On Peeling Oranges

In The Wizardry of Jewish Women, one family peels oranges with a fork. Chaz Brenchley asked me how this was done.

I began peeling oranges this way when I was a teenager. It was partly for the cooking possibilities and partly for the clean fingernails and partly because it’s wonderful as a party trick.

Someone showed me it as a way of creating bowls from the skin of the fruit. Perfect for fruit jelly and ice cream and putting back together and into the fruit bowl so that someone grabs at a fruit and finds a mere shell. Not that I would do something that wicked. Not past my teen years, anyhow.

Photo and orange peeling by Gillian Polack

The method is really straightforward. You use a single tine (or prong, if you’d rather call it a prong) to cut just below the skin, halfway between the two ends. You want to cut through the pith, but not enter the flesh at all. It should be a perfect circle and meet itself when you finish.

Photo and orange peeling by Gillian Polack

Then you turn the fork upside down and use the other end as a lever. Enter through the cut you just made and gently push it further and further around the orange, just under the skin.

Photo and orange peeling by Gillian Polack

When you’ve liberated the orange from the skin, it will just come off.

Photo and orange peeling by Gillian Polack

On writing what I know, or, “How do I know things? Let me count the ways.”

This week is a little busy. By Monday morning, I need to have finished all the non-fiction (articles, essays and two conference papers) due until 10 September. That’s over twenty thousand words. I’m part way through and on a roll and all I have to do is work steadily and somewhat obsessively and I’ll make my deadlines. I should be focussed and thinking only of these things.

Of course, this morning I woke up with a thought that was entirely unrelated. It’s not unrelated to my work, just unrelated to any of my deadlines.

A lot of my readers, when the discover my fiction, tell me I’m writing about my own life and that I’m my characters. I’ve been trying to work out precisely why for ages. This morning I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep because I had a sudden realisation of one of the reasons. I don’t know why it was so important to me when really, I needed to sleep, but it was and so I finished thinking it through.

Since I was a child, I’ve had fairly esoteric interests. Also since I was a child, I’ve had family and friends I’ve loved very much who didn’t share those interests. I used to watch Countdown every single week purely so that I could talk with understanding and appreciation to two people close to me about things they loved. Popular music was their love of all things, so I watched the TV show and listened to their favourite tunes whenever they asked me to and I admired their posters. I never went to a live pop concert. Not once.

My live concerts were all classical music, the more ancient or the more Impressionist the better. In my early and mid-teens my favourite singers were Alfred Deller and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and my favourite composers were Mussorgsky and Debussy. In my late teens, I added opera to my personal mix. Yet I’d listen to Bay City Rollers and to ABBA for the sake of those close to me, and not just listen, but learn how they loved them and appreciate the music and the musicians for their sake. I had to actually appreciate them, because otherwise I was doing them an injustice.

Only some of those close to me did the same back. It was years before I had a friend to go to plays and concerts with me, so once a week I’d take a tram and find music for myself. I’d play records and tapes of my music when my family was out or allowed it, but it wasn’t to their taste, so I didn’t always have that opportunity. Living in a big family, one learns to find private time when one’s tastes aren’t part of the shared zone. One learns about what’s appropriate to share. The shared zone included quite a bit of classical music, so this wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I come from a very musical family. My shared time, however, wasn’t for my music, it was for what we all enjoyed or what other people enjoyed.
This has been a totally brilliant background for character development. I don’t just giving my characters interests to tick ‘passion for such-and-such’ off a list, I take the interest on board, deeply, the way I used to take the interests of those close to me on board. My childhood gave me the tools to do this.

However, no matter how real the love or hate of a particular hobby or job looks to my readers, they don’t necessarily reflect my life. Like all writers, I draw on what I need from the world around me, and the world around me is bigger than I am. Thanks to those I’ve loved over the years, I have the tools to interpret some of this bigger world and place it into my fiction as part of my characters’ lives in a very personal and intimate way.

In the opposite direction, a couple of readers of The Wizardry of Jewish Women have commented on the non-magic events for missing this intimate feel of reality. I don’t know which events they’re talking about, but the most distant-feeling of the events in that story actually happened to me. I depicted them as if they were slightly unreal, on purpose, to create the outside world as something that didn’t fit.

This, again, I learned from my childhood and watching Countdown every week so that I could talk to those I loved about the music they loved. My writing comes from my life experience, for that life experience has given me tools for bringing things to life even when they’re well outside my own experiences or making reality feel unreal.

I teach these tools now, when writing students need or want them. But that’s a different story, for another day.

How to avoid me at Worldcon 75

This is the post you’ve been waiting for. Now you can plan your Helsinki visit knowing you can avoid me. You’ll also know that I can’t redeem myself with chocolate, for I have tiny scraps of Australia to give everyone instead. Ask me nicely and you could take home some opal or Australian turquoise or fool’s gold. (When I say ‘scraps of Australia’ I mean it quite literally.) Asking me politely would, of course, mean not avoiding me.

I can only be at a small bit of the auction, but I’m bringing Tim tams, a blow-up kangaroo and other exciting things to add to the bidding frenzy. This means I’ll be there … sort of…for some of the time and my luggage will represent me the rest of the time.

UPDATE: 20/7

My full programme (apart from the auction and when I’m volunteering) is:

Signing: Gillian Polack 1 hour,
Thursday 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM | Messukeskus, Signing area
For those who can’t avoid me (because their favourite author is also signing) I’ll be bringing my scraps of Australia to this signing and also I’ll be bringing bookplates, in case you want or already have writing of mine but didn’t bring it to Helsinki.

New publishing

Friday 15:00 – 16:00, 206 (Messukeskus)
Publishing is changing. We talk about Indie (self) publishing, but what else is there? Co-operative publishing (Book View Cafe)? Patronage (Patreon, fundraiser sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo)? How does the different publishing work? How do readers find out about it?
I get to talk about some exciting things I and other writers are doing.

Gender and “realistic history”

Saturday 11:00 – 12:00, Hall 3 (Messukeskus)
The panelists discuss how people from the past (particularly women and LGBT+ folks) were much more prominent and awesome than most fantasy & alternate history would have us believe.
I suspect my historian aspect will peek out of the woodwork for this panel. This might be because it’s one of those areas where my fiction and my new research into how we put our narrative together collide with my previous work as a historian. I’m so hoping that everyone on the panel knows this about me, otherwise they will look at my fiction and get very confused when I open my mouth. Pity them…

Nerdy nummies from TV and movies
Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, 208 (Messukeskus)
Audiovisual media has inspired a lot of cooking shows, cookbooks and blogs. But is it hard to create for example a Death Star cake, gingerbread Hogwart’s Express or a Klingon feast? Our panel discusses their trials and tribulations when creating meals, drinks and baked goods sparked by something they have seen on screen.
I will be bringing one of my secret weapons for creating food from fantasy lands. This secret weapon has nothing to do with my food history self, for I’m not being a historian on this panel, unless people really want me to say rude things about Medieval food on screen. If they demand this dire act of me, I can.

