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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Author Interview - Gillian Polack - Langue [dot] doc 1305

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gillian Polack. Her latest book ' Langue [dot] doc 1305' has just been released and it looks to be a thrilling read. 

There are people involved.
That’s the first mistake.
Scientists were never meant to be part of history.
Anything in the past is better studied from the present.
It’s safer.
When a team of Australian scientists – and a lone historian –
travel back to St-Guilhem-le-D├ęsert in 1305 they discover being impartial,
distant and objective just doesn’t work when you’re surrounded
by the smells, dust and heat of a foreign land.
They’re only human after all.
But by the time Artemisia is able to convince
others that it’s time to worry,
it’s already too late.
 ‘Viscerally powerful, deeply felt, strongly written:  Langue[dot]doc 1305 challenges reader expectations of time travel, of ‘Grim-dark’ and of mediaeval life and brings a haunting, authentic voice both to the past and to the struggles facing the present.’
~ Kari Sperring, author of Living With Ghosts 

What inspired Langue[dot]doc 1305?

It wasn’t so much an inspiration as being caught in a cleft stick. I’m a Medievalist and I’m a writer and I swore I’d never write anything straight historical. I’d stick to fantasy and keep my two worlds safely apart. I wrote the novel as part of a doctorate, though (third novel, second doctorate, but not the first time I’ve eaten my words) and it was really important to question the deep truths I thought I believed in. Keeping those two worlds apart was one of those truths and it turned out to be not a truth at all, but a giant fear of worlds colliding. The worlds didn’t collide in the end, but merged gracefully.

And this is not the answer anyone expects when they ask that question! “I wrote this book because I said I never would.”

·         Can you tell me a little bit about the main characters?

The novel is an ensemble creature. There are two casts (and a few extras off to the side). There is the time travel team, led by the uber-brilliant Luke Mann and his offsider Dr Sylvia Smith. The historian (who explains the past to us, is Artemisia Wormwood. She’s not at all the same kind of historian as me, which made her quite a challenge to write ) – Medievalists are specialists and working out how the limits of her knowledge were different to mine wasn’t straightforward. There is a whole bunch of scientists, there is a doctor/cook and there’s a handyman time-travelling under the hill and they’re all far too strong personalities to be confined so tightly. It brings out the worst in everyone.

The leader in the valley (the townsfolk in the valley and they actually belong in 1305) never actually appears, but of those who do appear I love Guilhem-the-smith most and Fiz almost-most. Fiz is an adolescent who doesn’t know he’s bored. Guilhem-the-smith bears the weight of the world and deals with it quite calmly, which is a good thing, given his neighbours. There’s also Guilhem-the-knight, who only thinks he bears the weight of the world and really needs to get over himself.
What drives you write?

I love meeting all these people in my mind. I love putting them in odd situations and seeing how they react. All my novels, whether they’re fantasy, SF, or something else are about small lives and how big they are for the people who live in them. This means I get to play out problems that I see in the bigger world around me and find out what happens when I give them time in the sun. It also means I get to turn traditional narratives inside out (gently) and see how they work.

       Do you have a name for your computer?

Sometimes I have names for my desktop computer. They’re not polite. This is when my computer does idiot things like download an update and need reconfiguration when I’m on a tight deadline, or lose the internet in the middle of final edits which I’m doing live with my editor.

My netbook is called “portaoffice” mainly because Sharon Penman calls her computers exciting names and they all do vile things to her, so I thought that if I called my travelling computer something unexciting and reliable it would behave accordingly. So far it’s worked.
  How did you come up with the title?

I didn’t! My title was exceptionally dull and Janeen Webb suggested that Langue.doc 1305. My publisher changed the full stop, to make it less confusing to look up. It’s such a wonderful pun – I love this title!

·         What was it like getting into the nitty gritty of 1305 France, was it hard coming back to 2014?

Because I’m a middle-aged Medievalist, I’ve been in Medieval France on and off for 25 years, so it wasn’t hard at all. What was hard was convincing everyone that I’m not still there…

  What type of books do you like reading?

So many! I love reading. My paper library is about 6,500 books and my e-library is many times that and it’s not enough, for I am a sad book addict. Or a happy book addict. A book addict, anyhow.

I read broadly, and with great pleasure. I always come back to speculative fiction and to favourite authors. I have hundreds of favourite authors, though, and they range from Georgette Heyer to Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita is intense and luminous and dangerous) and George Gissing and Jane Austen. Favourite Australian new books include a collection of short stories by Kim Wilkins (The year of Ancient Ghosts) and a spectacular novel by Alysse Near (Fairytales for Wilde Girls).

 What was your favourite chapter (or part) to write and why?

