Interview with the Author : Gillian Polack

About the Author : Gillian Polack

 1. Tell us about yourself.
It’s so hard to sum myself up in a few sentences. I mostly end up saying things like,
“I’m a medieval historian”
or “I can be really rude in Old French if provoked”
or “I write novels that  don’t fit into categories”
or “I helped found Women’s History Month in Australia” or any one of a thousand other things.
What you need to know about me in terms of The Art of Effective Dreaming is that I used to be a morris dancer, that I can sing every single one of the songs in the novel, but that I can’t sing any of them well, and I live in Canberra.

2. How do you feel about being part of Satalyte’s Women’s month?
I’m entirely delighted. I really was involved in Women’s History Month since the moment it first began in Australia and I’m in such excellent writing company this Satalyte’s women’s month. Sally Odgers in particular is someone I’ve admired for a long time.

3. Do you feel there is any advantages or disadvantages to being a Female author, or is it totally irrelevant?
I wish I didn’t understand statistics and reports. It would be so easy to say that it’s irrelevant, but it isn’t. Women are not at all disadvataged in some areas of the fiction world, but in others, such as in the literary corner and in the hard SF corner, it’s much, much tougher to get noticed than as a man. All I want is a level playing field in gender terms. In my perfect universe all writing finds its perfect readership, regardless of the gender of the writer.

 4. If you could have written any book, other than your own, which would you choose?
The single book I’ve always wanted to have written is Sterne’s ‘Tristram Shandy. I think that’s why I included bits of it in ‘Langue[dot]doc 1305′.  There’s a glorious daftness to it that makes the glorious daftness of most other fiction seem pale and depressing by comparison. Alas, ‘The Art of Effective Dreaming’ has no daftness at all, and hardly anything of glory: it’s just not that kind of novel.

5. Is there any way you would like to see the publishing industry in Australia grow or change in the future?
It’s growing and changing right now. We don’t really know what its shape will be in ten years time, or even five. 

I know some of the things we need to develop as those changes happen. We need ways to bring just a bit more security to authors. The old securities are going (smaller or no advances, very few publishers that develop careers, fewer editors with enough job security to be able to reach other and create a buzz of learning and creation in their vicinity) and no new ones are taking their place yet. 

If we don’t get new securities, then writing fiction may be a career for the well-heeled or for those who have the physical energy to hold down two jobs or who have independent means or a supportive family. Most novelists may settle for their work being average instead of being amazing, for there won’t be the time and there won’t be the editors. We’ll lose many important voices if we keep going in this direction. My personal brief includes much time spent on teaching writers from all backgrounds. I’m not terribly good at sitting back and waiting for things to change on their own, sometimes.

About your new book

   1. Tell us about your book
Think of the moment just before you fall asleep, when your dream is so very real that you can step into it and it can become your life. This is the story of one person who does just that. Fay is not the nicest person you’ll ever meet, or the most interesting. She can dream, though, better than almost anyone. She shapes her dreams with bits of folk song and with her favourite fairy stories. And she starts dreaming everywhere, all the time.  What else can she do, when her daytime life is so very drab?  But is what she’s doing really dreaming? What happens if her folktales are real?

  1.    What inspired you to write this book?
    I moved to Canberra and everyone I knew outside Canberra instantly told me how boring it was. It’s a palimpsest city: it is different on the (placid) surface to what it actually is underneath. I’ve written another novel about that underneath, and Satalyte will publish it in due course (bushranger ghosts! vampire cats!), but The Art of Effective Dreaming is me asking “How can I stir people who think Canberra is boring?” I decided that it would be a nice practical joke to write a book about a woman being bored in Canberra. Fay was bored for reasons that had nothing to do with Canberra – that was the point. Then I decided, “I need to write a novel that contains dead morris dancers.” Those were my two inspirations.

I started writing it a long time ago. I was still in the public service and I was still a morris dancer when I began (although not when I finished). I wove some small elements of these things into the book, and I actually wrote at least a fifth of the novel during work lunchtimes, just because. 

  1. Can you name your favourite character in your book?
    I’m not sure I have a favourite character in this one. Maybe the prince who keeps not-appearing. 
  1. Do you have any ambitions or goals for your next book?
    This is a trick question, for it could refer to the book that’s coming out next, or the book that I’m writing next. My aim for the book that’s coming out later in the year is for everyone to see that it’s quite different from most of my other novels. It’s closest to ‘Langue[dot]doc 1305′, but it’s still quite different. I shall leave that bit of information as a lure…

My next-book-that-I’m-currently-researching, is set late in the seventeenth century, when English culture regarded magic and science and religion about equally. My current ambition is to research it properly! By popular request, one element of the research is communal and anyone can join in. I’m posting recipes on my blog once a month and readers and foodies (and maybe readers who are foodies) are making the recipes and commenting. 

5. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors out there?
Don’t tell us you’re a writer when you have an unfinished manuscript: write and finish a work and get it into the hands of publishers. That way, when you say, “I’m a writer”, you have a solid answer for people who ask, “What have you written?” It also means I get to read what you write rather sooner than if it weren’t quite written yet, which is a good thing. 

Also, don’t send your novels to a writer unasked (even if you know them well) and say “I want you to read this.” If you need someone to read a work professionally, find the right person and pay them, or join a crit group. Or be consistent and get your plumber to sort out your pipes and your lawyer to read your draft will for the same payrate. If someone asks for it, that’s a different matter. It’s a matter of courtesy. 

Interviewed by Alyssa Wickramasinghe

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