How to Avoid Gillian Polack at the Dublin Worldcon

It’s time to walk with caution and care, so here is my special guide on how to avoid me at Worldcon.

Be reassured: it’s much easier to avoid me at a worldcon than in other places. Also, I won’t be obscuring the need for you to avoid me by carrying chocolate for everyone.

This year I have a lucky dip bag. The lucky dip contains all sorts of interesting things and some dire things and some funny things and some small gifts worth having. You will not know whether you have a galah’s feather or a piece of agate or even a child’s toy until you reach in and bring out… something. Anyone who says “Gillian, may I try the lucky dip?” (or words to that effect, in any language I know) can take away a present that might be astonishing or might be astonishingly daft. You don’t have to know me. Since no-one really wants unexpected gifts, it’s not hard to avoid me. (If I don’t know how to say “Gillian, may I try the lucky dip?” in your own language, I’m happy for you to teach me. I have to say, though, that it’s quite hard to avoid me while teaching me how to speak.)

I’ve given my own explanations of events, to remind you of why people tend to avoid me at conventions. Those events to avoid include:

Cooking the books: food in fantasy

15 Aug 2019, Thursday 15:00 – 15:50, Wicklow Room-1 (CCD)

Where  Nicole Kimberling, Rei Rosenquist, Fran Wilde (M), Giovanni De Feo and I talk about worldbuilding and worlds built and, just in case we need it, I have some rare and special herbs and spices that aren’t available in most of the world. Seriously, I do. I know how to cook them and to write them into fiction… the question is whether others do. I am especially cruel when people get Medieval food worryingly wrong because I am just a bit more Medieval even than usual right now. Bring earmuffs for when I talk, because the other panellists are really good, not as sarcastic as I am, and not at all worth missing.

People of the Book: Jewish fantasy and mythology

16 Aug 2019, Friday 12:00 – 12:50, Wicklow Hall 2A (Dances) (CCD)

Where Laura Anne Gilman (M), Benjamin Rosenbaum and I talk about all kinds of things including that Jewish Narnia article. Me, myself and I (to make a Narnia reference) have strong views on Jewish science fiction and fantasy from minority Jewish cultures. In other words, while I know about US and UK Jewish culture, it’s not where I come from. For those who need to know (for it came up in a bus on Friday) my native Jewish language is Australian English. My native Jewish foodways (this came up yesterday) include roast lamb dinner where one is obliged to make Tom Cruise jokes. To add injury to this insult… I’m doing research on cultural transmission and my research for this aspect is already done and I am full of profound understanding and really bad jokes. The other two panellists are amazing and I am descended from a Jewish convict. Bring your noise-cancelling headphones for my section and (since I understand it’s summer in Europe when the temperatures are negatives here) bring a fan to hide behind so you don’t have to look at my evil, evil grin (it’s a Medi-evil grin, to be honest, but still, it’s discomfiting, especially if the subject turns to cultural borrowing and the like.)

Comparable futurist movements

16 Aug 2019, Friday 17:00 – 17:50, Wicklow Room-2 (CCD)

Alec Nevala-Lee (M) Jeanine Tullos Hennig, Shweta Taneja are leading a really good panel where you’re stuck with me, muddying the waters. The difference between Black Panther and Cleverman in filmic terms and the difference between the work of Ambelin Kwaymullina and US writers constructing Afrofuturism was what began me looking at Afrofuturism and asking “How does this apply here?” Here being, of course, Australia. I don’t know a lot yet and besides, you’re avoiding me, but the other panellists are so worth hearing… noise-cancelling earphones and a fan to hide behind will block me out splendidly.

Autographs: Saturday at 12:00

17 Aug 2019, Saturday 12:00 – 12:50, Level 4 Foyer (CCD)

I will have a few books if you need them. I will have my lucky dip bag. And the signing area should be clearly labelled, so avoiding both those things and avoiding me will be easy.

Update: There are only a few books, and they’ll be in the Dealers’ room. It’s first come, first served, I’m afraid. I will have discount cards for my latest book and also a rather special freebie, to make up.

Fan funds auction

17 Aug 2019, Saturday 16:00 – 17:50, Wicklow Hall 2B (CCD)

I’m not one of the leaders and shakers here – avoid this at your peril. Best auction. Best auctioneers. Sit where someone other than me can deliver you your purchases.There will be Tim Tams for sale…

‘Australian Tellings of Irish Tales’

19 Aug 2019, Monday 11:30 – 12:20, Odeon 6 (Academic) (Point Square Dublin)

My paper. What can I say about it? It’s easy to avoid. It looks at diasporic culture from a slightly different perspective to the usual. I have a quiet voice and it would give you a very restful fifteen minutes. Please try not to snore.

