gillpolack (gillpolack) wrote,
gillpolack
gillpolack

Open Question Post

It's been a while since I've done an open question thread and I'm in writing mode most of this week and will need occasional breaks. Ask me questions! A question about my shoesize has already been answered, and so has "How long is a piece of string?" If you want to ask a question just to make sure that I will do this again sometime, how about asking about my suddenly-close relationship with GUFF? Or what my LonCon paper will be about? (Or even "What on earth is LonCon and why should I go?")

The rules are that the questions don't have to be serious, but they can be. I'm very happy to help with background to whatever you're working on currently. If I don't have an answer to hand, I'll say so, but I won't go hunting, for it's writing week this week and I don't have time. If I can, I'll point you in the direction of resources.

I won't answer anything that takes vast amounts of time, for it's writing week this week. Do I sound like a broken record?

I'll only answer the questions you post here, for otherwise I can't keep track (so the friends who think of a question and just pop it into the first post they see, or ask me on FB - don't). And I'll only answer questions that don't require long and thought-out answers, for I am an Evil Teacher-Type and believe that people should (mostly) do their own work. Or they should pay someone. Besides, it's writing week this week.

I don't do question posts in writing time normally, but I've got a handle on the shape of the week and the writing in question is not only non-fiction, but requires much bringing together of previous thoughts, which gives me quite a different brainspace from when I write fiction.

As usual, anyone is welcome to ask questions, even if they don't know me and have never read my blog. Those people might want to know that my first PhD was in Medieval stuff and that my second was in science fictional stuff and that I have been known to teach the guides at the Jewish Museum in Melbourne and that I am occasionally a foodie. If anyone who knows me wants to explain anything crucial I've missed, go for it!

This thread will be open for a full week.
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Hi Gillian, I'm interested to know what your LonCon paper will be about. I'm heading to the UK to attend this year's event (my first ever WorldCon). Do you have any advice/recommendations?
My paper will be about the work of 3 Australian writers: Ambelin Kwaymullina, Melissa Lukashenko and Yaritji Green.

What I'm going to do myself with LonCon is get the programme the moment it's out and work out how much I can be involved with. It's going to be a big event and a complicated event and there are going to be a heap of amazing choices. In fact, I've already started to get a handle on the immensity and the choices - I volunteered (through the LonCon website) and I'm already getting to know people and do things. I got asked to be a junior person on the programming team, which means I get extra time to think about which sessions I want to attend! It's work, but it's work with a very handy payoff.

I also strongly suggest that you (as another Aussie author) actually put your hand up to be on panels and etc (again, through the website). They may not take up our offers (it depends on a whole bunch of factors) but if we don't raise our hands, we won't be seen.

Also, sort your accommodation out early, because nearby accommodation is (I suspect) going to book out.

Also, check out GUFF and vote for a candidate if you're eligible (if you've been round fandom since before 1 Jan 2012). Of course I'd rather it were me, but it's important to send the person we think will be represent Aussie fandom (which may well not be me) and in these things, the more people who vote, the better. In my dream world, we get a record number of votes for GUFF this year. The fanfunds don't just send a person to the other side of the world, they act as really important social bonding thingies. I've helped with fundraising for fanfunds before, because of this, but I've never actually stood for anything.

And this is probably a lot more than you wanted to know!

Bridgeman_Books

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

rymrytr

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

What is your favourite casserole/stew type dish and why :)

Yes. I realise this is technically two questions, but everyone asks for treat/festival food, and I want to know the every day stuff :)
Right now it's osso bucco with vermouth instead of stock. Why? Because that's what's on my stove right now.

eneit

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

rymrytr

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

Would you have any tips about choosing Universities/courses?

There's a possibility that I will go back to full time study next year, and apart from looking at the VTAC guide, I really don't know where to start - and even then, the range of choices was overwhelming. Being indecisive does not help, either.
There are some really straightforward (albeit time-consuming) things you can do to narrow your choices. They work best initially with a hard copy of the VTAC guide. This is not a universal guide to such things - it takes into account what I know about you and the things that have prevented you doing this study in the past. You're someone who demands a deeper understanding of the environment than most, and you'll dither until you have it. This process gives you that understanding, I hope, and will make final choices easier.

First, cross off every single institution that you can't get back from safely at night, or in a reasonable time. Melbourne is well enough supplied with good institutions that you shouldn't have to put yourself in peril of mugging or to travel any longer than you have to travel to get to work.

