YACUB IN DUBAI
I went to Dubai from my home in Pakistan because I heard I could earn good money.
There was a man in my village who had been working in the Emirates; he was injured on the building site where he worked when a section of scaffolding fell on his foot. He had a lot of stories about what life was like in the workers’ camps, so I knew what to expect.
I liked the look of Dubai; I liked the idea of living in a place where everything was new. The plane was full of men like me, leaving home to work abroad, although I was one of the youngest. When we landed, we were trans-ported to the camp where we were to live.
The conditions were not good—too many men. But I was happy, and when I got to the building site the next day — two hours by bus either way — I was happier still. I wanted to work. Now I had a job. Now I would be paid.
But it turned out that getting paid for the work I did was not as simple as I thought it would be.
YACUB AT THE AIRPORT: KARACHI
At the airport, I followed the instructions Ameer had given me—for which I had paid the last of my Dubai money — and found the unlocked door that led outside to the planes. I had less than ﬁfteen minutes after darkness fell to ﬁnd the correct airplane.
I’d been home from Dubai for a while, but there was no work in Karachi. I told Raheela, my sister, I was going back to Dubai. We spent a long time over our good-byes. She could tell that something was up, but I told no one my real plans, not even her. We’d lost our parents when we were teenagers — our father in the 2005 Kashmir earth-quake, our mother a year after that—so we were used to ﬁnding our own way. Even so, I found it hard not to cry when we parted.
From the ground, the planes looked enormous, their lights blinking in the dusk. The air stank of petrol and tires.
But I found the plane I wanted, and no one saw me. I climbed over the giant wheels and shimmied up the land-ing gear and folded myself onto the little shelf, which was exactly where Ameer had said it would be.
HARRIET DRIVING: LONDON
I have to go to the supermarket today, otherwise my family will starve.
Well, not starve, exactly. In the event of a war or cataclysm of some kind, there is enough food in the house to last for — how long? The pantry. The fridge. The storage jars. The cupboard full of breakfast cereal. The shelf of tins. The peas that have fallen out of their bag and are roll-ing around in the bottom drawer of the freezer. The tahini that is older than my teenaged child.
We would last at least one month, maybe even two, before we would have to eat those jars of red wine pre-serves given to me several years ago. Except that isn’t the point. The fact that there is already a ton of food in my house and I am on my way to buy more is not the point.
While there are plenty of wars and cataclysms happening elsewhere, as far as I can see, stuck as I am in the one-way trafﬁc system, Richmond is its usual placid, well-fed self this week.
The family expects meals. They know that fairies do not replenish the cupboards in the night, but how, why, when, and where the food comes from is not something that interests them. It is not something that interests me either. But I am a good wife. I am a good mother.
From Landing Gear
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Kate Pullinger writes for both print and digital platforms. Landing Gear was published in 2014, and develops the story told in Pullinger’s collaborative multimedia digital work, co-created with Chris Joseph, Flight Paths: A Networked Novel. Pullinger’s 2009 novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes. Her prize-winning digital fiction projects Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths: A Networked Novel have reached audiences around the world.
Kate Pullinger is Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media at Bath Spa University. As well as Landing Gear and The Mistress of Nothing, Pullinger’s books include A Little Stranger, Weird Sister, The Last Time I Saw Jane, and Where Does Kissing End?
What are you currently working on - is there a principal project at the moment?
I'm currently working on three things: episode six of 'Inanimate Alice', a new novel with the working title of 'Skid Road', and a novel for smartphones project, 'Jellybone'. The episode of IA is a collaboration with the team behind IA, the most important member of which is the developer Andy Campbell. Andy is building this episode in Unity and much of the episode will reside within a series of 3D game-story environments. So my role as a collaborator is sporadic - most of the writing and narrative structure was done through collaboration in the first half of 2014. Now my role is to wait til Andy needs me to help make decisions re narrative structure and dialogue and other text that will appear on the screen. It feels like a large leap in sophistication from episode five to this new episode.
While that bubbles away on Andy's burners, I've been working on a new novel for the past two years, 'Skid Road'. It's loosely based on the life of my uncle who was a logger in British Columbia - the Pacific Northwest in Canada - all his life. It's now at the stage where it is ready to go to my editor who commissioned it. I'll have the next month or so away from it, then I'll meet with her to discuss it in January. I haven't quite sent it in to her yet... I keep changing the title, though I think that 'Skid Road' might be the right title.
