The Next Chapter

Kate Pullinger explores the nature of homelessness and tragedy in novel Forest Green

The Canadian writer and academic spoke to Shelagh Rogers about writing a novel based the life of an estranged uncle.
Forest Green is a novel by Kate Pullinger. (Doubleday Canada, Bath Spa University)

Kate Pullinger is a writer and academic based in London. She has written numerous books of nonfiction and fiction, including The Mistress of Nothing, which won the 2009 Governor General's Literary Award.

Her latest is Forest Green, a novel about a homeless man named Arthur living on the streets of Vancouver and how he got there. 

Pullinger spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Forest Green.

Fact and fiction

"Forest Green is loosely based on my uncle Art, my mother's brother. He spent most of his life, after he served his time in the army during the Second World War, as a logger in logging camps moving around the province. He was a larger-than-life character in my childhood who would only make occasional appearances. But he would always arrive with a great flurry —  with a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of whiskey — and a great fuss would always be made of him. 

"He was also a great storyteller. He was one of those men who held the floor at any party or family gathering. But then his life took this unfortunate turn and he disappeared from my mother's life for the last 20 years of his life.

It's very difficult to make a good person into an interesting character.

"I did quite a lot of research trying to figure out who he was and what might have happened to him. But the novel is fiction. It veers away from his actual life in a number of places. That was important to me. I had a terrible time attempting to render my mother on the page because my siblings and I have a tendency to think of her as rather saintly. 

"It's very difficult to make a good person into an interesting character."

When life takes a turn

"I was thinking about the question of how people end up on the street in a city like Vancouver? 

"I was interested in exploring the idea of siblings — and how within a family, sibling's lives can take such different directions. The sister in the novel, Peg, has what one would see as an 'ordinary 20th century life,' whereas Arthur's life takes this very different track. 

I was thinking about the question of how people end up on the street in a city like Vancouver.

"It was the question of why — why does someone end up an alcoholic living on the street? How does that happen?"

A tragic life

"The great tragedy for Arthur is that he didn't believe that he deserved to be loved because of what happened to him when he was young. To me, that's his great tragedy: when the opportunity to allow himself to be loved comes along, he turns away from it. He does that repeatedly. 

The great tragedy for Arthur is that he didn't believe that he deserved to be loved because of what happened to him when he was young.

"I feel as though I've seen that in other people. It's a painful thing to witness. It must be an extremely painful thing to live with." 

Kate Pullinger's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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