young adult book reviews & more

Interview with Charlie Higson

Why did you choose to set The Dead, the second novel in the Enemy series, a year before the story in The Enemy, its first installment? Did you initially plan to have two separate stories from the first two books in the series come together in the third book? If not, how did that come about?
The series was originally going to be a trilogy and book 2 was going to carry straight on from book 1 – five minutes later - as the kids turned up at the Natural History Museum. But I realized I had a bit of a problem. First of all I had too many ideas to fit into three books, and secondly there was a problem with pacing. At the end of The Enemy Small Sam has arrived at the Tower of London, and, as I’ve said, the other Holloway kids, are about to arrive at the museum. It struck me that the whole of the beginning of book 2 was in danger of being taken up with introducing a whole load of new characters at these two new locations. And this was on the back of meeting a lot of new kids towards the end of book 1 – at the palace and in the park… It would be hard to push the plot forward and might become confusing and overwhelming. So I started thinking about using the 2nd book to introduce all these new characters separately, so that when they all eventually came together we would know who they were and could get on with the story. I asked my publisher if they were interested in more than 3 books and they said they’d love 6! So I had the green light from them to expand and deepen the story. But would the readers object? As I write my books I read them out to my own kids, as guinea pigs. So I asked them what they’d like to see in book 2. And they said, completely out of the blue, that they thought it would be cool if book 2 was about a whole new set of kids, also trying to survive in London. I figured great minds think alike and set about changing my plans. I think we underestimate kids and think they won’t take on board anything too complex, but I think they also don’t like things to get too predictable. I reckoned my readers would enjoy seeing the kids from the first two books gradually coming together in some unexpected ways. This process continues in Book 3, so that what was originally going to be book 2 will now be book 4.

Does that make sense?

Where did your ideas for the Enemy series come from?
It started when I was a teenager in the 1970s and I first saw Night Of The Living Dead. It was the first, and I think still the best, of the cannibal zombie apocalypse films. I fell in love with zombies. They terrify me. When I realized my own kids were also big zombie fans, and were equally fascinated and terrified of them, I figured it’d be a lot of fun to write some zombie books. I put the zombies together with a fantasy I’d had when I was a kid – what fun it would be if all the adults in the world simply disappeared! A world of kids, trying to get by and to make sense of things, using all the cool stuff that us adults have left lying around.

Why does the zombie disease only affect the adults in your dystopian setting?
Because that’s what I needed to set my story up! If you look at all zombie films there’s never really any explanation as to how it all works, and why it’s happened. Probably because it never could happen. Exactly how the disease works is something I’m still working on. In the end it’s really not that important, it’s just a device to get the story running, we just want to get on with it. As we only ever see events through the eyes of the kids, they haven’t figured it all out yet. I’m working on some interesting ideas, though, that will feed later plots.

What was the most enjoyable part about writing The Dead?
Inventing some new characters and then killing half of them off.

Which of your characters can you relate to most and why?
I am most like the studious, responsible ones, struggling with ideas of what it means to be a leader – like Arran, Ollie and Ed. As a father (and TV producer, which is my job when I’m not writing) you have to deal all the time with problems of responsibility, leadership, guidance etc. I am not a warrior like Jack or Achilleus. I would hope my brains might help me survive an apocalypse, rather than my fighting skills.

What is the most interesting thing you learned while writing The Dead? (This can be about yourself, about writing, or anything at all).
One of the fun things about wring books is doing research, visiting places and getting unique access. I had some great personal tours of the places I wrote about, like the Imperial War Museum and the Tower Of London.

What is the most rewarding part about being a young adult author?
Doing events with kids. I love talking about writing and horror and books, and the kids I meet are very responsive, they ask much more interesting questions than adults. Like ‘how would you like to die?’ and ‘How much money do you earn?’ It’s also very rewarding getting reluctant readers into books, not because books are good for you, but because I’ve derived so much pleasure from reading over the years, so to be able to pass that on is very rewarding.

If there were one thing you could change about either The Enemy or The Dead, what would it be?
The great thing about writing a series is you can keep adding to your initial ideas, and making them better, so anything I didn’t get right, or wish I’d put in earlier books I can put in later books. I was really pleased when I decided on the new route I was going to take through the series, to discover that everything had been nicely set in place for me in The Enemy – almost as if I’d planned it from the start.

What are you working on next?
I have a deal for 6 books in this series here in the UK. (Not sure if Hyperion are going to take all six in the US yet, but fingers crossed). So I’m working on book 4 at the moment. I also have a couple of TV comedy projects in the pipeline, and some script writing I have to get on with.

For more information on Charlie Higson and his work, check out his website at www.charliehigson.co.uk

1 munch(es) :

Mollie said...

Awesome interview. I really enjoyed The Enemy and am looking forward to reading The Dead. And 6 books... WOO HOO! So thankful for The Book Depository...espeically if they don't publish all 6 here in the US!

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