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Author Profile: Gillian Polack

ISBN: 0-9722091-0-7

Under instructions to write an author profile, I find myself lost for words. Which is unlike me. Normally I have too many.

I am Melbourne born and bred, but haven't actually lived there since 1983. I still tell Melbourne jokes, especially the one that goes "If you don't like the weather… wait five minutes". It is my hometown and part of my soul. I went to Sydney to do my doctorate and never quite got round to returning home for good.

I now live in Canberra (centre of the known universe!), though managed a few other places along the route from there to here.

I was born on a public holiday in 1961, which means that all of Australia comes to a standstill for my birthday every year. I get street parades and the Dawn Service. ANZAC Day is not a very cheerful holiday to be born on, but not going to school or work on my birthday is always a plus.

There are some things I ought to be ashamed to admit to. For instance, I had a warped childhood. Let me illustrate:

  • I am one of the few Australians who can't swim. I blame this on the fact that my local swimming pool was named after Harold Holt, an Australian Prime Minister who died of drowning;

  • I was Jewish in a suburb of Melbourne where it was cool to be ethnic - as long as you were Greek or Italian;

  • I had a skeleton under my bed. ¾ of a skeleton, to be precise. Actually, George and Yorick (he had two heads and I talked to them when everyone else told me to shut up, so of course he/they needed names) didn't arrive til I was 17 and studying archaeology.

My family is not just extended - it is very extended. It extends from Queensland to Victoria, with cousins on three continents. Despite this, we were a nuclear family in the home (just my parents and my three sisters and myself and a lot of cats and occasionally a tortoise, a budgie or some frogs) but there were always cousins and aunts and uncles and honorary cousins and honorary aunts and honorary uncles. Sometimes it feels as if I am related to half the known world. Which is sometimes useful, and sometimes acutely annoying. I get occasional phonecalls from Mum starting off "Gillian, I heard from J that you are doing...". For the record, I was third out of the four girls in the nuclear family and fifth out the seven in the updated more extended version. The newer family has three sons and a stepfather added - we call ourselves the Bradinsky Bunch and have a frightening array of surnames.

My biggest secret for most of my childhood was that I wrote. I had my first story published despite myself, by running out of workshops to go to on camp one summer. I took myself quietly back into my writing closet when I started writing novels, and sending things off very occasionally when friends bugged me. Trivium Publishing hauled Illuminations out of me amidst huge protests. And there is a story in that.

I am afraid that I have a bunch of unsavoury hobbies. In fact, I am not a nice person to know. I am a chronic reader, for instance. My stepfather keeps suggesting I need an extra room on my flat to accommodate my books.

As a child I was addicted to rocks. In fact, my whole family was addicted to rocks. We didn't have summer holidays, we had geological excursions. When I was nine, I had a collection of various types of limestone, from the nicely new to the terrifyingly ancient. I was sorely tempted by the thought of becoming a metallurgist when I was in my teens, but for each rock I carefully collected and arranged, I found myself invading a country museum and reading several history books. And saving ancient bottles from derelict buildings. So I became an historian instead.

When I stopped collecting rocks, I started collecting universities. I have studied at the University of Melbourne, Sydney University, the University of Toronto, the University of New England, and have been affiliated with a few others. I must have graduated along the way, but things got blurred after a while…

I dropped out of university for ten years and was a public servant. Which is how I came to Canberra. Now I have dropped out of the public service and am back in university, though not fulltime. I care too much about writing and making a nuisance of myself to have a full time career. I am not so much addicted to research, as to learning, which means I don't write nearly as many academic papers as I ought. And I am a seriously enthusiastic teacher of history and literature and cultural studies, however much I joke about it. I am trapped in the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, and the eighteenth century. All of which are much more fun to research than the twenty-first century.

Other hobbies? I must have them. I spend enough time on them. Let me think.

  • I cook. Preferably with really obscure ingredients. And I make home made liqueurs from blackberries and blueberries collected on summer picking expeditions;

  • I get on committees and create a nuisance of myself;

  • I love everything folk and cultural from all round the world, especially music and dance and crafts. I adore Romanian and Bulgarian and Greek and Israeli dancing. I love Morris Dancing, but was thrown out of the side I was on and yes, I own a letter saying that I am incompetent;

  • When I need cheering up, I rearrange books, or write really rude emails to my publisher. I particularly adore stirring my family, especially the younger members (who describe me as their "silly auntie").

There are some hobbies I wish I had:

  • I wish I could grow plants. But plants look at me and say "she is going to do some experimental cooking with us - better to die now". And they promptly wither.

  • I wish I could tapdance.

  • I wish I could iceskate (I tried, but the results were sorry).

  • I wish I could sing in an opera. But until I was 11, I was tone deaf.

  • I wish I had the gift of silence.

  • And I really, really wish I had readable handwriting.


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