UQP Writer's Room: Luke Best
Why did you start writing?
My Grade 9 English teacher told me I had a knack for it after I wrote a poem about a cheetah. Actually, she used the word ‘gift’, which is quite the thing to be told when you’re an impressionable teen. I was fortunate to be in a family and a school that always encouraged us to use our gifts. The poem about the cheetah won the prestigious Secondary School Poetry Prize that year. (That last sentence is not true).
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
After the cheetah poem and the encouragement I received, I kept writing. Probably went through the rest of the zoo. I knew poetry was the genre for me. But in my poetry, I found I always leant towards narrative rather than theme. Even the cheetah wasn’t just a cheetah, he had a backstory. Soon after, I discovered the verse novel and loved the hybrid form; that I could tell a story using poetry.
Where was your inspiration for your latest work?
I wanted to write something based on the 2011 QLD floods during which 35 people in parts of the Darling Downs lost their lives. I wanted to write about grief and trauma, and how the first response to such events, albeit flawed, is for humans to save ourselves.
How do you get started with a new project?
Through the combination of rumination and procrastination, I can usually get some first words down on a new project. The two go hand-in-hand quite well for a poet. Lots of time thinking about what to write. Then the frustration of having not yet written anything culminates in commencement.
Do you have a routine? What tools do you use?
I’m a morning person so I’m up before the sparrows. The alarm is set for 4:30am and I try and write, edit or read every day. It’s the best time of day when the house is quiet (with 3 children sleeping) and I can gather my thoughts. Sometimes I can put down a stanza or a page, and sometimes nothing comes at all. Books are my tools. Reading others’ work for creative prompting. And listening to music. Usually instrumental music or even white noise.
How do you handle writer’s block?
By reading lots.
How important is research in the writing you do?
I really should research more, actually. I do the customary google search for facts if I’m writing on a historical event, but it never goes beyond that.
How much planning is required when it comes to structuring one of your books?
I start with a loose idea of the plot. But really, the story evolves with every additional page.
What’s the editing process like?
I tend to edit more than I write. I’m meticulous with editing, striving to make every line pull its weight. When I reach the end of a project I will print the manuscript and lay the pages out across tables and the floor. This method allows me to physically move pages and chapters around effectively without the restrictions of a Word doc.
How did you come to be published?
After a long 10 years of setbacks and rejections from various publishers and manuscript prizes, I won the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize in 2019, the award for which was a publishing contract. That is a moment I will never forget.
Social media – like it or loathe it?
Both. I use Twitter and Facebook; the latter I find to be a little kinder. I find both to be a good platform for exposure of my work, and I admit I use them both to self-promote. I also use Twitter to stay abreast with the ‘lit scene’ and keep an eye out for new work I should be reading.
How do you handle the reviews?
My book has received some favorable reviews. I read them with one eye open. It’s a little daunting having your work under one’s eye like that. But I love that my work has been read closely enough for someone to spend the time and effort to write about it.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
The prospect is too hard to fathom. I guess I’d be just doing my day job, managing a flooring store, selling carpet and vinyl with no outlet for my thoughts and imagination. This would be, frankly, unfulfilling.
What is your number one tip for aspiring writers?
Reading and more reading. Learn your craft from the writers you aspire to. Another is to set a time every day to write, regardless of how busy your life is. And persevere. Let the rejections hurt, like they will, but dust off and try again.
Plotter or pantser?
Pantser. I let the story evolve on its own.
Tea or coffee?
Iced Long Black every day, thrice a day.
When I’m not writing I’m…
I have 3 school-age children. Enough said.
My favourite place to read is…
In bed. Especially if it’s raining.
Ebook or physical book?
Physical books forever. Ebooks have no smell.