Second, from the remaining institutions, make a list of everything you want to do (in a perfect world). I don't normally get people to do this, in fact, but part of your indecision is personal - you actually need to consider all the options. So make a list of them. Not the subjects in each course, though. That comes later. What you're doing is listing the degrees/diplomas you want to do. Work out how many years (at the outside) you're wiling to spend studying. Now cross out the ones that would take too long to do. Now look at the entrance requirements and cross out things that you can't meet even as a mature age student eg if there is a prerequisite of Latin or advanced mathematics.

Now you've got a list of feasible and desirable qualifications.

Third, now that you have that list of qualifications, put it aside for the moment. Make another list of all the things you would use the study for. Include enjoyment/hobbies in your list. Rank this particular list, putting all the things you want most in a group at the top. Draw a line between them and the things that are of somewhat less importance. It's important that you have explored the things of less importance, but it's that top group of 'what I need to do' items that will inform your decisions.

Now you have a list of qualifications and a list of things you want to do with the qualifications - you can match them up. If a qualification tempts you but doesn't match your priorities, either get rid of it or work out why it tempts you. I suggest instantly getting rid of most of the ones that sound cool but that don't actually meet your needs. You can always do the subjects as evening courses later. Also get rid of the ones that you can't afford or that have impossibly high entrance requirements (medicine, maybe, if it's on the list). Be optimistic about your chances of getting into anything (you're a mature age student, and the rules are different, so this is something you'd need to talk to the institution about) but some games are just not worth the candle - get rid of them.

All this was about reducing that indecision. It's a path you can take to navigate. If you know precisely why you want a degree, however (in my case with the recent doctorate it was because my dream stuff is academic) then just match it up with a "Who will accept me and what do they offer and is it physically/financially achievable?" - all the lengthy stuff gets thrown out the window. You can still prioritize your courses by the same means - create a top ten and work down it until you find one you want that accepts you.

Now you have your short list, whichever of those two paths you choose. Things you want to do, close enough to home. Look at cost, look at hours a week, look at the subjects and who teaches them. Ring each institution and ask questions. Will you get Recognition of Prior Learning, or credit for workplace stuff? Which courses are offered which years? Is your dream teacher of all time about to retire? Do you need to spend $3000 on course materials? You'd be surprised at how many more options are less interesting after a simple phonecall to the people who know the workings of a course.

Emma Wearmouth

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

rymrytr

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

Why do birds suddenly appear
Everytime you are near?
It's because they know I can't sing and they're eager to fill the silence.

rymrytr

3 years ago

Anonymous

February 16 2014, 11:37:27 UTC 3 years ago

If Adam delved and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?

This should give you some fun.

Cary

gillpolack

February 16 2014, 11:40:22 UTC 3 years ago Edited:  February 16 2014, 11:40:35 UTC

Adam was a gentle man and Eve was a gentle woman, unless they themselves thought otherwise.

Anonymous

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

How important is history to far-future science fiction?
History is the story of our past. It isn't the past itself, but the narrative of it. That makes it crucial. If you can work out how the far-future thinks of its past and interprets it, then you know a lot about them and it's easier to construct a society.

This doesn't mean they need to know *our* history. How we construct stories of our past isn't going to be how they construct stories of theirs. However (and this is a very big and very important 'however') if we, as writers, have totally no understanding of our own history, then any attempt to sort something out for our invented culture in the far future is going to read very hollow.

Basically, writing about the far future requires inventing ethnohistory and ethnography for that future, and stories interpreting the past and explaining the present are terribly important to the vast majority of societies.

We don't need to know everything about a society to write a really convincing story, but some things make it easier for readers to get into the story, and a convincing sense of history in that far future culture is one of those things.

abygael

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

abygael

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

abygael

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

What is your comfort food, and does it vary according to whether it is summer or winter?
My alltime comfort food is hot chips, crisp on the outside and soft inside, with lashings of salt. I'm afraid I'll eat them anytime...
Speaking of LonCon, would you say it's worth going to for someone who reads mostly fantasy/urban fantasy, rather than sci-fi? I went to my first con earlier this year (World Fantasy Con) and had an amazing experience, but I'm not sure if LonCon will be too much sci-fi, and London isn't the cheapest city to stay in or travel around.
I would, actually. LonCon is going to be huge (they're estimating around 8,000 people). This means you'll get the equivalent of a normal con programme on most subjects. Also, there's going to be a whole academic stream, plus a big dealers' hall, plus social programmes. It's all facets of science fiction (including fantasy and urban fantasy), not only the hard core sense. Take a look at the membership list (which ought to be on the progress reports) - it's only a partial list currently, because LonCOn is months away, but I'm going to lay odds it contains some of your favourite authors.

