Books·How I Wrote It

Kate Pullinger: How I wrote Landing Gear

Kate Pullinger explains how her novel grew out of a newspaper article about a body that had landed in a supermarket parking lot.
Kate Pullinger is the author of the novel Landing Gear. (katepullinger.com/Doubleday Canada)

A man falls from the sky at the beginning of Kate Pullinger's novel Landing Gear, causing a handful of disparate lives to intersect in surprising ways. We caught up with Kate to get some insider details on how she wrote this novel, which looks into the role of technology, the clash of world cultures, the disintegration of family and the search for meaning and belonging in an increasingly isolating world.

Ripped from the headlines

"The idea for Landing Gear grew out of a newspaper article that I first read a long time ago now, in 2001. It was a report on a body that had landed in a supermarket car park in West London, not that far from where I lived, and the article went on to explain about how there's a myth in certain parts of the world that you can get into the hold of an airplane by climbing up to the landing gear. And people pay these sort-of fixers to get them through an airport so that they can stow away in the landing gear. But, of course, most people who do this do not survive. The article that I read explored this: there was a body that landed in the supermarket car park and the two reporters behind the article figured out who he was, tracked down where he'd come from and learned a bit of his life story. Since reading that article, I have been really interested in this notion of how you would come to stow away in an airplane in this way. What kind of life you would have had to end up in that place doing that thing?"

From "Flight Paths" to "Landing Gear"

"This project had a long incubation. In fact, it started life as a digital project called Flight Paths, a collaborative online multimedia work that I created with a really talented web artist called Chris Joseph. So he and I sort of explored the themes and ideas behind flight paths, and created this digital work. But while I was working on that, which was sort of 2009, I knew that I wanted to write a novel based on this story as well. So I started writing Landing Gear in 2010." 

High-tech research... 

"The Internet is an amazing thing! YouTube, it turns out, has loads of videos made by migrant workers about camps in Dubai in particular, in the Emirates. There's lots of interesting reporting. The business of the camp being shut down and the workers being abandoned which happens in Landing Gear is based on news reports and videos that I found online. So yes, thank God for the Internet. What did we do before the Internet? How did anyone write anything before the Internet?"

...low-tech editing 

"Though I'm actually trying to break this pattern with my new book that I'm working on now, what I've always done in the past, ever since I had a computer, is a combination of either writing directly on the computer or writing by hand. I always print out the pages and then hand-edit them before retyping them, then do that process over and over and over again. There is something about hand-editing with a pen that I find very satisfying: the scratchings-out and the arrows that you need to draw in order to remember which bit of text goes where. 

"I learned how to use word processing about a hundred years ago and I really resist having to learn anything else. I feel like writing is difficult enough without having to learn some new piece of software that's supposed to make it easier for me. So I've absolutely resisted, but occasionally I do buy them. I just buy them! And then I look at them, and then I never look at them again." 

Kate Pullinger's comments have been edited and condensed. 

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