FAN AUCTION: 16:00 to 18:00 Go! I’ll only be there for part of it (as a volunteer) and the wonderfulness of this auction is far more important than avoiding me. Why do I say this? I know some of the items and I know the auction team…

Understanding the Other through Medievalism
part of: Academic Track session 16: ‘Medieval’ Religion in Speculative Fiction
Saturday 17:00 – 18:30, 209 (Messukeskus)
This panel brings together three papers that examine the ways that medieval and modern ideas and ideologies inform representations of religion in speculative fiction. In so doing, they explore and help to explain the tensions between present, the past as Other and the present Other.
I’m looking at Australian Medievalist fantasy in a way that Australian Medievalist fantasy has not been looked at before. I shall dig myself a really deep hole with this paper and then I shall fling myself into it, laughing desperately.

Discussion – novel where the main character is woman with a chronic illness (or two)

I was thinking about writing another novel about another kind of invisibility, to balance Ms Cellophane and The Time of the Ghosts. I deal with chronic illnesses every day of my life. I’m very much not the only one. Yet this kind of life with all its oddity and excitement seldom makes it into novels. It’s not easy to write about using the standard paths that women follow in stories. It needs fiction that’s a bit different.

Last week I solved that problem: I can write such a novel.

A small technical success, I thought. I can make a chief protagonist a woman dealing with chronic illness without making chronic illness the centre of the story. It would be more like Ms Cellophane and The Wizardry of Jewish Women than anything else, for I used those novels to help me find a way of handling the difficult subject. A novel about people, not adventure. The novel I was dreaming about feels personal and intimate, but is about the lives of many women. Problems we share without knowing we share them.

I wondered if the novel was worth pursuing, or if this was just a nice intellectual notion, as some of my ideas are. Then I realised that I wanted to read this novel myself.

“Fine,” I thought, “I’ll write it. I need more information to do it properly, though. If I just sit down and write it, it’ll only be for me and about me. Also, my life is very busy and money is an issue. I’ll take my time and make it a longer-term project.”

I explained a bit of this on Facebook and asked for women’s experiences. Within a few days I had advice and thoughts from many, many women. Their lives all follow a pattern, and one that is horribly familiar. I’ll be able to write an intimate novel that is not autobiographical.

I also have another driving need to write this novel rather sooner than I thought. The size and rapidity of the response and the shape of the stories of a large number of women suggest that we have a significant problem on our hands, as a society. It wasn’t just me and a couple of my friends. There is a major problem, I fear, in how certain countries handle the chronic illnesses of women.

I’m no longer working on women’s policy issues: the novel is my best way to communicate that there is a whacking great issue here and to start giving it attention. If anyone asks, I can join the social policy roundabout again, but it’s not what my life is about right now. The benefit of a novel is that it will give chronically ill women their dignity back, if I do it right.

It’s not just my desire to give readers an understanding of some major issues that’s at stake. Those women and quite a few other people told me when they were explaining their lives and sharing their experiences “We need to see this novel.”

I said “I was just collecting the background. I won’t have the money to write it for a while.”

Some of my respondents told me “Crowd funding.”

I have the core of a really good novel and a personal desire to write it. It will fill a cultural hole. And a group of readers want to see it. Need to see it. This changes things. It would be better if I wrote it sooner rather than later.

I looked at my schedule. If I can find income to take me from mid-December to late February, I can finish the research and write the novel then. I can finish the novel in the time if I don’t have to look for more income elsewhere.

I did some sums and it looks like a lot of money to me, but this novel brings in stuff our society hasn’t addressed and I’m going to have to do much legwork to bring it to life. I’ve done it myself for other novels (for those who are about to say “but in…”): my novels always have groundbreaking material hidden under the surface. I’ve reached a stage, however, where I can’t financially subsidise my fiction. Readers want this novel, and I need to be able to pay for the time spent working on it, for my computer, for the bus fare to the friends I’m having a writing retreat with, for my everyday. I need household expenses and medical expenses covered. I’ve made personal sacrifices for every other novel, in order to write what I want to write. It would be the wrong kind of irony to make those sacrifices for this one.

To finish the research and to write the novel I need $6,000. More would be useful, but without $6,000 I can’t do it this coming summer.

Then comes getting it published. I do not self-publish, so this could take time. I’m happy to accept help in finding the right publisher, for there is a great lack in the landscape of contemporary fantasy (what some critics have called ‘magic realism’ when it appears in my fiction, though I’d argue with that) focussed on women’s private lives when romance is not the central issue. And romance is not the central issue here.

I will try to find a publisher, but I don’t have high expectations. Readers love my work (two Ditmar nominations demonstrate this) but publishers look at it and wonder how to sell it. They tell me this. Editor after editor tells me what a fine writer I am and wishes they could take me on. So don’t hold your breath for a publication date.

Some of you want to read this book far more quickly than the publishing industry would allow. Two women want to read it now, and I haven’t even written it yet! Normally I just hang in there, for my work gets published eventually, but for those who want this book visible earlier, there is Patreon.

If enough people are willing to support me, I can set up a Patreon reward system where you can read the draft novel from the end of February until mid-July and give me feedback on it. You’d pay for the joy of being my beta readers and furiously checking that this is the work we want it to be. You get to point out problems in symptoms. Laugh at the jokes. Ask questions about imponderables. Criticise plotlines. We’d explore the subject matter, using the draft as a centre, just as we’d explore the novel. I’ll make it better by listening. And by teaching. If other writers want to solve issues relating to giving characters effective illnesses, this would be a very useful group to belong to. And if a need to put in a government submission emerges from our discussion, I’d do that as a natural part of proceedings, checking with each and every one of you before I quote you and sharing the whole submission before it goes in. My old self* will be useful if we choose this route, but it will be us (the Patreon group) that chooses it, not me as an individual.

Regardless of the government submission (whether it happens or not), even if the novel isn’t published for years (which is not abnormal in this industry), you’d read it during the first half of 2018. From late February until the end of July the Patreon group would pay for my time to prepare and send material to beta readers, discuss the novel with them, process everything and to do very solid editing. This would mean that the novel would be ready for publishers to look at by August 2018.

