Story Matrices - Interview with Gillian Polack



Story Matrices is out April 5, 2022.

Order online on our website or in all the usual places.

Watch the YouTube Launch here, from March 24, 2022.


You can read Gillian's article on her research, here: Part 1 and Part 2.


Let’s start from the beginning. Who were the writers who inspired you to become an author?


Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess had a character who told stories and I wanted to be her when I was seven. I was partway there, because my middle name is Sarah...


What is the very first piece of fiction you ever wrote?


I don’t know what the first piece I wrote was, but I still have a notebook from primary school that has fiction it it. I keep the location of this notebook a secret. The only information I’ll share is that the teacher corrected my grammar and punctuation. All these years later, I still want to tell her she was wrong.


What is the hardest part of writing, in your experience?


The courage to write the best possible. Holding back out of caution changes the story from the dream to something far more mundane.


Tell me about your book. What was the inspiration behind it?


There were things I needed to understand – how the nicest people can also be bigots, how the most caring people can nevertheless fail to think through the outcomes of apparently simple decisions. I wanted to know how this applies to story, because stories are so important for so many of us. In this very difficult world, I need to understand and to explain.


Think back at your debut book. How did you approach the ‘getting published’ process? Any tips, resources that you can share with our readers?


I didn’t have confidence when my first novel was rejected. It was the nicest rejection possible. The first letter from the publisher said “This should be a trilogy” and the following one said “Our US and UK desks think it’s not right for an international market.” I didn’t have any networks and interpreted this to mean I was not that competent. That novel was never published. My first novel, then, was a novel I wrote for me, purely for me. I was working on a team piece and we swapped writing to get a sense of each other’s styles. That’s how it was seen by a publisher.


How did you find the publishing process, in general?


I love some aspects of publishing. Working with a good editor brings the best out of my work and seeing the difference and admiring the polish makes me happy. I hate others. As I grow more experienced, I discover why some writers tell dream stories of perfect experiences in publication. It’s because those loveable aspects of publishing are more than balanced by a lot of uncertainty and an extraordinary amount of work.


What do you think is the status of publishing today? I’m referring to issues such as representation, diversity, etc.


It very much depends on where one lives. It shouldn't. Publishing is international. The barriers that stop this person or that being visible (Who gets reviewed? Who gets taken off the slush pile? Who is seen as saleable by agents?) operate locally, regionally, nationally and internationally however, and they’re different at each point. The closer one lives to a publishing hub and the closer one is to the mainstream culture in the hub, the fewer barriers there are.


What is your take on social media, when it comes to being an author? Do you think that an author should have at least one channel of communication with the readers?


I think it depends very much on the author. I love some types of special media and am very active on them. I also love conventions and conferences. I’ve been chatty all my life and being with people gives me energy. I need quiet time for researching and developing my work and writing, but I have an on/off switch for being with people and being alone. Some writers are always ‘on’ with anything that involves others, and they do extraordinarily well with social media. For other writers it’s a real burden. This has nothing to do with the quality of our work.

How we use social media is quite a different matter. I should write my thoughts on this down in detail one day, but right now I’m still learning what they are. How do writers maintain their privacy and even their safety on social media? Why do some writers get doxxed and others not?


What are you working on at the moment?


I’m working on two things right now, one for research and one for fiction. The research is the next step in Story Matrices. I’m examining quite specific case studies of how culture operates in fantasy novels (fairy tale retellings). I’m not even close to writing my next novel yet. I’m having so much fun on the research, though! I’ve been wondering for a while what culture ethnic and religious groups lose when they are forced to flee or when most of the people they know are murdered and all their belongings stolen. I thought this was an unanswerable question but I think I’ve found a way of describing at least some of the lost culture and how parts of it can be regained. I also think it would be extraordinary fun to write a novel where the characters are doing just that.


About Gillian Polack:


Dr Gillian Polack is a Jewish-Australian science fiction and fantasy writer, researcher and editor and is the winner of the 2020 A Bertram Chandler Award. Her 2019 novel The Year of the Fruit Cake won the 2020 Ditmar for best novel and was shortlisted for best SF novel in the Aurealis Awards. She wrote the first Australian Jewish fantasy novel (The Wizardry of Jewish Women).


Gillian is a Medievalist/ethnohistorian, currently working on how novels transmit culture. Her work on how writers use history in their fiction (History and Fiction) was shortlisted for the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review.

You can find Gillian's fiction, The Green Children Help Out, here.


Discover Gillian's blog here, and follow her on Twitter, @GillianPolack.


Story Matrices is out April 5, 2022.

Order online on our website or in all the usual places.

Watch the YouTube Launch here, from March 24, 2022.

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