Our First Book Club pick for March, Robert Lukins‘ The Everlasting Sunday, is a haunting novel about the winter seventeen-year-old Radford is sent to Goodwin Manor, a home for boys who have been ‘found by trouble’. Lukins spoke with Ellen Cregan at Readings Carlton on 29 March about writing and revising his novel – and the dozens of practice novels that came before it.
Our April First Book Club title is Laurie Steed’s You Belong Here.
Meaghan Dew: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. Today we have a recording of our second First Book Club event for the year. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know our March title was Robert Lukins’ The Everlasting Sunday. We recorded Robert in conversation with our book club coordinator Ellen Cregan at Readings on Thursday March 29.
Ellen Cregan: So welcome, Robert. And we’re here today to launch and discuss and have a book club of sorts to do with your debut novel, The Everlasting Sunday, which is right here. I’m actually going to start by asking Robert to read from the book, which I think is always a good way to give sort of a taster of what it’s like and I know a lot of you probably haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, because it is relatively new. So I’ll pass over to you, Robert.
Robert Lukins: Thank you. Thanks everyone for being here. I’ll read a bit.
The boys stood in wonder, for above them the sky was breaking apart. It seemed to Radford exactly how a mirage might present itself. The starlings had lifted from their roost and swarmed into a molten object which oscillated above the horizon, making impossible shapes. They were a snake, a heart, a firework. The flock breathed with a lone purpose and it was this unity that struck him. That all these beaks and breakable wings could come so close to disaster, yet make a song so sweet. It made it’s way into his pulse, rising and falling as the colony moved closer or away.
‘Seen this before?’ he said as the formation turned into a long arrowhead and named itself at the setting sun.
There were a few shaking heads.
‘I’ve seen it,’ West said. His voice had softened. ‘Years ago with my parents in Devon. My father used to take us with his caravan to Slapton Ley and we’d go for these awful walks.’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s called a murmuration.’
They stood as silhouettes in the silver distance and the birds continued unaware.
KYD: Thank you that was really beautiful. So, the first thing I’d like to ask you about with this book is the setting. So it’s quite a specific setting. It’s set in the midst of one of the coldest winters of the 20th century in England in the countryside. What drew you to this particular place and setting and sort of historical period when you decided to write this book?
RL: Yeah it’s got a really specific origin as well. So in 2002 I was a – I spent a year being a postman in this tiny village in Shropshire in England. And I would wake up at three o’clock in the morning and put on my balaclava and my headlamp torch and head down to the post office and sort the mail under the single low wattage bulb and head out on my pushbike out into the dark cobbled streets and deliver the mail for the town.
And the last delivery every day was always the same. About three miles out of town, up through the empty grazing fields, through the fog – almost as a dream – this incredible manor house would appear through the fog, really like Downton Abbey stuff. But as you got closer you would see that it was crumbling; it was a wreck and it had been overgrown with vines and time taken its toll on this place. I found out later at had been abandoned since the war. But you know, still getting junk mail, so someone has to do the work.
And yeah, and so every day I would put the mail through the slot and walk back down the crunchy gravel drive and I would stand there and I’d watch the sun rise over the fields and give life to this white, dead place and the birds would start to twinkle in the bushes. And it was always such an intense feeling and it was so concentrated and it was so beautiful, but also very lonely and menacing in a way.
And it definitely had something to do with that period in my life. Like, what the hell was I doing in this town? And so that memory has just stayed with me my whole life and if anything that memory is intensified as the years have gone on. And when I came to write this novel, the first time I was – I’ve been trying to write for years – I’ve been writing for years – but this was the first time I wanted to just come to this from a blank page and let my mind just reach for those strong places, reach for those things I really wanted to write. And my mind took me to that house. And so the story is set in that house and I know that house so well I know that feeling so well – I’ve lived with it my whole life – that it really was just a matter of opening the door and seeing who was in there. And this book is really just – actually in some ways it’s an attempt to recreate the specific atmosphere of standing in front of that house in 2002.
