Put it in writing

By Michelle Newman

They say life imitates art, but for first-time author Luke Allnutt it happened the other way around, when real life circumstances led to him writing his first novel We Own the Sky.

Luke – who has worked as a journalist for many years and lives in Prague with his wife Marketa and their two sons, ? year-old Tommy and ? who’s now four –  was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in April 2013, at the age of 36.

The year before his father sadly passed away from a brain tumour and just when Unspoken, an essay Luke had written about his experiences with his dad was about to be published, he too was diagnosed with the illness.

“I went through several operations and six months of chemotherapy and it was during that time, when I started writing the book,” says Luke.

“[Writing Unspoken] was very cathartic, I mean it was my kind of therapy and when I had cancer I found it did two things; I was unpacking a lot of how I was feeling about my dad about my cancer, this feeling that I was perhaps going to die and I wouldn’t see my sons grow up. But whenever you’re confronted with your own mortality it’s quite good at sharpening your life goals and your focus.”

Luke goes on to say how writing a novel was always a dream of his. He was given a ‘30 per cent chance of dying over five years’ and while he was resolute in doing everything he could ‘to live’ he decided to ‘get cracking’ on his book.

“The book is very much about grief and about loss and there was a lot of those feelings. Even though it’s not a direct analogy because Rob Coates in the book doesn’t have cancer, but it was a way for me to work through all those feelings, definitely.”

Around the same time that Luke found out he was ill, he and Marketa discovered they were going to have another baby. Luke says that whilst this was obviously very happy news, it was difficult to become fully immersed in the excitement, as there was so much ‘going on at the time.’

“I have one son, Tommy who was born in 2011, and then just after I was diagnosed my wife got pregnant again, which is obviously incredibly happy and lovely but also a little bit clouded with everything,” he says, adding that he struggled to feel ‘lucky’ in the midst of it all.

“It took me time before I did feel lucky. At first I was so consumed with my own anger and sadness and feelings about having cancer that I did let that get in the way of what would normally be a very happy thing. Of course, it turned out to be a very happy thing and xxx is now a very happy little four year-old, running around.”

Luke describes We Own the Sky as a book that is sad in places, but ultimately an uplifting story and one which forces the reader to consider their own beliefs along the way.

“It does ask some quite current questions about modern medicine, what would you do to save your own child and how far you would go, as a parent, to save your child?

There have been a lot of high profile cases in the UK [recently] of parents sort of going against medical advice to do things to save their child, so it’s that and for anyone who’s loved and lost I think it [the book] will resonate with them.”

At the moment Luke is anticipating the release of We Own the Sky in the UK and is dealing with some “natural first author nerves, worrying about it going out into the world.”

“It’s exciting and nerve wracking, but I am proud of it.”

He is also working on his second, ‘as of yet’ untiled novel, which again draws on scenarios he can relate to.

“It’s about a comedian who goes blind,” Luke says.

“I write about blindness because my father was blind. I wasn’t blind myself but it touched me directly growing up, so that’s the second book.”

Today Luke’s health is back on track and thankfully he is doing very well. Understandable though, not wanting to tempt fate, he’s slow to acknowledge this.

“I get very superstitious when I’m saying all of this because I don’t want to jinx it in any way. Unfortunately, as most people know, with cancer you’re never completely out of the woods but I’m in a good place and I’m cancer free as of now.” 

We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt (Orion, €16.99) is available from February 8

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