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Interview: Bob Calkin talks about The Lucky Generation

Bob Calkin has a law degree from Victoria University and became a partner at just 25 in an Invercargill law firm. In 1979 he was convicted of a number of fraud-related charges and served a term of imprisonment between 1979 and 1983.

While in prison he studied extramurally through Massey University and achieved a BA in sociology and religious studies. Upon his release from prison, Bob completed a doctorate in sociology related to the emergence of the criminogenic nature of New Zealand society and the crime/imprisonment cycle. During this period he was active in the community, working with a number of organisations supporting former prisoners, as well as playing a leading role in a community housing venture. He also carried out a number of research projects dealing with the experiences of people who were struggling on the margins of society. Bob talks to NZ Booklovers about his memoir.

Tell us a little about Tales from the Lucky Generation.

I think the best way to describe Tales from the Lucky Generation is part autobiography, part social history. The book is structured around two alternating storylines, each following a different strand of my life. The first storyline, titled Crime and Punishment, chronicles my downfall from respected member of the business and legal community to criminal and prison inmate. This narrative is interwoven with chapters from the second storyline, The Lucky Generation, which recounts the various stages of my life since my birth in 1935 and explores how these experiences unfold against New Zealand's evolving social, economic, and political landscape during these years.


What inspired you to write this book?

Writing the book has been an important aspect of my healing and redemption from my crimes. Additionally, I believed I could offer some useful observations about the changing nature of New Zealand's society over the course of my lifetime and the direction we need to take in the future. While in prison, I studied sociology, eventually earning a PhD focused on the rising crime rates, particularly among young men; the types of crimes that still make headlines today. I would like the content to contribute to the national dialogue and the vision of the society we aspire to create


What was it like writing about your life?

Challenging! Especially recalling and recording some of the darker moments from my past. Over the past 40 years, I have been grappling with my crimes and striving to rebuild my self-worth. Writing everything down brought me back to those dark days and the trauma of my imprisonment. Although it was difficult, I now understand that revisiting what happened was essential for me to finally make peace with my past.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I began the project when I moved to Kapiti in 2017, following the death of my wife when we were living in Timaru. I have a very peaceful “grandad” flat at the back of my son and daughter-in-law’s property, so the environment is very conducive to writing. The project evolved over a number of drafts, with some time between each draft as I contemplated what I had written and sought feedback. When I was in writing mode, I would typically use the morning while the brain was still fresh. Once the base content was produced, the process involved culling and refining to distil the story down to its essence.


If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song you would include.

Danny Boy is a song that I have loved since our class at Castlecliff Primary School in Whanganui was taught to sing it in the 1940s. It was always a popular song with my parents and grandparents and has endured down the ages. These days I particularly like the version sung by the Irish Tenors.


What did you enjoy the most about writing Tales from the Lucky Generation?

Often when writing the book I would be struck with a profound sense of gratitude for the life I have been able to live and for the people I have been lucky to have in my life. The process of writing the memoir involved reflecting on a range of experiences, the vast majority I am thankful to say have been positive.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

The celebration came when it was accepted by the first publisher it was submitted to. This was followed by phone calls to each of the team who supported me throughout the writing process and a quiet dinner and a few wines with my son and daughter-in-law.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

My favourite book so far this year is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. The book shines a light on the impact that the unique geography of each country has on its political development and opportunities. The author reveals many fascinating and original insights that greatly help to explain the current state of global politics.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

The immediate future involves getting out and promoting the book. I see the content as a contribution to the conversation we need to have as a country about these issues and the type of society we want to live in, so I am focused on making the most of that.


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