I say all this from not-enough experience, mind. My only worldcon was AussieCon, and it was 1/4 the size of LonCon. It contained all the sub-genres, even then. And I've seen quite a few of the LonCon organisers at work (I'm not one of them - I'm the most junior of the volunteers) and they think about the whole, rather than assuming that all SF is Heinlein. They're one of the main reasons I want to go to the other side of the world for a Con - they know what they're doing, and they do it marvellously.

ailsa_cf

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

Anonymous

February 17 2014, 06:42:07 UTC 3 years ago

The idea of a criminal co-operating with the authorities in exchange for reduced punishment or other special considerations is pretty well established in our contemporary ideas about how justice systems work. Was it always? Do any historical examples spring to mind of systems of law which did not formally recognise such a transaction, or handled it differently?

(I recognise that any legal system with humans in it is going to have plenty of off-the-books arrangements of this sort, but I'm interested in where it's a formal part of the concept of law enforcement underpinning the system, and where someone can say, on the record and with authority, that they'll drop this charge and reduce that one if the arrestee helps them out.)

-MF
Alas, I only know Halakha (which is done on a case by case system and operates within the confines of the wider legal system of any given country), and Western European systems. This means that you pretty well know what I know on this, I suspect, in terms of trade-offs. Historically, the way we handle things now has taken time to evolve. Take a look at the difference between the French and the English systems. They've developed that way over time, which means that trade-offs would have been handled differently over time.

In the Middle Ages, region counted more, as well (law was far less consistent over wide areas). The law in the Beauvais region (which has been translated, if you want to check it out) was quite different to more Roman-influenced law in the south of France. In the Beauvais region is was less hard and fast for the situation you describe, I think. I'm going by memory though, so I'm not sure.

Oddly, canon law was the toughest of all. Why 'oddly'? It's canon law that's let off all the paedophiles recently. If you check out the current code (on the Vatican website) it allows for a lot of leeway on many, many matters. The first big codification (in the Middle Ages) didn't. Brundage is probably the best first author to consult about the Medieval, or at least, he's the author I know best.

Legal systems are not simple or straightforward and they *do* change drastically over place and time.
What a great idea! I hope this isn't too dumb of a question, but it is puzzling me, so here goes:

I'm currently finishing up a historical novel that takes place in 700 AD in the Mediterranean. It includes lots of adventure and traveling and fighting and whatnot. I have a master's in history so I feel like my research is pretty good, but I have a rather basic question: my hero comes from around Bath in England and his family is deceased. His name is Justus, but I'm not quite sure about how or if I need to give him a last name. Do I refer to him as Justus of ____ (whatever town he's from) or Justus son of ______ or something else?

Thanks in advance for your help!
Surnames were not common then, but... there are many exceptions. If he came from an ancient family and everyone knew him as of Roman heritage (which, with a name like Justus, isn't at all impossible) then he may well carry their name. I don't know how many people did this as late as the 7-8th century, though - I do know, however, that they did it earlier. Other reasons for a surname include, for instance, if there are other people with similar names around (Nottker the Stammerer was distinguished from Nottker the other Nottkers by drawing attention to his speech defect). Or if he's Jewish (which is unlikely in Bath around 700) he would be Justus ben Avraham (though Justus is not a name I associate with Jews from that period). Or if his father or mother were particularity well-known (in which case he'd also be 'son of') - kinda like people in the wine industry saying to me "Oh, you're Jenny's sister.") Travellers, also, might add "from such and such a place" to their name when introducing themselves, but I don't know the etiquette of that for this early. And quite a few people are known to us in literature by their physical attribute (Charlemagne's mother was "Bertha Bigfoot.")

I hope this helps - it's all I know! And it's not authoritative, for my actual period is 11th to 14th centuries. Your best bet is to find a literary model (someone who comes from a similar place and background) and find out how they described themselves or what contemporaries called them and to use that as a model.

twasadark

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

Anonymous

February 17 2014, 23:47:23 UTC 3 years ago

I was just wondering what evidence we have for women in Northern Europe wearing bracelets in the 12th/13th centuries? I've just come across a very pretty example from Byzntium, but the British Isles and what is now France don't seem to feature them. Have you come across their wearing?

Best
Elizabeth Chadwick
I haven't come across much evidence at all. This doesn't mean they weren't worn - it just means we don't have much evidence. This is true of most accessories. Most of our visual evidence is in religious representations (pictures of saints, for instance) and they don't reflect normal use of jewellery. They reflect what the painter thought people needed to know about the saint.

The likelihood is that bracelets weren't commonly worn, but that's my interpretation of archaeological finds, and they're notoriously inconsistent on things like this (and I may have missed the particular reports that have them).

