“Zombies are for boys,” says Charlie Higson, talking about his The Enemy series of young adult horror books, “and vampires are for girls.”
“But nobody wants to go out with a zombie!”
After being introduced by Paul Gallagher from the Scottish Book Trust, Higson gives a brief history of the zombie as the most popular monster in modern culture, tracing its origin back to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. He then goes on to talk about why he became a novelist, describing how he was “hooked on the power and magic of writing” from an early age, and the irresistible idea of being able to make things up which had never existed before.
“A book comes alive in your hands,” he says.
Giving a brief outline of his journey from adult novelist to comedy writer & performer to creating children’s books such as Young Bond and The Enemy, Higson admits he didn’t really know what he was doing — “there isn’t a book of rules for children’s writing.”
In the absence of any such rulebook, he used his own sons as guinea pigs, reading them chapters of his works-in-progress before bedtime. “That’s why they’re so bloodthirsty!” he says.
Higson then goes on to discuss what it is about zombies that makes them so terrifying and appealing. “They’re scary because they’re human,” he says. “They’re people — and they could be people that you know.” He describes how his idea for The Enemy came about, combining the appeal of zombies with a fantasy he himself had as a child — “wouldn’t it be fantastic if all the adults in the world disappeared…”
Fielding questions, Higson talks about the challenges of writing fiction boys want to read, describing how there used to be a tendency to make horror or adventure books for that market humourous. As a comedy writer himself, he still uses elements of humour in his books — “it’s one of the things that helps us survive” — but his main aim is to scare.
“Modern kids are harder to frighten,” he says. However, he finally knew he’d succeeded when — after a bedtime reading session — his youngest son burst into his bedroom at 4am, drenched in sweat after having a nightmare.
“Yes!” he exclaims, reliving the moment. “I’ve finally got you, you little….!”
Charlie Higson was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 23 Aug.