Pearl Luke's first novel, Burning Ground, received the 2001 Commonwealth Prize for best first book in Canada and the Caribbean; it was also selected as a Globe & Mail Notable Book of the Year, in 2000 and was shortlisted for the 1999 Chapters/Robertson Davies prize for unpublished first novels, as well as the Georges Bugnet Award and the Canadian Booksellers' Libris Award.

Burning Ground is about a woman named Percy Turner who is working on a remote fire tower in northern Alberta. She falls in love with the voice of a fellow fire tower watcher named Gilmour and commences a romantic correspondence with him via email. Like her protagonist, Pearl Luke had worked during the summers on remote fire towers in Alberta. She told Philip Marchand of the Toronto Star, "The first few weeks in a tower are fine. You get away from the city and immerse yourself in nature. But after six weeks, it gets tough to be alone all the time. Even if someone comes up once a month, your interactions are so superificial that they're very unsatisfying. I just craved touch after a while. I don't mean sex, I just mean someone touching me or hugging me." This novel about smouldering emotions invents a bisexual love sparked by the protagonist's childhood friend, Marlea, when they were growing up together in a trailer park. Written as an M.A. thesis at the University of Calgary, where Luke was encouraged by teachers Fred Wah and Aritha van Herk, Burning Ground was published when Luke was teaching literature at DeVry Institute of Technology.

Pearl Luke's second novel, Madame Zee, invents a sympathetic character for the little-known mistress of Canada's most remarkable cult leader, Edward Arthur Wilson, a.k.a. the Brother, XII, a spiritualist, author and self-inflated shyster who charmed and terrorized his followers on DeCourcey Island, near Nanaimo, within a Theosophically-based religious encampment called the Aquarian Foundation. It is known that Madame Zee, born Mabel Edith Rowbotham, in Lancashire, England, in 1890, taught school in a series of prairie towns before marrying a former North West Mounted Police officer, John Skottowe, a branch manager for the Union Bank of Canada. His fraudulent manipulations at the bank forced the couple to flee to Seattle, where the marriage dissolved. Mabel soon hitched her wagon to a former stage hypnotist, Roger Painter, a philanthropist and philanderer who had gained a fortune as "the Poultry King of Florida."

After Mabel had changed her named to Madame Zee, the couple visited the Brother, XII's utopian settlement at Cedar-by-the-Sea, near Nanaimo, in 1929, whereupon Madame Zee shacked up with the cult leader. Living separately from the colonists, many of whom had donated most of their savings to the Brother, XII, Madame Zee gained a reputation for sadistic cruelty, wielding a riding crop to maintain her ascendancy over the other cultists. After a spate of legal battles, The Brother, XII, and Madame Zee absconded with the Aquarian Foundation's savings on a yacht. They reached Switzerland where Brother, XII reportedly died, although his biographer John Oliphant has noted the death certificate could have been bogus. As for Madame Zee, well, she might have lived happily ever after. Pearl Luke has traced an imaginary evolution of Madame Zee's personality. In the novel, the protagonist Madame Zee doesn't meet the Brother, XII until two-thirds of the way into the story. [For more information on Edward Arthur Wilson, visit his entry on this site.] Madame Zee was longlisted for the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Pearl Luke has been writing and editing professionally since 1988. Early in her career, she worked as a proofreader and copy-editor, and in 1998 she earned a master's degree from the University of Calgary, after which she taught English Literature and Advanced Composition at DeVry University. In 2010, Luke launched designed to help authors promote both new books and their back list to targeted individual readers and book clubs. The intent is to "provide another venue that connects readers and authors and keeps as many books as possible visible over the year. We post cover images, interviews, reading guides and more.";

Pearl Luke lives with her partner, poet and novelist Robert Hilles, on Salt Spring Island.

CITY/TOWN: Salt Spring Island

DATE OF BIRTH: 21/03/1958



AWARDS: 2001 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Canada/Caribbean Region); 2000 Globe & Mail Notable Book of the Year; 2000 Writer in Residence, City of Taipei


Burning Ground (HarperCollins 2000).
Madame Zee (HarperCollins, 2006).

[BCBW 2011] "Fiction" "Women"