I felt fairly certain he didn’t look like that last time. Floppy hair and some sort of beard. Didn’t feel right. At all. (So I google imaged Charlie Higson when I got home, just to see what he most likely looked like when we were last in the same room together. Shorter hair and no beard is the answer.)
Very nice to find that the Manchester Children’s Book Festival has the odd event on during the festival drought period, and nicer still to find myself asked to pop along and fill up any empty seats (something I do so well). As another seat-filler I brought Son along. You know you need to entertain children in their time off education, and it’s only ten years since Son was the same age as the multicoloured (school uniform-wise) schoolchildren who did fill up the lecture theatre at MMU on Thursday.
OK, so Charlie Higson hit town with tales of the dead. His new zombie book also happens to be called The Dead. It’s about zombies, and we were treated to a trailer of the film, soon to be here (I think). Charlie cleverly began by telling his audience about the kind of boring and far too common question he and other authors hate to be asked. The ‘where do you get your ideas?’ one. Then he spent the next 45 minutes telling us where.
There would have been no vampires or zombies without the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Charlie did say he thought that for there to be no Stephenie Meyer books would be a good thing, but… The subsequent ash cloud prevented more than planes from flying, and poor Lord Byron found he couldn’t make boat trips on Lake Geneva on his holiday in 1816. So he and his pals had to stay in and tell each other scary stories, and not only did Mary Shelley (to be) dream up Frankenstein, but Byron’s personal drug dealer (sorry, doctor) John Polidori came up with The Vampyre, which later inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Charlie himself has been especially inspired by the film Night of the Living Dead, and he wants to frighten kids, to ‘scar them for life.’ His own bloodthirsty children egg him on to kill more characters, whenever he reads his books to them, and Charlie only felt he had got it right when his youngest had serious nightmares. Don’t feel sorry for him. This is the child who ‘loved it when the eyeballs exploded’. In amongst the blood and the gore Charlie also tries to ‘slip in a bit of plot and character’, while working on getting the black squiggles on white background (that’s words on paper, to you) ‘come alive’. A bit zombie-like.
When someone asked Charlie if he’d ever write a vampire book, he replied that ‘vampires suck’. Oh, how witty. But he seems to feel the world has enough of them by now. His advice is to write what you want to read. His own first books were for adults, so he warned the children not to go looking for them. ‘Don’t read!’ he said, before realising that this might well be the best thing to say to get someone to read.
A quick, and unscientific, show of the hands indicated that boys like zombies and girls like vampires. Presumably Edward type vampires, except they don’t exist. What girls do end up with are zombies, who are ‘basically typical teenage boys.’
It’s not every author who gets to walk into a lecture theatre to the accompaniment of whistling and cheering, and the applause at the end wasn’t of the forced ‘we-must-thank-X so please clap hands, children’. Charlie also had a good way of telling his audience to shut up. No hard feelings, though, as just about everyone queued up for books and to get them signed afterwards.
I was almost carried away by the idea of a signed book too. But then I remembered my reason for not stopping to chat to Charlie. I couldn’t face telling the man – yet again – that I still haven’t read his books. I know they are wonderful. I know. But I’ve run out of time. And zombies… No. Good for teenage boys. Not for elderly witches.
And then after returning home and telling Daughter and the Resident IT Consultant all about Mount Tambora and Byron I had to go and read a magazine article which told me Charlie was wrong. There were vampires back in the 14th century. At least. And it seems I’ve visited the corpse of one several times in my innocent childhood.