I remember that my favourite parts of the writing were immersive but each time I think of a moment I’m back in it. Comparing one with another is tough. When Artemisia explains to Geoff how people in the Middle Ages might see the sky that the two of them are looking at during that Medieval moment, even though I was at my desk in Canberra it felt as if I was lying on the ground and looking up at that sky and feeling the soft breeze. I knew the sky because an astronomer-friend – Lara Eakins showed me those skies, and I knew the land and the breeze because I’ve visited them, but in that moment, for my writing, the research came together and created something quite different. When I’m writing a novel, I’m inside the world of the novel to an extent and every bit is both wonderful (being in that world) and quite difficult (translating what’s happening in that world into a story for readers). What this means, though, is that by the time the book is published I’m in a different place entirely.

 Artemisia is a beautiful and unusual name, how did you find it?

I’ve seen it as a name in Italian works for ages (Artemisia Gentileschi was a famous artist, for instance), and I’ve loved it for ages. I needed a name with a twist and it had to be an Italian name, so Artemisia was perfect. It also meant she got to choose a surname that is actually a pun. Why did she need to choose a surname and what joke did she make and why is that joke a bit bitter? For that you’ll have to read the book, I’m afraid.

 What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?

I’m not sure that one remains sane as a writer. I would rather be grounded than sane, anyhow. In touch with reality, not necessarily a part of it. For this, I have friends. I also try to remember that there is an outside world and that the worlds in my mind are just invented, and that tomorrow could well be even more interesting than yesterday, and that I need to ring my mother at least once a day. Also, chocolate helps.

  If you could have a cuppa with anyone from history, who would it be?

I want to meet the ancestress who left London with many children and came to Australia 150+ years ago. I have her eyes and I look at her picture and think “What an interesting woman.” She has an amazing presence in the single photo we have of her. I would love to drink tea with her.

  Do you have a writing routine that you need to do before you start to write?

Sometimes. Each book develops its own work-patterns and two of my novels have demanded routines. One was exactly the opposite though (that was The Art of Effective Dreaming, which Satalyte will release next year) and insisted on being written anywhere and anytime. With Effective Dreaming, I had scraps of notes on all kinds of strange material and the novel changed whenever I entered them into my system.

The only thing all my novels have in common is a little spreadsheet Jennifer Fallon gave me. I track y deadlines and my wordcount. This is more a signing-off routine (do a wordcount and update the spreadsheet at the end of a session) than a starting-up one.

  How much research goes into your writing?

Impossible amounts. Seriously. I’m a researcher the same way I’m a wordsmith. It’s something I’ve just done for such a long time I don’t know how not to research or how to quantify it. I collect possible material for novels wherever I am. I have a self-created picture library, for instance, just in case I need material for something, later on. Occasionally those pictures get published. A couple of my photos were modified for use on the cover of Langue[dot]doc 1305, for instance. I’m not a photographer, though – I’m a writer and a historian and love the research side of both.

    What would be your ideal century and why?

I used to have a clear answer to this. I always said “twelfth century” because it was a time of pivotal cultural change. So many cool things happened and they produced a culture that eventually became ours. Right now, though, I’m fascinated by the seventeenth century. I think I don’t love centuries, but humans and when humans do interesting things, I get fascinated and the times and places I’m looking at become my new BFF. I’d be a lousy time traveller!

 How did you become interested in history?

I wish I knew the answer to this. I’ve always been interested in history. By ‘always,’ I mean that when I was a child I dragged my family into museums and looked for old buildings and asked questions about clothes that were different to the ones we were waring and jumped up and down with joy when I discovered pre-electric irons. Seriously, I did. When I was ten, I think it was. A country museum in rural Victoria had a display cabinet with irons that covered a century of change. I think my family thought I was mad. This latter bit hasn’t changed. And I still get excited in museums.

 What makes this book different to the other books written about the Languedoc?

It’s the Middle Ages of historians (or as close to that as I could get) not the Middle Ages of high fantasy or grimdark. Also, it’s the Languedoc of someone who has been there and asked many questions. And it’s unashamedly Australian – there’s even two-up. I can’t think of another time travel novel that has two-up, much less a time travel novel set in the Languedoc.

Has the dog ever eaten your manuscript?

No, but the cat once ripped up a few pages to make a nest. I don’t know why cats like to nest in fiction (or indeed, why they nest at all), but it shows they have good taste. I can’t have a cat now (I live on a major road) and my stories are the worse for it.

Thank you Gillian for enticing us with your wonderful novel. 

 Gillian's book is now available to be ordered in store or if you are after the E-Book version then head over to the Satalyte Publishing Website and they will help you out :D 

Gillian lives in Canberra, Australia and has three published novels, two anthologies and a historical cookbook. One of the novels (Ms Cellophane/Life through Cellophane) was a Ditmar Finalist, as was one of the anthologies (Baggage). She was awarded the Best Achievement Ditmar in 2010. Her PhDs are in Medieval History and in Creative Writing and she claims she needs a third to ‘round things out.’
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