Focus on Kate Pullinger, Author of A Little Stranger
Your book, A Little Stranger, focuses on one woman's dire unhappiness with marriage and motherhood. Why this subject matter?
When I wrote ‘A Little Stranger’ I had two small children myself and felt that there weren’t many books that dealt honestly with the difficult subject matter of how tough and lonely parenting very young children can be. Since I wrote the book there’s been a real explosion of work dealing with this subject matter, though often through memoir instead of fiction. But it is definitely part of the current zeitgeist to speak about what had previously been difficult, almost taboo, subject matter. I found having babies isolating and lonely at times; however, I never contemplated leaving – I wrote this book instead! Despite all the progress women have made in terms of equal pay and equal rights, at the end of the day we are the ones who have the babies and the arrival of a baby into the life of a couple changes the status quo in ways that neither partner has anticipated. So the book arose out of my own experience, but it is not autobiographical.
Fran chooses to leave her life abruptly and fly to Las Vegas. Is Vegas a metaphor for the change she must go through?
I love Las Vegas, and have been there a number of times, and once did stay for 9 whole days, which felt like a lifetime. Vegas for me represents the US at its most excessive and crude – it’s all about money. It’s also a place where people behave in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily, so it’s kind of magic, while also being a lot like I imagine Hell might be like! So, yes, Vegas is a kind of metaphor, but to me it is also the kind of place where, down on your luck, you might meet the one person who can help you – like how Fran meets Leslie.
The "B Plot" deals with Fran's difficult relationship with her own mother. Does this serve as the catalyst for her own decisions?
Absolutely. Fran removed herself from her family at an early age, so she hasn’t been through the same processes that her father and sister have been through when it comes to dealing with Ireni. She has to track back through that before she can move on. I also found Ireni a really interesting character to write about. Until I was 10 we lived in a part of Canada, in British Columbia, the Kootenays, where there were Doukhobor communities, and they were famous for getting arrested for using farming gas in their cars, and then appearing in court naked. As a child, this fascinated me, of course, and I took writing this book as an opportunity to learn more about that community. As well as that, having an alcoholic parent is a heavy load to bear; I’d seen friends go through that and what I noted was the absence of parenting, the way my friends had to parent their parents.
The book honestly looks at the stresses facing women today - motherhood, marriage, career. Do you believe that women can have it all?
I think there are enormous pressures on women and that it is tough to combine our various roles successfully. But I see women all around me who are combining all these roles and getting a lot of enjoyment from it – from work, from family, from relationships. The trick is to be hugely organized and to find ways to steal time for yourself! I like to think that when Fran returns to London she finds a way to get a better balance in her life, and they all live happily ever after!
Who are some of your literary influences and why?
There are so many writers and books that I love. Scott Fitzgerald for the sparkling and spikey quality of his prose, Philip Roth for the depth and humour of his male characters, Margaret Atwood for her range and longevity, Mary Gaitskill for her sharpness and brutality, Cormac McCarthy for his hefty take-a-deep-breath style… the list is very long. But I also take influence from cinema and television and digital media… from the whole range of media that we have access to.
If you weren't a writer, you would be....
Oh god, my imagination doesn’t really extend beyond writing, I’m afraid. One thing I am profoundly not is entrepreneurial. I think it would be interesting to be some kind of entrepreneur – successful, of course – some kind of business person, someone who sees commercial opportunities and then knows what to do in order to exploit that opportunity. I am so not like that, and it would be very interesting!
I work in digital media a lot these days – see http://www.inanimatealice.com/ and http://www.flightpaths.net/, among other projects. I’ve also just finished a new novel (ALS came out here in the UK in 2006), ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, which will come out in the UK in 2009. It’s a historical novel about two English women who go to live in Luxor, Egypt in 1864, based on a true story.