism due to persecution. We lost a lot more than magic, but the magic was an emotionally safe way for me to talk about the other things.

Survival involves loss and damage and hurt. Even survival of smaller ills is damaging. Feminism and Judaism have a lot in common. They care about seeing the damage and healing the hurts of humanity. They care not just about living, but about living a good life.

This is why my novel is about feminism and about Judaism. I wanted to show what it was like to live hurt and to survive, to make wrong decisions and nevertheless to keep on going, to see life as a continuing challenge and to try to heal. If our reality is the ground under the trampoline, then this is the netting that links the frame to the play area.

Despite the trampoline metaphor, this isn’t a metaphorical novel. Despite the fact that it’s not about me, it’s not so very imaginary. Wizardry is set in a world exceptionally like ours, but with Jewish magic.

I didn’t want to talk about the time of adventure and the time of damage – I wanted to explore how women heal themselves and heal others. It’s a small world. My characters don’t explore the universe, they play on their trampoline. It’s enough for them.

Sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes they turn to the Dark Side. Sometimes they turn to pink tutus. Sometimes they turn to food.

It’s funny that people are asking me about the feminism, for there is as much chocolate as there is feminism. This is because my characters don’t bounce naked. I have to dress them and give them the various parts of their lives, from a giant teapot to a liquor cabinet. I didn’t just research the magic system and I didn’t just build on feminism and Judaism.

Whatever my characters see and feel when they jump on their trampoline is theirs and theirs alone.

New Publication: Casino Five

My story Casino Five was published today by Digital Fiction Publishing!

It’s available on Amazon.

This is the first time I’ve seen a cover designed for a my work, so I’m very excited!


Aussie SF Snapshot: 2016Snapshot Terry Frost


A self-educated old school science fiction fan, Terry Frost has been a factory worker, professional Dungeons and Dragons player, sous-chef and layabout.

After decades of fanzine production in 1995 he won the Best Fan Writer Ditmar Award at Thylacon in Tasmania. In 2012 his Paleo-Cinema Podcast was positively reviewed by The Onion AV Club. He can be heard every second Thursday at 9PM AEST on ABC Local Radio Northern Territory.


Can you tell me about a recent podcast on the Martian Drive-In, discussing personal attacks around Star Trek and Ghostbusters?

I’m really interested in the way things like popular culture, cultural differences, male entitlement and the evolution of our own culture clash online. This is a new phenomenon where damaged people can attack people with whom they disagree in novel, but brutal, ways.

Star Trek Beyond was criticised for the Gay Sulu thing, both for going too far and for not going far enough. Even George Takei disagreed with it, but in a very reasoned and stylish way. That’s a lesser example.

The whole female Ghostbusters are raping my childhood bullshit is a much larger and uglier conflict. It tells us enormous amounts about the people who made this kind of bombastic and insensitive comment. Insensitive and insecure dickheads are something I understand, having been one for way too many decades.

But the Ghostbros fanned the flames of the culture wars, which lead to the sexist and racist attacks on Leslie Jones on Twitter.

So there is this enormous and damaging ideological conflict going on and some of the most visible battlefields are tentpole summer movies, which is, in the wider world of terrorism, social upheaval, economic uncertainty and climate change, an utterly crazy thing.

I went on a long ranty analysis on this in the most recent Martian Drive-In Podcast. Having a predominately one-person podcast gives me that indulgence. Part of the reason I did, is because the most strident evangelists for a cause are those who converted recently. People such as myself.

Also, it’s very cathartic.

How did you start out as a podcaster? If you could record proto-you a cassette and post it back in time, are there any tips you would give him?

I heard about podcasting and started ten years ago, in 2006. I was an old-school fanzine fan but blogs and the interwebs made that method of self-expression a bit silly. I blogged for a while, then I heard about podcasting. With a $12 Dick Smith microphone, my wife Sally and I did thirteen episodes of a chatty, what we’ve been doing podcast called Chew Like Buggery, which people can find on

After Sal got sick of me talking over her all the time when we recorded and quit Chew Like Buggery, I still wanted to podcast so I looked for a format.