KYD: Very cold at three in the morning as well. Which brings me on to, you know, the weather in the book – which sounds really boring, but I don’t think it is. The winter that you’ve actually, that it’s, that’s there was called the Big Freeze, I believe. It was one – it was a really cold winter people were sort of trapped in their houses. And in the novel it becomes this almost extra omnipresent, almost character and it’s sort of shapes a lot of the drama, because they are quite, you know – it restricts their movement and it drives the plot. What were some of the reasons, especially as an Australian author, although you have now I told us about your time spent in England, to depict such an oppressive cold and make that such a large part of how the story unfolds?
RL: Yeah I think it was a couple of things. I think the actual spark of the Big Freeze though was that I – my – I’ve got a resolutely British family; my parents are British, my brother and sister are Welsh. And growing up on Buderim mountain in the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and seeing photos in my family’s album of my grandfather shovelling the car out from snow and my father going down the pitched roof of the house on his sled during the Big Freeze – they’re the things that stick with you as a little idiot sunburnt Sunshine Coast kid growing up.
So that, again it was that idea that that’s just been with me my whole life, that image was there. And when I came to write this story, I knew – I came to this story with without a word of planning, without any ideas of what I was going to do. So I knew I needed to set the parameters very very closely and I couldn’t have this – I wanted to isolate these characters in every way I could, so isolated them geographically and I isolated them in time – and again my mind just reached for that winter.
And, you know, it’s kind of a sneaky trick, it’s kind of an Agatha Christie kind of thing to, you know – and I read a lot Agatha Christie when I was growing up, from my mother – you know that idea of, but it’s that Petri dish idea and it’s that compression. And it was just handy device to say, okay they’re in this house – this house I know so well – and, just like my memories, is in that spot. I needed to root them to the ground and so I trapped them in that place and compressed them. And it really was just a matter of seeing what would happen to these characters when you compress them under those circumstances.
KYD: And even though you’re coming from, you know, you do have those really strict parameters, did you find it difficult writing the his – like, about the past?
RL: No, only because I only brought the past into it where I absolutely had to. It really was a matter of it – and it’s interesting because I’ve been in a bookshop where this book was under historical fiction, and that’s fine and great, but it’s interesting. I had no idea I’ve written historical fiction novel just because it set in that time. I wanted to include history as little as possible because in some ways these characters may as well not be in 1962. They’re not running around listening to the Beatles, getting ready to have a revolution. It’s 1962, it could be now, it may as well be 1762. These are just human beings in an intense circumstance and I wanted to play with that.
And it’s part of the story too. When I lived in this town in Shropshire, it may as well have been 1762. When you – when I stood on top of that hill and I looked at those empty fields, I may as well have been looking out over the last thousand years of history. So it was really important to me to just – and there are cracks of history that make their way in. History sneaks in on the radio, or sneaks in in a newspaper headline. And that’s where Mr Ian See, who’s around here somewhere, my editor, he sorted that all out for me.
Yeah, so history is there in that. There’s a compression of time too. I like this idea of time collapsing on the point, on this black hole of this house. That the past, and everything that the characters had brought to it, and the future – so it’s me writing this story from sunny Melbourne – future and the main character, in some ways the main character’s voice is a condensation of a future voice and a past voice. So it’s this idea of everything, like a black hole, being sucked into this house and time came along with it.
KYD: It’s very interesting, because I did think about asking you about historical fiction, but then I was like, I don’t, I don’t really think that it is historical fiction. It’s kind of past that. And beyond writing about an era that’s unfamiliar and perhaps a setting that’s less familiar, you’re also writing about these characters that are quite unfamiliar – they’re naughty teenage boys. So, why write about teenagers?
RL: It’s a really interesting question, because I don’t know the answer to some extent. I’m not – I am interested in young people and their situation, but it’s really just by virtue of that I had to be interested in them because they were the people in this house. It sounds silly, but it really was.
And I know I came up with these characters and I know I invented the story, but so much of the work in preparing myself to write this was to get myself to a place where I knew this atmosphere so well and, as I said, I knew this house that I didn’t have to think about any of that. And it felt like – and I really enjoyed the feeling – that it was like discovering the characters in this house. And in a strange way it really was, in a hippy dippy kinda way, I open the door and these characters where there.
