Author Tags: Fiction

Born in Cranbrook, Kate Pullinger attended high school on Vancouver Island, briefly attended McGill University and worked in a Yukon copper mine in order to earn money for travel. Having taken up residence in London, England, in 1982, Pullinger is widely known as co-writer for Jane Campion's novelized version of her movie The Piano.

Kate Pullinger's own novels include The Last I Saw Jane, Where Does Kissing End?, Weird Sister, A Little Stranger (McArthur & Co., 2004) and The Mistress of Nothing (McArthur & Co. 2009) about an English maidservant who experienced unimagined freedom while escorting the tuburcular Lady Duff Gordon in 1860s Egypt. This novel received the Governor-General's Award for Fiction in 2009. The Collected Stories of Kate Pullinger (McArthur & Co, 2012) was her next release.

[BCBW 2012] "Fiction"

The Last Time I Saw Jane (Little, Brown $19.95)

Cranbrook-born Kate Pullinger has nine titles to her credit, including the novelization of Jane Campion's film 'The Piano' which she co wrote with Campion in just six weeks. At 34, Pullinger lives in London, England and suffers from the classic ex patriot's dilemma. “I'm not 100 per cent happy in England,” says Pullinger, who left Canada when she was 20. “Part of me wants to come back to B.C., yet I've never lived there as an adult.”

In her latest novel, The Last Time I Saw Jane (Little, Brown $19.95), Pullinger explores the predicament of being caught between two countries and the search for a sense of place. When an affair with Jack Campbell, an African American documentary television producer, turns nasty, Audrey Robbins, a Canadian journalist living in London, starts recounting her adolescence in B.C. Her coming-of-age anecdotes are set against a backdrop of rainy oceans and sprawling mountains — in sharp contrast to dirty, crowded London. Audrey must suddenly make a trip back to Victoria to deal with a family emergency. At the same time, she starts reading and dreaming about James Douglas, fur trader and B.C.'s first Governor, and his wife Amelia. “I wanted there to be a historical strand in this novel and I wanted it to do with the colonial history of B.C.,” says Pullinger, who grew up outside Victoria. “Having lived in the U.K. for nearly 15 years now, one thing that preoccupies me is the loss of the British Empire. The U.K. still hasn't come to terms with that.”

It wasn't until Pullinger had been away from home for over a decade that she became interested in B.C. history and picked up a copy of Jean Barman's The West Beyond the West. “I remember reading Barman's book in bed late one night and very early on, Barman briefly mentions Douglas. In the space of one sentence she says 'Born in British Guiana but educated in Scotland, Douglas was the son of a Scots merchant and a coloured woman.' And Amelia Douglas's father was an Irish fur trader and her mother a Cree. “I was really shocked,” says Pullinger, who had learned about Douglas in school, “because I'd never known about his mixed British history. Somehow this just leapt off the page. The pair of them came to embody empires, conflicts, colonialism, race and history for me. There's a line in [my] book about how their bodies span the abyss, with the past and the future, what was Canada and what Canada became.”
Although James Douglas qualifies as B.C.'s 'founding father', Pullinger had problems finding material on him. “It's almost as if people have decided that he's an uninteresting Victorian patriarch (which he probably was in some ways) and not worthy of further study.” At one point in her research, Pullinger was very excited when she came across an index item marked Douglas' 'personal journal'. “I thought this is it — I'm finally going to find out who he really was,” recalls Pullinger. “I ordered it up and it arrived. It was a diary where Douglas had recorded the weather — every day for a year!”

As The Last Time I Saw Jane delves into the lives of Amelia and James Douglas, tragedy after tragedy unfolds in Audrey's life, until the surprising ending offers an untragic twist. Pullinger maintains that most of Audrey's angst ridden life is fiction. “Audrey's life is much like my life; but her life is a darker version of my life. For example, both my parents are alive and I'm happily married, whereas Audrey's got this disaster happening with her parents and she's anything but happily married. I suppose it's like writing about your darkest fears. A very good friend of mine, after reading The Last Time I Saw Jane, said 'I had no idea you were so unhappy!' to which I replied 'But I'm not!'”

Pullinger's latest collection of short stories, My Life as a Girl in a Men's Prison (Little, Brown Canada $19.95), is loosely based on a year she spent as a writer in residence at England's HMP Gartree prison for men. “The prison was a place of incredible stories and tragedies,” says Pullinger, who got to know many of the inmates who had killed their wives or girlfriends. “The walls dripped with remorse.” Several of the stories in My Life as a Girl in a Men's Prison deal with the aftermath of domestic violence that Pullinger witnessed. “When the mother of a family has been killed and the father is in prison, the children are left in a very difficult position.”

[BCBW 1997]

A Little Stranger (2004)

Married for a dozen years to Nick, a successful restaurateur who she has known since age 18, the heroine of A Little Stranger inexplicably leaves her husband and their healthy two-year-old Nick in London in order to search of her homeless alcoholic mother, Ireni, in British Columbia.