Thursday’s jam-packed school session with Charlie Higson got off to a slightly smutty start, with Nick Ward’s introduction including a reference to Higson’s ‘Swiss Toni’ character from his TV shows. Swiss Toni compares everything he does to ‘making love to a beautiful woman’, and the suggestion was that Charlie might also be going to describe the art of writing the same way. Some worried looks from teachers, and delighted “I’m not supposed to be laughing at this” giggles from the kids, and the man himself appeared on stage.
For me, Charlie Higson will always be Ralph from the Fast Show, and I was slightly disappointed he was wearing writer-y black rather than wellies and tweeds, but his performance was just fab. He grabbed the kids right from the start with his utopian description of life without adults (the premise of his new book, The Enemy), before hauling them back from paradise with the news that not ALL the adults had died from the virus, and that the ones left behind were HUNGRY …
An animated discussion followed, with references to the history of both zombies and vampires, and their current standing in the world today: girls go for modern vampires because they are cool, moody, sexy and sophisticated. Boys like zombies because they are shuffling, grunting, filthy, bad diet eaters – and so are zombies (bada bing).
He referenced his favourite horror movies, chief among them our very own Brain Dead, but also Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and Dawn of the Dead, noting that the best place to survive a zombie attack has to be the American mall – gun shops, chainsaws and tasers; as opposed to British supermarkets, which offer cans of soup and floor mops.
Questions from the kids included the compulsory, “Where do you get your ideas from?”, but he delighted the crowd by saying, “Well, I steal them. There’s only a few stories you can tell in this world. The only way to make them interesting and successful is the characters.” He then listed some of the many works he’s ‘stolen’ from: chief among them, Lord of the Flies, I Am Legend (movie and book), the movie 28 Days Later, and of course the Romeros; and talked about how he loved these movies and books so much he wanted his own kids to share some of the horror (!), and so he decided to write a young adult zombie series as scary as he possibly could.
Just like Neil Gaiman did with Coraline, he followed the “children have been harmed in the making” route, and experimented on his youngest son, amping up the scares till a full-on screaming 4am nightmare was produced, at which point he declared, “Yes, I’ve cracked it!”.
My favourite part of the session, though, was inspired by another question from the floor (gotta say, those kids were fab): Zombies: fast or slow? After some to-ing and fro-ing, and interjections from the audience, Charlie declared himself a traditionalist, and demonstrated the classic zombie shuffle with supporting moaning, declaring that fast new-style zombies, while damn scary, were more like monsters or beasts, while the truly frightening thing about the slow zombie was that no matter how slow they were, they JUST. NEVER. STOPPED.
So, dear readers, I turn the question over to you: traditional or modern, fast or slow, shambling and drooling, or lightning fast and slavering?