And I know things had leaked in. I know I’d been reading about what happened to these once great manor houses all across Britain. No one can afford to run these things anymore – you couldn’t have twenty or thirty staff running around maintaining them – so after the war, these places were just derelict. And they often were taken back by the government and turned into facilities and institutions and convalescence hospitals. So that was there in my mind, that I know some of these houses were turned into these sort of halfway homes for young people. That they weren’t quite right for hospital, they weren’t quite ready for prison yet, until they got taken to these places – almost as a warehousing of the problem.
And so that was there and I suppose that very clearly did inform that, but it is interesting because I get asked a lot about youth issues or mental health or a dealing with issues and problems to do with young people. And I am absolutely interested in them by virtue of the fact that they’re my characters and I’m interested in them as individuals. And so I suppose I certainly didn’t have a piece of paper on my wall saying that my theme is youth depression, although I had to deal with all of that because that’s what these characters are dealing with. So I think I’ve successfully avoided your question.
KYD: Well I’ve got another similar one, so watch out. Something that I took away from the book – and that many of us forget about being younger and being a teenager – Is that your identity is kind of in flux. And I think this comes out in the book a lot. Like, the boys are sort of – like, they kind of know who they are, but it’s yet to be seen what’s going to happen to them. They’re at a crossroads. They’ve done, as you said, they’re not quite ready for prison but they’re sort of on that track. Did you find that this sort of identity that is not yet concrete, did it make it easier to write these characters? Or was it more difficult than writing adult characters or the adults in the novel?
RL: They’re human beings and, in my experience of being a human being, those things don’t change. I feel as much in flux now as I did when I was fourteen. I never really think much about their age and I certainly didn’t think about – I never felt that moment of being a teenager and being on the precipice of something. I felt like – I feel like I’m the same sort of stick rock all the way through you can break it anyway you want in the same things there.
So I didn’t approach them in that frame of mind and I kinda wanted to dignify them in some way by just dealing with them as characters. And, yeah certainly – and the flux idea; it’s all in flux. Everything in this story is in flux. It’s that going down the plughole idea. And these characters came from difficult places, and this this book is not an answer to anything, and this home that they live in is not an answer to anything. And maybe it’s enough that they just can exist in this place, because the reality is for these characters – and again I wanted to dignify them by – I didn’t want to solve everything for these characters and this story because that wasn’t being treated them or anyone in these kind of situations.
So that flux idea, they – maybe this house, maybe it’s enough that they have a moment of peace here. Maybe all it can offer is that little shard of memory that you can carry in your pocket the rest of your life. And maybe that’s all they get, because the reality is these characters came from difficult places and there probably going to go to difficult places. And maybe just that moment of cool air, maybe that’s all they can get. And maybe that’s enough. Or maybe not.
This – I don’t know if this house is a good idea; it’s probably not, but they are getting dignified there. I tried to dignify them in writing and, in the story, the house tries to dignify them by just letting them survive – maybe surviving is enough for a lot of these characters. So the flux idea, these people are forever drawn to their own past but they’re all so drawn to this inevitable future. For a lot of these characters their future is inevitable to some extent.
And so, again, I think I’ll really successfully avoided your question.
KYD: No, I think you danced around it very well. We got more out of it then it would have originally given. Another theme that is quite sort of central to the novel is that of friendship. So these boys are sort of out in the middle of nowhere and, as you say, that kind of, you know, they’re not trapped but they’re very isolated. Was this idea of the intensity of these sort of young male friendships something that you set out to I suppose tackle – hate that word but –
RL: Yeah, no is my answer. I suppose I’m interested in something that’s so powerful is what of yours you own. And a lot of these characters don’t have a lot. They came to this place with that, without a lot materially or otherwise, but there’s an amazing power in knowing what is yours. And for a lot of these characters, what they have is their story. They have who they are. And there’s such a power in who you share that with, and when, and to what extent – and it’s something I play with a lot with these characters. And it’s not about being reserved and it’s not about stiff upper lip Britishness at all. These characters pour themselves out, but there’s a power to when they do that and who they do that with.
And that’s my experience of life – from the idiots at work that you don’t know their name through to the people you love in your family, you only know the parts of each other stories that they offer to you or where your stories intersect. There’s always that idea to me that there is this this shard on top and there’s that iceberg below the surface. Even the people you know the dearest, or you know a version of them. And we just know these little ice caps of people – and that’s not a bad thing. And again there’s that power in in how much you share that with each other. And maybe, again, it’s just that idea of bumping the icebergs together and maybe you just float around together for a while.
