Today I have the absolute joy of introducing you all to Lavie Tidhar, author of the amazing ‘Candy’ released a few weeks ago (7th June) from Scholastic. Lavie is here today to talk about his brilliant novel Candy and the inspirations from film noir. I hope you all enjoy his post and go check out the rest of the posts on the blog tour!
On Candy and Film Noir
A few years ago I watched the movie Brick, written and directed by Rian Johnson. What Johnson did that was so clever was to take the hardboiled formula – the hard-bitten detective, the femme fatale, informers and cops, corruption and mystery – and transpose it into a high school. It wasn’t played for laughs – it was perfectly straight-faced and very noir, and I thought it was great!
I love the hardboiled formula. It has certain quirks and ticks that you expect, certain beats to hit, but at the same time the fun is in somehow subverting the expectations, of using the skeleton frame to tell a story not necessarily concerned much with the plot. The point of it, as Raymond Chandler once said, is that you can read the story even if the last eight pages are missing. In other words, it really isn’t about the solving of the mystery (like in the old Golden Age English detective stories) but about the people and the place they live in.
In my adult books, I often use noir and hardboiled motifs in one form or another. The truth is, I find great delight in parodying the style. I love starting a book on a variation of the “femme fatale walks into the detective’s office”. In Candy, the detective is 12-year old Nelle Faulkner, and the client is Eddie de Menthe, a cynical candy bootlegger of the same age. Already, the expectations from the scene are turned. And I love writing hardboiled dialogue. As Nelle says early on: “The truth was I was out of pocket money again, I was behind on my luck, my hat was older than I was and I needed a job even worse than I needed a caramel fudge.” There’s a certain rhythm to the prose even – especially when – you parody it. And there’s actually a lot of humour in Chandler, too. It’s impossible to do it like Chandler did, of course, but at his best the lines simply sing.
Candy takes these adult tropes and throws them into the world of children. It’s funny – but not to the kids themselves. For them the game’s the game – to quote The Wire. For them it’s serious and real. The stakes are high. And just like in the best noir novels, the adult world is revealed as compromised.
“Growing up was serious business,” Nelle reflects at some point, “and so was candy.”
I think the very best children’s writers know this. They know the darkness that lies just out of sight, there on the edge of vision. Growing up isn’t easy. And becoming an adult means compromise. What I love about the hardboiled detective is what I love about Nelle Faulkner. She believes in doing the right thing. Whatever the cost. She believes in fairness, she believes in justice. She wants to make the world a better place.
And I had a ridiculous amount of fun packing in as many classic references as I could get away with! Not just Raymond Chandler – whom Mayor Thornton is named after (Thornton was Chandler’s middle name) – but at various points you might spot a hidden reference to The Godfather, Goodfellas, Justified, The Big Lebowski (itself a brilliant parody of Chandler, of course) and numerous others (even I forget which!). And there’s a pie fight – there should always be a pie fight!
So my hope, too, is that the book works both ways. That it works for kids, but will have an extra dimension for their parents, too. It certainly does seem to be an unusual take, or so I’m told.
But you know what? Ultimately, I just had so much fun writing it, that if nothing else I hope that’s what comes across.
Check out the rest of the posts on the blog tour! Watch this space for my review of Candy coming! Spoiler alert: I loved it!