I started Paleo-Cinema Podcast – talking about old movies – mostly because the then existing podcasts were all talking about recent films and doing it pretty poorly. I was into old movies, so I started a format of talking about films more than 20 years old. Paleo-Cinema is still going strong but when I hit 100 episodes of that, I decided to do a second podcast, Martian Drive-In Podcast so I could talk about genre films of any vintage.

PCP is coming up toward 200 episodes now and MDIP 100, and I still love doing both of them.

What do you plan to work on next?

I have a regular fortnightly gig talking about movies on ABC Local Radio Northern Territory, which I love. The footprint of ABC NT is 1.4 million square kilometres by radio, and global streaming increases that to the whole planet, which still blows my mind.

I’ve been doing it for six years with a number of presenters and it’s a great way of honing my skills and of sharing a passion for cinema. There’s no point in learning or knowing things if you can’t share it.

I also want to get more guests for the podcasts, something I’m already working on. I’m lousy at organisation but to get the shows to where I want them, I need to get my act together and collaborate more.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I loved the TV series Cleverman and an Australian indigenous movie called Goldstone, written and directed by Ivan Sen, which is one of the best westerns I’ve seen in years.

I also love other fannish podcasters, Galactic Suburbia, The Writer and The Critic and the Coode Street Podcast. We’re all doing our own thing in our own ways and that’s very exciting for all of us.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

John D. MacDonald, my favourite crime writer. He wrote about ecology, the perils of late-stage capitalism and threats to privacy before anyone else. He died in 1985 so he was a man of his time, but I’d love to show him the World as it is now. He’d be awed, delighted and horrified, just like the rest of us.

All the 2016 Aussie SF Snapshots can be found here.

Aussie SF Snapshot: Marlee Jane Ward #2016Snapshot


Marlee Jane Ward is a writer, reader and weirdo from Melbourne, Australia. She grew up on the Central Coast of New South Wales and studied creative writing at the University of Wollongong. She attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2014.

You can find her short stories at InterfictionsTerraform, Apex, The Sockdolager, AurealisMad Scientist Journal, Slink Chunk Press and the In Your Face and Hear Me Roar anthologies.

Her debut novella, Welcome To Orphancorp, won Seizure’s Viva La Novella 3 and is available in paperback and ebook formats. It won the 2016 Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction and the NSW Premiers Award, and was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and the Norma K Hemming Award.


 Can you tell me about your most recent publication? It would be great to hear about your award wins.

I’ve just finished book two of my series that began with Welcome To Orphancorp. Orphancorp was my first book and it was published after it won the Viva La Novella Prize. After that it won the Victorian Premiers Award for Young Adult Fiction. I’ve been amazed at how well it’s been received. The next book in the series is due out early next year and I hope it does as well as the first one!

When you look back on yourself starting out as a proto-writer, are there any tips you would give past-you?

I would tell myself to just write. Even if it’s not perfect, even if it seems silly, no words are ever wasted. Every story teaches you something. They say you should practice something for 10,000 hours to become adept. I wish I’d spent less time worrying that I wasn’t making perfect stories in the beginning and had just written them.

I didn’t write for six years after I finished my creative writing degree. I started blogging in 2012 to get myself back into the mode of writing every day. My early stories are quite obviously early stories, but with practice I’ve gotten better, and I hope to continue learning as I make more.

What do you plan to work on next?

I’m going to write the third book in the Orphancorp series, though after the first book it does stop being about Orphancorp and follows Mirii Mahoney, the main character, out and through the world that I’ve created. I feel like this series is teaching me stretch my work out to longform. The first book was 26,000 words, the second 43,000. Maybe I’ll be able to get to novel-length by the last book! It’s a strange thing, learning with an audience, but I hope they are enjoying this process as much as I am.

After that I have a standalone novel for adults that I’d like to write about a band of former ‘sexy teenage assassins’ that sounds wacky but will actually be about being lost in early adulthood and living with the things you’ve done and cannot change. As well, I’d like to start a new series for young adults and I’m going to do some research on that while I’m in the US this month.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

My fellow Viva La Novella winners, Christy Collins’ The End of Seeing, and Jane Rawson’s Formaldehyde are both wonderful. I also love Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists and I’m really looking forward to her next book, which I’ve heard a bunch about. I’ve got Justin Wooley’s A Town Called Dust and Maria Lewis’ Who’s Afraid? on my to-be-read pile.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Stephen King. He’s so prolific and has taken horror hugely mainstream. I adore his writing voice and the way he tells a story. His non-fiction book On Writing has been really helpful to me learning how to tell stories. I think he’d have a lot to talk about and it would definitely help distract me from my terrible flight phobia. Or maybe he’d make it worse. Either way, he could sign my first edition of The Shining and that would be amazing.

