When it was published 20 years ago, Junk was a long shot. Teenage fiction at the time was really aimed at 11 and 12-year-olds. Maybe the occasional 14-year-old might read down to it, but no one seriously thought that 15 or 16-year-olds would read it. I remember some librarians saying that they thought it was a great book, but that it’s likely fate was to languish on the shelves.
Why a book about drugs? I come from one of the first generations when recreational drugs were widely available, and of course, many of us at school were very curious. There was no useful information about that world – the authorities were all saying how awful and deadly drugs were, but the Beatles and Stones seemed to be having a fairly good time. By the time I was in my 20s, drugs culture was full blown, but ignorance, officially sanctioned in law, was still the order of the day.
I was living in Bristol, in the middle of that heady, inner-city mix of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and politics. Such a seductive, exciting and dangerous world! – just the place for a story to be told. So when my publisher, Klaus Flugge of Andersen Press, suggested a book on drugs, it was to that period that my mind inevitably went.
Far too old for 11-year-olds of course! But… what wouldn’t I have given for a book set in that world when I was 15 or 16? A book not simply about the drugs themselves, but about the culture… the people, the ideas, the relationships, with all its highs and lows, all its excitements, glories and tragedies.
Why not? Fiction for young people had been moving that way for years… getting older, getting more serious, testing the waters. I was already known for hard hitting, honest books. Klaus, bless him, was up for it…
It used to be Alice in Wonderland and Fluffy Bunny – now suddenly it’s junkie whores rolling round in the gutter
That’s what Junk was – the book I wished I’d had when I was 15-years-old.
A substantial Guardian profile of Melvin Burgess includes mention of his new novel:
His latest novel, The Hit, is a dystopian thriller set in the future, which imagines a new pill known as Death. The chemistry is hazy but the concept is clear: this drug will give you the time of your life, an unbelievable high lasting a week, and then you will die. Burgess’s teenage hero Adam takes the drug. The novel is about what happens next.
Unusually, the idea for the book was offered to Burgess by someone else. Brandon Robshaw and Joe Chislett are philosophy teachers who came up with the idea of a week‑to-live drug with a group of students. They wrote a manuscript and sent it to Barry Cunningham, founder of Chicken House publishing, who bought the first Harry Potter novel for Bloomsbury before quitting to set up on his own.
Cunningham liked the idea but not the draft, so he offered Robshaw and Chislett a fee and set up a meeting with Burgess. The men got on well; Burgess made the story work on his second attempt, using many of the original elements and introducing new ones – including a beefed-up role for Adam’s girlfriend Lizzie. The book is dedicated to his two "co-conspirators".