Gillian Polack guest posts on SF Signal about How a Speculative Fiction Writer Writes Non-Fiction.
I have three new books and one of them is not like the others.
Two of them are modern urban fantasy of my peculiar sort. I tend to write novels that are hard to categorise – I call them one thing, my publisher describes them differently, reviewers describe them differently again. There are two of them, that’s the important thing.
The first is my once-cursed novel (The Art of Effective Dreaming), written many years ago and finally brought into print (the curse made Wikipedia – it must be real)! It’s about dreaming, and realities, and is an inverted quest with a central character who was designed to be unlikeable. It struck me years ago that the sort of person who crosses the boundaries between worlds might do so because they aren’t easy to like, and so I wrote a novel about it.
I wrote the second (The Time of the Ghosts) much more recently. It’s about Canberra, and ghosts, and history and has a teenage girl doing many interesting things, but at the heart of it are three women facing both old age and evil. I tell people it’s my ‘elderly women as superheroes’ novel.
The third contains youth and age. It contains ghosts and magical creatures. It contains cities (but not Canberra) and farms and textiles. It’s non-fiction and it represents the other side of myself. I am one of those beings (there are quite a few of us, hidden in between realities) who is both historian and fiction writer.
The Middle Ages Unlocked was begun because writers and fans said “We need this book and you are going to write it.” In the end, it wasn’t just me. Various friends have come and gone from the project, but the final book was co-written with a German archaeologist, Dr Katrin Kania. We share fandom as well as the Middle Ages.
People ask me “How does a speculative fiction novelist write non-fiction?” For me, it’s part of my natural geekishness. I did my MA in Toronto at the Centre for Medieval Studies. I like to think of the CMS as nerd-central for Medieval Studies. I did my PhD in Sydney, which is not nerd central for Medieval Studies but which gave me the freedom to research what I wanted to, which is another sign of geekdom.
Because writers and history fans demanded their book, I became a generalist who was a specialist who was a generalist who was a specialist. Or is it the other way round? Am I a specialist who’s a generalist who’s a specialist who’s a generalist? Either way, it’s been exceptionally handy both for me as a writer and for other writers who want to use the Middle Ages.
When it came to getting the book into print The Middle Ages Unlocked, the publisher said “This is a work for a wider audience.” It was designed for writers. It meets many of the needs of fiction writers. But it also fills a hole in the market. A whole heap of other people wanted to learn about that particular range of subjects. And they wanted the research to be solid and to not have condescended unto. They wanted it to be easy to read and to be a trove of knowledge. In short, they wanted a book written by specialists, and it had to be as easy to read as if one of the writers were also a novelist.
See the full post here on SF Signal’s website.