All the 2016 Aussie SF Snapshots can be found here.


Aussie SF Snapshot: Sean Wright #2016Snapshot


SB Wright is a poet, book reviewer, interviewer and podcast producer.  His interest in poetry has been a constant if not always obvious presence. He has maintained his Ditmar Award winning review blog The Adventures of a Bookonaut since 2010.

His audio interviews with Australian and International Speculative Fiction authors can be found at the Award winning  Galactic Chat (which he now produces) a sister podcast to Galactic Suburbia.

SB Wright grew up in the NT and currently works as a primary school teacher in SA. He’s a regular contributor to Tincture Journal, and his poems have featured in INDaily Adelaide, Eureka Street, Bluepepper, Writ Poetry Review and the anthologies The Stars Like Sand and Poetry & Place 2015.


 What are you working on at the moment? This year I decided to take a year off from reviewing books and running Galactic Chat. This was partly for health reasons but also because I felt like I really needed to get serious about devoting some time to writing. I am one of those people that procrastinates with other work so it was a matter of reducing the opportunity to distract myself with other important jobs.

So far the schedule has paid off, I’ve had about 8 publications this year, and about half of those for contributor copy or contributor copy and paid markets. Readers can check out the Year of Poetry project here (

When you look back on yourself starting out as a proto-writer /interviewer/reviewer, are there any tips you would give past-you?

With writing poetry or indeed any writing I’d tell myself to start sooner. I feel that at 41 I really should have started about two decades earlier, I feel like I am playing catch-up a lot of the time.

Can you tell me about a piece of work coming up for publication?

I have a couple of poems coming out in the near future; Bull and The China Pieces in Snap Journal (an initiative of Arts Access Victoria) which is launched on the 19th of August and Confusion and Showgirl Tunes in the September issue of Tincture Journal (a publication that has featured a number of Australian and international Speculative Fiction writers i.e. Jodi Cleghorn, Joyce Chng).

What do you plan to work on next?

I had entertained a little bit of a fantasy about getting a first collection of poems together, but I think a more realistic goal is to perhaps try and work toward a pamphlet of poetry. Although I feel I am writing better poetry than I did last year I don’t know if there’s more than a handful I’d want gracing a first collection. I have to practice patience.

How is your work changing and developing across your career?

I used to really want to write fiction, and speculative fiction at that. I have found that the need to do that has dissipated and been replaced by an enjoyment in writing poetry. Strangely enough none of my poetry seems to spring from speculative fiction inspiration, I don’t know why, as I enjoy the poetry of Jenny Blackford when she strays into that area.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Sorry to bang on about poetry but I have been really enjoying Andy Jackson and Kathryn Hummel’s collections Immune Systems and Poems from Here, respectively. I haven’t read any long fiction chiefly due to health (severely restricted attention span). I would have liked to have read Vigil by Angela Slatter though.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

I think I would have like to have talked to William Stafford, an American mid-western poet whose work I came across a couple of months ago. By all accounts he was a kind generous man with plenty of time for helping young writers. His poetry is deceptively simple and he combines landscape and emotion really well.

All the 2016 Aussie SF Snapshots can be found here.




Aussie SF Snapshot: Aidan Doyle #2016Snapshot



Aidan Doyle is a Melbourne based writer and computer programmer. His first short story was published in Aurealis in 1993. He attended Clarion South in 2009 and has since been published in places such as Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Fireside, Escape Pod, and PodCastle. He has been shortlisted for the Aurealis and XYYZY awards. He has visited more than 90 countries and his experiences include teaching English in Japan, interviewing ninjas in Bolivia and going ten-pin bowling in North Korea. He is an Associate Editor (evil slush monkey) at PodCastle and is also the author of The Science Fiction Writer’s Hierarchy of Doubt., @aidan_doyle


Can you tell me about your most recent publication?

