Luke Rutledge on his writing journey: The dream was always to be published

We’re back with our Behind the Book segment with the highly talented- Luke Rutledge as he gears up for his big debut novel- A Man and His Pride!

Luke Rutledge has worked as a communications specialist since 2014. He studied journalism and professional writing, editing and publishing at the Queensland University of Technology. Before that, he studied music at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, majoring in classical flute.

When did you first think of writing A Man and His Pride?

Luke- I’d been writing young adult manuscripts for a few years in my late 20s, but when a literary agent suggested I should tone down some of the more adult content, I decided to go the other way and try writing my first adult novel (which would eventually become A Man and His Pride). I started writing the first draft in September 2020, but I can now see how certain elements from those other YA manuscripts made their way into this book. So in a way, it’s been a work in progress for many, many years!

When I first heard about the book, I was particularly intrigued by the cover image and the title. How did you finalise these two?

Luke- The title was just a working title that popped into my head towards the end of writing the first draft. It was obvious to me that I’d written a story about a man’s journey of coming to terms with his internalised shame about being gay and learning to find his pride, so ‘A Man and His Pride’ seemed to sum that up. I also like the idea that your pride can prevent you from asking for help (particularly men), and that is certainly Sean’s situation when we first meet him. After that, the title just stuck, and I was pleased when my publisher said they were going to go with it!

In terms of the cover image, initially, when it was presented to me I was taken aback. It struck me as a very angry expression, and my first impression was of a man screaming out of fury (which does make sense for Sean’s character, at least when we first meet him). However, it began to grow on me as I realised you could interpret it another way – perhaps he’s yelling at a rally, or even singing. Either way, it’s a very striking cover, and I’m now in love with it!  

Was this a conscious choice to begin your author journey with a fiction work?

Luke- The dream was always to be published (ever since grade six when I wrote my first story), but you never know which manuscript will end up getting over the line. So all you can do is try to write something as authentic as possible and do your best to make the next one better. I’ve always written fiction, though, and since coming out in my early 20s I’ve always written queer stories. 

In A Man and His Pride, you have covered Sean’s coming out journey beautifully, sensitively, and at the time with utmost honesty. Is there any particular message you wish to convey to your readers through the main character- Sean Preston?

Luke- The main idea I set out to convey with this book is that coming out is a journey, not a one-off moment. Sean’s main problem is that he’s been out as gay for seven years but never learned to fully embrace his sexuality – in other words, he’s never found his pride or learned to love himself. It’s the grey area between being in the closet and being out and proud. It’s where so much of the growth actually happens, and yet we don’t often see that phase depicted in books. So I hope readers will come away from this book with a deeper appreciation of what it means to find your pride. What happens after the ‘coming out’ moment is equally important, and is often determined by the people around you and what you choose to tell yourself.

What has been your biggest takeaway while writing this novel?

Luke- I think I’ve learned the value of believing in myself. I’ve always been someone who struggles with self-doubt and imposter syndrome. In many ways, you need some of those things to keep pushing yourself and to do better. But at the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself before anyone else can, so taking the time to identify the positives in your writing is just as important as the critical stuff. 

From your bio, I learned that you work full-time. How do you devote time to writing? Is there any solid routine?

Luke- I write early in the mornings before work. My routine is pretty simple: get up, make coffee, sit down and write! I can’t write at night, as by then I’ve stared at a computer for too long. But so much of the problem-solving and random plot ideas occur to me in those moments when you’re daydreaming while not writing, and that can happen any time of the day – while walking, driving or in the shower. 

Do you worry about the critical response to your novel?

Luke- I wouldn’t say I worry, but I am a little nervous about seeing what people say. People can be very harsh, especially online, and when it comes to reviews I very rarely agree with what the critics say anyway! I’m just trying to tell myself to keep perspective. The main thing is that I myself am happy with the book, and at the end of the day, I am my own worst critic, so I’m already doing great in that respect!

Would you say writing this book was therapeutic for you?

Luke- Definitely. Writing is a kind of therapy for me – I am happiest when I’m in the middle of writing a story and it’s going well. It’s also such a weird and wonderful feeling when you look back at what you’ve written and realise what it was that you were trying to say. It’s a process of making sense of the world and what you think, and so much of it happens without you realising.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers working on their first novel?

Luke- Whatever you do, just get to the end of that first draft, then be prepared for when you read back over what you’ve written, it’s likely not going to be what you thought it was. Push through the self-doubt (I know, it’s hard) and try to look at it as objectively as possible. Then the real writing begins with the redrafting. It’s hard work, and a lot of the time you feel like you’re flailing around in the dark. But hopefully every change you make in the redrafting (big or small) will improve your manuscript bit by bit until, slowly, it starts to take shape in a way you’re happy with.  

So, what are you working on next?

Luke- I’ve just finished the first draft of another adult novel, which also centres around a gay character. I’m not ready to talk about it yet, though, as it still feels very raw and messy, and I’m not even sure it’s working the way I want it to! But I’m enjoying the process and looking forward to shaping it into something I can share with my agent and publisher.

A Man and His Pride was published on 31 January 2023 by Penguin Books Australia. You can purchase the book here.