2020 Snapshot: Gillian Polack

Dr Gillian Polack is a writer, editor, historian and teacher, with doctorates in both history and creative writing. She has over a dozen books published in Australia and overseas. Her most recent novel, The Year of the Fruit Cake was released in 2019 to excellent reviews and she will have two novels (Poison and Light and Borderlanders) released in Australia and New Zealand in 2020. Her novels are mostly contemporary fiction with fantastical elements or science fiction. Several of her books have been short-listed for awards and her monograph History and Fiction is a standard reference in university courses. She blogs for the History Girls, Book View Cafe, and for Medievalists.net. and has a Patreon page. Gillian is currently researching the role fiction plays in cultural transmission. In her copious spare time she practises sarcasm, cooking, reading and narrative analysis.

1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

I’d like to tell you about three novels.

a) The Year of the Fruit Cake (IFWG, 2019). I was angry that year. I also spent an inordinate time in hospital. My eyes ached when I read, so I did a lot of thinking. I thought about the way a great deal of SF depends on a male narrative and a fit and healthy protagonist to make the events in the story credible. The ANU turned sour for me the moment I was able to teach again, so, out of hospital, I had no money but a lot of time. I was even more angry than when I had nearly died, early in the year.

The novel that emerged had as protagonist an alien evaluating humankind who, instead of being a Keanu Reeves figure, is a perimenopausal angry and political Canberra woman full of sarcasm, friends and chocolate… I doubt I have another novel like this in me. I’m surprised I had that one.

b) The novel caught up in first the bushfires then the mayhem of 2020 is Poison and Light. I wrote that a long ago. A publisher sat on it for eight years and I’d forgotten how much fun it was.

It’s part of Shooting Star’s 2020 lineup. I wanted to show how much fun history could be.

The last refugee from Earth flees to a planet where the inhabitants are ignoring anything off-planet, including a galactic war. Their impossibly stupid and brilliant tool for ignoring the galaxy is to reinvent the eighteenth century.

This novel has highwaymen and broadside publishing, and poor terraforming and… so much. If it sells I’ll do a sequel. If it doesn’t, I’ll huddle the notes for one to myself and dream of that world a bit longer.

c) Odyssey is bringing out a novel very soon. It’s called Borderlanders. I won’t tell you about what’s in the book, except that I invented a library I want for myself, please. I want to tell you how the novel was written.
current research led me to a moment in June 2018 when I knew how to write a novel with a chief protagonist who had physical disabilities and was female. It was possible to have her not die, become a supporting character, have her disability disappear at moments of great peril, or be cured.

announced this on social media.

Social media responded. People wanted to read this novel, please. I told them it would be a Gillianish novel. They still wanted it. Thirty people gave me parts of their life history and others supported me on Patreon to give me time to write it. I was so overwhelmed by this that I lived on possibly less than I should in the summer of 2018-9, but I finished the novel.

Next step is finding out what readers think of it. I admit, I’m nervous.

2. What has been the best publishing experience of your career so far?

Working with Vonda N McIntyre (who I miss so much) and Judith Tarr and Katherine Kerr and around fifty other amazing writers first in Book View Café and now, as friends. I learned so much from them. I’m still learning from them. They are the most generous and the kindest writers, every one.

3. Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge? 

One is hard, but since I gave you a long list for my own books I really shouldn’t cheat here. I’ll just say Elizabeth Knox’s The Absolute Book. It’s New Zealand’s year and one of their best writers has written a book worth international attention.

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