The Bee Tamer’s Final Performance was recently published as a PodCastle short story audio original. It’s the tale of a mutiny aboard a circus fleet run by bees who live in the skulls of undead clowns. I’m ridiculously fond of it and there has been some wonderful listener feedback.

The Bee Tamer's Final Performance_emoji.png

I also had an interactive fiction story published in sub-Q. Kotodama is like a choose your own adventure story where you take on the role of a robot sent to deal with an outbreak of dangerous poetry in Tokyo.


What else have you been up to lately in the speculative sphere?

One of my blog posts earlier this year got some attention after Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi and others tweeted links to it. The Science Fiction Writer’s Hierarchy of Doubt explains why true happiness will always be out of your reach.

I recently started slush reading for PodCastle, which has been an interesting experience. I’m enjoying seeing the submission process from the other side. It has also reinforced how you can’t afford to have a slow opening with a short story.

I have also been having too much fun turning my stories into emoji. Since I wanted to learn how to automate the processing of word documents (I work as a computer programmer), I wrote a windows program to extract key words from documents and output an image file with matching emoji.

What’s coming up next for you?

I have a short story coming out in Daily Science Fiction called The Robot’s Guide to Online Dating. Practical advice and useful tips for robots trying to navigate the baffling world of online dating.

My story Mr. Nine and the Gentleman Ghost is going to be reprinted in a forthcoming anthology called The Museum of All Things Awesome and that Go Boom, which is one of my favourite names for an anthology.

I’ve just started work on a new middle grade novel. It’s like The Seven Samurai with dinosaurs.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Rose Hartley’s No Other Men in Mitchell is one of my favorite stories I’ve read this year. I read a lot of short stories and this one has really stuck with me. Beautiful writing and haunting images.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on along plane trip and why?

John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez. They wrote the screenplay for Snakes on a Plane.

Museum of All Things Awesome - Cover.jpg

All the 2016 Aussie SF Snapshots can be found here.


Aussie SF Snapshot: Rowena Specht-Whyte #2016Snapshot


ROWENA SPECHT-WHYTE worked as a commercial litigation lawyer for ten years (in Australia and the UK), while writing music and stories. She left the law to be an active agent for change, and is currently studying a Masters degree in Communication for Social Change to qualify as an independent practitioner in that field. Her interests focus on combatting social inequalities and improving the possibilities for disadvantaged groups in developed countries like Australia (particularly in relation to mental health, queer rights and women’s rights). In particular, she is exploring the ability of speculative fiction in all media to empower the voice of marginalised and disadvantaged people and communities. Rowena had her first short story, “Touched”, published in 2012 in the anthology Deck the Halls. She is currently working on short stories and a novel in the fantasy and horror genres, and has been a three-time judge for the Aurealis Awards. She was the singer and joint songwriter for the Brisbane progressive rock band “never” for five years and she continues to write original music and collaborates with musicians worldwide.

Twitter: @Rowena_SW

Rowena Photo

Tell us about your most recent publication and your experience judging the Aurealis Awards.

I first became a judge of the Aurealis Awards in 2009 and during the process we read over 120 short stories to decide the finalists and winner. I was a judge again in 2010 (53 novels) and 2014 (approx. 120 stories), and every time I was astounded by the incredible quality of the work in Australia. I was honoured to read all eligible published works for each judging year, rather than (as it would be if I weren’t on the panel) just those that were brought to my attention through marketing or recommendations from friends and other writers. The value of the Aurealis Awards is that all panelists do have to read the full breadth of entries, which means that the work awarded could be written by an established or brand new author. That is incredibly important. I recommend applying to become a judge of the Aurealis Awards to any writer or reader of speculative fiction.

My first (and only – so far) publication was in 2012: my horror story “Touched” in the anthology “Deck the Halls”, part of the Literary Mix Tapes’ series, the brainchild of Brisbane writer/editor/publisher extraordinaire, Jodi Cleghorn. “Touched” tells the story of a queer mannequin who falls in love with a young woman, to obsessive lengths. Since that publication, I have been working on several short stories and a novel. Finishing them is the trick!