But – I’ve completely forgotten the start of your question, but I answered something in there, I’m sure.
KYD: No, you definitely did. I just wanted to return to that idea of the iceberg beneath the surface. One of the great things about the characters in this novel is they do have that kind – that feeling of almost like a blank slate. Like, they’ve come to a new place, it’s completely new people, they can sort of be who they want to be. But beyond that there’s, throughout the whole book, there’s a tension that looming beneath the surface – like the past is going to come back at any point and something’s going to happen. What was it like writing around these potentially explosive secrets and things that could happen and sustaining that tension for the duration of whole novel? Which you manage to do quite successfully.
RL: Yeah, well thank you. It’s interesting. And it’s again that idea of, that where two people live is where their stories intersect and I tried to bring that to my telling of the story. It would have been really easy to dump a load of backstory about these characters, and in some ways you’re waiting for that, you know, waiting for that bit where the two people break down together and tell each other all their secrets. And it happens to various extents, but I tried to, again that silly thing of honouring these people that I invented in my bedroom.
But life’s not like that and I know – I’ve known people my whole life and I don’t know that stuff. And the menace – again it’s that idea or trying to recreate – you know there’s menace in all our relationships. There’s menace – maybe this is just, maybe this is me – but you know the unknowable future and, to some extent, the unknowable past. Like, how can we not wake up every morning having to cope with that in some ways? Life is coping and that doesn’t – and how we resolve ourselves with those uncertainties is who we are.
And how we do that – and it’s all about – I’m really interested in how people try and tether themselves down to the world and to existing. Because, to me, I’ve felt my whole life buoyant. I’ve felt like I’ve been – at any moment you can float off into the inevitable future, into oblivion. And we tie ourselves to the people around us. We, if you’re lucky, you tie yourself to a decent situation or a positive situation, but you tie yourself to those people around you. And I’m really interested in how we do that. And we all hope – and some people are really lucky and they’re born into a where they don’t have to think about it too much, because those ties sort of take care of themselves. But, for a lot of people, those things are a really important choices we make.
And yeah, the one thing my publisher told me not to mention but I will mention is the film Alien was a really – it’s an amazing film. And I really thought a lot about that film as I was writing this story. That idea of that, of the airlocks between areas and not knowing where someone is. And so much the action of that film happens off camera and it’s – and it works so much better because of that, and that’s why the – the sequels were alright. But the first Alien film – you really should go watch it if you haven’t seen it in a while. But yeah, that idea of a where there is and isn’t oxygen, and those safe places you can go to, and tying yourself to those people around you even if they’re a bunch of alcoholic truckers, you know, you form a family in those circumstances – healthy or not. And, you know, and that’s our lot and I’m interested in that.
KYD: I never would have drawn a parallel between this book and Alien, but now I can actually – I can totally see it. So now we’re going to have some time for questions – for anyone who’s got a question for Robert. So if you just pop your hand up, I’ll bring the microphone over.
Audience Member: Robert, the notion that the boys were there not to be helped but to help each other emerges pretty suddenly in the book and I was – for me it almost became a central theme. But I was interested where that notion arose from?
KYD: We’ve only got one tonight.
RL: One turntable and one microphone tonight. Yeah and it’s interesting that’s – those ideas of themes and I was so careful in this – as I said before, it’s not a book of answers. It’s not a book tackling youth issues and a potential solution for those things. Because, you know, what would I know? I just know about living my little corner of life as we all do.
And I didn’t want to hammer any of these – that idea of the bonds between the characters and that – the protection of those friendships. I was so – I was very wary of people even mentioning things like that, because, you know, I don’t know if you have that same experience of someone slamming you over the head with an idea in a book – and I was terrified of that to the point that I, that there’s probably parts of this book that are gonna just annoy the hell out of people, because they just want me to tell them what I think.
But yeah, again, it’s that idea of the strings of our life wrapping up with each other and that and that the solution – well, the solution if there is one – that idea of coping is going to come in some way from how we cope together. And that’s it, simply. Really I didn’t – that’s my experience and that’s what I want out of life. Like that’s – I want to feel tied. Even if we are just a bunch of helium balloons, but if all our strings are tied together that’ll feel like something of a sort of coalescence.
