Where did you get the idea for "Sweet Sixteen"?
I felt it was unfinished business from when I wrote "My Name is Joe". You've only got two hours in a film and you often find there's lots of characters you would like to write, that scream for attention in your imagination, but there's not enough space for them in the film. I just felt there was something really important there and we hadn't examined it.
Was there much improvisation during shooting?
The script is very carefully prepared and we shoot in sequence, which gives the actors the great advantage that they're actually living the story too. There's always space to try new things out, maybe if one line doesn't fit; or once a scene comes to an end, to just let the camera run and see where the characters will go. So you know the narrative is there but it's not all tied down, because if you're watching a film and you feel like you're hearing the lines, it kills the scene stone dead.
Do you think there is any hope for kids like Liam?
I think there are very harsh, dark choices for lots of kids. The screenplay is informed by talking to lots of these kids. I think it's just amazing how much poverty there is. It's pushed aside. You know there's 4.1 million children in poverty now in Great Britain. For many, many people the choices are really rough. Some have the strength to come through it, but others really struggle to build a proper life.
You used to be a human rights lawyer...
Yes, I was working as a human rights lawyer in Nicaragua in the 80s, and what I'd seen really informed the script for "Carla's Song". It was set against the backdrop of the United States financing the Contras, who'd murdered many civilians. When you hear Bush talking about freedom and human rights, and think what his father had done to so many civilians, it really helps you to see through the bull****.
Do you think that being a writer puts you in a position to make a difference by highlighting these issues?
I suppose it is a privileged position, but it would be delusions of grandeur to think you're going to have a tremendous influence. I think that there are much stronger influences - there are grassroots organisers who are working with people in a very practical, hands-on way. But hopefully a film like "Sweet Sixteen", although it's a very personal story and you hope people enjoy the cinematic experience and identify with the characters, you also hope that it will resonate and make us ask questions about what kind of society we want to build.