Thursday, 28 April 2011

Interrogation - -Gillian Philip puts Linda Strachan and DEAD BOY TALKING under the spotlight

Linda,Dead Boy Talking is not only a fast and gripping read, but an extraordinary perspective on an all-too-common phenomenon. 

What made you decide on that particular and unique narrative voice?
I was thinking about what I wanted to write about next , after Spider, and I had this image in my mind of a young boy sitting propped up against a wall -  all alone - and bleeding out from a stab wound.  
Going around in my head was the question - What is he thinking?   
What if he was not someone who normally got into trouble, who hadn't gone out looking for a fight - but here he is bleeding to death in the street.  
The title Dead Boy Talking and the first line 'In 25 minutes I will be dead'  both seemed to come to me together when I was on a train, and I still have it scribbled in the notebook I was using at the time. 
 The first line gave me the structure which works as a countdown, building the pressure as we hear what Josh is thinking.  But I didn't want to tell the entire story in his voice I wanted to tell the back story and be able to keep going back to Josh and his thoughts as he bleeds out.

The novel has a harrowing storyline and you don't shrink from the horror of events, with some brutal description. But you chose not to show the crucial moment of Josh's stabbing and to keep it  "" o""ff-screen".  Was that something that seemed natural from the outset or was it a deliberate choice? 
It was not something I actually thought about very much, it seemed natural to do it that way.  By the time we get to that point in the story I think I wanted to reader to find things out slowly, not spoon feed  them, to keep them wanting to discover a bit more. 
It is easy to imagine that you have to describe everything  but it's not always the best way to tell the story.

Skye is an original and fascinating character. Where did she come from inside your head?
I honestly have no idea, as sometimes happens, she seemed to grow organically as she came into the story and became more and more important. 
I knew I wanted her to be someone who was always a good friend to Josh and possibly wanted to be more, but who had her own issues to deal with, but she is not the kind of person to throw them open to the world.  
What happened to her as a child just came out of nowhere, but it seemed to be right.

We get some very vivid pictures of what goes on inside Josh's head as his life slips away. Did you research the physical and psychological aspects of the dying process, or was this something you wrote by instinct?
Josh tells us that he has heard that it takes 25 minutes to bleed to death, so we only have his word for it. In fact it can take more or less time, depending on where you are stabbed, if you are running about etc etc.  
I did do some research into the physical aspects of someone who is losing a lot of blood and how their body reacts- I asked the medics in the family who were very helpful, but most of the psychological aspects have come from trying to put myself into Josh's head - and hoping I got it right!

I found Gary a hard character to like (which isn't to say I didn't find him fascinating, even in his absence!) How did you feel about him and what he'd done to Josh? 
Ah, Gary! Well, he was never supposed to be in the story at all.  But I found I was having a problem trying to make it seem realistic for Josh to lose his friend Ranj and go off the rails a bit, when he seemed like such a nice ordinary boy with a good caring family and a happy life. 
Then Gary walked into the story (well, he walked out, really) and I realised he was the reason Josh's life changed and that was the catalyst for the whole thing.  Josh had looked up to Gary and felt he'd been let down by him, and his parents, even by his best oldest friend, Ranj. So Gary became a focal point and crucial to the story.  
I didn't dislike Gary for what he did, because in some ways he was also the victim and he was only doing what he felt he needed to do for his own life.  I don't think he had considered what his actions would do to Josh, or the rest of the family.

And the crucial question:  Were you ever tempted to make the ending different - at any point in the writing process?

There were of course two possible endings but while I was writing it I had no idea how the book was going to end. It could have gone either way. 
I really don't like planning. I start with a beginning, some characters and a vague idea where it is heading.  The excitement of writing, for me, is to follow the characters whereever they lead and to be as true to them as I can.  
I think if you know your characters well enough they will dictate what happens in a story and Dead Boy Talking was exactly like that.   When I came near to the end I did have to decide, but I think I chose the right one!  I hope the readers do too.
Many thanks Linda, and here's hoping the book has a huge impact. 


  1. Thanks for the great questions, Gillian!

  2. I've just read this book and enjoyed it, if that's the right word, greatly. This interview is therefore very fascinating. I'll be posting a review of it on my website newsletter in the fullness of time!