Hi folks. Gillian Polack is a multiple PhD holding teacher, writer and editor from Canberra, Australia. She has a number of novels in print, and numerous short stories. She is the co-author, along with Katrin Kania, of the epic tome of history, The Middle Ages Unlocked: A guide to life in medieval England 1050 – 1300.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
GP: I live in Canberra, but am from Melbourne (via various other places, including a rather wonderful all-too-brief time living in Paris) and I am rather exotic. This exoticism appears in my fiction, often in invented incidents based on real life. I generally don’t tell people which bits of my fiction are based on my past history and which are invented, however.
Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where you something mad you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?
GP: I love reading some types of horror. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is one of my favourite stories, for instance, and Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.” Quiet stuff that makes you rethink your reality and walk in quiet fear. I don’t often intentionally write a horror story, however. When reviewers started to call Ms Cellophane a horror novel I was very surprised. For me the horror is an inevitable part of everyday life, and I write about people they usually have everyday lives. If you want to know why horror is part of my everyday… it’s a long story.
Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?
GP: I don’t have a single favourite, but all those that I love have similar characteristics. They’re all very down to earth and grounded and ordinary and they’re all disquieting. The everyday is terrifying. I want to say that I love this because it reflects my own life experience (which it does), but I’ve loved this kind of story ever since I was a child. I like mimetic tales and I like reality turned inside-out with a word. I love the cleverness of it and the brilliant writing that one needs to do this successfully.
Q. What is your favourite horror film?
GP: The Sixth Sense.
Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?
GP: My novels include:
The Wizardry of Jewish Women (out next month)
The Time of the Ghosts
The Art of Effective Dreaming
Of the things I’ve edited, my favourite is Baggage, which is quite dark.
And just a couple of my short stories (my favourites of the darker ones – I’ve had 17 published):
“Someone’s Daughter” Next CSfG Publishing 2013 (Finnish translation, Alienisti, 2015)
“Passports” In Bad Dreams 2, Eneit Press 2009
“Happy Faces for Happy Families” Encounters, CSFG Publishing 2004
I’ve also got a truckload of non-fiction, mostly articles (but three books), some of which discusses dark fiction.
Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling? E.g Film, Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook
GP: I prefer novels. I like getting under someone’s skin and novels are wonderful for this.
Q. What are you working on at the minute?
GP: I’m working on a novel set in the 17th century, when magic, science and religion were all equally balanced and a small group of friends decide they want to travel. it’s not horror. But it may become so. I have to wait and see.
Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?
GP: I don’t have a single favourite writer. I have hundreds. This makes it hard to name just one, for I’ll turn myself inside out trying to decide between Tepper and Warren and Sperring and all the others. There are so many good books in the world!
Q. Are there any projects involving other women that you’re looking forward to or would like to get on board with?
GP: I love working on group projects and contributing a story, or editing. In my dreams, I get to do a follow-up to Baggage, for instance, or write an entry for projects like Letters to Tiptree. I want to create a shared dark universe some day and have different writers explore it, the way they did with New Ceres once-upon-a-time.
Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?
GP: My TBR pile is (unsurprisingly) huge. It’s a bookshelf and it’s a file on the computer. I have about 50 works from the 17th century and I have the last volumes of a whole bunch of trilogies I never managed to finish eg be Aliette de Bodard and by Lavie Tidhar. This is the year when I find out how things end.
Q. What films are you looking forward to?
GP: My guilty pleasure is superhero films, so I look forward to all of them, no matter how good or bad they are. I particularly look forward to films with female superhero leads, but I find I have to look forward for a very, very long time.
Q. What challenges have you encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the challenges have you faced that are complicated by your gender?
GP: There is the horror-in-everyday life being there, of course. That ought to go without saying. If I can’t walk at night alone, safely, then writing about it in fiction isn’t writing horror, it’s writing my reality.
One of the problems I face is that when male writers focus on characterisation they’re praised for it. When female writers do the same, they’re told it’s women’s writing. Obviously I write women’s writing… but if I had taken a male pseudonym it would be reviewed and people would talk about it. This really bugs me. it also means that many of my potential readers have no idea that I exist and that they’d enjoy my work.
Q. Why is Women in Horror month important?
GP: Anything that gets us to focus on things we normally assume and ignore is important.
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
GP: Write. Never stop writing. Learn. Never stop learning. Think. Never stop thinking.