In general

Volunteering: I’m in two different green rooms, and if you’re on a panel yourself or performing in the auditorium, you will want to remember this.  It’s perfectly possible to use either green room without speaking to me, so locate where I am and avoid me, or shut your eyes as you walk past.

How to Avoid Gillian at Continuum 15

Just this once, you may not want to avoid me. This is because an email got buried in an avalanche of other emails and so I didn’t reply when I had to and my research doesn’t have a slot in the Deep Dives. This is probably just as well, because I’m at the stage in a big project where a 20 minute talk was going to be very difficult. I’m also at the stage in my big project where I can talk about all the things science fiction and fantasy people love, for I’ve been exploring them for well over two years now. If how we write culture (and bigotry and other things) into our speculative fiction interests you, skip to the bottom of this post where you will find a bit about my project.

If you want to know how to avoid me… read on.

Continuum 101 – the best panel for people new to conventions. Makes it tough to avoid me. Just pretend I’m not there. Hespa and Lauren are amazing and helpful and very funny and you need to hear what they have to say.
June 7, 2019, 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm  Barrayar

Fan Fund Auction – I’m not running this. I’m a background kinda person who always attends because of my link to the fanfunds. So come and ignore me. The Cotinuum auction has the best stuff and often at ridiculously cheap prices. Support fandom and get a cool t-shirt or a book that’s not quite in print yet or something so strange no-one can describe it. Tell yourself firmly “That’s not Gillian sitting behind me. I am avoiding her quite successfully.” If I end up doing anything public at all, demand an apology for not warning you.
June 8, 2019, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Andor

Maskobalo – I won’t actually be at the Maskobalo, for I still can’t dance (not ‘can’t’ as in do not know how – ‘can’t’ as in have physical restrictions, although it’s absolutely possible that if I could dance, I’d dance quite badly). I’m volunteering at the entrance, and will have crayons for drawing pictures on yourself for those who have given up avoiding me and just want to draw rabbits with wings flying down their arms.
June 8, 2019, 9 pm to 11 pm – at the entrance to Magrathea

What Makes a Hero? – great panel, great topic: all the things you want. Except I’m there. Ask Sam to sit me at one end, then turn your head away. Have a nap when I say something. You don’t want to miss that precious moment when Sam and Aiki argue about Snape.
Sam Hawke, E. J. Beaton, Aiki Flinthart and me, June 9, 2019, 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm Pluto

Fantastic Tongues and How to Write Them – I love the thought of this panel. I’m there. This means anyone avoiding me will have to miss out. Sorry-not-sorry. We’re going to have so much fun. None of us come from the same backgrounds and we all have thoughts on the subject. I don’t know if I’ve told the rest of the panel that my current scholarly research includes how language represents cultures in SF. I possibly forgot. I was sidetracked into thinking about Tolkien.
Adeline Teoh, Josh Melican, Jae Waller and me June 9, 2019, 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm Andor

Fictional Librarians and Archivists  – I’m only on the best of panels. How could you want to avoid Sean McMullen, or, in fact, any of the other panellists. So don’t. Normally I say “Skip a panel I’m on.” Now I’m saying… take a micronap or consult the programme when I say something.” That way you can ignore me and leave no regrets and brilliant panellists missed.
Kathryn Hore, Sean Mcmullen, Lex and me, June 10, 2019, 10:00 am to 11:00 am Pluto

Note: I will probably be at the awards ceremony to cheer everyone on. I’m a finalist, but think that my category is between two of the other finalists so I will be in the audience, cheering. This means you can avoid me easily.

My current project

My cultural project – some notes

I’m looking at genre fiction for this, mainly novels.

Foundations – what are cultural foundations? I talked about long culture in Amiens and I’ve been looking at K-drama to see how different narratives from different places give us insights into foundations. The foundations of culture lead to writers carrying a bunch of cultural baggage and assumptions – I look at how they’re encoded to get them into fiction. This leads as night follows day to how voices (women’s, minority culture, religious, and more) are passed over, what techniques writers use, intentionally or otherwise that silence specific groups. If you want to hear much weeping, ask me about my summer reading on this.

Understanding silencing isn’t enough. When we draw upon the culture and history of others, what are we actually doing? This is where all my work on mapping culture presented in fiction comes together (or will come together, whenever I reach the point where I can write it up, which depends very much on non-existent funding) and on finding ways of identifying and analysing those silences (what doesn’t appear and how/why/what we know of it through cultural contexts). Cultural mapping includes things like: religion, myth, history, popular history. cultures of place, time and space, cultural behaviour and ethics, ethnicity, age, gender, gender roles, relationships.