And I guess that’s part of me, I suppose, that came through in the book is because that’s something I’ve desired my whole life and it’s something I wake up every day wanting. We have to start all over again every day with this coping malarkey and it’s that tying together – who doesn’t want that? And you know, you tie yourself to what’s on offer. It’s a sizzler bar in front of you and you just – and, you know, if you’re lucky they’ve got the stroganoff on tonight, but if not you settle for the cheese bread. You know?
Where did I go with that one? I dunno. I hope someone’s spent that time of me saying that coming up with a question. Ask me something terrible; I’m quite happy to answer awful questions. Ask me anything you like.
AM: So I’m assuming you only had to write maybe one or two drafts of this? But I was interested to know – In the revising process, what was the thing, whether it was through your own means or with the publisher, what’s the one thing that was the hardest to let go of?
KYD: That’s a very good question.
RL: Yeah, it is actually. And all credit goes to University of Queensland Press and specifically Ian See, my amazing, tolerant, beautiful editor, because I kinda lied and gave the impression that I had done a lot of work on this book.
Now – okay, I want to defend myself here – I did so much work on this book, but it was about all the preparation and all my life and all my time thinking about this writing. Everything I’ve written until now was preparing for this. And it was creating an environment in my mind that on the page where I could let this stuff out. And was building that setting, and it was building the atmosphere and knowing so well the taste of this place that I wanted to get across.
So the actual writing process was incredibly concentrated and came out in a way that felt – again, I’m a rational person, I know I was putting the sentences together but it didn’t feel like that at the time. And I had to work myself into a certain condition to be able to write this and it came out in that way. And really everything from there was – I’m good at writing first drafts, in that I can create them. After that, you know – I’m a first draft specialist. I can do two quarters, but then you gotta pull me off at half-time and give me an ice bath. And so that’s where the editing process really came in.
And the editing process was magical for me, even though it was very brutal for the first twenty-four hours when I got that edit back and I was literally sitting on the toilet in floods of tears holding my laptop saying, ‘I’m going – they can have the money back.’ Because I wasn’t going to do it. I couldn’t. And then, thanks to my lovely wife who talked me down off the toilet, I then soberly the next day looked at it without all the red lines turned on – on Word you can turn the track – just look at what they’ve left.
And it was that idea of cutting all these things, because I felt, as anyone does, I felt so attached to these things. And I was attached to that silly, young, romantic idea of: that’s the book. That – No, that’s the book. How can you improve the book? Because that is the book. With all its faults and with everything in it. It’s like looking at your dog and saying, ‘Oh, we could nip and tuck – ‘ No, that’s the dog! How can you improve the dog? But a book’s not a dog, I’ve learnt.
You can – and so the writing process was magical for me because Ian See got out my matrix and his matrix in the matrix of the book all squeezed together into this perfect little cube. And he knew what this book was trying to do. So the editing process was really a process of condensing. Condensing and condensing and condensing. And it was this idea of building this atmosphere that I was trying to make. For good or bad, we were heading down that road and that book was going to get shorter and shorter and more and more condensed.
And so – and it – he’d push me to finish my thoughts. So there were so many things, like the dog with the funny little one toe on its foot. He said, ‘Why is that toe like that?’.
I said, ‘It just is like that.’
‘But why? Finish that thought.’
So I finished the foot and I finished the tail and he pushed me to challenge myself in a way that you need – well, I think, a lot of time you do need someone from the outside to.
And you still have to do it. That’s the trouble with editors. They don’t do it for you. They just give you this homework assignment and then you have to go off and do it. So he pushed me and pushed me and pushed me and we were just condensed and condensed. And it was really about just, in the cold light of day, working out what is this meant to achieve? And if it’s not serving this taste of the book, then she’s got to go. And that’s tough, but that’s life baby.
AM: Robert, I thought that you created a very beautiful character in the character of Teddy and I’ve wondered whether that person is based on someone you’ve – who’s been dear to you or is someone mythological that you’ve been attracted to?
RL: No, is the answer. Sorry for that dramatic pause then. None of these characters came from a specific inspiration at all. And again it was that idea of coming to a blank page – this was a completely blank page story. And again, this silly, childish idea is it really did feel like I opened the door and I looked around and I reported what I saw. And these characters were there.
