Following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac, sober.

by |July 26, 2017

On the Wagon by Lennox Nicholson
Lennox Nicholson arrived at the end of his twenties with a desk full of unfinished stories, synopses, screenplays and a severe drinking and drug problem. Sobering up, he completed a Bachelor of Writing & Publishing at NMIT and an internship with Affirm Press. He lives in Melbourne, with no pets, no kids and no hangovers.

Lennox’s book On the Wagon is about a young recovering alcoholic’s quest to find the true meaning of freedom by following the route of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, one of the most abiding expressions of freedom in popular culture. Lennox now answers the Booktopia Book Guru’s Ten Terrifying Questions.

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born in East Melbourne at the old Mercy Hospital, raised and schooled in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I was obsessed with aeroplanes and would read books about them, play aeroplane related computer games, make them out of lego, anything. Then I hit long division in maths class and couldn’t grasp it, at all. Or any maths from there onward really, so I gave up on the idea of joining the Air Force. At eighteen, I wanted to be renting somewhere away from home. Independence I suppose, that’s all that mattered. Nothing bad happened at home either, I just had to get out and look around. The next decade basically became the contents of a book by John Birmingham. At thirty, I wanted to be sober. I was convinced it was killing me and destroying my life and any hope for a future.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At eighteen I believed that immigration was some terrible beast that would destroy humanity as we know it. A belief based on, well, other people’s fear combined with my own fear, projected outward – looking for someone to blame for my own inability to cope with life and inability to take the necessary actions to improve it. Living around the inner city and meeting different people from different walks of life, I realised every person that had ever lied to me, stolen from me, started a fight with me or generally made my life difficult was a white Anglo Australian – the original immigrants, of which I am one. Now I believe most people are pretty good most of the time, no matter where they’re from and fear and selfishness does all the damage, regardless of the passport details.

On the Wagon by Lennox Nicholson

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

I knew I was going to have a better relationship with words than numbers but didn’t really know how this would manifest. Then I saw Fight Club and left the cinema a different person. I thought about it for days, thinking ‘somebody wrote that.’ That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to think of the story and the characters and then be able to write it down so someone else could read (or watch) it and they would have their mind blown like mine was. One day I might get there.

Getting sober was a huge event. I looked at everything differently and went from survival mode to prospering; from existing to living. I became far less concerned with failing at things and more interested in just doing them. I achieved nothing when I was drinking. Some do, but I didn’t.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book?

We were encouraged to try anything and everything at uni, which was a great idea as I had to get out of my critical comfort zone. I then listed all my ideas and saw this one as the project most likely to succeed at this time. Once I made the decision and took a few actions (pitching, etc) elements fell into place that I could not have planned myself and it was the one that was working, so I went with it. Although, most of the electronic media avenues are just warm up tools for a traditional book or script or album. In some case, I’d say they’re just distractions.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

It’s about freedom and change, based on some of the route taken in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Some, like Nelson Mandela, needed their external world to change before they could be free. It’s a physical prison with guards and locks and walls. Others, like Kerouac, needed to change from the inside to be free, but he died while trying to do it via constantly changing their external environment in the name of freedom while drinking himself to death. How can you be free and drink yourself to death at 47? Alcoholism is a different kind of imprisonment. It happens in the mind and is one of the few illnesses that has you convinced that you haven’t got it! I found the rooms of AA when I was 29 and found a freedom I’d never had, but I wondered if it was dependant on my local structure of meetings and routine or if I could take it with me, anywhere I went. I wondered why Kerouac and so many others never found it, so I went where he went to find out. You will have to read the book to see what happens though.

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

Someone who wants to stop drinking or quit drugs but can’t seem to do it on their own reads this book, identifies, seeks help for their problem (from anywhere), successfully stops and then gets on with living. I’d be pretty happy if that happened. One person would be enough.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

I admire my Dad, he’s a great guy. I also admire anyone who stops blaming others for their situation and starts taking responsibility for their own life. Hats off to you.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Oscar for best screenplay. Gotta aim high. Probably a good idea to start writing a few soon.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Writing is like driving. Pretty much everyone can do it. It’s part of daily life. But not everyone can drive Formula One. That takes particular physiological traits and talent coupled with years of practicing, amateur and semi-pro racing, learning, setbacks, sacrifice, perseverance and commitment. But people do it, so it can be done. More than that, someone wins the F1 Championship every year. Why not you? Or me? So if you want to drive Formula One and you think you have what it takes, get behind the wheel of whatever you can as soon as possible and keep at it. Otherwise, you might find yourself one day as a resentful bus driver dreaming about what might have been. Also, if you find yourself talking about writing without actually writing, then you’re just a talker, not a writer, in case you were wondering.

Thank you for playing, Lennox!

On the Wagonby Lennox Nicholson

On the Wagon

by Lennox Nicholson

On the Wagon is a young recovering alcoholic’s quest to find the true meaning of freedom by following the route of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, one of the most abiding expressions of freedom in popular culture.

Setting off from Australia with little more than faith in the contacts he’ll likely make at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, Lennox Nicholson finds out what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty – but sober. Along the way, he discusses ideas and interpretations of freedom with everyone he meets, from a man on the bus who’s just got out of jail in Jersey to an Indigenous Australian who wows a crowd of 50,000 people at a global...

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About the Contributor

Anastasia Hadjidemetri is the former editor of The Booktopian and star of Booktopia's weekly YouTube show, Booked with Anastasia. A big reader and lover of books, Anastasia relishes the opportunity to bring you all the latest news from the world of books.

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