Q: Where did the idea for Candy come from?
A: A long story – the short version is, I was writing another book which included elements of the underworld – gangsters, vice, drugs, etc – but for some reason the book wasn't quite working. So after struggling with it for months and months, I decided to leave it for a while and try something else. Someone suggested I should write a love story. At first I thought – love story? Hugs and kisses? No, I don't think so. But then I started thinking about it, and it struck me that there aren't many love stories told from the boy's point of view, as if boys don't fall in love ... which they do, of course. They fall in love, and then they go mad – because boys can't talk about falling in love, so it all gets bottled up inside ... the weirdness, the fear, the thrill, the confusion. So I just took that idea, and started mixing it up with some of the stuff and some of the characters I'd been thinking about for the book that didn't work, and gradually the story of Candy came together.
Q: Music plays a large part in this book, and you write with great authority about playing bass and composing songs. Do you share Joe’s passion for guitar?
A: Yes, definitely. For about ten or twelve years my life was all about music – playing in bands, writing songs, recording, trying to make it in the music business. I loved the process of writing songs, and I still do, and I really enjoyed writing about it. Although writing songs is in some ways very different to writing books, the two processes actually share a lot of underlying features – the use of rhythm and tone, the expression and creation of feeling, recurring themes, variations on themes, and so on.
I still love playing the guitar, making up songs, and although I really love everything about writing books, I occasionally miss the incredible thrill of being on stage and playing guitar extremely loudly.
Q: This book deals with some serious subjects: drug addiction, violence, teenage prostitution. What drew you to these subjects?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I was working on another book which dealt with lots of these themes, and I'd been reading all kinds of books and articles about this kind of stuff ... but I suppose I've always been drawn to these kind of subjects. There's a world that exists beyond the normal bounds of society – an underworld, a dark and different world – and the people who live in this world live by different rules, and that makes it a fascinating place. It's certainly not a nice place (and I know this from personal experience), but the most interesting things aren't always the nicest, and I like to write and think about interesting things.
Q: One of the things that makes this novel so compelling is that Candy’s story is not told from her point of view - rather, we see her from the perspective of Joe, the comparatively ordinary boy who is in love with her, and believes he can save her. Why did you choose to tell the story this way?
A: Firstly, because I wanted to look at the whole "falling in love" thing from a boy's point of view, and to do that I needed to get into Joe's head (and his heart). But I also wanted to tell Candy's story from an ordinary, outsider's perspective, as this allowed me to develop her as a person – i.e., we start off seeing her as Joe sees her, as just a nice attractive girl, but as the story goes on and Joe gets to know her and her world, we begin to see Candy as what she is, what she does, where she came from, what she really is ... so her character and her story develop through Joe, and because we're with him, we get to know the real Candy in the same progressive way that he does.
Q: You focus on the theme of addiction in Candy: addiction to drugs, addiction to music, addiction to a person. Do you think that love can be a kind of drug? And why did you choose to explore this theme?
A: Yes, I wanted to look at the idea that we can become addicted to anything – physically, mentally, emotionally – and how immensely strong addiction can be. How it can make us do things that we know are wrong, but we just can't help it. Like falling in love with someone you shouldn't be falling in love with ... there's nothing you can do about it. We all like to think we have control over the things we feel and do, but sometimes we don't. Sometimes we have no control over the things that make us feel things ... which is a pretty weird idea when you think about it.
Q: You draw an incredibly affecting portrait of Candy, a girl from a good family and neighborhood who has been pulled into the underworld. Why did you choose to give her a background that would seem to upend the conventional wisdom about teenage prostitutes? And did you do any research to create this character?
A: Continuing the addiction/lack of control theme, I wanted to show that it's not just a certain kind of person who is prone to addiction of any kind, and it's not just those who suffer major domestic/personal/emotional problems who end up being "pulled into the underworld" – we're all vulnerable. We all face problems, and obviously some problems are bigger and more catastrophic than others – but it doesn't take much for a small problem to get out of control, and once something gets out of control, anything can happen.
I read quite a lot about the vice trade before writing Candy, particularly on the theme of teenage prostitution, and many of the real life stories I came across were about young girls from safe, comfortable, middle class homes (just like Candy), who – for various reasons – gradually descended into the world of drugs, pimps, prostitution. It happens all the time, all over the world.
Q: What are you reading right now? Any favorite books?
A: I've just discovered an American author called John Katzenbach who writes quite strange crime/thriller fiction, and I'm reading everything I can find that he's written. You know how it is when you find a new author you like ... new books, new books!!! I've also been reading lots of biographies of Billy the Kid. No reason, really, I just like reading about Billy the Kid.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: My new hardcover book, The Road of the Dead, is published in March 2006. It features two brothers who were originally in the book I was writing before Candy, the one that didn't work. Now they're in a book that does work! I've also done a couple of little books about a teenage private detective called Johnny Delgado. And I'm working on a new book which is very different and very exciting ... but I'm not going to tell you anything about it!!