Of course I’ve been looking at story space. I started exploring it for History and Fiction and I’ve worked out ways of teaching writers how to write better using it. This is not a part of the wider project (story space is but how I teach writers isn’t) but I love that I can teach writers how to frame their novels and what choices they have and… there’s a magic to it. (I get to work with writers in Sydney later in the year. Ask me for details. There’s nothing planned for Melbourne because no-one in Melbourne wanted workshops or masterclasses from me, not because I do not like Melbourne – I adore Melbourne. It is the place of my heart and the first twenty-one years of my life.)

Anyhow, story space. How does story space relate to this bigger project? It is part of the choices writers make and some of the mechanism used to make them (cultural, world build, genre – story space as bringing these together and effecting the choice). It all comes down to how a novel is made specific for an audience. This leads (of course it does) into transmission issues. I have a little list of transmission issues I wanted to look at this year, but some may have to be dropped. They include (it’s quite a long little list): colonialism, cultural hierarchies, ethics, marketing, memes…

And that’s pretty much it.

Meeting me

The question I am asked the most by readers (apart from when a given book will be out or where it is available) is when I’ll be visiting a given city. I’ve been thinking about this. I don’t want to do a newsletter. If you live in Dublin and I’m telling you all about Melbourne, that’s dull. However, I can do a travel bulletin.

If you want to know about Gillian-events and Gillian-visits to places within reach, then give me your name, city, region/country and an email address. First name is fine, invented name is also fine. This is for a spreadsheet to send out emails from – the emails won’t be personalised, because if I have travel I don’t have time. I’ll only send you emails if I am travelling near you and there will be an event or a chance to meet up.

I’ll email news of when I’ll be in a place and how you can find me. You might want the information to avoid me – just don’t tell me that and it will work out well. I’ll think I’m loved and you’ll know you’re safe from my jokes.

You can email me name/location/email address at books(at)gillianpolack(dot)com, or use the contact form at or send me a message through Facebook or Twitter.

You’ll only get messages when I’m travelling to somewhere near you.

More on silencing

I wrote this on Twitter earlier today, and then put it up (typos mostly fixed) on Facebook. It’s a small update on a small aspect of my research.

As part of my current research, I’ve been looking into how voices (women’s, minority culture, religious, and more) are passed over, what techniques writers use, intentionally or otherwise that silence specific groups.

I was watching a TV series to find out how far one technique spreads and then I found myself seeing that same technique every single day on social media.

If someone admits to something nasty being done to them (being harassed, discriminated against, threatened, ignored) there will usually be at least one person from a similar background who says smugly “This hasn’t happened to me.”

In this context, that’s a denial of the person who has come out into the open about something sensitive. It can result in the silencing of vast numbers of people (the extent of sexual harassment has come to light recently) but this is how it starts.

When a person who has been hurt admits it in public, we need to change our narrative and not say “Well, this hasn’t happened to me. I don’t feel certain that you’re right. Let me argue with you about your personal experience as evidence for your own life.”

How is this written into novels? Novels are a few steps further on, and they formalise the judgements we make. Subjects and people silenced in this way are pushed to the side as less important or not significant enough to write about at all.

It’s one of the factors that lead to many writers choosing their heroes from a limited background or giving them a predictable and limited range of experiences.

I didn’t use to talk about my research when it’s underway, because papers and lectures are pushed for career academics. I’m no longer actively looking for an academic job, so from time to time I’ll tweet results that I think others may be interested in.

I read novels and judge what silencing has been accepted (intentionally or not – I spent January sorting out whether there was differences between the two) but the other form of silencing, the one I see every day on social media, is the critical one.

The path from what I used to call ‘bus stop conversations (thanks to Halliday) to choices made over and over again in longer narratives (novels, games, TV series) reveals so much about what we unintentionally do to people in the world around us.

On What Happened in Melbourne Yesterday

This is my new social media rant. I put it up on Facebook then I realised that some of you might want it here. I want less fear in all our lives. Now, please.

All night I thought about a missing element from yesterday’s discussion about what happened on St Kilda beach: how Sudanese Australians and Jewish Australians are handling the every day. Not just from now on, but have handled the every day for a long time. To be honest, I know some of the things Jewish Aussies do, for I do them myself for I am one. I do not share my address lightly. I do not wear jewellery that might cause someone to act violently and etc. There are certain events I do not go to any more, for that would cross a line. And etc. Much etc.

