Cold Turkey is the story of two drug-addicted brothers, Lee and Mark, who kidnap a right-wing radio talk-show host and deliberately set about getting him addicted to heroin, after he has angered them by mouthing off about “junkies” and their lack of “moral fibre.” To some extent they are merely taking him up on his own hubristic posturing:
“You could kidnap me tomorrow,” he bragged, “shoot me up with smack till I’m hooked and I could kick the habit cold turkey!”
But when they take up his challenge, he fails to live up to his boast and his life spirals out of control. And yet their victory is a Pyrrhic one, as differences between the brothers come to the fore, forcing them to re-evaluate their own lives – culminating in Lee taking a most extraordinary decision.
I first had the idea of Cold Turkey while I was sharing a flat with a psychologically-dependent drug user in South London. Although he was an irritating chav, a thief and even, at times, a wife-beater (or at least girlfriend-beater), I also learned about his background and the events that turned him into what he became. I saw his dependency on the friend who got him into the drug scene – a sort of substitute older brother – and the vicious circle he had got himself into. I also saw his vulnerability, how that was exploited by others and the rage that sometimes flared up within him.
The characters in this story are by no means “based on” my former flatmate and his drug-using friends. They are, however, inspired by them. The real-life character was never viciously beaten by his father. But he was thrown out by both parents after their acrimonious divorce, because of his own behaviour and at one point ended up on the streets at the age of 12, when he was “taken in” (in both senses of the expression) by a young man who introduced him to drugs and took advantage of him sexually. (Ironically, they remain friends and drug-buddies to this day, except for moments when “Lee” goes into a rage – usually under the influence of alcohol rather than drugs.
I wrote this story to explore the minds of people trapped in a downward spiral of self-destructive behaviour. I have seen “Lee” off drugs as well as on. Unlike the brothers in this film, he does not “do needles” – although some of his friends do. In truth, he is not physically addicted to heroin or any other drug – or at least was not for most of the time I knew him. Like the character in the film, he has been to prison several times, for offences like stealing (to get drug money) and violence whether against shop-keepers or others with whom he has got into conflict, under the influence of alcohol. And like the character in the film, he has been off drugs, but has always relapsed and got back “on the gear” – usually as soon as he was out of prison. (NB he did not need methadone in prison – except on one occasion.)
The novel explores such questions as: to what extent are we in control of our own lives? Are we the captains of our souls or at the mercy of the winds of fate. Can one achieve anything alone or does one always need a friend? And are some friendships toxic?
Asking these questions in the context of the modern day problem of drug (and alcohol) addiction, we see the thin line that separates winners from losers and get a glimpse of the fragility of the lifestyles that some of us take for granted.