Deep Fried stands out from my other novels in that I had a co-writer. I was in the middle of what I now see as my bored phase. I’d moved from the first three contemporary coming of age novels into a series of genre exercises, from the thriller of Jolt, to the comedy of Malcolm and Juliet and the historical novel, Home Boys. I had it in my head that I needed to keep doing different things in order to stay excited about writing.
So, I thought why not write a book with another writer providing the second voice? Although the story doesn’t borrow directly from a play, my starting point was a piece of theatre I’d written called Gagging For It. In that story a young man is taken hostage and held in a cave, and his salvation appears in the form of an obsessive stalker who has followed him there, and offers him freedom from his captors in return for his love.
You can see how that at least provided the starting point for this story. Much more significantly, the stalker on stage had been played by Clare, so I knew she had a handle on the voice. I also knew she could write, and invited her to take part in the project. The way this particular co-write worked was that we wrote chapter about, mine from the male character’s perspective, hers from the female’s. We would then get together to plan out the next two chapters and talk about where the story was going. We didn’t tend to spend much time looking at each other’s entries and suggesting changes.
I like this novel a lot, and feel slightly guilty still about an error of judgement that significantly hurt its reception and sales. I’m easily tempted by a little cussing, I find it a fun part of my vocabulary (although having children is training me out of this habit). And so, at that stage, I was of the opinion that pushing the boudaries of acceptable print language added authenticity and would increase the appeal to teen readers. What I had underestimated, was the power of the c-bomb. Although it got past the publisher, I’ve no doubt it affected sales into schools and beyond, and maybe even key critical assessments. The novel would have lost absolutely nothing if I’d pulled my head in and taken those two instances out, but I thought I knew better.
You’ll also see a nod to Holden Caulfield in the opening of this novel, this is the book where my love of The Catcher in the Rye comes to the surface. Pete’s itchy, restless, pissed-off as he calls it, a sort of low level depression in the face of a world he has so little regard for, is my dim reflection of that shining character.
Deep Fried has a lot in common with Jolt, being at heart a thriller. For me it is the stronger of the two, even though it’s not nearly as widely read. It’s also the last time I wrote a purely teenage novel.