For this, right now, I need to know if there are enough people willing to pay money to make this possible. If it’s not possible, editing will take at least the rest of the year and possibly longer, for I’ll have to earn the money to pay for my time. Given the current economic climate, I can’t predict precisely how long it will take, especially since I have three books coming out through Book View Café over the next two years.

I’m not asking for money of any kind right now, although if you want to check out my Patreon page, it’s here. All I need to know is how many of you are theoretically willing to support this project on Patreon and if $15/month for 4 months is reasonable. It will get the novel into its final state by the beginning of August next year and, if the Patreon group wants, get us a government submission.

The third stage is the publishing one. I’m going to leave this for the moment, for a lot depends on when I get it finished, which depends on my income.

Answers and comments on this are open to anyone. You don’t have to know me! They will, however, close on 23 July. I’ve chosen this date with great care. I have a book to promote soon after, and if the fundraising option happens, I want people at Worldcon to be able to ask me about it. I also need to know if I’m writing this or earning money elsewhere, for earning money elsewhere has its own deadlines.

Comment here by 23 July and if the book is wildly desirable, I’ll take on crowd funding (I am really shy about crowd funding) and do a lot of planning.

Question One: is there enough support for this project to make it worth seeking crowdfunding? This doesn’t mean saying “What a nice idea” it means being willing to promote the project and push for it to happen. If there is, I’m happy to hear suggestions as to what sort of crowdfunding platform will work best for this. If there isn’t, then ignore Question Two, for the novel will take a currently indeterminable time to write and there are other things happening on Patreon (if this goes ahead, I’ll delay beginning the world building project – it’ll happen, but more slowly. I’ll still be teaching my research discoveries about world building, but it will all slow down).

Question Two: How many people want to be involved in the beta reading using Patreon?

* For those who don’t know, for ten years I was a public service policy person and for twenty I volunteered with women’s groups on policy and related issues. I have written a fair amount of policy stuff in my time, and only a tiny fraction of it has my name on it. A couple of times I’ve been named and quoted in Senate reports, though never for my favourite bits of what I said! This is why the submission is included as not too much of a big thing. It’s work, but it fits within the other work quite nicely. This goes to show the oddness of my brain, of course.

Australian Jewish speculative fiction writers using Jewish material

This list is not complete. This kind of list is never complete. It has its own particular complications.

To create it, I talked to most of the current Jewish Australian writers of SFF I know and a tweet went round the world three times asking for advice: I could only find three Jewish Australian authors who wrote Jewish-themed SFF. This seems an improbably small number, especially given the number of my Jewish friends who wanted to be writers when we were all madly reading science fiction together at university. There may only be three of us in the whole of Australia’s history, but I doubt it.

While I received advice from many people on possible names of authors, that advice kept repeating the same names. The data about the works themselves came from the authors themselves. Jack’s is not-quite-complete for some of his anthologies haven’t been broken down to the level of individual stories on certain themes yet (he has published a lot) but it’s most of what he has. Mine is also mostly complete.

It’s probable that the majority of the novels that ought to be on the list are there, but it’s equally likely that there are short stories that need to be added. My own first publications were a third in SFF magazines, a third in Jewish ones and a third in literary magazines, after all. This means I’m leaving the comments open on this entry, so that readers can add stories I’ve missed. I don’t believe there are only three of us, you see.

Many of the short stories have been reprinted and translated elsewhere – their original publication dates are given here. This is especially true of Jack’s work. He has a more complete listing on his webpage.

Absent works: First, there are quite a few Australian Jewish writers who write SFF but do not use specifically Jewish themes or motifs or characters. Second, there are many non-Jewish Australian writers who include Jewish material in their SFF. This is not a list of them.

I started to make a list of the non-Jewish Australian SFF writers, early on, but it was complicated. Some stories were insightful and perfect. Others were worrying. One writer felt that a subject was Jewish when it read to me as anti-Semitic and another felt that a subject wasn’t Jewish when it read to me as Kabbalistic. I may venture into the larger list at a later date, or I may avoid it for reasons of sanity.

Dann, Jack

Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction, (ed.) New York, Hagerstown: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974.
More Wandering Stars: Outstanding Stories of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction, (ed.) Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1981.
The Economy of Light. Hornsea, England: PS Publishing, June, 2008.
Concentration, by Jack Dann. Hornsea, England: PS Publishing, December, 2016.
“The Dybbuk Dolls,” in New Dimensions Science Fiction Number 5, edited by Robert Silverberg. New York, Evanston: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975.
“Timetipping,” in Epoch, edited by Roger Elwood and Robert Silverberg. New York: Berkley Publishing Corp., 1975.
“Fairy Tale,” in The Berkley Showcase, Vol. 4: New Writings in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Victoria Schochet and John Silbersack. New York: Berkley Books, 1981.
“Tattoos,” in Omni 9 (November, 1986): 68-70, 132-149.
“The Apotheosis of Isaac Rosen,” by Jack Dann and Jeanne Van Buren Dann, in Omni 9 (June, 1987): 113-116.
“Tea,” in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 12 (April, 1988).
“Kaddish,” in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 13 (April, 1989): 68-78.
“Jumping the Road,” in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 11 (October, 1992): 16-49.
“Café Culture,” in Asimov’s Science Fiction 372 (January, 2007): 48-54.
“The Rapture,” with Barry N. Malzberg, in Memoryville Blues: Postscripts No. 30/33, edited by Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers. Hornsea, England: PS Publishing, August, 2013, p. 271-286.
“Mohammed’s Angel” Overland, 2009.

Polack, Gillian
The Wizardry of Jewish Women Satalyte 2016
The Time of the Ghosts Satalyte 2015
Langue[dot]doc 1305 Satalyte 2014
“Impractical Magic” Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine # 17, February 2005

Rafael, Rivqa
“Beyond the Factory Wall,” The Never Never Land, Ed. Mitchell Akhurst, Phillip Berrie and Ian McHugh, CSfG Publishing, 2016.

Very tentative list of Maori spec fic authors (read notes before using)

A while ago on Twitter, I asked if anyone knew of any Maori spec fic writers. Some people knew of a couple, and I gradually pulled together a list. There was a lot of discussion on whether all of these writers could be classified as spec fic, and whether all of these writers could be regarded as Maori. I’m not even close to the right cultural background to determine if someone is Maori or not so I’ve included every name I was given: if any of the writers ask me to take them off the list, I will do so at once. If anyone else wants a name to come off the list, I’d appreciate having evidence (eg a well-sourced statement by the author). I take this approach because I’ve been left off many lists of Jewish authors and many of Australian authors because people think I can’t be one or the other when, in fact, I’m both.The other point of discussion is whether works are speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror) or not. This is a complex issue and each work by each author needs to be considered in its way.
If I have names wrong and typos and other errors, I’d love to fix them, so please let me know! Lists produced by internet are not always accurate. I sat on this list for months because I was trying to find out what I was missing and what I had wrong, but at this moment it’s better to get the list up and let everyone who wants work with it.
This list is, therefore, just a beginning, sparked by a moment on Twitter when I’d asked for more reading, having run out of works by both Tina Makereti and Dan Rabarts. This is not my area of expertise, but I do enjoy reading NZ fiction. I would be very happy to retire the list when someone publishes a definitive one.
I’m also happy to add more names, for that means I have more books to read.

