You have to learn to spot the true breakthroughs from the false dawns

Robert Williams is a writer based in Manchester. Luke and Jon is his first novel.

What motivated you to write this novel?

I was stuck and frustrated. I had been in a band, writing songs for a few years and getting nowhere. I’d always been convinced that at some point the world would want my songs, but it resolutely did not and I felt that I’d reached the end of the line with songwriting. I wrote nothing for several months, came in from a terrible day at work and started writing Luke and Jon. I have no idea where it came from but almost immediately I felt happier about the world and my place in it.

The novel opens with a focus on Luke’s green eyes before « zooming out » to its environment. Why did you use this particular device?

I could say that it was a conscious decision, that I was drawing the reader to the unusual qualities of Luke’s eyes before turning his eyes onto the rest of his environment to tell his story, but that would be a huge lie. I don’t know where the opening lines came from but they remained unchanged from the moment I wrote them. They set the tone for Luke’s voice and for the rest of the book, and whenever I felt stuck I went back to the first page until I found the voice again, and the voice led to the story.

To echo the header of a chapter, Luke is a wonderful artist, with a father who has a hard time getting back on his feet after the death of his wife, and with a friend who is an illegitimate child. How did you build this environment around Luke?

I didn’t know the story until I wrote it; there was no plan, it all happened on the page, in the writing. There were moments when I could see where the story was going and I was thinking, No! Go somewhere else!, but whenever I tried to steer the story one way, it would claw its way back somehow. I’m quite a wasteful writer, I tend to do my thinking in the writing, so often a book will turn one way and it will only be after I’ve spent days writing in that direction that I will realise I’ve taken the wrong path. As frustrating as that can be, it can also be exciting. For example I didn’t know Jon would be in the book until the sentence before I wrote him running out into the road – then, suddenly, he was there for me, just like he is for the reader. When it works it’s exhilarating but quite often those moments are red herrings too. You have to learn to spot the true breakthroughs from the false dawns.

What does it mean to write a novel nowadays? Is it similar to what Luke’s father does: sculpting a horse and putting it in a glade in the middle of a forest?

In the book the horse is hidden deep in a forest and Luke’s father doesn’t know if many people will ever see it, but that doesn’t matter to him. The achievement is that he built it and it is there. Writing Luke and Jon was a bit like that for me – I wanted to prove something and at the beginning the act of writing was enough. But now, if I’m honest, I want the work to be seen. Not that I’d chop down surrounding trees. Maybe just put up tasteful wooden signs pointing people in the right direction.