I am so pleased to welcome Robert Lukins to Behind the Pen today. Robert’s debut novel, The Everlasting Sunday, is released on February 26th by University of Queensland Press and is available in both paperback and ebook from all book retailers.
When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
I’ve wanted to write books for as long as I can remember. I would make stories on my brother’s typewriter when I was 7 or 8 and have my father take them in to his office to use their binding machine. I never stopped writing. My brother and sister both had their first jobs at the local council library and I spent my afternoons there, waiting for their shifts to finish so we could be taken home. I explored every last inch of that place. I don’t know where the initial desire to write came from but those years of drifting the aisles cemented my idea of a life among books. When the time came, my first job was at the library too.
Are you balancing a different career with your writing? How do go about making time for your writing within limited hours?
I worked as a freelance arts writer for a long time but over the last five years have been working a non-writing desk job. I found both as difficult as each other to balance with my personal writing. I write most days: in the morning, at lunch break, at night, around the fulltime job. My friendships suffer. My hair’s falling out. No-one mows the lawn. It’s exhausting and it stops me from writing as much and as well as I could. My writing career fantasy is to have one day a week that is financed by my fiction writing and to which I can devote entirely to writing. One day, perhaps.
What inspired your most recent novel?
15 years ago I found myself living in a small border village in Shropshire, England. The post office had a sign in its window saying ‘POSTMAN NEEDED’, so I became a postman. They gave me a Royal Mail pushbike, a balaclava, and a 3am start time. I would bumble along the cobbled streets in the pitch dark of that freezing January, ice forming in my eyebrows. My final delivery each day was to a decrepit manor house set alone a few miles out of town, up through the empty snow fields. It had been abandoned for many years but the junk mail kept coming. The great buildings were crumbling and overgrown. It was a beautiful and frightening place and the memory of that house persisted and all these years later it has reimagined itself as the setting for my debut novel.
What did you do when you finished this novel?
There was no great moment when I knew that the book was finished. Throughout the long editing process I would have almost daily contact with my editor, making major and minor changes. Until the end, word choices would be mulled over, fonts confirmed, dinkuses realigned. In one of these regular emails from my editor it was mentioned that the thing had been sent to the printers, and that was that. I think I went to the 7-11 and bought a $1 coffee and a plain donut.
How much planning do you do? Do you plan/plot the entire story from beginning to end, or let it evolve naturally as the writing progresses? In terms of characters, are they already a firm picture in your mind before you start writing or do they develop a personality of their own as the story progresses?
For this novel I had none of the story planned before I began writing. Instead I had a completely formed idea of the setting, the atmosphere, the place. It was all about recreating the ambiguous feeling I would experience when alone at the house that inspired the story. I had such a strong sense of the world in which this story would live in that the characters and story grew immediately and easily within it once I put finger to keyboard. The characters where inspired in part by reading I had done on real homes for ‘troubled youths’ that had been set up in rural England in the mid twentieth century, but once I began to write they formed themselves into entirely fictional creatures. I don’t know where they came from but I have my suspicions.
Where do you normally write? Is it in the same place every day or are you an all over the place writer?
I don’t have a writing desk. If I can help it I don’t write in the same place twice. I’m not inspired by my surroundings and prefer neutral, functional spaces not in my home. I write on trams, in chain cafes, libraries, university buildings, public spaces. I write better when I’m not settled, so it helps me to head out with my laptop and find any old place to work. It’s amazing the places you can walk into and quietly go about writing. I’m very rarely asked to leave.
What is your favourite childhood book? Did reading as a child have any bearing on your decision to become a writer?
No question, it was The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾. That book had such an unmistakeable impact on the adult I became. I read my brother’s copy when I was 8 and didn’t realise for some time that Adrian’s pretentions were supposed to be funny. I found the book’s situations deeply funny but thought Adrian was an inspiring intellectual. I read the book on a near endless rotation and basically became Adrian Mole through my teenage years, and borrowed from him the unshakeable conviction that if I simply keep on writing then one day I will be ‘discovered’. A terrible situation, but there it is. After a while I realised that Adrian was supposed to be read as a loveable fool but by then the damage was done and Adrian and I walk hand in hand down life’s footpath forever more.
What book is currently on your bedside table?
I tend to have three books on the go at once: some mix of fiction, poetry, art, science, history, so I can switch between them without muddying my memory. Today the three are: ‘The Glimpses of the Moon’ by Edith Wharton (gorgeous), ‘Breakfast with Lucian’ by Geordie Grieg (ridiculous, sad and much fun), and ‘The Making of the Atomic Bomb’ by Richard Rhodes (terrifically thorough).
Is there any one particular season on the year that you find more creatively inspirational than the others?
I’m not well made for summer. I burn, sweat, and tire very easily, but I can’t deny that I’m more productive in the warmer weather. I appreciate winter far more aesthetically and connect with its romance, but I get down in the cold months and that slows my writing.
How has being Australian impacted on your writing and/or writing career?
All my family, brother and sister included, were born in Great Britain. I was born in Australia but lived my early years with the long cultural shadow of Wales and England over me. I have written with a predominantly Australian setting for most of my unpublished novels, so it interests me that The Everlasting Sunday is my first shift from the Australian setting to a British one. I have lived in Australia, Great Britain, and parts Europe and feel equally not-quite-at-home in all of them. If everything goes wrong I’m going to move to Myanmar and set up a moped hire shack at the beach.