Allen, Tui
Baker, Chris
Baker, Tihema
Bickford, Anaru
Bridger, Noeline Edith
Cherrington, Lisa
Duff, Alan
Dunsford, Cathie
Grace, Patricia
Hart, JC
Hereaka Whiti
Hulme. Keri
Ihimaera, Witi
Lewis, Maria
Low Nic
Makereti, Tina
McKinnon, Kingi
Moray, Kelly Ana
Morris, Paula
Murray, Lee
Seymore, Phil
Simpson, Phillip W
Smith, Briar Grace
Sturm, Jacqueline Cecilia, also known as Jacqueline Baxter
Sullivan, Robert
Tashkoff, Peter
Tawhai, Alice
Te Awekotuku Ruahine
Te Heikōkō Mataira, Katerina
Te Kare Papuni
te Punga Sommerville, Alice
Thompson, Tulia
Tipene, Tim
Waiti-Mulholland, Isabel

The Great Avoidance. How to Avoid Gillian at Continuum 13 (Australian National SF Convention)

My regular guide for the wary. If you avoid me, you will miss my news. There will be news, so avoiding me is a great way of remaining in a state of mildly addled curiosity. If you avoid me, you will also avoid chocolate. I am thus a great aid to dieting. It’s good chocolate, too.

Friday, 5pm | To Be Continued…
This panel is going to be great. Come to listen to Seanan McGuire and Tansy Rayner Roberts and Nathan Farrugia. They know their stuff. Use my bits for your Friday afternoon micronaps so that you have energy for the evening.

Friday, 7pm | 13 Dubious Lessons from History
I already have my list of dubious lessons to explain luridly (or maybe gently, we’ll see). I told one of them to my mother today and she said “You can’t say that! It’s horrible!” This is not deep and respectful and meaningful history (well, mostly not) but there will be a considerable amount of daftness and much anecdotage. You will have material for dinner parties for the next decade, but you may never eat a kebab again. If you really adore your kebabs, then avoid this talk.

Saturday, 11am | Boxed In

This topic is so very important. It’s about labels and tags and not reducing people to being a small part of themselves. It’s a great shame I’m on it and you’ll have to avoid it. Unless you do the micronapping thing again, or use my bits to tweet the wisdom everyone else says.

Saturday, 6pm | The Panels Men Don’t See

Tiptree! And more Tiptree! I am the elderly panellist here, who read Tiptree’s work when it was first published (whatever I could get hold of, anyhow). I’ve forgotten most of what I once knew very well. It informs every fibre of my being and yet, I’ve forgotten. Just as well the other panellists know what they’re talking about.

Sunday, 2pm | Workshop: Writing Other Cultures
This is the stuff people need if they’re going to write about people. Product of years of research and tearing-of-hair. Every time I teach this someone says before we begin “I already know this stuff, I’m just here to keep my friend company.” Every time I teach this, that same person says at the end, “This isn’t what I thought it would be. It’s really useful.” It’s not the easiest workshop I give (which is a second reason to avoid it, the first being because it’s by me), but it cuts through the public rhetoric and gives writers actual tools to get them started.

Sunday, 5pm | Cityscapes : fake cities, real cities, aspirational cities
Cities are characters in my novel. I don’t often say this publicly, so now I have. I can’t think of any reason you should avoid this panel. Not even it being Sunday afternoon and you getting hungry, for I will bring chocolate to all my panels.

Monday, 10:30am | Fantasy Food
I can’t think of better people to be on a fantasy food panel with than Likhain and Cary. I want to see Likhain’s visions of what food can look like, and find out about all the different possibilities of plants I’ve never dreamed existed but that are local.

I’m not doing a good job of scaring you off this time. This means you just have to avoid the auction. Which is sad, for a bunch of us are bringing amazing things for auctioning. I’ve got a set of prints of illustrations from a KJ Taylor novel and each of them is annotated on the back by the writer. And… I might talk about the other things on Twitter, closer to the event.

Right now I’m going to bed, because I want to eat the plate of feminist biscuits on the table. They smell divine and they’re not out for eating at all. In a few weeks I may tell you why I have foodstuffs tempting me, my camera out, and why I have been so very busy I forgot to blog. Or I may not. I may have other things to tell you. Like where I’ll be and when for other conventions, and in Sweden and… there are so many reasons why I’ve been silent. And I can’t tell you much about any of them yet. All I can do is give you events to avoid at Continuum. And I can let you know that some of the things I’ve been working on have been put up for public discussion on my Patreon page. If you’ve got an interest in world building or alternate history, you might want to take a look. The post is open to discussion by anyone, and discussion is open until 25 May.

Update: I’ve decided to keep discussion on the Patreon changes open until 14 June, to allow Continuum folks a chance to have their say. Discussion for the changes to Patreon has happened offline, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a say (online or off!).

About History and Fiction

My book, History and Fiction, has just been shortlisted for an Atheling (the award for critical work, given as part of the science fiction and fantasy popular awards, the Ditmars – ‘Atheling’ isn’t a full name, just as this isn’t a full explanation. Full details can be found here). This is a bit of a surprise, because the book is an expensive scholarly volume. It’s a wonderful surprise, because I was trying to do something rather special with this piece of research and obviously speculative fiction fans have seen it and noted it. Mostly, popular tellings of research are noticed by the public in awards such as this: the only other full volume in this year’s finalists is by Kate Forsyth and looks at how she, as a writer, encounters and researches the story of Rapunzel. It’s interesting reading and I recommend it. Kate’s study and mine are quite different, though, in what we do and how we go about it. The other finalists are even more different. Whoever of the finalists wins the award, will say a lot about fandom.

I’m going to talk here about what History and Fiction is to me. If you’re interested in what it is to other people, a good place to start is Sarah Johnson. If you want to see the volume for yourself but can’t afford it, some libraries have it (quite a few world-wide, but only a few in Australia) and there is an extract on Amazon. You can get a fair view of it from these places, for it’s not a long book and the academic nature of it means that the summary of its contents in most library catalogues is very detailed. This gives you several places to find out what History and Fiction is, as a book.

