Tony: There were times when I was reading it and I was thinking as a reader, “No, no don’t go there” and you did. What was it like a writer?
Rob: There was a glee in writing it. I was writing it in London while I was living in a series of sordid rooms in North London, not really giving a fuck to be honest. Nobody knew who I was and there was a radical freedom in that. I could put anything I wanted in that and there was an aggression and glee in that.
It was after I signed the publishing deal and I knew the book was coming out in a few months when I started to get the dread and the panic.
Tony: When I finished it I was wondering did any parents of teenagers come up to you saying, “This book scares the shit out of me”?
Rob: John Kelly sent an email saying that he loved the book but as a parent it really disturbed him.
It’s a book about masculinity but an even more gratifying reaction is that it’s gone down really well with a lot of female readers. They saw something in it that hadn’t been addressed before about masculinity and men, there was something that seemed to clarify things for them.
Tony: One of the things that I was gratified to read in the book was that the teenage females are smarter. Was that part of what you wanted to get across?
Rob: I think when you write fiction, you rely so much on the unconscious, what bubbles forth from your own imagination. The way that the book came out was that the strongest, most mature, most integrated characters in it are the young women.
Maybe that’s related to my own memories and experiences growing up. Women tended to be the more solid stable ones, the beacons of clarity and maybe that filtered into the book, but it wasn’t conscious.
Tony: It’s not a glib question, but was your background in psychoanalysis helpful in formulating some of the narrative arcs and character traits?
Rob: Funny, somebody asked me exactly the same question yesterday. Thanks for pointing that out! No, no it’s an interesting question! I had never thought about it before, but no it didn’t contribute, at least not consciously.
I think when you’re writing fiction particularly it’s your own sub-conscious and instincts. If you try to filter those through someone else’s theoretical framework of the human condition then you’re selling yourself short and you’re not doing justice to your vision. I don’t think it would have any energy.
Tony: You agree then that all writing is self-exposure, so what does the book tell us about you?
Rob: I probably shouldn’t think about that too much because it would just make me self-conscious. But it is self-exposure and that’s the terror of writing but also that’s the exhilaration. It’s like you’re a flasher or something. Not that I’m a flasher.
I think you just have to accept the fact that when that when you write something you’re telling your own autobiography.
Tony: The book was originally picked up by the Dublin-based publisher Lilliput Press, then it got picked up by the very prestigious UK based Bloomsbury. Briefly how did that happen?
Rob: The Lilliput Press is an Irish publisher who are small but very respected, so I was very pleased that they were going to publish it.
There are so many books that come out and people can’t pay attention to them all. Luckily for me, in the following months it seemed to strike a chord. Then the agent who was selling the book via Lilliput got attention from many UK publishers but the one that put the best deal on the table was Bloomsbury. They are so lovely to work with.
Tony: What does that mean to you, who this time last year many people hadn’t heard of?
Rob: As all of my friends know I have put the work in throughout the years. If there are budding writers in the audience, it’s an anxious time when you don’t know if you will be published. Or you have no way into that literary world, you don’t know any of the editors.
For me it was the only thing I cared to do. I was teaching to pay the bills but that wasn’t where the passion was and you never know if it will happen or not. The fact that it has happened in such a quick and sudden way, it’s really gratifying.
‘Here are the Young Men’ is available now. For more information on upcoming Culture Vultures events, click here.