Lulu Allison has been a visual artist for most of her life. She attended Central St Martin’s School of Art then spent a number of years travelling and living abroad. Amongst the bar-tending and cleaning jobs, highlights of these years include: in New Zealand, playing drums for King Loser and bass for Dimmer. In Germany, making spectacle hinges in a small factory. In Amsterdam painting a landmark mural on a four storey squat and nearly designing the new Smurfs. In Fiji and California, teaching scuba diving.
After a decade of wandering, she returned to the UK, where she had two children and focused on art. She completed a fine art MA and exhibited her lens-based work and site-specific installations in group and solo shows.
In 2013 what began as an art project took her into writing and she unexpectedly discovered what she should have been doing all along. Her first novel, Twice the Speed of Dark was published in November 2017 by Unbound. Her second novel, Salt Lick, was published on September 16th 2021 and had been long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022.
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
In a roundabout way it was the Boston marathon bombing, specifically the different way the media treated the victims of that horrible event, compared to those killed in daily bomb and drone strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, where victims were at best a tally. I wanted to explore how we might think about the deaths of strangers. But at the time, I wasn’t a writer. I started a blog that took the skimpy little news items, about 7, or 3, or 5 unnamed people dying in a roadside or cafe or school bus bombing and I wrote little portraits for each of them, a few sentences to try and make them, even if invented, real enough to grieve. I started it as an art project but to my surprise I was so taken with the actual writing, it became a novel called Twice the Speed of Dark.
Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?
Salt Lick was in part inspired by a song by The Handsome Family, Peace in the Valley Once Again. It is a song I find comforting and beautiful – we will probably fuck it up in the end, and nature doesn’t care.
I have a playlist for my current WIP, Beast, not to write to but to remind me what to do – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5LnQ8UT9Ij0CmRZtKkYXZC?si=ccf0c4f6846b48f2
How many publishers turned you down?
Agents and publishers, loads
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
Astounding reaction to Salt Lick – the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist has blown my mind.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
People on Goodreads moaning about talking cows…
Or, my sister saying it was one of the best books she has ever read.
What can you tell us about your next book?
It is a take on Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. I became interested in the idea that perhaps the deal maker, reaching out into the cosmos for something, was seeking the hand of the divine rather than a deal with the devil. It lead me to thinking about the types of desire we have and what we will do to fulfil them, which clearly is inherent to the Faust myth, but I wanted to stretch it out a bit. There is so much in the myth and in Mann’s novel that I wanted to ravel and unravel.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
I may notice them but am busy teaching myself not to necessarily take notice of them.
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I am still an artist and maker, my practice these days is predominantly teaching.
Which author(s) inspire you?
Milton, Shakespeare, Nick Tosches, Lucy Ellman, Barry Lopez, Rebecca Solnit, Jean Genet, Thomas Mann, Marie NDiaye. I’m not much of a completist and tend to go mad for individual books in a fairly scatter-gun approach, but these guys really know what they are doing.
Which genres do you read yourself?
Mostly literary fiction and classics
What is your biggest motivator?
Wanting to think about things followed by enthusiasm for banging on about what I ended up thinking
What will always distract you?
I will need several pages for this one
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
I designed most of the cover for Salt Lick and did the illustration but I knew it would be a hard sell. Being an artist or ‘visual person’ isn’t the same as being knowledgeable or good at book jackets. I prefaced the conversation by saying ‘Look, I know your hearts probably sinks when an author says this, but…’ and luckily Unbound were very accommodating and the art department made some great adjustments. I’m so pleased with how it looks
Were you a big reader as a child?
What were your favourite childhood books?
King Arthur legends, books like The Dark is Rising when the world is subject to ancient and mysterious magic.
What is your current or latest read?
I’ve been reading other Women’s Prize long listed books. I really loved Creatures of Passage by Morowa Yejide. And I’m also reading The Cheffe by Marie NDaiye, whose writing I love
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
My Galley Beggar Press subscription always delivers wonderful books
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I guess what I love to read fed into the way I wanted to write. When making visual art, it seems necessary to retain in the work what I can only think of describing as a kind of space, if not literally a gap. Maybe a better description is something like the possibility of ambiguity. In a way it is a gift to the viewer, not to overwhelm with your own ideas, but to give enough room for them to make their mind up about what they are seeing. Otherwise you are just illustrating your ideas. It can be a small space, a flicker somewhere; the work doesn’t need to be completely open or unintelligible. But it allows just a little room for the viewer to breath, to make their own experience. I like books that have the same quality.