Why I wrote ‘Play’ – a guest post by Luke Palmer



It truly is a privilege to share Luke Palmer’s guest post for this week’s PLAY Blog Tour. A powerful read, this novel has continued to ‘play’ on my mind since I finished it.  I was gripped by its raw exploration of masculinity and friendship, of role models and expectations, of games that turn to tragedy, and what it means to be a teenager today.
Read on to find out how the story of these four very different youths, all teetering on the brink of adulthood, came about in this thought-provoking piece by the author.





Why I Wrote Play


I started writing Play just before the Corona virus pandemic in 2020. My first novel, Grow, had been picked up by this time, and I was chipping away at edits, but I wanted something new to do. I was making some headway with it when the first lockdown descended and the world as we knew it stopped spinning overnight. But it was a welcome distraction to go to work on a new book it through that very difficult time. I think my writing ‘method’ is pretty character based – people appear in my head and start doing things, and telling me about themselves, and then I write those things down. Eventually, a narrative emerges. That’s how I wrote Grow, and Play was going that way, too. Then, as was inevitable I suppose, a lot of the uncertainty and anxiety of that first lock-down period started to leak onto its pages – worries about what the world might look like after the lockdowns ended, what we might have lost, and what would need the most nurturing to restore. I was teaching throughout that period and was witnessing first-hand the impact of prolonged isolation on young people. The results of having a peer group suddenly taken away were often severe and in many cases have been long lasting. These ‘lessons’, about the importance of friendship and connection, would eventually go between Play’s covers also, but at the time, I had to grind the project to a halt for a while.

To write stories, you need to believe in a world in which those stories might be read, or heard. That was my biggest challenge between 2020 and 2022. I wasn’t sure what kind of a world this story might be for, or what kind of stories that world might need. I wandered around through that bucolic blue-skied spring of 2020 completely untethered from the outside world; not unhappy (we were very lucky not to lose anyone close to us to the coronavirus), but in a state of inertia. And when a kind of normality started to return, it took a long time for some parts of me to come out of that state. All the way through, the cast of the book that would become Play kept nagging at me; characters who’d I’d invented had things they wanted to tell me. I needed to find  way to hear them better.

To help, I retreated into my past, gave the characters my old stomping grounds to occupy, took them (to an extent) out of time in that way that I was feeling, too. Some of the places in Play are deeply rooted in my own childhood, the characters amalgams of the boys I grew up with, the boys who surrounded me as we surrounded each other on our journeys towards manhood. There’s a piece of me in each of these boys, too. Pieces that struggle towards articulation, towards a place in the world, whatever that world might be.

But we don’t live ‘out of time’, do we? And the book, in its final round of changes and corrections and rearrangements, needed anchoring. It certainly had a somewhere, but it needed a some’when’, too. It’s not gone unnoticed nor uncommented upon that this third decade of the millennium is a difficult time for boys. Those now coming of age are dealing with myriad competing messages from all kinds of sources about what it means to be a man (if indeed it has to ‘mean’ anything). So too the four boys in this book. All have different but equally certain convictions about what masculinity is – at least to begin with. But each of these boys – the artist, the athlete, the entrepreneur and the joker – change, grow and develop, questioning themselves and those around them, using each other as both yard stick and competitor. This book shows boys on the fragile cusp of adulthood, and they are vulnerable. Of course they are vulnerable, emerging into a world that is always uncertain. Because it is always uncertain at that age, isn’t it?

But these boys are also deeply resilient; drawing on friendship, finding strength in the games they play together, and nurturing each other despite their small rivalries. Sometimes, they don’t even know they’re doing these things.

Within these pages are the boys I grew up with, boys I have been at one stage or another, and many, many boys that I’ve had the privilege of teaching in my sixteen years in the classroom. They have all given me the power to get through some difficult times and for that I’m deeply grateful. I hope you take them to your heart in the way I took them to mine; awkwardly sometimes, and in spite of their faults. Because even when the world looked bleak and hopeless, I knew that at least a few of them would find time to play.

I hope you enjoy reading about them.

 Make sure to follow the rest of the tour!

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