It’s like being a woman and walking home alone at night and doing many things to avoid rape. It’s a part of my life. I do some things because I’m Jewish and some because I’m female. I talk about needing lifts at night because I’m disabled, but these are the other reasons. I prefer to have no social life at all than to be at risk and to feel that risk every time I walk home alone.

Every single Australian Jew right now is having to make choices about how visible they are and what they need to do to walk safely in the streets of their home towns.

We’ve always done this, to be honest, but right now we’re doing it with a heightened awareness and with much worry. My great-uncle told me stories of what it was like for him, and he served in PNG and at Tobruk. Anyone who admits to being Jewish opens themselves to interesting life experiences. Some lucky ones miss out on those experiences. As you all know, I am not so much one of the lucky ones. That’s why I’m writing this.

Jewish Australians are accused of being passive on these things, just as women are told that we are passive on matters relating to harassment. It’s complicated, especially given the history of Jews in Australia. The Emmy Monash Home has a lot of elderly clients whose family and friends were all murdered for being Jewish. Not a thousand years ago. In their youth. They survived and found safety in Australia and the memories still hurt. I was taught not to ask adults about their childhood when I was a child, for one does not hurt people intentionally.

For the last few decades, many of them have chosen to share what has happened to them and to talk about it so that other people won’t get hurt. Holocaust Museums use their big-heartedness as guides and uses interviews of them in their displays to help explain the Shoah. The Makor Library in Melbourne has stories and memoirs written by these people. So many Shoah survivors have spent much of their lives working to prevent it happening again to anyone by helping us understand how it happened in World War II.

I know another thing that is being done by some Jewish Australians. There was a vote in Wentworth last year that didn’t go the way the Liberals expected. This is not the main reason why, but it certainly played a part.

Jewish Australians are doing so much to try to make the every day safe.

I will guarantee that the Sudanese Aussies currently being targeted are also doing all they can to walk safely in their home town. It’s harder, for they can’t ‘pass’ as easily as most Jews can. I know hidden Jews who only tell very select people about their actual background and I know Ultra-Orthodox who are clearly and publicly identifiable as Jewish by their dress and custom. Skin colour puts all the Sudanese Australians and anyone who might be mistaken for a Sudanese Aussie at the Ultra-Orthodox end, risk-wise. Safety is an everyday problem.

Yesterday, in all the tweets and in all the press, only one person said “We’re going to check on Emmy Monash people and make sure the Holocaust survivors who got swastikad are OK.” I was relieved there was one. A bunch of neo-Nazis choosing the Borscht Belt for their demonstration means that one is not enough.

Right now, we need a return of the #ridewithme. We need to make it clear that all Australians are entitled to safe everyday lives.

New year thoughts

I poured out my soul on Facebook and decided, just maybe, it’d be a good idea to have it here. I don’t talk a lot about the things of great magnitude. I simply deal. Last year I found a way of dealing that was rather better than my previous methods. I’d still rather my life weren’t so full of things outside my control that insist on going wrong, but, since it is… here are my thoughts for 2019.

Happy New Year everyone An especially happy 2019 to those who had a rough 2018 – 2018 was not an easy year for far too many of my friends.

2018 was the year I had to choose between despairing at the ordure life always throws me or turning the muck into compost and growing flowers. Some flowers bloomed as a result of my decision and, to my great surprise, these flowers sparkle. I’m glad I made the choice to transform bad things rather than wallow in them. My resolution for 2019 is to continue transforming muck into flowers and to rejoice if and when those flowers sparkle.

I’ve noticed that a lot of friends don’t see the garbage thrown at me: not the bigotry, not the closing of doors, not the everyday problems that disability brings forth, not the loneliness.

I am still frustrated when they try to correct me for what they do not see. The most recent example was someone telling me I didn’t have an academic job because I wasn’t good enough at academic things. The sparkling flower that same week was a whole chapter of analysis of a major author in a new book. That analysis rested on my work. Friends give me the muddy end of the experiences at least once a week and strangers more often.

Since this side of ick in my life is not going to go away and me getting angry with the world about what it’s done to my life has not enabled me to lead a good life, my resolution is to turn random neglect or misspeak by friends and strangers into more fertiliser for my garden.

I’m not going to drop otherwise fine souls from my life if they’re idiots. I will help them learn if they’re willing to learn and I will respect them for that. I will, however, give up on people when they are cruel.

I will also refuse to accept the exceedingly low standards of human understanding that fuel Australia. This means I shall remain publicly political (for those who don’t know my past, this is a big decision) and I shall finish and send to a publisher that research that has been my way of addressing problems.

The research is technically about how we embed culture into fiction. In reality, it’s how we carry a lot of invisible culture. I can teach this already (I do teach this already) and writers are already making more aware choices about what they do with their fiction. This is one of my sparkling flowers. What hurts me can help others write better.

Where this comes from is important. I’m still often silenced for life is not entirely safe. I give myself permission to live and thus not to react publicly to every foul thing. I transformed this last year by not accepting the silencing (even the most unintentional) from people, nor the cruelty. I look to see where they come from. I look to see why good people can be cruel and what this means for us as a society. My research is part of this.

There is a certain stupidity that belongs to many well-meant majority culture and/or otherwise culturally privileged people. My resolution for the rest of my life is to understand it and to take responsibility for helping people understand it and to not be casually transgressive towards others. I’m not accepting the labels and judgements I face, you see. I’m saying that no-one should have to face them. This is how my flowers sparkle.

Question Thread

I promised this thread on social media. It’s open for 8 days altogether – use the date on the post as a guide. How am I counting the days? It’s seven days for my timezone and eight days to allow people on the other side of the dateline to also get their seven days of questions.

This is open to anyone who has questions to ask and anyone who can answer. If you ask and the question is hurtful, I will try to answer it if I can but if it contains too much hatred I’ll probably delete it. If you answer someone else or reply to me and the answer calls for it, I may explain your answer back to you. I’ve taught for 30+ years and am very emotional this week, so think back to your high school days and to a passionate teacher who’s in a bad mood but trying really hard to be helpful. That’s me this week.

This question thread is not about the murders this weekend. This is your chance to ask Judaism 101 questions and Jewish history questions and talk about those things more comfortably so that people who are hurting don’t have to deal with them as well as their own pain. This is also not about the Shoah/Holocaust. This is not about mass murders of any kind of any period after 1600, in fact.

It’s for the questions to which you suddenly need to know the answer, because you’ve not thought about how Jewish boys get given names, or whether anyone in your community is likely to have suffered antisemitism without you knowing, or what 1290 looked like to English Jews, or what the stuff Assassin’s Creed (the film, not the game) ignored looked like for those who had to endure it, and what ‘kosher’ actually means, and how I can still be Orthodox and seldom go to synagogue, and whether I agree with Christian afterlife beliefs and … all the stuff you have stored and want answers to but that you can’t let flood social media because you need to respect peoples’ pain.

I am particularly good on the subjects of food and of history and of food history. I am not an expert in the religious side, but can answer most of the basics, because I was well brought up (which in my branch of Judaism means something quite specific), and because I do a lot of work with non-Jewish writers who want to write Jewish characters. I also wrote the Jewish chapter in The Middle Ages Unlocked. If this isn’t clear (for it’s written under emotion – my mother’s at a funeral right now for someone who died a natural death after a long life but spent her youth in Nazi Europe, while everyone she loved die around her) ask me questions about asking questions.

For anyone who has been sent in this direction and who has no idea who I am: I’m a novelist and an historian. I used to do work with the Jewish community, including the guides at the Jewish Museum in Melbourne and with the women of the National Council of Jewish Women. I work far more with the wider community than the Jewish community these days, and am the person who wrote the first ever (as far as we can find out) Australian Jewish fantasy novel.

Why am I opening a question time? Because every time virulent antisemitism has raised its head in my life, non-Jews have used this as a reason to ask me basic questions. At a time when I need support, they turn to me for help. I’m not American. If you are, then every simple question you ask me, here, won’t be asked of those who may need your support. If you aren’t, then you’re adding to your understanding of things Jewish which is not a bad thing.

For those who want my chicken soup recipe, for this is a time for chicken soup… ask away.

How to Avoid Gillian at Conflux in 2018

Saturday 29 September
1.30 pm Workshop, Writing the Other
This builds on old research and new research and is going to be very handy for any writer who wants aliens, cultures other than their own, or non-derivative characters in their work. It’s also handy for non-writers who want to understand what writers do, but the focus will be on the needs of writers. The workshop always has its own supply of chocolate hidden in my handbag, but don’t let that persuade you. Also don’t let the fact that I’m not teaching this anywhere else in Canberra in 2018 (and that I taught earlier versions in Uppsala and Merimbula, before I had the big knowledge breakthrough thing that one gets with research) persuade you. Just avoid me.