So, unfortunately, what that probably means is that these characters are probably the most personal reflections of parts of me than I can ever do. Just because of the process of how I created them in that I didn’t. They – but again, it’s this strange duality of – something’s working back there creating these things and I know it is me. So, unfortunately, Teddy is probably me, in the same way that Radford is probably me and Lily’s me an a dress, you know. But having said that they – that’s awful. Don’t think of that when I –
As in – but it’s strange. It’s a strange duality, this writing, because these characters feel so not me. Like they – to me, as I was writing them, it certainly wasn’t about me trying to get across my feelings about the world. When it – the opposite; I loved exploring these characters the felt so different to me. And in some ways all the characters feel completely alien to me. And that’s what I enjoyed about being in their company and working out when you push those two characters together what happens. It’s that idea of getting the characters in the room and pushing them around a little bit and seeing what happens.
So it’s that’s strange – when I think about where these characters come from, I don’t like to think about it because they probably came from me. And that’s not what I – this isn’t my teenage diary. I wanted to create – and it that’s silly, silly writer’s thing isn’t it? Of like, ‘Oh, I invented this world! I’m the creator of worlds!’ You know, it’s this – how – of course it’s not me, but you know of course it is. So, who knows?
AM: Rob, your work has suddenly become very public and, you know, you open up the paper on Saturday morning and your work is up for scrutiny. And what is – what does that mean, as a writer? How are you coping with it, I suppose, and, you know, the reviews that you’ve had so far? Because it is – It’s a real leap that a writer needs to make.
RL: I used that pause to try and think of what I think about it. It’s strange in a way. I think I spent so – So, I’ve spent a long time in my room writing, trying, learn – teaching myself how to write. And this was the first novel that I’ve written that I sent into the world. It’s very strange.
I think my relationship to it is changing every day. In some ways, it was something about spending all those years self-flagellating myself in my room writing these things and deliberately setting myself the task of writing three novels in a row that, no matter what they are at the end, I’m just going to delete the file. Just to prove some childish thing to myself of why I’m doing this and all these other silly, childish ideas you have.
So, in some ways, I feel kind of bulletproof to some extent. Only because, you know, that – and I don’t know how else to explain it, besides I – this is a different thing, I suppose, this being in the world. But, having said that, the one thing that has made me engage with this being in the world is that now that’s everything to me. ‘Cause I’m realising now that this book only exists when people read it. And that these are things you’re supposed to know – but, you know, sitting in your room for twenty years trying to write a novel is such a narcissistic thing to do and it’s such a self-centred thing to do.
And I thought it was all about the art, you know? And I’m a kid from the Sunshine Coast, so saying the A word is tricky, but I’m going to say it. And I thought it – and when I wrote – when I was writing, I wasn’t writing for an imagined audience and I wasn’t writing for me. I was trying to finish what I started. I just trying to find my – the something, some spark of this story. And seeing it through – and I’ve never seen it through before, with all its flaws and cracks and cloudy bits. I finished what I started for the first time. So I was going to be happy with sending that out no matter what.
But goodness me, people reading your book and telling you about – I have cried on an almost daily basis, which is why there’ll be no speeches tonight, because it won’t stop. But yeah, reviews and things, that’s interesting. Goodness, who know – how do you deal with the – I think I have a detachment from – well, I’m a curious bystander to a lot of this stuff and I don’t think I’ve processed it yet.
And I think again it’s this coping mechanism. I’m coping with this by, you know, it’s kind of odd and amusing and I – what I’m – the amazing thing – the first time someone – I was at the Perth Writers’ Festival and someone who read my book and – they just told me that they read the book and I, for the – the cycle, the circle was complete for the first time. This thing that I thought I’d been doing for twenty years in my room wasn’t what I was doing at all. It was – it was that bit just then.
And it’s silly and childish and magical and beautiful and all the things you want it to be. And so it’s changed my relationship to writing now and it’s not about that I’m going to write for – trying to second guess what people are writing, but this has been my way into the world; I’m not in my bedroom anymore. So it’s yeah. So, yeah, didn’t answer that one either, but gave it a go.
KYD: I think we’ve got time for one more. So, down here was the first hand I saw.
