Luke Inglis works and lives on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia. His debut novel, Something Drastic, was just published by NON Publishing. The book’s strange protagonist, Earl Qume’s poisoned mind has altered his reality and transformed his surroundings into omnipresent threats. After his wife kicks him out and he finds himself on the run from the law, he escapes the concrete confines of Toronto to find refuge in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. There he joins a group of travellers, led by a peculiar wilderness guide named Wolfgang Yellowbird, who takes them on a journey deep into the winter-scape of a massive and glorious wilderness. As Earl’s mind calms and his body begins to heal, astronomical forces pulverize the outside world.
In this, his first interview about his debut novel, the author spills the beans on growing up and moving all over the country, his influences, releasing a novel during COVID-19 and the fun and pain of writing fiction.
When did you start writing Something Drastic?
2012 was a weird year for me. It was a time of great upheaval. The core foundations of my life grew brittle and began to crumble. Everything felt wrong and the things that propped me up as a person went away one by one. My marriage, job, purpose…sanity. I felt that I needed to do Something Drastic to reset the course. In December of that year, I left Toronto in search of a fresh start in BC. I started writing Something Drastic on the flight to Vancouver. A very rough draft of the first chapter is still saved in the memo app of my iPod.
What was a typical writing day like – a good one or bad one – where you had a really great or difficult time with the novel.
The success of a writing session could be measured by how many cigarettes I had left by the end of the day. If the pack was empty, it was a struggle. It meant that every word or sentence I wrote was terrible. Sometimes when I write, everything feels off kilter. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing and that I have no business writing a novel. I’ll go over my work and wonder how I managed to create such pristine trash. It’s agony. Writing is hard, man.
A good writing day starts with two cups of strong black coffee and a walk in the woods with my dog. A lot of inspiration for Something Drastic came from taking in the forest – its sounds, colours, textures. The haunting way the trees move with the wind. I’d transfer these feelings to the page, and lose hours. I’d be in such a flow that I wouldn’t realize that it had become dark outside, and I hadn’t eaten a thing all day. And I still had a fresh pack of smokes.
How does location play into your novel?
I felt that a good place to ride out the apocalypse would be British Columbia’s boreal forest. If our time here is short, we might as well be in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I wrote the forest as a living, breathing character in Something Drastic. I want the reader to be immersed in it and feel like they are there. They deserve the privilege to touch it, hear it, smell it.
As the protagonist moves from Toronto to the wilderness, I wanted the reader to experience the stark contrast. From the claustrophobic concrete confines of Toronto, Earl is transported to what is an almost alien world. He’s disembodied, fragile and vulnerable in his new surroundings. The scale of it is more than he can comprehend. As he is gradually acclimatised, his outlook is altered. The forest changes who he is. And there’s no going back.
Virtual or in person – are you excited about reading to an audience?
I am. I’m curious to see how this book is received. It’s an odd book. It’s downright weird at times, and many people might have a hard time with its subject matter. It’s also polarizing and those who disagree with its politics might send me death threats – which would be a sign of success. Something Drastic is a love it or hate it kind of thing. I wrote it to incite strong reactions. I don’t think many people will walk away from this book without having some kind of strong opinion about it.
Who was the hardest character to write?
The most complex and challenging character is Randolph. I love this character but I feel horrible for doing so. In many ways, he’s a hero. Without him, the story of our protagonist would’ve turned out much differently. But he is also capable of inflicting ultimate violations. He’s a conflicted man with strong opinions, and his inner turmoil is enough to bring any mortal person to their knees.
Your novel is highly linguistic and full of wondrous style. Who are some of your biggest influences?
During my time of writing Something Drastic, there are three novels that really influenced me, and made me want to become a better writer. They’re amongst some of the finest works I’ve ever read: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. The North Water by Ian McGuire. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber.
Other writers that I hold near and dear might be considered stereotypical to someone of my demographic, but I’m unabashedly fond of these literary lions. Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon are the high-water mark. Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski and Bret Easton Ellis have given me more joy than I’m comfortable admitting to. If you ever meet me in person, you might notice the gonzo dagger tattooed on my arm. It’s of course a tribute to the infallible genius of the great Hunter S. Thompson.
Do you think the end is near?
As I’m writing this it’s noon on a Sunday, and it’s dark outside. The forecast says sunny, but it should probably say End Times. There is so much forest fire smoke that I can’t see 20 meters in front of me. The world is up in flames. Throw a global pandemic in the mix and it’s hard to argue against the fact that the planet is cleansing itself. Hang on people. It’s going to get rough out there.
You were born in Africa – how did moving from one place to another inform your sense of home?
Yeah, I moved around a lot as a kid. It was always a jarring experience moving, especially considering we were moving from one continent to another. There was always culture shock. And there was always uncertainty. It would take me quite some time to finally settle into a place before we were on the move again. As a kid this wasn’t a big deal. Kids are fairly adaptable. They’re much better at coping with new things than adults are. And as long as I was with my family, I had a home.
As an adult, the uniqueness of my upbringing became clearer. In my first year at The University of Guelph, when everyone would go home for weekends and holidays, I stayed in residence. I didn’t have a family home to go back to. It was a strange sensation and it dawned on me that my life up to that point was atypical. Going forward, things never really changed. After university I lived in Vancouver for a year, then spent a year abroad. I moved to Cambridge, Ontario before settling in Toronto for four or five years. But even then, I didn’t feel planted.
The place I’ve lived the longest is where I currently reside on the Sunshine Coast. I’ve been here almost eight years and I’ve grown fond of the place. But there’s this strange feeling that follows me around here. It’s hard to pin down but it’s something like unbelonging. Or a vague feeling of fraudulence. I attribute this to my meandering soul, restless inclinations, and globe-trotting past. Someday I’ll find my little corner of the world. It’ll be surrounded by trees and within earshot of the ocean. I’ll plant a garden and grow roots.
What is the most surreal thing that’s happened to you in 2020?
2020 has been a surreal year for everyone, unless you’re living under a rock. Although, under a rock would be a good place for a surrealist. They wouldn’t be distracted by pesky reality down there.
On a personal note, I found love in my telephone. Despite my tremendous reluctance, I downloaded a dating app. And through a cold impersonal rectangle that constantly annoys me with its beeps and buzzes, I found real emotional connection. If that’s not surreal, then I don’t know what is.
For more information on Something Drastic, visit NON Publishing’s website. http://www.nonpublishing.com/something-drastic