Cover by Horse
John Candy departed this life on 4th March 1994. Fast forward a quarter of a century (plus one day for good measure) and avid Candyphile, Tracey J Morgan – a 22 year old residing within the body of a 40 year old veterinary nurse from Shrewsbury (I imagine it’s sort of a reverse of the deal that went down in that film, Get Out) – gave the world what it had been sorely missing: a biography of the great man himself.
The result is the fruit of seven years labour, researched and written alongside holding a full time job (including at one stage running an independent record label) and assembling an army of cats (quite how many is “too many” Tracey is reluctant to divulge, though I am assured it’s less than Hemmingway owned. Not that I knew Hemmingway was a cat person, but that would explain his obsession with fishing, I guess).
Tracey is a friend of a friend: we were introduced via the wonderful world of Facebook some years ago for reasons I cannot fully recall but were probably along the lines of “you write, Tracey writes, discuss!” I don’t remember a lot about our first conversation other than Tracey asking me “so, are you a fan of John’s?” I’d no strong feelings either way but, compulsively polite as I am, I grasped for whatever positivity I could muster and answered something along the lines of “I do love Cool Runnings.” Which is true.
While we’ve never met in person I have taken an active interest in the progress of the book from an artistic point of view and would message Tracey occasionally to provide positive reinforcement. So I approached the finished article with some trepidation, worried I’d dug myself a hole in which I would have to say something nice about it because I’m a flaky kind of guy that doesn’t so much shy away from negativity and confrontation as assumes the foetal position and cry at its emergence. I’d taken that much of an interest, it was inevitable that my opinion would be sought. But, the Gods’ honest truth is, this book is actually damn good. Which was a relief in that a: I’d manage to get through it with my painfully short attention span and b: I wouldn’t have to lie when asked for my feedback.
I’m still in the process of reading the book – I am a painfully slow reader – but I can guarantee that I will be writing a five star review for it on Amazon when done. One of the things I love about it is the warmth Tracey brings to the text. There is an obvious affection for her subject but she executes the tone perfectly, stopping well short gushing fan girl territory. Each anecdote brings John fully to life on the page and some of the stories are genuinely hilarious. I couldn’t help coming away from each sitting with a little bit of love for a guy I’ve never really taken the time to appreciate.
As coincidence would have it, the friend that introduced us was the same person (shout out to Jo Bloodworth) who encouraged me to start this blog. While I’ve never really taken the time to make it work to its full potential, I guess it’s fitting that I use it as a platform to pimp Tracey’s book. Serendipity perhaps!
So, to coincide with the release, Tracey was kind enough to spare some time to answer a few of my burning questions.
LP: You said in the recent interview with the Shropshire Star that Searching For Candy is more than just a biography. It’s also a love letter to John. So let’s jump right in with, what do you love so much about John Candy?
TM: Well for starters, who doesn’t love John Candy? He is human, warm and funny. His characters are usually the underdog and he makes it OK to be so. And he is just so damn kind, he makes me want to be a better person.
LP: When did he first come to your attention?
TM: Probably when I was around five or six, my cooler older brother, Dave, used to watch Brewster’s Millions and The Great Outdoors religiously – if I wanted to hang out with him I had to watch what he watched. John as an actor just spoke to me on the screen, he was just all heart and so funny.
LP: To put into context for today’s generation, which current actors are on a comparable level to John at his peak?
TM: Oooo this is a tough one and a very good question! I struggled to think of an answer, I probably think if I was to compare him to anyone it would be Steve Carell. Carell is so funny but also a wonderful dramatic actor – he was incredible in Little Miss Sunshine, I think in terms of diversity he’s probably as close as you are going to get at the moment, although I don’t think he is as universally loved like John, John was a one off really.
LP: What’s your all-time favourite John Candy movie?
TM: I flick between a few. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is pretty much perfect, so clever with genius casting – John Hughes hit the jackpot with that one. I also love Uncle Buck, Cool Runnings, The Great Outdoors, Brewster’s and Splash. However Only the Lonely with Maureen O’Hara, which is probably one of his lesser known films, is just beautiful, a few people I’ve interviewed have said it’s closest to his real life character.
LP: Without giving away too much of the book, is there a favourite anecdote you have of John?
TM: There are so many! Without going into specifics, the book is full of kind and funny stories, I love every single one of them – I cannot tell you the joy you feel when someone you have idolized turns out to everything you wanted them to be… and more.
LP: I was going to start by asking you “with all the John Candy biographies on the market, what is lacking from them that makes you think we need another” but a quick search on Amazon reveals a startling lack of them. I think I saw just one that was out of print and written in 1999. So my question is, how have we managed to get this far without having a biography on someone who was such a massive star in his day?
TM: Honestly I don’t really know, from what I have heard a few people have tried but never managed to get a deal for the book. He doesn’t have any scandal, publishers prefer scandal – it sells. I’m just glad mine is out there now and hopefully I’ll get to do a second edition at some point. What I do know is that John deserves more – so hopefully this is the start or re-addressing the balance.
LP: I assume you’ve read “Laughing On the Outside” as a John Candy fan and as a biographer of him. What is missing from that book that your book redresses/tackles from a different angle?
TM: Although the author, Martin Knelman, is a better writer than I will ever be, I hated the book. I felt like he had tried to show a darker side of John. I understand you need to give a 360 view but I think that if you focus purely on molehills and turn them into mountains it is not representative of a life. I just wanted something warmer for John, something written by someone who it feels – actually likes him! I figured if it didn’t exist I would give it a go, once you’ve told everyone what you are doing it’s hard to stop – even if you want to.
