When I teach women’s history or family history, students invariably comment on the women they learn about during the course, saying to me, ‘Their lives were interesting’! Then they might add, ‘I wish I were that interesting.’ When we explore and discover their models for admirable lives, we find the fiction they read and the tales they watch create a large part of their expectations and dreams. The stories they read most frequently when they want action and strength and world-changing, it appears, are of the deeds of men. For some of my writer friends, the stories they write when they want action and strength and world-changing, are of the deeds of men. This is because, for most of our society, the deeds of men are interesting and the lives of women are mundane. Women are allowed to change the world, but we’re expected to do it one cup of tea at a time. Not so exciting, those cups of tea.
So many fascinating women don’t know how amazing they are, because there are not nearly enough women like them in their fiction, women like them who nevertheless experience magic and adventure. This is why I write with women at the centre of all my novels. I don’t write ass-kicking heroines often (though I admit, I just gave a 75 year old grandmother a stock whip and the will to use it): I write stories of small people, like myself. I write those cups of tea. Because I’m another of those women who find everyone’s lives fascinating and their own rather dull, and I want to show myself and the world that we’re all wrong. In finding the strangeness of mirrors and the joys of dressing up, in searching out the magic lying underneath the ordinary, I can find the glamour in lives like mine.
I don’t write about myself. I steal the lives of others (and occasionally, very occasionally, slip in personal experiences, because it messes with peoples’ minds) and I twist and I change things until my readers believes that the lives are real. It seems to work: I have been asked how Liz is going and whether Rose is free for coffee. Even when they’re weak and even when they’re stupid, my women are strong. Even when they sit around at home, staring at a cellophane mirror, they’re interesting.
Many of my female characters are the woman next door or down the street. She’s in her twenties, or forties, or seventies, or five hundreds, and we say ‘hi’ in passing but then race way and avoid close conversation, because her everyday is going to be boring and we don’t want to waste time away from our children, our work, our own everyday. We miss so many stories, by not seeing that women’s lives are extraordinary far more often than they are ordinary. We miss the amazing and the extraordinary and the numinous.
This is why I write women into my novels. I want readers to enjoy the magic in the unnoticed and the excitement that’s hidden beneath apparent mundanity. It gives us all value, when we can see the magic in the lives of others and in our own lives, when the possibility of excitement lies just as much around the corner for girls as it does for boys. It enriches all of us.
Gillian Polack likes long biographies – short ones are so unreliable. Can you trust her when she says that she lives in the centre of the known universe, has over 300 short pieces in print (15 of which are fiction), two novels and has edited two anthologies? She says she is easily bored. She also claims to own her father’s disarticulated skull, which she calls Perceval.
More reliable sources of information about Gillian: