This afternoon it was my delight to accompany a party of boys from my school over to the Abingdon school theatre to hear author, actor and comedian Charlie Higson talk about his zombie horror series of books for older children and teenagers. After the event, thanks to Mark from Mostly Books, I was also able to talk briefly to Charlie about his books in my first proper interview for this blog – so exciting!
Charlie started the event with a straw poll of the audience – zombies or vampires? Being mostly boys, zombies won. Boys it seems, tend to prefer zombie gore, rather than the romantic image of vampires.
Charlie went on tell us about a bit of the history of vampires and zombies in literature. It all happened one summer back in 1816 at a house party on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was the summer after Mount Tambora in Indonesia had erupted, and the whole world suffered weird climatic conditions as a result of the ash; so instead of swimming and larking about on the water, this group told stories and from them developed the types of vampires and undead creatures we all adore today. But who were they? None other than Byron, Shelley and Shelley’s teenaged girlfriend Mary, plus Byron’s doctor called Polidori, amongst others. From this gathering would emerge Mary’s Frankenstein, and Polidori’s The Vampyre (expanded from a story fragment by Byron, who was was fascinated by the proto-vampire Strigoi of Balkan legend). The first literary vampire was very much in the mould of the ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know‘ Byron, and was later combined with the nasty Wallachian king Vlad the Impaler to become best of all vampires, Count Dracula by Stoker.
Then it was on to the zombies! Charlie told us how he loves horror movies and stories, and that his favourite film is the classic Night of the Living Dead which invented the modern zombie. After writing five Young Bond books, Charlie was ready to write children’s books with his own characters, and decided to try and scare the pants off his readers.
In The Enemy series, he has created a dystopian world in which a disease has killed nearly everyone over the age of fourteen – those who don’t die have been turned into pus-ridden, drooling, children-eating zombies. The remaining children have mostly banded together in groups for safety, and have to find a way to survive, and create a new society. Sure, there are some Lord of the Flies moments, (my review of that here), but at the heart of the book is the childrens’ quest to find somewhere safe to live, without flesh-eating necrotic zombies around every corner.
The audience of older children, mainly from years 7 & 8 (11+), asked loads of great questions, and all groaned in digust at the drooling zombie in the video trailer for the new book – who rather resembled someone in the room… I’ll be reviewing the first two Enemy books here soon.
Then, after the boys had gone, I got to sit down and talk with Charlie for a short while. (Many thanks to Mark at Mostly Books for arranging this for me).
After telling him how much I was enjoying reading all of his books, we started by talking about the Young Bond. I’d noticed the deliberate homage to Fleming in the first sentence of Silverfin, and asked him about it. He said that he’d put in a quite a few references to the Fleming novels, but didn’t try to capture his style, more the ‘spirit of Fleming’. I wondered if he’d pictured a younger Sean Connery as his Bond. Charlie said that Fleming’s Bond was really a toff, so that he’d be more a mix of Connery/Brosnan perhaps. I commented that like Fleming, we always know what Bond is wearing – Charlie replied that the Eton uniform had formed part of his way in to the character – he’d worried that readers wouldn’t believe Bond in starched collars and formal attire, but then he realised it was essentially like a ‘shrunken down tuxedo’ and that was it.
I was going to ask him why zombies in The Enemy series, and not aliens or any other creature, but his love for them was already clear from the talk. Charlie told me that he wasn’t deeply into the supernatural – his zombies aren’t actually dead, they’re just diseased. He’d also touched upon the fact that there was the possibility that ‘the thing that’s trying to kill you could be someone you love’ – there was a scene in the first book where one of the children thinks he recognises his mother, and I said that had creeped me out more than the pus and gore. I applauded his decision to kill lots of characters, including some unexpected ones – I was thinking of one less than halfway into the first book that I was just growing to love. He said he really enjoyed doing that, but didn’t want killing the characters off to become too expected!
Having a daughter who’s not into adventure books at all (yet!?), I asked if he was finding that girls were reading them too? It was reassuring to hear that he was as happy to scare girls as boys. He said he did write some strong female characters in them, and felt they did have a good readership amongst girls – at least he had the advantage that girls aren’t afraid to be seen with boyish covers, whereas most boys wouldn’t be seen dead with any books that were at all girly.
I finished by asking him about The Fast Show. You may have heard, but the crew, sans Mark Williams, are back together to film some sketches for the Fosters comedy site, (link below) – they’ll only be online at first though. They will involve all the old characters; I expressed my love for Bob Fleming (cough) who just cracks me up. Charlie said he was great, but it was getting more and more difficult to think of situations to put him into as all he does is cough!
I usually keep out of any photos at events, but this was such a nice experience, I couldn’t resist the souvenir shot like the fangirl I am! I’d like to thank Charlie for taking the time to talk to me, especially after all the signing he had to do. He was an absolute pleasure to talk to, and is a really fantastic writer. I’m looking forward to reading many more of his books (including his adult horror ones).