Don't trust my opinion on this one, though. Find the experts who have written the really up-to-date books and articles (eg I have a good one on the Erfurt Treasure, which I rely on quite heavily for interpretation of the Erfurt finds) for these are the scholars who would have checked everything. If they say the jury's still out on bracelets (which it was ten years ago, which is when I last looked - though I've been keeping my eye on the English situation and if there's been a new and amazing publication, then I've missed it) then it really is still out. And if they have an opinion about the wearing of them, then I'd trust them above people like me, for specialist knowledge trumps in these matters.

Anonymous

February 18 2014, 01:35:04 UTC 3 years ago

Thanks for opening this up. Years ago, when I was reseaching The Guinevere Trilogy (set in 500 A.D.), I found a book about British game which included how long different critters had to be hung before eating. Unfortunately it's been lost and I have no idea the title. Much appreciated if you can recommend such a source now.

gillpolack

February 18 2014, 03:25:31 UTC 3 years ago Edited:  February 18 2014, 03:46:44 UTC

None of the contemporary sources have hanging times as far as I remember ('the contemporary sources' for that period I regard as Anthimus and Apicius). I've read some good descriptions in 18th and 19th century cookbooks. That's about when the teaching element came into cookbooks, particularly the nineteenth century. The problem with them, is, of course, that they're very recent and so don't reflect c 500 taste or cooking methods at all. The other problem is, of course, that hanging times can vary for a single animal, depending on what you actually want from it and how cold/controlled the place is where the hanging is taking place. I've discussed the matter with several butchers at various stages and they all talk about the optimum time. Before that, the meat is not as good, after that, you lose sections of the meat (ie they're inedible) because of the dryness etc, but the rest of the meat gets better and better. I assume that's only up to a point, but modern butchers never let it get past a certain number of weeks (the ones I've spoken to) so that's as far as I know.

What this means, however, is that when you're estimating hanging time (whether for fiction or eating) you need to factor in type of animal, climate and taste preferences. Any cookbook with hanging times, then, needs to be read with these in mind. And, given the latenesss of the addition of hanging in most cookbooks, I'd start with Mrs Beeton, because she gives hanging times and her book is an intelligent compilation of earlier sources, so she's as reliable as any.

The place I haven't looked for hanging times are hunting manuals eg the famous one by Gaston Phoebus. They're earlier, and they do have butchering (well, some of them do) so they might have indications of hanging times.

I'll take another look at my favourite 17th century cookbook tomorrow and I'll report back if I'm misremembering and if it has hanging times.

Anonymous

3 years ago

gillpolack

3 years ago

Do you know who was on the council who picked Richard, Duke of York as Lord Protector the first time Henry VI became ill?
Alas, I don't. I'm a cultural historian, so I'm much better on literature and the stuff of daily life and it's a little after my period of specialisation, being at the fading end of the Middle Ages. The place to find out is contemporary chronicles. There are heaps of them for the fifteenth century. Or, if you'd rather read something modern, look for a good life of Henry VI.

I'm so sorry I can't help you. I wish that being a historian conferred a knowledge of all things, but what it really gives is an understanding of what we don't know and what we're not good at, and I'm not particularly good at names and dates.

Anonymous

February 18 2014, 09:50:20 UTC 3 years ago

Thank you Gillian re bracelets - that's what what I thought and I will follow up your excellent advice!
I am going to be greedy and ask you another question now - about napery. I recently saw a 15th century Last Supper scene by Dieric Bouts the Elder which showed a long table runner or napkin spread along one edge of a table already with a cloth, and the runner crumpled up a bit as if the diners were using it to wipe their fingers. http://www.lib-art.com/artgallery/7567-the-last-supper-dieric-the-elder-bouts.html Do you know if these were in common use in the 12th and 13thc's Did people bring their own napkins to the table in the 12th and 13th, or were they provided by the host?

Thank you
Elizabeth C
This is another issue of scanty evidence. By the time of the first manuals of etiquette, the advice was to wipe your fingers. From memory, one said "Not on the tablecloth." There's enough evidence of separate napkins so that we may be certain they were used in many formal dinners, but more than that... I'm not sure. And that's the bad news. The worse news is that my personal suspicion is that it varied and that the etiquette depended very much on when and who and where.

The good news is that there is at least one version of Furnivall's edition of several of these manuals as freebies on the internet. Not a single one of these manuals demonstrate what was widespread, but using them in tandem with pictures of eating, and you can work out what you need for those people at that time.

Anonymous

February 18 2014, 10:33:39 UTC 3 years ago

Thanks – and a useful reply – I shall look up Furnivall when I get a moment. I tend to browse stuff either to procrastinate or as a leisure activity and then think ‘how did that work?’ or ‘Why?’ And then add it to my ‘find out about pile’ which just keeps getting higher.

Elizabeth
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