There aren’t as many places as there might be, for this was the book that was released just before my dire year began. Everything went on hold for most of that year. All its visibility was due to the publisher and to some supporters in the community: it didn’t get a regular push by me. While I was in hospital I kept thinking “I have book that need me to be interviewed, to write blogposts, to give talks, to wave when I mention it on panels, to chat about on social media.” When the very big life-things happen, however, none of these are possible.

I do suspect that my illness cost History and Fiction a paperback edition. I thought it had not been noticed at all, however, so this short-listing is the most amazing thing and relieves me of burdens I didn’t know I carried. I wasn’t writing the book for me, you see, I was writing it for others, and this means some of those others have seen it and used it.

There was a beginning and an ending, really. Nice clear ones. Instead of having a “everything ‘s done for publication” and then moving into a “Time to share it with the world” and then letting it fall gently to the back of my life, I got everything ready for publication, let the marvellous publishing people take over, and then slipped into oblivion for six months.

For me, the research was a big chunk of my life. Just the research. Twelve years it took, from beginning to end.

Bits of my research were funded (ArtsACT helped me get to Europe, where I could ask writers searing questions) and supported. So many writers said “Finish this book, Gillian, we need to read it” and wanted to do the interview – if I’d had institutional backing, I could have obtained a lot more interviews because writers were supportive the whole way. Nevertheless, there were vast, vast swathes that were me, alone.

This meant it couldn’t take priority when events happened. I put it in hold while I did my PhD. I put it aside when other people needed me more: when small presses said “Gillian, we need you to edit, to proofread” and when science fiction conventions said “You are our committee person!” I started it while I was still on the Women’s History Month committee, and it was what I moved to after that part of my life was complete.

Van Ikin edited it and wrote the introduction. This was a huge gift. Those last few months made a large difference to the quality of the end result. Even when one is doing perfectly straightforward research, doing it outside a scholarly environment is difficult. The scholarly environment is much maligned, but it gives checks and balances; it gives inspiration and peers; it gives resources. A different environment would have given me less independence, but it also would have given me far more resources and far less loneliness. Doing something as game-changing as this work meant I was walking on very thin ice at times. The way the book has so far been received means I didn’t actually break that thin ice. Given my health was going downhill the whole time, this is surprising. I began the resource as a normal person and ended the project in hospital. I’m thankful to be capable of so much now, but I look back and realise how extraordinary it was that I finished this monograph at all. Some of this was my obduracy, but some of it was writers, wanting to know what my results were. Writers possess vast wells of curiosity. So many of them want to understand. This need to know pushed me when I was incapable of pushing myself.

Why do I think my study was game-changing? It’s interdisciplinary. It uses historiography, literary studies and cultural studies, with just a bit of ethnohistory. I used interviews as well as textual analysis, for my public service background gave me a bit of social science background. I even have publications in public affairs and the social sciences, although they were never under my own name and I seldom admit to them. This is why the thin ice: that’s a lot of things to bring into a single study.

What I was doing was finding out what current authors do and think. How they approach history. How they research history. How history and their work combine. How to bring genre issues to the big table and talk about them. How to bring living writers into the literary discussion.

I’m not the first person to do some of these things. It’s the amalgamation that’s new. Van points out that I’m poised between several states (writer and historian are the main two, but not the only ones) and this is why my study is a bit different. Why it’s so special to me.

The work I’m doing now is easier. It’s a bit more mainstream. It’s a lot faster. It won’t take twelve years to reach results.

History and Fiction will always be special. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

For my next trick in 2017

I’ve been quiet because I’ve been busy. Much of the work won’t emerge until later in the year, but now, at least, I can tell you most of where I’ll be and when. I’ll do updates as I know for certain about them. I’m speaking or teaching in all these places. In some of them I’m speaking and teaching. Also, I have (very limited) copies of three of my recently out-of-print novels. Let me know before I leave for a place and I can sell you them! I promise to spend the money wisely…

8 April Workshop, Merimbula

12 April Fairytale Symposium, Canberra

20-21 May, Melbourne to be confirmed

9-12 JuneContinuum, Melbourne – I’ll put up a schedule when I have one

9-13 August Worldcon 75, Helsinki – I’ll put up a schedule when I have one

16 August English Bookshop, Stockholm

25-27 August Canberra to be confirmed

8-10 September Historical Novel Society, of Australasia, Melbourne

27 September Worldbuilding workshop, Gungahlin Library, Canberra

1-2 October, Conflux, Canberra (I may also be there on the Friday morning as I have other years… or I may not) – I’ll put up a schedule when I have one

2017 Purim Spiel – by popular request

A very long time ago there lived a rich and powerful king. His name was Ahasuerus, but no-one could pronounce it. Even his friends found it difficult to say. They called him Harry. Everyone outside the capital called him ‘127.’ All his servants called him the PM – standing for Persian Monarch – acronyms were just coming into fashion around then. He ruled over 127 provinces.

Harry lived in Shushan and generally ignored the provinces, except when he wanted something from them. Mostly it was taxes. Occasionally he collected a concubine or two or built a wall, but generally he preferred good solid gold. When he wanted something, he wrote to them directly, on a small clay tablet. “Send much gold,” he’d write. “Now. Otherwise you’re really stupid.”

The reason he ignored the provinces was because he was too busy spending the taxes and his newly-mined gold on feasts. He didn’t attend feasts organised by anyone but his own people, because he was worried someone would call him 127. He spent most of his gold on more gold, but he also bought rights to a house elf called Dobby.

When he’d done all this, he was hungry. He organised some hunger games. That wasn’t enough. Tea-breaks with merry entertainment just weren’t good enough for someone in his line of work, he decided. It was a hard job, ruling. He wrote it on a tablet and sent it to everyone. “This job is tough,” he wrote. “You need to show your love more.”

The PM got rid of the tea-ladies and sacked Mr CMOT Dibbler, whose family had a long pedigree of making Persian sausages. Harry brought in banquet-management and promoted his new-found friend, Dobby, who hadn’t managed to stay bought for very long. Dobby organised the feasts, or delegated them to junior house-elves (for as a free elf, he was unionized and had health care). The unfree elves brought in contractors to do the job. Harry never remembered to invite the contractors and refused to give the unfree elves his spare socks. His best friend told him that unions were evil and that health care was dangerous and that the only way of avoiding them was by creating a permanent underclass. The elves weren’t too happy about this, but there wasn’t much they could do except grumble, or give the job to someone even further down the hierarchy the next time, or, in the case of a young contractor called Katniss Everdeen who had not yet been recruited into the hunger games, to overthrow the establishment – but that’s another story.

