The prolific writer behind Bzrk, the Animorphs saga and most importantly (for me anyway) the GONE series has finally put the last full stop on the sixth and concluding instalment of the latter, called Light, which was published last month.
We started by chatting about a review I wrote of the book when I caught up with him while he was in London recently. Both pleased about my praise and respectful of my criticisms, the interview began with his response to my belief that there were a couple of false endings in Light.
"We went through this before with Animorphs and the final book in that series ended up being very controversial with the readers. They weren't really happy with where we went,' he says. "I thought I'm not going to be self-indulgent this time. I'm going to do it the way I want to do it up to a point, but I'm going to keep the fans happy. Because by this time, kids have paid me $70-80 and I've asked for six years of your life and if that means I add an extra five per cent to make sure the fans are happy, I owe it to them."
We get into Nutella and Lost later, but in the meantime, enjoy (and don't worry, it's pretty much spoiler-free)...
So you feel you owe your fans the finale, then?
Do I owe them? You're goddamn right I owe them. They've trusted me. The fact that they're happy is a very satisfying feeling. I'm like, 'thank you, you had a million books to choose from and you chose my book.'
Did you know what the last few pages of this book would be early on in the GONE process?
I think I knew the last line fairly early. And I never do usually, because I make stuff up as I go along each time. But all I knew was the last line, I didn't know who was going to die, I just knew where it had to end.
I don't want to know what's going on. It would be boring to me. I like the level of anxiety and fear that comes from sitting down at my computer each day and thinking, 'how am I going to do this? What's going to happen?' That anxiety feeds what I do.
I respect the world's capacity to give me answers. I'll give you an example. A train makes its appearance in the GONE series. I was writing that book and I was missing something. So I was driving my daughter to school and went the wrong way and got cut off by a train. And as I was sitting waiting for the train to pass I broke out in a grin and went TRAIN. I had my answer.
It's, I guess, kind of a happy ending though, right?
Except for the ones who are dead! (laughs) I don't like these triumphal endings. That's anomalous. That's not the way the world usually works. Sometimes people come out of it just fine, some are just destroyed and there's everything in between. I wanted to show realistic reactions to terribly traumatic situations.
Lost, another piece of art that people said was made up as they went along was an inspiration for GONE. People were a bit harsher on that ending.
The Lost guys have a much tougher gig than I do. They have to hit a commercial break every 12-and-a-half minutes, they have to have jeopardy at the end of every episode, a mid-season cliffhanger and then they have to listen to everybody's agent saying, 'my guy wasn't in this last episode, what the hell?' I've got complete autonomy, I don't have to worry about what things cost. If I want to fly a spaceship into the scene I can. The word spaceship is as cheap as the word bagel.
Your characters became so in-depth and intricate and surprising as the series went on. Cheesy question, but who's your favourite to write?
I think my favourite to write was always Diana. I got the voice, I knew how she sounded, I knew how she felt. The question about her was always we know she's a bad girl, but is she a bad girl with a basically decent core or is she just bad? I liked playing with that. Both Astrid and Diana are like two sides of my wife, depending on the day. In many ways, Quinn is the me character in the whole thing. I don't think I'd be particularly brave, but I'm a bit of a workaholic. When he finds his place, he becomes a serious character who has some depth and we can admire him. I knew from the start Edilio was not the - quote unquote - Mexican sidekick. I knew there was something more going on there. He had no special powers apart from the fact he was hard-working and faithful and then he became at the end one of the central characters.
And then there's Drake, one of the most horrific people ever put on a page. And he's a kid. But you maybe say a little something to why he might be the way he is in Light. Why?
I was really doubtful about writing that. I got that point and I did not know that that was Drake's grandfather and I was like, 'that's Drake's grandfather'. I wanted to do an un-nuanced, no shades of grey, this guy is just BAD. I didn't want to explain him too much, but I thought people would pester me for explanations of Drake, so I threw that out there. There's not a lot there, it doesn't really explain it.
The series has been bandied around as a Hollywood vehicle over the years. How's that going?
I have gone a couple of rounds with Hollywood on this. Its natural home is television, but you've got a lot fewer venues to go to. There's something fundamentally different about showing a 13-year-old kid hitting another kid in the head with a full swing of a baseball bat. Putting that on screen is just so explicit. I wouldn't want to see that.
If it never goes to Hollywood, I'm fine with that. If I've got a choice between something that's going to embarrass my fans, I'm not going to do it.
Do you have crates of Nutella and Cup-A-Noodles delivered to your house now from thankful companies?
No! (laughs) All the way through Animorphs we kept talking about cinnamon buns, because there was a character who was obsessed with Cinnabon - because I was obsessed and Katherine was obsessed. We put that in the book.
But no, nothing from Nutella. But Nutella and Cup-A-Noodles were in there because of my kids. There was a period of time when our daughter would say, 'go and buy me 500 cup-a-noodles.' And our son is a Nutella addict. It was an inside joke.
Now that you've finished the final book, what are your thoughts about the FAYZ?
I created this horrible place and every kid that reads it wants to live there. At the end I say you're now free to leave the FAYZ. And the universal reaction is, 'but I don't want to.' In this space kids were empowered, kids did important stuff.
Do Sam, Decca, Brianna, Astrid, Caine and co. still visit you in your sleep?
You have to remember my relationship with characters is different to the readers. From my point of view they're like employees, they work for me. They're employees that I like hanging out with after work. I try to think of myself as a benevolent employer, although I kill them occasionally (laughs). There's a little bit of killing.
I used to work at that place and now I work at other places, but I have very fond memories of it. I could see myself sitting down with them - as soon as they get to legal age - and hanging out. It'd be fun to catch up on old times with them.
Light is out now.