Kate Pullinger, novelist, professor, writer on the cutting edge of technology, has been living in the UK since the 1980s. Although she is a very busy woman, on her return from her summer trip to British Columbia, she took time out to answer three questions for Canadian Writers Abroad. Her tenth novel, Forest Green, is published by Penguin Random House Canada (2020), as is The Mistress of Nothing, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in 2009. Her most recent digital fiction is the ghost story, Breathe, which you can read for free on your cell phone. Now a Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media at Bath Spa University, she is also Director of the Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries. The Electronic Literature Organisation recognized her digital fiction innovation in May 2021 with the Marjorie C. Luesebrink Career Achievement Award.
CWA: What were you doing ten years ago?
Pullinger: Ah, this is a key question for me at the moment! Ten years ago this month I stepped into my first full-time academic job as Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media at Bath Spa University. I’d been doing temporary lecturing gigs at universities for number of years, and had taken a part-time job at De Montfort University. While I was there, I decided if I was going to work in universities, I should get a degree (I’d dropped out of undergrad at McGill), so I did a PhD. The Professorship at Bath Spa was a huge boost for me in terms of my academic career and I joined a great faculty alongside Maggie Gee, Fay Weldon, Tessa Hadley, Philip Hensher, David Almond, and Aminatta Forna, among other illuminaries. However, going full-time was a big step – I saw it as an opportunity to move away from the precarious freelance work I’d always done alongside writing fiction. I promised myself I’d work full-time for ten years, which would coincide with the period during which I’d have two children at university and all that expense that entails. So now, after a decade, I’ll be transitioning down to half-time. And attempting to revive my extremely dormant freelance life, with more time for writing fiction.
CWA: It’s been almost a decade since we talked (in 2012) about what digital fiction might be called, and whether long form narrative would carry on. You’ve again done both, with the digital fiction Breathe and the novel Forest Green. [They are separate stories whereas the Doubleday novel Landing Gear began with the digital fiction Flight Paths: A Networked Novel.] How do you choose which form to pursue (or is that the same question as asking a short story writer how they choose the novel form)?
Pullinger: Yes, for me form is very bound up with content, and I’ve never been the kind of writer who starts a project without knowing which form it will take. Writing for screens (like smartphones or VR) is very different from writing a novel; it’s highly collaborative and uses a mix of media alongside text to tell the story. But it remains the case that there is no clear business model for the kinds of digital fiction experiments I’ve been involved with over the years – outside of the games industry, there is no clear business model for most forms of immersive media storytelling. Breathe was funded by a research grant and is available to read for free. The primary question remains, no matter what form I choose: how do writers make a living in 2022?
CWA: This question is usually: What are you working on now? But I’m wondering if you’ve given any thought to bringing the innovative ideas of Bath Spa University to a Creative Writing department in Canada? And what’s next for you?
Pullinger: I would dearly love to forge a connection via a fellowship or visitor programme with a Canadian university, and that’s one of the things I’ll be looking for as I shift to part-time at Bath Spa. I’m currently working on a novel that has had a very long gestation, so that will be the first thing I’m hoping to finish. And I’m on the hunt for my next digital project as well; I’d like to work with augmented reality so I’ve been thinking about that since finishing Breathe.
- Forest Green review by Louise Ells.
- 2012 Interview with Kate Pullinger (published February 2013).
- Review of Landing Gear.
- Toronto Star review of Landing Gear.
- The Canadian Encylopedia entry for Kate Pullinger by John Clement Ball.
- Merilyn Simonds mentions Pullinger’s digital fiction, Inanimate Alice, in her essay praising digital literature in the Quill and Quire.
Digital platforms afford new ways of reaching new audiences — we writers need to grab hold of these opportunities before it is too late.-Kate Pullinger, Guest Post on the Future of Books in The Globe and Mail, October 29, 2009.
Photo of Kate Pullinger: Bath Spa University
Header photo of Bath Spa University: Bath Spa University