3.45 pm Encoding culture into our SFF – my talk on the subject I’m working on and… I might step on some toes. In fact, I shall almost definitely step on toes. Avoid. I’ve travelled a rocky research road since Helsinki’s paper and this is where I bring it into sharp focus. And step on toes. Probably.

5.45 pm launch of Mountains of the Mind. That collection. Including stories that I wrote as a teenager and ones that I wrote over 50. “Your writing is quite different in the first half,” readers keep telling me. . The good news Is that I’ve decided not to bring the smelly old daisywheel printouts that gave us the older stories. The better news is that the amazing Ambelin Kwaymullina is launching my book. It’s so tough: avoiding me means you miss Ambelin.


9.30am Unconventional hero’s journey
In avoiding me, you miss this amazingly witty group of people: Rob Porteous, Dave Versace, Simon Petrie, Abigail Nathan. So that you won’t notice this sad truth, focus on the PhD ratio per panellist. Or wonder how I dare talk about the hero’s journey given the things I said about Campbells’ work quite recently and very publicly. I wasn’t rude or dismissive: I was analytical. Really.

2.30 pm Guff and other fan funds – a presentation
Donna Hanson will do all the cool things. I get to explain the whole Doctor side of it. David Tennant and David Tennant and… David Tennant. At least, that’s my understanding.

3.45 pm Fan fund auction.
Look, I know this means being in the same room as me but… I know some of the stuff we have for the auction this year. Honestly, squint when I come into view. Hide under a chair. Put someone decently burly in front of you so you can’t see me. Don’t miss the auction.


11.45 am Book Love Fest – All the Books. Mine are only five minutes. That’s when you need a cuppa, obviously.

1.30 pm Unconventional writing – what is the right or wrong of being a writer?
You don’t want to miss Ion Newcombe, Katie Taylor or Paula Boer on this subject. You could get someone to grab some of my chocolates and munch them whenever I speak?

I’ll also be in the dealer’s room, helping out on tables. Lots of my books will be round. Mountains of the Mind, Masques, and all the Book View Cafe ones, for starters, plus maybe a copy of The Middle Ages Unlocked. Maybe. Train your eyes to look for other books. There will be so many good books there that this will be dreamily easy.

How to Avoid Gillian at Continuum 14

This year you’re also avoiding retro Aussie sweets. They’re bad for you. You don’t need them. Trust me on this.

In Parallel (Friday @ 6:00 pm)
Corey J. White , Alison Evans, Kathryn Andersen and I talk about parallel universes, maybe including Sliders. I love it that we all come from different backgrounds and have read and seen different things. Even our email discussion on the subject has been fascinating. I can’t see any reason to avoid this panel except for the sad fact that I’m on it.

Breaking the Mould (Saturday @ 10:00 am)
Rachel Nightingale, Marisa Wickramanayake, Devin Madson, Joanne Tindale and I talk about what so many people call ‘older women’ in fiction. Some of us are not yet older and if you call us that we want to kill you off in our fiction, but we’re not in most fiction anyhow. Everyone else in the panel is polite about such things, but I take this subject personally.

Fan Fund Auction (Saturday @ 2:00 pm)
We have amazing stuff to sell. A sea creature made by Vonda McIntyre, some really terrific books, really strange movie-related stuff and more. So much more. Shame you’ll miss is because of me. You also miss meeting Marcin (Alqua) the Polish fan who’s visiting for GUFF.

Try to be Kinder: Entitlement in Fandom (Saturday @ 4:00 pm)
Creatrix Tiara , Ashleigh, Tansy Rayner Roberts and I talk about fans. I just wrote a novel because fans wanted it. It’s going to be hard to publish, because it goes against most publishing trends. I needed to explain why you should avoid this panel, when it has such very wonderful people on (apart from me, of course).

Deep Dive (Sunday @ 10:00 am)
There will be two talks, so you can hear the other while missing mine. Simple. What will you be missing when you avoid me? A talk on how to combat cultural blindness using grammar. I made a punny title when I called it Cultural Conjugation. I will use grammar to help us get over the hump of not seeing books we should see, not remembering great films we should remember. If there’s time I will make my infamous joke about infinitives. I’m definitely making it in Sydney eight days earlier. There are so many reasons to miss this talk…

Hey, where’s my space age future? (Sunday @ 11:00 am)
Jess Flint, Jess Kapuscinski-Evans, Julia Svaganovic and I talk about people who are missing from great tales who ought to be in them. This is where I’m likely to describe my vision for Julia’s SFnal future. She already knows about it. What she doesn’t know is that I’d like a whole book about her. And I will be fighting for it, during this panel. We have a perfect SF hero in our midst who’s not been fictionalised because she happens to use a wheelchair. This is why our world doesn’t get saved, people. We ignore our heroes.