Eventually a lowly branch of servants called D.o.P.E. came to exist, standing for Department of Private Entertainment. The head of the DOPE looked remarkably like Gillian’s nephew and was named Conan. Everyone thought he was a barbarian. He answered to Dobby, of course. 127’s best friend hated him, because he was (possibly) Jewish. ‘Possibly’ was enough.

Harry mostly wasn’t worried that he didn’t pay for the feasts himself, or even organise them. After all, he was king and he had dreadful insomnia. He also poisoned lots of enemies. His most recent successful poisoning let him gloating, but didn’t help the headache. A small banquet here and another there was but tiny reward for the dreadful impositions of duty.

Archaeologists were never invited to the feasts either. They weren’t worried by this. For one thing, they were too poor to pay taxes. For another, they had a dreadful habit of waiting till any big event had been over for a thousand years or so and then digging it all up again. Whenever Harry threw a feast, the archaeologists threw a sort of pre-university academic gathering, where they would get drunk and tell everyone else exactly how they would go about the excavation for this particular dig.

They were advised by a strange Englishman, who wasn’t at all worried that he hadn’t been born yet, for he was too busy analysing the not-yet-buried material at the pre-dig party. He predicted very precise futures from this material and swore that when he finally legally existed, he would become a superlatively brilliant detective. He would also be played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The archaeologists were always writing letters to American universities asking for funding. Marvin the Paranoid Archaeologist (who looked strangely like Gillian’s nephew) said depressingly “This is not going to get anywhere.”

Each of these letters was carefully written on clay tablets and passed from hand to hand until it was so smudged with corrections that they had to start all over again. Each time they started over, Marvin the paranoid Archaeologist would announce how miserable it all was, that his tremendous brain was wasted on such measly matters, and that it would fail miserably. Sometimes someone got sick of all of this and they tried sending a tablet after only five or so drafts. This failed because their supervisor’s job had not actually been approved yet, so there was no-one to send them.

There was never any answer, obviously. Even if the hierarchy had been fully functional, Ancient Persian archaeologists thought too much about the overall picture and forgot local chronology. Except for Marvin the Paranoid Archaeologist, who knew everything. America hadn’t been discovered by Europeans. In fact, Europe had hardly been discovered by Europeans either.

When no-one answered these carefully expressed letters they got huffy and pretended they didn’t really need the funding anyway.

One day Harry decided to throw a drunken orgy along with one of his banquets. Dobby disapproved. The archaeologists used this as an excuse for yet another boring academic gathering. They were discussing the possibility of grants. Marvin complained that there would never be any grants. That no-one appreciated the magnitude of his intellect. And that banquets were boring anyway.

The servants (other than the DoPEs) had a stop-work meeting to discuss work conditions, and ended up giving each other seminars on management technique and how to find catalysts for change. The DoPEs wished they knew how Dobby had obtained his sock – they wanted to join the stop-work meeting.

This feast was to be Harry’s best yet: it made the third page of the pre-Murdoch press. It even beat the Western Australian elections.

Vashti, Harry’s queen, also gave a feast. It was much more sedate. Pottery was used so the archaeologists dismissed the midden-heap as boring. Archaeologists prefer crumpled gold to shards of pottery, even ones who look like Gillian’s nephew, though no-one has ever been able to work out why.

The king got pretty drunk at this feast. He’d killed all his enemies so there was no poison floating around. This meant he could drink lots of wine. Ancient Persian wine was pretty potent. After two glasses he sung a little song he made up for himself. He flattered himself it had a nice little melody, might have made the pop charts if someone had remembered to invent them. He announced to the person who hadn’t invented the pop charts, “You’re fired.” That would sort everything. He knew it.

After everyone had applauded him and he’d had a few more goblets of wine, and he’d been encouraged to sing his shy, lilting melody a few more times, he was very drunk indeed. He looked for his queen and couldn’t find her. He looked under his throne, which was a stupid thing to do, since it was solid. He looked everywhere. He even asked Dobby if he had seen her. Finally he thought she must have gone to sleep after her own banquet. He had forgotten she had a banquet. He wondered who she had invited. He decided to ask her. He sent the chief eunuch to wake her up. After he found out her guest list, he thought, he could get all the gentlemen of his court to tell him how lovely she was and how good he was at choosing a bride.

His chief eunuch, Hege, took about three hours to find the Queen. When he eventually crawled back into the King’s presence, his face was miserable. He grovelled just as hard as he could. He grovelled into the floor, making a hole. “I need to rename you,” the king said. “Fatso. Fatso the Wombat.” The king was, of course, still drunk. No-one in Ancient Persia knew about wombats.

With his head so far into the floor his voice couldn’t be heard, Hege (or Fatso) excused himself as the bringer of bad tidings. The king made him grovel in apology for mumbling. Then he got him to tell the message all over again. The eunuch was terrified and purple splotches began to cover his face. Harry was fascinated by this phenomenon. It didn’t help him find the Queen, though. “She refused to come,” muttered the eunuch, and he grovelled himself out of sight before the king could come to his senses and have him killed. Hege was a survivor.

The next day Vashti did come. She walked up the 953 purple and red plush steps to the gracious throne and had a private interview with the King. The King was livid. Vashti walked gracefully back down those 953 steps, a slight smile on her face. She was the next best thing to a free elf: she was no longer Harry’s wife.

Harry sent out decrees to all parts of his kingdom in all the languages of his realms. They stressed the need for wifely obedience. More than one hundred and seventy-five clay tablets were used for the various drafts. It went up and down the Persian hierarchy no fewer than thirty-one times in its search for perfect wording.

Wherever the decrees were understood, an awful lot of wives walked down the steps of the house with slight grins on their faces. Fortunately, the wording of the decree was obscure, obtuse and largely incomprehensible. Nineteenth century historians were very angry when they discovered this. The Persian Empire would have fallen at least 200 years earlier, Toynbee calculated, if there had been a complete breakdown of all marriages at the time. Mind you, he couldn’t understand the decree. Sherlock predicted all this, of course, but he wouldn’t be born until 6 January 1854, so no-one listened to him.

The king was pretty pleased with himself after this, and he threw a party. The archaeologists waited anxiously in the rubbish dump, ready to examine the tailings. The tailings never arrived.

What had happened was the king had looked around for Vashti and found she wasn’t there. The PM, being a King and no ordinary mortal, got sick of his 861 concubines fairly quickly. Then it dawned on him, he needed a replacement. He set up a Royal Commission to investigate the matter. The Royal Commission acted with extraordinary speed for a Royal Commission due to the king’s uncertain temper. They were too slow. The King issued a tablet. His own. Without anyone’s help. “Too slow,” he wrote. “What an idiot!”

