I am so excited to welcome historian and novelist Gillian Polack and archaeologist Katrin Kania to A Literary Vacation today to discuss their collaboration, "The Middle Ages Unlocked: A Guide to Life in Medieval England, 1050–1300"! Being less familiar with this period in history than others I look forward to learning more by their expert hands. Please enjoy their Q & A below and continue on for more information about "The Middle Ages Unlocked" and its authors.
First off, thank you both so much for taking the time to stop by and answer some questions! I always find it fascinating when experts in different areas of study come together to present not just a detailed look at a specific time in history but one that is also accessible to those who aren’t already experts in the fields discussed. How did you all come together to tackle The Middle Ages: Unlocked?
We met at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds in 2011, and spent an evening together in the conference bar. At the end of the evening, we had decided to try and work together to finish the huge draft that Gillian already had in her drawer... and that was how it all began.
With collaborations such as this I am always curious how the authors balance their separate parts and weave them together into one unified book. How did you all do this?
We began with Gillian's draft. We went through it piece by piece, examining the structure and refining the language. Katrin redid the sections based on archaeology, for that is her area of specialisation. Gillian’s areas of specialisation were already covered, of course!
The final work has a style that is different from our individual voices. Gillian's mother said of it suspiciously "It doesn't read like your novels." Our styles meshed together well, though, and we both discovered a lot about our own writing through such close teamwork.
I have to admit, as much as I love history I haven’t read that much about the Middle Ages. What made you all concentrate on this time in history? Is there anything is particular that draws you to this time period?
Katrin: I first came into contact with Living History in my late teens, and there were so many fascinating aspects to this time that I wanted to know more and more about it. The Middle Ages are, for me, an intriguing mix of things that are very familiar and things that seem very weird and foreign to a modern person. I love researching things and finding that mix of the familiar and the alien in so many aspects, both big and small. I also love the importance that textiles had in medieval times – as an economic factor, as something to express personality or show where someone belonged, and as a means to show wealth and status.
Gillian: I had a question I wanted to answer about cultural change in my fourth year at university. Until then I studied Old French (the language and the literature) and medieval literature, but my history courses were of other periods and my English Literature was Renaissance and Modern. Once I started studying the period, though, I was hooked. So many aspects of modern culture have medieval origins. Understanding the Middle Ages turned out to be essential to understanding ourselves.
Are there any other periods in history you would consider “unlocking” for readers?
Katrin: No! While I like looking at many aspects of medieval life, I’m very specialised on the Middle Ages in my research. I would not have taken on something in the scope of our book on my own, either!
Gillian: I work with other periods and I teach writers various types of history for their work, but I'd be very reluctant to take on another work of this size. It was an immense project. We used thousands of books and articles in researching it and my end of it took fifteen years!
What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for both of you? How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?
When working together, a typical day for us starts in Gillian's late afternoon and Katrin's early morning. We work together online for a few hours, aided by liberal application of tea and coffee. We do our own work the rest of the day. Gillian has novel-writing and history research to do, as well as preparation for the classes she teaches, and of course teaching work itself. Katrin has an online shop that needs tending, regular blog posts to write, as well as courses and workshops to teach and textile work for museum reconstructions. Gillian keeps forgetting to take weekends, so a feature of our work together is Katrin reminding her.
The time difference between Germany and Australia forced us into a rhythm and made sure we did not (could not!) spend all of our working time on a given day together. It could still be spent completely on the book, though, and that often happened during the final weeks of writing. Usually, however, we managed to fall sick at similar times, and had busy and less busy times with other work at corresponding times too, so it worked out very well.
By the way, we are answering these interview questions together, fuelled with tea and coffee, and working on them over a chat programme. It’s 11 pm in Gillian’s corner of Australia and 2 pm in Germany, and we instantly fell back into our teamwork patterns.
Are you working on any other books that we can look forward to reading in the future?
We both returned to our individual voices and individual projects. Gillian has several more books in the works, and recently released her newest novel, “The Time of the Ghosts” (available as an ebook or print book from all good online bookshops and some brick and mortar ones). Gillian’s next novel will be out next year and is called “Secret Jewish Women’s Business.” Katrin has written and released a book about how to do gold embroidery in the medieval style, available via her shop at shop.pallia.net, and is currently co-editing a book with conference papers for the European Textile Forum (www.textileforum.org).
Do you have any recommendations for those looking to read even further into the Middle Ages?
There are enormous amounts of literature for those wishing to research the Middle Ages, some very accessible and some very specialised and requiring a good background knowledge. We included recommendations for further reading at the back of The Middle Ages Unlocked, and it should be easy to go further from these, looking for information on specific subjects.
June 15th, 2015 (UK)/October 9th, 2015 (US)
To our modern minds, the Middle Ages seem to mix the well-known and familiar with wildly alien concepts and circumstances. The Middle Ages Unlocked provides an introduction to this complex and dynamic period in England. Exploring a wide range of topics from law, religion and education to landscape, art and magic, between the eleventh and early fourteenth century, the structures, institutions and circumstances that form the basis for daily life and society are made accessible. Drawing on their expertise in history and archaeology, Dr Gillian Polack and Dr Katrin Kania look at the tangible aspects of daily life, ranging from the raw materials used for crafts, clothing and jewelry to housing and food, in order to bring the Middle Ages to life.
The Middle Ages Unlocked dispels modern assumptions about this period, revealing the complex tapestry of medieval England, its institutions and the people who lived there.
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About the Authors
Dr Gillian Polack is a novelist, editor and medieval historian as well as a lecturer. She has been published in both the academic world and the world of historical fiction. Her most recent novels include Langue[dot]doc 1305 and The Time of the Ghosts (both Satalyte publishing). Find her webpage at www.gillianpolack.com. You can also find her on Twitter.
Dr Katrin Kania is a freelance textile archaeologist and teacher as well as a published academic who writes in both German and English. She specialises in reconstructing historical garments and offering tools, materials and instructions for historical textile techniques. Find her website at www.pallia.net and her blog at togs-from-bogs.blogspot.com. You can also find her on Twitter.