I'm also working on 'Jellybone' which has been commissioned by Oolipo, a publishing start-up that is creating a new platform for publishing text-driven multimedia stories. The main aim of the Oolipo is to think about how people read on their phones, and to try to create a form of text-driven fiction that is native to smartphones - media-rich, suited to the smartphone screen. I've been involved in their discussions from early on in the role of writer-guinea-pig as they design and build the backend of their platform. To date I've written two episodes of 'Jellybone' and a storybible. The novel will be serialised in ten episodes; each episode needs to move the story forward through plot; each episode needs to end with a cliffhanger; each episode needs to utilise smartphone notifications as well as multimedia content. It's complex! But it is also a lot of fun - it's a new way of writing for me. Apart from anything else, I had to start writing before the backend of the platform was built, so I had to write in a spreadsheet. Bizarrely, I enjoyed that as well.
You work on multiple projects. Your practice is closer to a fine artist than a writer - there's cross-discipline work here, and many different forms of collaboration. Is there any down-side to this?
Yes, collaborating isn't always easy. I've had a huge amount of luck over the years in the people I've collaborated with - Chris Joseph on Flight Paths and Inanimate Alice, and Andy Campbell more recently on Inanimate Alice (Chris remains involved as the music and sound person on IA). But we expanded the IA team for episode six and that proved to be much more difficult to navigate successfully. Working in a team of two is definitely easier! When things go wrong in a collaboration, you have to spend a lot of creative time and energy on sorting it out in order to proceed. That's a downside, and one I'm not all that suited to, personally. However, large collaborations can go well when - and this is key - roles are clearly defined. Letter to an Unknown Soldier - a participatory writing project Neil Bartlett and I created last year - had a huge team behind it but there was a firm structure to that team which ran like a well-oiled machine.
But in terms of working on multiple projects and my own practice - it is something that I really enjoy. I could never write two novels at the same time; however, you could say that Inanimate Alice, Jellybone, and Skid Road are in fact three novels that I'm writing at the same time. But, for me, each of these works has a radically different mode and form of delivery, and form affects content in a way that, for me as a writer, means that each of these projects occupies a different part of my brain.
Flight Paths began as digital project, where phrases are combined with a rich series of still and moving images which play with documentary, film, home footage and gaming graphic styles. The audio is also dynamic and changes from piece to piece. There's a deliberate stress in layering and levels. Given that density, at what point did you decide to expand this into a novel?
From the time I first read the original newspaper article in The Guardian in 2001 - where two journalists investigated the identity of the body of a young man who had fallen out of the landing gear of an airplane as it came into Heathrow, landing in a supermarket carpark - I was compelled by figuring out how to tell this story. Flight Paths grew up out of my collaboration with Chris Joseph on Inanimate Alice as well as a project I worked on in 2007 called A Million Penguins; we applied for, and received, Arts Council England funding to create Flight Paths. But even then, in that original funding application, I outlined that I would also write a novel - I always felt that the story could be told in many ways and that I'd want to expand what we were doing in Flight Paths into a longer narrative text.
What's the difference between digital and printed works - not in terms of reading, but in the possibilities they offer a writer?
For me, one of the primary differences is that fact that in order to work in the digital realm, I must collaborate. I'm a text person. I have no design or programming skills, limited media skills, and even less interest in developing those skills myself. I realised this fact when I first started working on digital projects in 2002. Luckily, I don't have to do those things.
But I also feel strongly that the digital realm offers endless possibilities to writers. It is a cliche to say it, but it is true - we are only just beginning to understand the potential for new and hybrid digital forms of writing.
Your characters are often in motion, migrating themselves. In A Little Stranger a mother abandons her son, but her return to Canada is as much about settling a bad legacy, of having to settle the past to live in the present.
Yes, it's a major theme for me. Also, 'otherness'. And the disappointments and disadvantages of the nuclear family. I can see these themes running through most of my work.
Kate Pullinger website
Canadian publisher: Penguin Random House
US / UK publisher: Simon & Schuster / Touchstone Books
Author pages: Amazon / Foyles / Waterstones page
Inanimate Alice, episode six
Flight Paths (with Chris Joseph) a networked novel
Flight Paths interactive map
Kate Pullinger & Neil Bartlett, Letter to an Unknown Soldier website