After their untimely demise, the PM was forced to try other measures. He got in touch with his Chief of Protocol, who referred him to the Taxation Branch. The Taxation Branch could not be found. So the PM asked Dobby (who was a free elf, but who now also served as the PM’s personal assistant), who referred him to the advertising manager. The King did not know he had an advertising manager, and felt safe when he discovered it was Lord Breitbart.

His Lordship decided to set up a complete list of all applicants, and then to hold a beauty parade. The PM was to choose his own bride.

The plan was modest. To gather together the largest array of beautiful virgins ever seen, and to sell the leftovers as slaves. The list was entitled Virgins and Maidens of Persian Satrapies, or VAMPS, for short. The advertising manager sent for his favourite consultants, whose normal work was in the Ancient Persian equivalent of King’s Cross. The list of VAMPS was considerably shorter by the time the King discovered that they couldn’t be trusted.

Dobby and Fatso the Wombat between them found a florid young man who had migrated to Persia from the ancient equivalent of California. He had degrees in pre-Keynesian macro-economics, technology transfer and advanced sandwich making, so it was decided that wife-hunting was the perfect thing for him. He was massively enthusiastic about it and set up a huge media-campaign. It worked so well, this campaign, that, over two thousand years later, the Australian Government was to consider using carrier pigeons, runners, and clay tablets to advertise the NBN. Unfortunately carrier pigeons were nearly extinct by then, and the climate wasn’t suitable for clay tablets. The NBN fizzled. However, Lord Breitbart and the florid young man managed to amass a huge number of Ancient Persian virgins for the king to consider.

To cope with the sudden mass of information, the archaeologists set up a research group to keep American academics informed of the King’s affairs. This was known as TIMEWARP, or Transatlantic Information on the Monarchical Eastern Women’s Affairs Research Program. The Americans took 2,500 years to find out about it.

The shyest and most demure girl in Shushan at this time was the niece of a man called Mordechai, who was Minister for Security, or Persio, as it was known. Mordechai had taken care of his timid relative since the death of her parents, many years before. Now that she was adult, he had great plans for her. Hollywood! Either that or YouTube. Lasting fame and glory, and her virtuous modesty untouched.

His first worry had been her taste in clothes. She was demure and quiet, but she dressed, to put it bluntly, like a bogan. She wore trakkydaks with Ugg boots when she went to the theatre, and her midriff was always, always bare. Her hair was teased peroxide blonde and her lipstick matched her handbag and her fingernails with killer precision. Each part was fine, but the complete effect only said one thing.

All Mordechai’s fond dreams were rudely shattered when Esther became a VAMP.

Hege (who really didn’t look nearly as much like Fatso the Wombat as the king thought) rather liked Esther. He had a weakness for bogans. He didn’t know she was related to Mordechai. Mordechai couldn’t tell him of the link, or stop Esther from being rounded up with the other virgins, because he had a dreadful sore throat. It was thought that his secretary had put something in his mid-morning cup of wine. As everyone knows, all Ancient Persians sang at every opportunity. What not many people are aware of is that Mordechai sang rather like a dying chain-saw, and that was on a good day. So the hero of this tale was sulking in his office when Esther was taken to the palace. He couldn’t sing, so he was teaching himself how to mutter. A useful and pleasant past-time.

During the preparations for the parade of beauties, Hege would often stop and chat a little with Esther because she never made jokes about his weight. He gave her good advice, and told her useful things. He persuaded her to leave the Ugg boots at home, for instance, along with the crocs and socks that were her second favourite footwear.

Hege’s most useful piece of advice to Esther was simple: to have a bath before the presentation. It was traditional that the king walked down the line of beauties as quickly as possible, you see, just to get away from the smell. All the beauties spent far too long in the traditional baths of frankincense and myrrh and other incenses and the combined smell was impossibly intense.

On the day of the parade, Esther adorned herself simply, as befits a young maid. When the king stopped in front of her as Hege had predicted, demure little Esther shyly raised her long lashed eyes and Harry was enchanted.

Factionalism was particularly rife in the Persian government. Hege was Centre-Left, and very powerful. Mordechai’s power was mostly personal.

This was a shame, because very few people really got on with him. Though he had an older brother with a great deal of charm, and a young sister who was as sweet as they came, he couldn’t sing, and, when they’d taken care of that, the man insisted on muttering. It was absolutely impossible to like him under these conditions.

But he was clever, and had managed to find out about a plot against the PM’s life. Mordechai and his intrepid band of Persio men foiled it, of course. The matter was written up in a Departmental Minute and it was sent to the King. It unfortunately went to the Taxation Department instead, and was filed under Shushan region 15, section 9501, subsection 33.56392 by mistake. Life went on as usual.

Haman, who was of the extreme right, found great favour with Harry at this time. He was a notable person in many ways. Even before he entered the Megillat Esther, he was responsible for a variety of noxious conditions. They included Twitter addiction, indigestion, job outsourcing, wall-building, mansplaining, and tourists who persist in telling you how to find your way home. He also invented Facebook, Days of our Lives, and paperclips. He was promoted to chief minister.

Haman used his newfound power constructively. First he ground people’s faces into the dust. Then he laughed at them for having dusty faces. Also, he offered people flat rate taxes. When they enthusiastically agreed to it, he raised all taxes to 99% of income.

He liked giving banquets in honour of himself. Only the archaeologists and the DoPEs were pleased. Harry issued a tablet about it. “Best banquets are mine,” he wrote, “Everyone knows! All others fake!!”

Haman made everyone bow to him, including Dobby, but Mordechai wouldn’t. He muttered to himself and claimed that his sore throat and a stiff neck had given him a very rigid spinal column.

Haman didn’t do things by half. When he planned his revenge on Mordechai for his disrespect, he didn’t just plan to unstiffen his neck. First, Mordechai’s mother would die, Haman decided. Then his brother was added to the list. He tried to poison them with a cunningly ethnic food fair. When this didn’t work, his ambitions grew. He added Mordechai’s sisters and his cousins and his aunts and even his mother-in-law to the list for slaughter. Then he went around trying to find a tune for the words, “If sometime it must happen that a victim must be found; I’ve got a little list, I’ve got a little list, of Mordechai’s relations who should all be underground. They never will be missed, no never will be missed…”

Haman looked at this list for a couple of days and decided it was very unsatisfying. Mordechai was Jewish, so Haman decided to kill the whole race. It was much easier to include everyone than to risk offending someone by leaving them off. He invented three useful acronyms to cope with the problem. Both of them later became very popular. The first acronym was YIDs, standing for Yucky and Irreverent Dissidents, the second was MAD, standing for Moslems are Dissidents too” (he didn’t care that Islam was in the future – logic was not his greatest ability) and the third was SDI, or Sudden Death Initiative. This latter was Haman’s name for his special technique of ridding the world of his enemies. It went at the top of every list he made. It used the latest technology – the drawing of lots and the sending of fast couriers – enabling him to co-ordinate his effort in a way previously unheard of. Because the couriers reached every corner of the immense Persian realm, it was also called Far Wars. His advisors wrote SDI on their lists, as Haman told them to, but in their minds it stood for Some Damn Idiocy. At the bottom of every list Haman wrote in the biggest, boldest letters he could get his scribe to muster up, “NB gallows for Mordechai to be particularly high.” Then he went to bed, perfectly happy.