LP: What is it about certain people that we are so drawn to them, despite having never met them, that we want to read biographies about them?
TM: I think we are nosy. We love to know about other people’s lives, we like to find the similarities between us, that makes us feel like we have a stronger connection. We all want to know that the person we love on the screen, in the band, in the team etc is the person we think they would be – it doesn’t always turn out that way, but with John he was everything I wanted him to be and more.
LP: So, how does someone from Shrewsbury even start going about researching a biography on someone who lived and worked thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean?
TM: It’s not as hard as you think. The web makes the world a much smaller place and although social media does have its downfalls – you can also reach out to people you would never usually be able to contact, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. Research has a snowball effect, one person always leads to another.
LP: What obstacles have you faced?
TM: So many! Financial being a big one, it’s hard to work on something for seven years with no financial renumeration, so I’ve had to work alongside writing the book which can be frustrating as life just gets in the way. Alongside that I have had health problems and have been diagnosed with multiple chronic illnesses whilst writing the book, I’ve also had five surgeries – three of which were around 4 hours long, so that has slowed me down. I guess living in the UK and not being that connected so to speak was a bit of an obstacle but one that could be overcome with tenacity, and being a new author it was hard to get people to take me seriously – no really I am writing a book about John Candy!
LP: In the preamble you touch on struggling to get certain individuals to speak to you. Do you hope these individuals will see the finished article and feel proud of what you’ve achieved?
TM: I really hope they do! I would love them to see that my intentions were true and for them to come forward for a second edition, whether or not that happens – I guess time will tell.
LP: What advice would you give to anyone else wanting to take this on? (writing a biography of one of their idols)
TM: I would say do it! But don’t do it for the money – do it for the love. If the money doesn’t come, then you still have the love. Understand when people say ‘no’, they don’t know you, especially like me if you have no track record, they don’t owe you anything – they are just trying to protect their loved one/friend/colleague. Keep going and a few years later you might find that ‘no’ turns into a ‘yes’, but if you are an asshole about it that won’t happen.
LP: Can you talk us through how you went about getting a “book deal” with the publisher?
TM: I actually ended up self-publishing. I chatted to a few different publishers – some said if I could get some scandal they would be interested, others that John was just too nice to warrant a book being written about him. I got sick of that attitude, I thought screw you guys, I’ll do it myself. It’s been a real learning curve and has taken me longer, but I can say I did it myself and there was no pressure to dig any dirt or embellish anything. I was also really lucky to end up with a great team of people around me.
LP: How do you feel the advent of Wikipedia affects the demand for traditional biographies?
TM: I’m not sure it affects the demand either way – I guess some people are happy with the basic information, others might peek their interest so they seek out a more detailed biography.
LP: Is Wikipedia actually a blessing for would be biographers? Providing the skeleton onto which they place the flesh?
TM: I don’t think it’s a bad starting place, certainly in terms of getting a basic timeline together – obviously you can’t take everything as accurate on Wikipedia, but as a starting line it gives you something to work with.
LP: How much did you learn in the process of interviewing people that you didn’t already know? How much was getting people who were there to confirm what you’d already learned and needed their “gravitas” behind it?
TM: I always knew John was a nice guy and it was nice for them to confirm that for me, but there are so many stories that I didn’t know, even a few that have never been published before.
LP: Were there any instances where people outright disagreed on what happened in any events? How do you go about dealing with that in the text (do you take the word of one over the other? Give both versions of the events?)
TM: Not really – where people have had different versions of events I tried to give both sides, but there was no major discrepancies.
LP: You recently went to Toronto to take photographs, what was it like going there? (Did you have to pay for the trip out your own pocket or did the publishers foot the bill?)
TM: I’m self-published so I paid for the trip myself – in fact I’m still paying for it! Toronto was like a dream come true, I had wanted to go for years but after losing a dear friend in 2017 I felt like I couldn’t wait any longer as life is not promised for anyone. So on New Years Day 2018 I thought screw it and I booked tickets. The people of Toronto were so lovely and accomodating and I finally got to meet Juul Haalmeyer, the costume designer for SCTV and Jonathan O’Mara one of John’s old school friends which was such an honour and joy. Funnily enough, the pictures I took do not feature in the book – even though that was part of the reason to go, but I think more than anything I felt like a fraud. I was writing about a place I had never visited so I think it made me feel a whole lot better about that side of things. I wanted to walk down the streets John would have walked, soak up the atmosphere and get a really good feeling of why he loved Toronto so much, and I did.
LP: Book was released 25 years (and one day) after John’s passing. How’s that for symbolism? If you’d completed the book faster, it wouldn’t have happened like that.
TM: No you are right. Originally when I had to put the book back I felt like such a failure. Literally one thing after the other was happening. I have really struggled with my health and that is something I have had to come to terms with over the last few years – you kind of grieve for yourself as you cannot live life the same as you used to – but you hang in there and you find another way. It certainly benefited the book too – imagine finishing earlier and not getting some of the interviews I have, imagine not going to Toronto, the book is richer for the delays I like to think. I was never expecting to release the book around John’s anniversary, it kind of just fell that I finished it and that would work – for me it’s a tribute to John so hopefully people will see it as a positive thing.
LP: You address John directly, at the end of the preamble and say “I hope I made you proud.” I can’t speak for John, but I imagine you have.
Tracey and John by Odandiee
Searching For Candy was released on 5th March 2019.
It is available on Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Searching-Candy-John-Biography-ebook/dp/B07N8JJTF4/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1552386647&sr=8-1
And in paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Searching-Candy-John-Biography/dp/1999653319/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1552386647&sr=8-1&keywords=searching+for+candy+tracey+j+morgan