The Inequality of Magic (Sunday @ 3:00 pm)
Darren / Lexie, Dorian Manticore, Jane Routley and Marisa Wickramanayake are wonderful and you should not miss them. Except I’ll be there and I’ll definitely lead everyone astray. I don’t get to talk about it much, but I started looking at the history of magic when I was an undergraduate and I’ve used it in my research and I have Firm Views on Things.

Book Launch: Mountains of the Mind/The Time of the Ghosts (Sunday @ 5:00 pm)
My book! With ceremony and cake.

Raise the Castle or Raze the Castle? (Monday @ 12:30 pm)
Darren / Lexie, Kathryn Andersen, Elizabeth Fitzgerald will have a really wonderful time. It would have been much better for them if I weren’t there for I shall be medieval. Accurately, precisely and annoyingly medieval.

URGENT NOTE: THe program has changed since I posted this. Use the latest program to work out how to avoid me, not this page!!

Guest post – Laura Goodin

Laura gave me this a while ago, and my life intervened. It is, thankfully, well worth the wait.

Thrillingly Obnoxious: Agency, Empathy, and Enlightenment in Harriet the Spy

by Laura E. Goodin, Ph.D. W. Aust.

In 1964, Harriet the Spy, by socially unconventional author Louise Fitzhugh (Horning 2005), was published to mixed reactions (Morris 2017). It was not the thought of a powerful girl that caused the stir; after all, the previous year Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, with its heroic protagonist Meg Murry, had taken out the Newbery Award (ALSC n.d.). No, the controversy raged around the book’s moral ambiguity: “To a world in which children’s literature consisted of fantasies about stuffed rabbits and saccharine fictions of loving families, Harriet barged in with her unfeminine habits, cruel classmates, rich but neglectful parents, shallow neighbors, and worst of all, her loving governess who advises deceit” (Bernstein 2001, p.26). One reviewer wrote at the time, “Many adult readers appreciating the sophistication of the book will find it funny and penetrating. Children, however, do not enjoy cynicism. I doubt its appeal to many of them” (Viguers 1965, n.p.). In the ensuing 50 years, the book has remained continuously in print (Lodge 2014, n.p.), its sly subversiveness being one of its greatest attractions for the children who continue to read it avidly.

While a number of researchers have asserted that Fitzhugh’s homosexuality motivated her specifically to depict Harriet in coded ways (such as what was then considered her “tomboyish” dress sense) as a young lesbian (Horning 2005; Bernstein 2001), others have contended that Fitzhugh intended her to stand for all girls who push the boundaries of childhood in the agency that they claim, all children who experience social isolation, and all people alienated from their own individuality in a world that has begun to move too fast.

Since the book’s publication, options for girls seeking portrayals of a wide variety of ways of being in the books they read have expanded dramatically, but in 1964 Harriet was entirely, alarmingly conspicuous. Meek, obedient children thrilled to her obnoxious behavior (Horning 2005), her deviousness as a manifestation of the trickster archetype (Paul 1989), and her emotional self-sufficiency (Seo 2014). Harriet is a child who makes her own decisions and routinely disregards both societal norms and parental authority, exhibiting what Wolf (1975) characterizes as “extreme individualism”. She trespasses and invades adults’ privacy on her spy route and consciously rebels against rules of social decorum both at home and with her peers and teachers. She has fully formed plans for her career path as both a writer and a spy: plans that ignore accepted gender roles and traditional career tracks such as university education or corporate workplaces. Bernstein (2001, p.26) notes that in portraying Harriet’s most transgressive behavior, her spying, “Fitzhugh re-invents spying as a child’s quest to observe varied examples of adulthood as research toward choosing her own path”. Whereas child characters’ transgressions are often in opposition to an authority figure (such as Max’s unruly rumpus in Maurice Sendak’s 1963 picture book Where the Wild Things Are), Harriet’s choices are her own, made within her own frame of reference and to accomplish her own ends. The fact that these choices transgress against authority is an irrelevance to her; indeed, she often seems baffled at her parents’ and teachers’ objections to them. Harriet offers young readers a model of the powerful, self-possessed child and, by extension, the powerful individual, regardless of age.

