Interviewed by Rachel Wild
Read Pauline Holdsworth’s fiction piece, Life Line
Rachel: This is an affecting portrayal of grief and loss. What was the inspiration for the story?
Pauline: Uncertainty has always been difficult for me, and it’s something I’ve struggled with during the pandemic. But Rebecca Solnit writes that uncertainty is actually a hopeful space, because we don’t know what’s going to happen (and the future is still fluid and can be changed). I started thinking about a character who is clinging to her uncertainty, because it’s more comforting than certainty, and the story grew from there.
This story also contains echoes of my British grandmother’s life. As a young woman, she was engaged to a soldier who died in the Second World War. I often think about how, in a strange way, I owe my life to that death. If he hadn’t died, my grandmother would never have met my grandfather, and my father—one of the best parts of my life, and the reason I had a chance at existing—would never have been born. This story is an attempt to imagine and honour what my grandmother lost when her first love died, as well as to honour the other lives and possibilities that grew from that moment.
The story is set in 1940s London. How did you ensure the period details in the story were accurate?
I’ve heard some secondhand stories about my grandmother’s life during the war, but she died over a decade ago, and as a teenager I never thought to ask her about daily life as a young woman. She lived in York during the war, rather than London, but I wish I could ask her some of those questions now. While writing this story, I turned to a few of the stories I’ve inherited and to pictures of London during the Blitz. Although part of my family still lives in the UK, I grew up in the United States and now live in Canada—so I’m grateful to The Forge for catching some of my Americanisms!
Can you explain to us your process for writing fiction?
Before the pandemic hit, I used to write longhand on my commute to work. When I got on the streetcar, it was usually pretty empty; by the time I got to work 40 minutes later the streetcar would be packed and someone’s winter jacket was usually crowding my field of vision, but even if I only wrote one messy page it was still a hopeful way to start the day. I once heard someone talk about creating your own writing residency in hour-long chunks, and that’s what I was trying to do. Now, I write in the evenings after work and on weekends. I still write longhand, because it’s easier for me to write first drafts that way—somehow seeing it all on the screen makes me want to start editing immediately! Then I type up what I’ve written and work on revising and refining it.
How do you go about creating believable characters in fiction?
I often start with a moment or an image, and work from there. In this case, it was the image of a woman returning to a train station even after she’s received the news she was searching for. I then tried to imagine what had brought her to this moment, and what her life would be like after she let this daily ritual go. And although the character in this story is not my grandmother, I think in a way I was trying to imagine and access a younger version of her—one I never got to meet.
Thanks very much Pauline!