Tell me about your past work and your Masters in Communication for Social Change?

In early 2014 while I was living in London, I suffered a mental health crisis (my most serious, though not my first) which meant I could no longer work. I had to return to Australia and try and find a new future. I have always been interested in how speculative fiction can create new and different perspectives for the reader, and in this way, can change that reader’s understanding of our reality, and I believe the political element of speculative fiction and other art is crucial to society’s progression. I wanted to find a way to build on my experience in the legal profession, my background in psychology, and my interest in the political and the arts and, purely by chance, I found the Masters in Communication for Social Change at the University of Queensland, which allows me to do just that. My Masters’ study is giving me greater skills to design and eventually enact social change programs in Australia, and I hope to include speculative fiction across all media as part of these programs, with a view to empowering and encouraging more diverse voices. As a queer woman, with mental illness and chronic illness, I have some understanding of disadvantages and I am also alive to my privileges, particularly being a white person in Australia, as well as someone of a high level of education. These lived experiences and understandings heavily inform my creative work and my academic work through my Masters and I believe that speculative fiction has a very strong place in wider social change on these issues.

For example, while there is an increase in representation by the numbers of disadvantaged groups in media, both writing and TV and film, there is a dearth of authentic representation, by which I mean representation that resonates with authentic voice. I am interested in exploring and developing participatory media social change processes with marginalised or under-represented/inaccurately-represented groups and working with creators to form connections and increase understanding of the authentic voice of these groups. As a priority, of course, marginalised and disadvantaged people with artistic skill and ability need to be encouraged to themselves create art and express their voices directly through that art, and the overwhelming structural problems such disadvantaged and marginalised people face in doing so need to be challenged. However, I think there is a place for creators to learn and write disadvantaged and marginalised groups into their art, but if doing so, these creators must be engaged in an ongoing communication with these groups. I would like to facilitate that sort of communication as I believe it will not only enrich our art, but also our society.

I have had the opportunity to talk about these issues on various panels over the last year, most recently at Contact 2016 – the 55th Australian National Speculative Fiction Convention, where I discussed representation of queer people in spec fic, and the culture wars surrounding the Hugo Awards, which of course are symptoms of our wider societal politics surrounding diversity. I am engaged in a public conversation regarding feminism, queer rights and mental health more widely as well, and appeared on the headline panel of “The Future of Feminism in Australia” at the One Woman Project’s Brisbane’s Finest Feminists in July 2016, among others.

I hope also that as I am more vocal about my mental health conditions, chronic health conditions, and experiences as a queer woman in Australia and overseas, this will allow people to recognise that they are not alone in their experiences or to empathise and understand these different perspectives.

What do you plan to work on next?

I am working on an urban fantasy novel set in London about Melody Carter, a queer woman who has recently started drug dealing with vampires to get some quick cash. It’s OK, you see, because she hates vampires, she’s only doing it for a short time to tide herself over, and it’s not at all because the head dealer, Holly, is great in bed. Suddenly, Holly is in the wind, her day-job is on the line, and she has to make a terrible decision.

I started planning and writing about Melody when I was living in London and just prior to my mental health crisis. The writing stalled, though the characters and scenes have been building themselves quietly in the corners of my mind over the years since. I’ve been nibbling away at scenes through my recovery and I’m nearly ready to dive back in.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

I absolutely loved “Lament for the Afterlife” by Lisa L Hannett ( and also the Australian vampire duology of “Blood and Dust” and “The Big Smoke” by Jason Nahrung ( I am very excited by the anthology “Defying Doomsday” by Twelfth Planet Press which contains stories with protagonists who have a disability, chronic illness or mental illness; an incredibly rare event and which everyone should read! ( My To Be Read pile of brilliant Australian authors is ridiculously huge, but next I will sink my teeth into “Vigil” by Angela Slatter and I can’t wait! (

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Kameron Hurley is my first pick, because I adore her feminism and I would love to just hear her talk for the entire trip. I mean, seriously, she could just read me her recent book “The Geek Feminist Revolution” and I would follow her around like a kitten. She’s amazing.

All the 2016 Aussie SF Snapshots can be found here.