AM: So, I guess the question is, how long did it take you to write it and how many did you write before it?
RL: Again, the question my publisher said not to answer. I wrote the first – it’s lost slightly in the fog of time. I wrote what was the first draft of this in probably three months. Again, it’s how this needed to be written. It was all about the setup. I built what felt like a little dusty stage in an old church hall and I knew it so well and it was just about this improvisation on that stage and whatever – writing is improvising. This was a complete start to finish improvisation. You know, it was kind of like some bad impro comedy, you know? It had to come out in one burst and it had to come out while I was holding one thought in my head. And that was just for this one, that’s not how I’d written in the past, but that’s just how this one had to exist.
How many I wrote before that? Oh, it’s like lying in bed with your lover and getting asked the how many question, goodness. Let’s just say, I think I wrote – I’ll be honest. That’s what tonight’s all about; it’s about sharing. I wrote my first novel – again first, when I say novel I mean I wrote a first draft, because I never went past first drafts – but my first draft when I was maybe fifteen and I’ve written one every year since then. So – but, you know, and like I said before it’s – you tell your friends you’ve written a novel it’s like ‘Woah! You’ve written – ‘ You tell them two, they’re like ‘Two!’ As that – there’s a certain point where that number becomes a symptom and stops being an impressive number.
But they were all – what I wrote were writing exercises. I had this completely stubborn, puritanical thing that I needed to do this by myself. I don’t know where that came from, but it came – something about being in my room as a kid. But it – I keep going back to the bedroom, it all keeps coming back to the bedroom. So I was – but I was – I wasn’t writing things to be published, I was writing things ’cause I thought – okay, I was testing – It’s the kind of stuff – and it really helped me back, I think, to some extent.
A lot of this is on – Is great, but a lot of it I could have learnt in one Thursday afternoon talking to someone else who had written a book once or twice. Because I would say – I go – Okay, I’ve written a novel that has no characters and it’s in a completely empty room, just to see what that felt like. I’ve written stories where the children and the adults had swapped minds, just to see how they would react to each other. I would set whole books on a bus.
You know, you do things just as writing exercises – but this – I had to start it and I had to finish it and I knew it was never about being published, but I was trying to teach myself how to write. So I’ve written one novel. It took me all these years to get to the point where I could write my first novel, even though I’ve written a bunch words on some pages. So this is the novel I should have written when I was seventeen and it’s just taken me a little while to get there.
KYD: I’m just going to finish up with a very superficial question. The cover of this book is absolutely gorgeous and, now that we know that it was a real place, is this the place?
RL: It’s interesting. Sandy Cole designed that and she is the god of covers in in my estimation. I’ve never met Sandy Cole, I’ve never spoken to Sandy Cole – she is an artist and she lives in this ether somewhere. We never com – much like any other kind of god, we never directly communicated. We conversed through my editor and the publishing house. I sent clues about the real place out into the world, I don’t know if she ever saw them, but what she gave back could – she crept into my mind and took a photo. It’s incredible. So, who knows? I’ve been so protective, I’ve never told anyone with the name of this town is. There’s something about that place I’m not quite ready to share yet. So no, that’s not the house, but yeah it is. So, she did something magical and she seems to keep doing it, so –
KYD: Yeah, I seriously think you could read this book cover to cover without looking at the outside and this is the image you would get. It’s very – it’s pretty perfect. Thank you so much, Robert, for speak – coming out and speaking with me. And copies of Robert’s book are available at the front counter and he is going to be signing copies, I believe. So thank you all very much for coming out.
KYD: That was Robert Lukins discussing his first novel with Ellen Cregan at Readings. That book club event was brought to you by them, Kill Your Darlings and UQP. And you can find The Everlasting Sunday at all good bookstores.
If you want to keep up with book club, our April title is Laurie Steed’s You Belong Here from Margaret River Press. If you’re a KYD member, we’ll see you at Happy Valley on April 19th for a very special event with KYD contributors Ellena Savage, Jean Bachoura and Laura McPhee-Browne. In the meantime, remember to check in at the KYD website for fantastic criticism, fiction, essays and memoir. I’m Meaghan Dew and you’ve been listening to the Kill Your Darlings podcast. See you next time.