FROM HIS FLAT in Mid-Levels, the sun blocked out by neighbouring buildings, Will Rhode found it hard to believe he had the glamorous life of an expatriate Englishman. Then aged 26, the blond-haired, public school-educated journalist was working as a derivatives reporter on Institutional Investor by day, and spending his evenings in the company of other expats. Life consisted of an unchanging round of boozy bar hops, with little immersion in local Chinese culture. When he met his wife-to-be, Maria, a journalist for Elle, it didn't take them long to work out that the lifestyle was suffocating them. Rhode recalls the time of the handover as the 'honeymoon period of our lives' - but it was also the point at which the couple packed their bags and moved to New York. Rhode took a job at another financial magazine, Risk. Six years later, Rhode's two years in Hong Kong have provided the wallpaper for his second novel, the thriller White Ghosts, which has just been released. 'I lived in India two years prior to living in Hong Kong,' he says. 'Generally, once you settle down in a city you can make friends. The question of who those friends were wasn't dictated by anything [in India]. So, I had Indian friends, English friends, American friends. 'And then I got to Hong Kong. The only people I knew were English people. It was almost like a tailor-made situation for me, and it was obviously the easiest way to go, short of learning Cantonese, which I wasn't going to do. It was kind of like a 50/50 split between expatriates I worked with and Chinese. You'd hang out with the Chinese, but when you went out for the office party, it literally was one half of the table would be gweilos and one half would be Chinese. 'I felt it was my responsibility and a bit of a failure on my part. How much did I really appreciate what sort of a place Hong Kong was? The dislocated scene is extraordinary, and I didn't think it had been talked about much previously in novels I'd read that were set in Hong Kong.' Rhode's first book, Paperback Raita, set in India, got favourable reviews. Some critics compared him to Alex Garland. His fiction is fast-paced and light, drawing on youthful sub-cultures and evocative locales, fleshed out with beautiful people. On a rare sunny London day, Rhode is dressed casually in a T-shirt. A tall, rangy man, with a boyish face, he comes loping down the road, easily recognisable from the jacket of his book. We sit in a cafe around the corner from his house, and he talks loudly, partly to be heard over the noisy diners at the next table, but partly, too, because he seems happy to be noticed - not so much as an author, but just as a good-looking young man with something to say. He clearly feels in his element. His inability to come to grips with the Chinese culture of Hong Kong, on the other hand, left him frustrated. On occasion, this is crudely reflected by the book's characters. In one chapter, Rhode writes resentfully of an ecstasy-fuelled rave. 'There wasn't a single hug exchanged between a Chinese person and a gweilo, as far as Candy could see. For the first time in her life, it was the Chinese that Candy hated and most of all her Chinese half.' Shifting in his seat, Rhode says: 'I think it's kind of like an extended holiday for a lot of people, even if you're living there. I tried to portray that. It has this quality of being exotic, but what I found when I was living there was it really wasn't exotic or glamorous at all. 'You wouldn't realise where you were most of the time. Then, you'd do something like take the ferry to Lamma and look at the skyline and just be like, 'Look where I am now. That's unbelievable'. 'If you're a tourist arriving in Hong Kong, that's the first impression you get. You think, 'Wow, what kind of place is this?'. I think that sense becomes perverted once you've lived there for a while'.' Now living in London's fashionable Portobello Road area, Rhode has been married for five years and has two boys, aged three and one. His writing is paying the rent after a shaky start in New York, when he quit Risk to concentrate on Paperback Raita. He didn't know at the time how provident a decision he had made. Months later, many of his colleagues were in a conference in the Windows on the World restaurant, atop the World Trade Centre, when the September 11 attacks occurred. Rhode and his wife lost two of their closest friends in New York. Neil Cudmore and Dinah Webster had worked in Hong Kong at Risk. The recently engaged couple had transferred to New York and become almost surrogate parents to the Rhodes' newborn son. 'As it happens I'd actually just applied to Risk to work there again, as my prospects of getting published were getting dimmer by the day,' Rhode says. 'Thankfully, they told me no, and I wasn't there. 'Risk was this nexus between Hong Kong and New York, and we weren't exactly well-travelled and didn't know loads of people. In Hong Kong, we'd known Neil and Dinah really only as associates. Then, in New York, we got quite close. And then this happened. They were a little bit older than us. They kind of mothered us and took us under their wing quite a lot. 'Even though we'd been with Neil and Dinah on the Sunday before, and they told us there was a conference there, I didn't put two and two together at all. There were other work associates that I knew, but Dinah and Neil were friends. It was very distressing.' On the day of the attacks, Rhode was at home in mid-town on the West Side of 48th street. 'The local news channel is NY1, and we always used to have it on in the morning, and it just started happening. First, it was a fire or something, and then it was a small aircraft that had flown into it. It was really weird. 'I alternated between going up to the roof and back to the TV, and then the reporter in me was kind of like, 'I want to get down there and go and have a look. Jesus, you know, what is this event?' 'Then, we watched the second tower collapse from the roof, and New York went into shutdown. Maria and I went wandering around the park with our son. It was a very surreal sort of atmosphere. There were jets flying around the city and people in the park didn't really know what to do with themselves. 'Then, I just started to get all these messages: 'Have you seen Neil and Dinah?' 'Did you know they were there?' Then, it just slowly turned into total panic. I spent the rest of the day going around the city on a pushbike going to all the triages and the hospitals. 'I ended up going down to the site itself because I was misdirected by a policeman, and literally bundled my way through and saw all this stuff. You couldn't breathe, it was horrible - a really upsetting experience. It was sort of on that blue day, that incredible blue day, and New York has so many of those beautiful clear-sky days.' Rhode spent more than a year writing White Ghosts, starting with a series of vignettes he patched together and continually redrafted. He was educated at Marlborough, the top Wiltshire school, after growing up in Cambridge. The book features disturbing flashbacks to life at boarding school that blossom into a series of murders in Hong Kong. 'I can safely say I make it up as I go along,' he says. 'I was a year into the writing and I still didn't know who killed Candy. Most of my writing is just redrafting. I throw a hell of a lot away. I tried to do it as a pastiche. I didn't have a clear idea of where the story was going or what I was doing. So, I write and just cut and try to keep it as tight as possible. 'It's quite useful having the narrator concentrate on three different characters, because it keeps the pace of the novel quite well. As soon as you start getting bored with one person in the story you go to the next character's point of view to move the plot along.' There's sex aplenty in the novel, along with equally strong doses of drugs and pornography. On one level, that makes it pure escapist fantasy, but Rhode says the book accurately depicted the lifestyles he observed. 'Pornography was obviously something a lot of my male friends and counterparts there were into and is becoming more discussible,' he says. 'It's the culture of Loaded and FHM. I realised this was something that was going on, and people might relate to it. 'The whole idea of pornography isn't so much about filthy men in raincoats any more. It's about footballing lads, and I'm to a certain degree a product of these times - although the lads in White Ghosts are, ostensibly, surreptitiously homosexual. 'You want to say this is the world according to me, this is what I think of this place and be very didactic about it and say these are my views,' he says. 'But who cares what my views are? No one gives a sh***, but at the same time the temptation to do that is there. Part of writing is not saying everything about a place. It's letting people work that out for themselves.'