When Harriet does engage with the people around her, she lacks the suave social graces of her parents and classmates. While she observes the hypocrisy and superficiality of the people on her spy route with a keen and critical detachment, she is less skilled at understanding and moving comfortably within her own social networks (Bernstein 2001, p.26). The very individualism that impels her to learn, grow, and achieve without regard for others’ opinions eventually turns even her closest friends against her. In the moment of the book most vilified by critics (Bernstein 2001; Paul 1989), her beloved governess urges her to lie in order to win back their friendship. Seo (2014) asserts that both the lying and the insincere apology that accompanies it show that Harriet has learned nothing and will continue to heedlessly and remorselessly hurt the people around her. In contrast, Paul (1989) writes, “As a feminist writer, Harriet learns to reconstruct herself, to adapt. She resolves the splits – between life and art, between truth and lying, and between gossip and fiction – that destroy many women writers.” Bernstein (2001, p.26) also takes a more nuanced view, writing that “the book encourages the reader to mimic one particular, important aspect of Harriet’s growth: her learning to empathize. Harriet’s growing empathy demands reciprocation from the reader”. Harriet lies not to make things easier for herself, but because she has finally begun to understand, and to mitigate, the impact of her actions on the people around her. As Thus Harriet also models not just agency, but a growing awareness of its consequences.

Both Harriet’s observations of the people on her spy route and the disruptions in her own life show her that agency is in itself not enough to guarantee happiness. Wolf (1975, pp.120-121) writes, “The image which arises is one of a fast-paced, materialistic, complex society in which individuals are isolated in their own private worlds.” As the lives of her surveillance subjects unfold before her, she sees how they deal with their unhappiness and alienation: some in productive ways, like making art and giving food to the poor, and some in unproductive ways, such as conspicuous consumption and malingering. She finds herself unexpectedly dismayed at the despair one of her subjects feels when the authorities deprive him of his beloved cats, and feels a strange exultation at his eventual triumph:

She leaned over the parapet again to study the problem at length. Harrison Withers was humming away, even tapping his foot as he worked. She watched, puzzled, until suddenly he looked up in the direction of he kitchen door. Then she saw it. Into the room, as though he owned it, to the accompaniment of loud cooing and baby talk from Harrison Withers walked the tiniest cat Harriet had ever seen. It was a funny-looking little black-and-white kitten which had a mustache which made it look as though it were sneering It stopped, looked at Harrison Withers as though he were a curiosity, and then walked disdainfully across the room. Harrison Withers watched in adoration. Harriet leaned back and wrote:


And, for some reason, as she walked home Harriet felt unaccountably happy (Fitzhugh 1964, pp.270-271).

Harriet learns by watching her subjects that what one chooses is as important as the act of choosing itself. In the same way, readers learn by watching Harriet.

While there is no denying that Fitzhugh’s depiction of Harriet has been of immense value in giving lesbian and bisexual girls a model for ways to be true to oneself in the face of discrimination and loneliness (Horning 2005; Bernstein 2001), to insist that Fitzhugh was thinking only of such girls is to limit the value of her writing and the scope of her artistic vision. Harriet the Spy has provided a multitude of children with both a manual and a manifesto for claiming, managing, and directing their own agency as they negotiate childhood and emerge into adulthood.


Association for Library Service to Children (ALSCA) n.d. Newbery Medal Winners, 1922-Present. Viewed at

Bernstein, R 2001. “Too Realistic” and “Too Distorted”: The Attack on Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy and the Gaze of the Queer Child. Critical Matrix (12:1-2), p.26.

Fitzhugh, L 1964. Harriet the Spy. Dell Publishing Company, New York.

Horning, K T 2005. On Spies and Purple Socks and Such. Hornbook, January. Viewed at

Lodge, S 2014. Harriet the Spy Celebrates 50 Years of Sleuthing. Publishers Weekly, 20 February. Viewed at

Morris, B J (2017). Before Harriet Blogged: Notes on Girls with Notebooks. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 38(3), pp.47-67.

Paul, L 1989. The Feminist Writer as Heroine in Harriet the Spy. The Lion and the Unicorn, 13(1), pp.67-73.

Sendak, M (1963). Where the Wild Things Are. Harper & Row, New York.

Seo, G 2014. Harriet and Me. Horn Book, April 10. Viewed at

Viguers, R H 1965. On Spies and Applesauce and Such. Horn Book, February 7. Viewed at

Wolf, V L 1975. Harriet the Spy: Milestone, Masterpiece? Children’s Literature, 4, pp.120-126.

Laura E. Goodin has been writing professionally for over 30 years. Her novels are available through Odyssey Books (; her stories have appeared in numerous print and online publications; and her scripts, libretti, and poetry have been performed internationally. She holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Western Australia, and attended the 2007 Clarion South Workshop. She can be found at