Next day he cast lots, or Purim, and settled on the 13th of Adar as a suitable day. Then he told Ahasuerus that all the Jews were breaking the laws and ought to be punished. Just like refugees. It was necessary, Haman claimed, to make sure the bringer of justice was a disinterested and upright man, such as himself, for example. He brought in a representative from a lobby group founded the day before by himself, to argue the case. It was a very talkative lobby group, and was known as JAWS or, Jewish Abolition: Women’s Society.

The King, deceived, handed over Haman his ring, which meant Haman could do what he liked in the matter.

On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, ran the decrees, all Jews in the realm were to be killed, and their possessions were to be given to Haman. It was a very tidy, simple little decree.

The scribe who worked on it was a Persio agent. Mordechai was not very happy to get the news. He suggested that it would be a good idea for the Jews to stage a protest. The Society Contrary to the Abolition of Residents of Eastern Demesnes, or SCARED, had a meeting to discuss the matter. They contemplated a stop-work, a strike, a street-march, and a sit in, but eventually settled for sackcloth and ashes and wandering through the streets of Shushan, groaning loudly.

Esther was very embarrassed to hear that her uncle was roaming the streets, looking like a fool. It was bad enough that he was a Public Servant, but to wear such stupid clothes! She sent him linen and silk and cloth of gold. He sent back a message saying he’d rather die than wear such things. It took Esther a while to penetrate this deep and meaningful statement. In fact, it took a leak from the Taxation Office, which asked if she wanted any of the loot.

Esther was tempted by the gold, of course, but nobly put her life above such wordly considerations as money. In fact, for the first time in her life, she stopped to think. Her maids were very worried by this aberration, and sent for five psychologists. She had stopped thinking before they arrived. Esther washed herself very clean, and put on a lovely gown. She looked her very best – modest, timid and demure. Harry was so impressed that he granted her a favour. Vashti hadn’t even been able to get him to pay the food bills. Esther knew the PM very well. So did the archaeologists. They held their collective breaths. You guessed it, she invited the King and Haman to a banquet. Conan (who was a barbarian and who looked just like Gillian’s nephew, organised it, of course).

Banquets don’t just happen overnight, even when you are the Queen of Persia and have a whole army of DoPEs to do the work for you.

The weather was hot and sticky. Summer seemed to go on forever. The king’s insomnia was getting worse and worse. He began to get bad headaches from all the filing he had to do. He’d have to invent a new government department to cope with it all, he thought. In the meantime, he spent long, sleepless nights dreaming of filing cabinets. Finally, at three o’clock in the morning, he sent for someone to read to him. Harry was torn between having something read to him that was interesting, or something that was so boring that it would put him to sleep. He compromised. One of his secretaries started reading him the tax returns for Susa region 15, section 9501, subsection 33.56392.

It wasn’t what he thought it would be. When he found out that no-one had bothered to reward Mordechai for saving his life, he waxed exceeding wrath. In fact, he called Haman out of bed. Haman was puzzled, but hopeful.

The PM led into his subject indirectly. The filing cabinets walking beside his bed when he had dozed off three nights before, had inspired him. He commanded Haman to spend 50,000 sheckels of the enormous bribe which had got him the use of the signet ring, to set up a bureau to take care of the filing. He called it the Cabinet Office. Then he tackled the more important issue.

“What would you give someone deserving of the highest honour, if you were the King of Persia?” Harry asked. This looked promising. Haman listened for the sounds of the gallows-builders doing overtime and rubbed his hands with glee. He listed everything he could think of, but the centrepiece of the honour was to have “this worthy individual” astride the king’s mount, adorned with cloth of gold, and wearing a crown.

Haman was not at all pleased to find himself, the next day, leading the King’s horse. On it was Mordechai. On Mordechai’s head was the king’s own crown. To add insult to injury, Mordechai muttered the whole time and Haman had to pretend he was listening. The only good thing in Haman’s whole day was the sight of the gallows, reaching higher and higher. He consoled himself with the thought of a private banquet with their Majesties, that evening.

The banquet wasn’t really worthy of the name. It had only forty courses, and so few guests that Haman was able to monopolise the conversation. However, even the garbage bags were made of cloth of gold. The archaeologist wept tears of joy. Haman, while he was chatting away, managed to put a couple in his pocket to spend later.

Esther was in despair as the evening progressed. She had planned to reveal Haman’s plot and the threat to her own life, and to allow the PM to see the villain’s guilt written all over his face. If only that villain would stop talking long enough to let her get a word in edgewise! Mordechai stood behind the curtain in agony. He was tempted to try to sing a little something, to get the King’s attention, but, after a woeful attempt, his voice faded entirely. Esther dismissed the noise as a male Australian prime minister catching sight of a feminist. The King relaxed again.

Esther slipped quietly over to her lyre and sang a little song bewailing her sad lot. The King’s face paled and he demanded an explanation. Esther told the King that she was Jewish, and that the crimes Haman had accused her people of were pure fabrication. She petitioned her husband for her very life.

Harry was bewildered. He went into the garden to think. What to do? His chief advisor, a murderer? Finally, the King knew what to do. Esther was more interesting than Haman, after all.

While the PM was in the moonlit garden, Haman had tried to get out of his dilemma. He had seen his life was threatened, and had come close to where the Queen was sitting, meaning to throw himself upon her mercy. The King re-entered and didn’t realise that it was upon her mercy that Haman was advancing to throw himself. He vaguely remembered seeing a nice new gallows, fifty cubits high, in the central part of town. Haman was sent to these gallows at once. He said nothing, for he was gagged until he was out of the King’s presence. It was Purim. Haman died bitter, but, being Ancient Persian, he couldn’t resist writing his own funeral dirge. Very original, he thought, as he waited for the hangman.

I was a crooked man
I walked a crooked mile
I made some crooked sixpence
Into a crooked pile
And with my crooked dough
I led my crooked life
Which now must finish
Due to Kingy’s crooked wife.

“What rubbish,” the PM wrote on a tablet.