Kevin Brooks on Peter Parker and Boys in Love

Kevin Brooks is the author of iBoy (which you can begin reading for a limited time on Figment here), a new novel about teenage Tom Harvey, who’s transformed into a reluctant quasi-superhero after an iPhone falls from 30 stories above and embeds itself in his brain. All of a sudden, Tom can access and process information as if he were an iPhone. His new powers are a little scary, but he’s determined to use them to right the wrongs committed against his friend Lucy and her family. We asked Kevin a few questions about his original, gritty new novel.

Given the plot of iBoy, we wonder: are you a little freaked out by—or at least ambivalent toward—today’s changing technology? 

I’m probably more ambivalent than freaked out. There are lots of things about 21st-century technology that I embrace and enjoy, especially in terms of information access and availability, but so far I don’t think the technological developments of the last 10-20 years have made that much difference to how most of us live. There’s a lot more of everything now, and it’s all a lot easier and quicker to access, but it’s not particularly revolutionary . . . just quicker and easier.

iBoy is a fantastic combination of gritty realism and science fiction: It’s set in a realistically troubled housing project, but its protagonist is a superhuman. How do you write in two such distinct genres without letting one overtake the other?

It was very important for me to set the book in a down-to-earth and realistic world because I wanted to write about the reality of what it would be like for an “ordinary” person to suddenly become extraordinary—the conflict it would cause, the trauma, the confusion. Combining the two elements—fantastic and realistic—was essentially just a case of imagining how it would really feel to be superhuman in a non-superhuman setting.

Tom and Lucy, the protagonists of iBoy, live in Crow Town, a tough neighborhood in the heart of the South London projects. When you’re starting to think about a story, how big a role does setting play?

Setting is incredibly important. It doesn’t just provide a background to the story, it can help to create and develop feelings, reflecting (and sometimes contrasting) the emotions of characters and the tone of the story. I always think of the setting as almost a character in itself, and as such it’s vital to spend as much time getting it right as getting the characters right.

Before becoming a writer, you were everything from a crematorium assistant to a refreshments vendor at the London Zoo. What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you at work—and have you ever written about it?

In my book Candy, I wrote a scene in which Joe and Candy share a quietly intimate moment in the nocturnal animal house at London Zoo. There’s a tree kangaroo in this scene—a very sad and lonely animal—and I did actually visit this animal a lot when I worked at the zoo. We’d share our sadness and loneliness together during lunchtimes. Not the strangest thing that ever happened to me, not by a long way, but it was a strangely nice experience to bring this creature back to life (and say thank you to it) after so many years by including it in the book.

Have there been any love stories told from boys’ points of view that you’ve particularly loved or found inspirational?

If Peter Parker can be described as a boy (and I think he can), then Spider-Man is definitely a love story that I’ve both loved and been inspired (and influenced) by.

You’ve said that you love reading crime fiction. Could you give us some personal recommendations?

Some of my favorites are: James Lee Burke, Lawrence Block, Robert Crais, Raymond Chandler (of course!), James M. Cain, Ross MacDonald, Dennis Lehane, R.J. Ellory, and John D. MacDonald.

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