I have something exciting to share with you today. This is the first book review and author Q&A on my new blog.
My special guest is Melbourne author Robert Lukins, author of The Everlasting Sunday.
I had the good fortune of hearing Robert speak at Perth Writers Week recently, where he talked about his writing life and journey to publication. He was incredibly engaging in interview, so when the interview finished, I headed straight for the festival book store and picked up a copy. I was not disappointed.
When I contacted Robert a few days ago, he graciously agreed to answer a few questions. I hope you enjoy.
Review of The Everlasting Sunday
As a writer, it would be easy to be intimidated by a book like The Everlasting Sunday. Lukins’ handle of language is masterful. Every scene painted with incredible clarity and beauty. I have returned to some paragraphs and sentences more than once, to relive the wonder of his words.
The Everlasting Sunday tells the story of Radford, a seventeen year old boy who is sent away to a somewhat forgotten English manor for boys ‘found by trouble’ during the big freeze of 1962. Quickly swallowed up by the precarious rituals likely forged by an abundance of time and too little occupation, Radford finds his place in the home.
As a reader, I became immersed in the seamless life at the manor. Time and isolation stretch without urgency or limit and while we can see physical life crisply, the boys’ secrets remain buried both by distance from their happening and the endless winter snow, so that all we know are the scenes on the page. This is no doubt a deliberate and clever strategy by the author to hone our attention on the now and maybe it holds a lesson for us too, that what’s past is past and the only true reflection of a character, good or otherwise, is in the present.
While The Everlasting Sunday is Lukins’ debut novel, he is not new to the game. He’s been published in The Big Issue, Rolling Stone, Crikey, Broadsheet and Overland and has written a new manuscript every year for close to twenty years. I can only hope that these and other stories find their way into the world, and very soon.
A corner of my mind, with Robert Lukins
Q. You wrote The Everlasting Sunday in a matter of months. Stephen King says in his memoir On Writing that a novel should be written in a season. Did you write The Everlasting Sunday in winter?
A. That’s an interesting idea from King. I don’t think it’s at all true (necessarily) but it’s a romantic idea. Counter to what I just wrote, I did write The Everlasting Sunday over a single season. It was a blazing summer. I think it was the oppressive heat in my uncooled home that had me reaching for memories of cooler times. Several years ago I spent twelve months working as a postie in a small rural village in Shropshire. My final delivery each day was about three hard-peddling miles out of town to a beautiful, abandoned manor house. It would appear from the fog and darkness each day as the sun was beginning to rise. It is such a peaceful yet menacing memory for me. I started writing this novel without a word or idea of preparation and my mind reached for that lonely house on the hill in frozen Shropshire. My story is set in that house and the novel is in lots of ways simply an attempt to reconstruct that very specific atmosphere.
‘…my mind reached for that lonely house on the hill in frozen Shropshire.’
Q. It’s hard to imagine such perfection falling on to the page so easily. I’d like to think (for my own insecurities) that there was there a rushed first draft, followed by a heavy edit, though I suspect I might be wrong.
A. You’re too kind, but thank you. There most certainly was a heavy edit. I wrote the first draft in a very compressed period of time, maybe eight weeks working relentlessly outside of my full-time job. I then spent about half that time again reworking the manuscript, but to be honest, a lot of this time was just idly moving a few commas around.
I then sent the novel to one agent and one publisher and got very, very lucky. It sat on their desks for a little over two years and then in the same week the agent offered to represent me and the publisher made an offer to publish. I was very fortunate to work with the editor Ian See, who is a bona fide editing genius and kind soul. Our editing was conducted over approximately 18 months.
The first round, the structural edit, was relatively gentle. Ian made large and medium scale suggestions: moving a few sections around; expanding or contracting parts; emphasising certain story or character elements to lesser or great extents. We had lots of conversations and back-and-forths about all this and eventually got the novel into a shape that made sense to us both. Then Ian delivered the copy edit – the line-by-line nitty-gritty – and I found this very difficult to compute initially. This edit involved what felt at the time like a great deal of cutting. Lots of cutting. So much cutting. After the tears, looking at the suggestions soberly, I realised that they were completely essential. I had never undergone an editing process before and I came to learn so much from it. Broadly speaking, for this novel it was all about condensing, condensing and condensing. Trying to follow all my thoughts through to their conclusion and making the language, characterisations and story all work to serve the creation of that world and atmosphere. So many darlings met their maker.
Q. For many writers like myself, publication is the end goal. Now that you’ve reached the lofty heights of being a published novelist, what is next on the agenda? Astronaut, politician? Clearly anything is possible now.
A. I genuinely never considered publication to be the end goal. Perhaps it comes from knowing that the kind of novels I have, and want to write are unlikely to ever turn this into a full-time gig for me. I just want to create some things that I’m proud of. If it makes sense to do so I’d then like to send them out into the world in the hopes of them connecting with other people. Having The Everlasting Sunday published has been a wonderful and interesting experience but it has also cemented in my mind that the real juice of all this is in the writing. The magic moment for me thus far with the novel, without a doubt, was the moment I finished that first draft and realised that I had made something that I loved and was proud of. With all its cracks and flaws it was a complete little object. If it had never been published I would still have that moment and it was very special. I want to keep having those moments and with any luck have a chance to share them.
‘…the real juice of all this is in the writing.’
I couldn’t agree with you more, Robert.
The Everlasting Sunday was published in February 2018 by the University of Queensland Press and is available in all good book stores.