“In the end we’re all human and we all have our faults. That’s what’s nice about books – you can create perfect heroes”. An interview with author and comedian Charlie Higson
Charles Murray Higson, English author, actor, and comedian, was born 3rd July 1958. He attended Sevenoaks School, and later went on to the University of East Anglia, where he formed a band called The Higsons (alongside David Cummings and Terry Edwards), of which he was lead singer for 6 years. After a brief stint as a decorator, Charlie went into partnership with Paul Whitehouse and also began to write for Harry Enfield. Coming to attention as one of the main writers and actors of the comedy sketch show, The Fast Show (1994-200), Charlie’s television success includes Saturday Night Live, The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, The Harry Enfield Television Programme, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and Swiss Toni. Charlie also worked with Paul on a radio comedy show called Down the Line. Although he wrote several novels in the 1990s (if you fancy checking these out, they’re King of the Ants released in 1992, Happy Now in 1993, Full Whack in 1995, and Getting Rid of Mr Kitchen, which was released in 1996), it was not until 2004 that Charlie penned SilverFin, the first instalment in a series of James Bond novels, aimed at younger readers, that depict the life of this iconic character’s school-days at Eton. This highly successful series, made up of five novels, has sold over a million copies in the UK alone. As well as this series, Charlie has also used his enjoyment of horror films and books to write The Enemy, the first book in a series of zombie adventures. The second and third books are called The Dead and The Fear. The Sacrifice will be published in September 2012. Charlie has 3 sons, and lives in North London.
Thank you for letting us interview you, your Young Bond series never stay at World of Books for long as they’re so popular- so it’s great that our customers can read a little about you!
Q: Ok, so we’ll start easy- what is the average day in the life of Charlie Higson?
– Up at dawn for a five-mile run, followed by breakfast of raw eggs snake meat, then target practice on the rifle range for three hours. I usually have time to fit in some martial arts training before lunch, and then… I can see I’m not fooling you. The reality of being a writer is rather different. We sit in small rooms making it all up. I have an office at home, and once the kids have gone off to school I settle down at my computer for a full day’s writing. Although I do break it up with a few sessions playing Call of Duty online, which is the closest I came to any action and adventure.
Q: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
– To expand time. Twice as many hours in a day, twice as many days in a year. I could write twice as many books and have twice as much fun.
Q: As we’ve mentioned above, you’ve also written four adult books, all of which can be said to be somewhat gritty and to different extents, dark. Do you find it very different writing adult fiction compared to young adult? Which do you prefer?
– It’s no different writing for adults as it is writing for kids. A book is a book, and whoever it’s aimed at it needs to do the same things. You need a good story and interesting characters, you need to grab your readers and not let them go and you have to write some memorable passages that will stick in their minds. In a way it’s harder writing for kids. They are easily bored and you can’t be at all self-indulgent (like many ‘literary’ authors). I like to write books in which lots of stuff happens, I like action and horror, and I suppose all of my books have been quite dark. There are some differences between the adult ones and the ones for younger readers. There is less swearing in my teen books, and no sex, otherwise they’re pretty much the same. At the moment I am writing exclusively for kids as I’m enjoying it, and the kids seem to be enjoying it too. I’m sure one day (maybe when my kids have grown up) I’ll return to writing books for older readers – although of course many adults really enjoy The Enemy series.
Q: And a random one- who is your hero?
– It’s hard to find any real life heroes. In the end we’re all human and we all have our faults. That’s what’s nice about books – you can create perfect heroes. I do like people who can make me laugh, though, so I’ll say Tommy Cooper and Vic Reeves, Steve Coogan, Woody Allen and of course my writing partner Paul Whitehouse.
Q: If you could go back in time and give your 16 year old self some advice, what would it be?
– Don’t wear that awful pale blue nylon turtle neck shirt. Otherwise just enjoy yourself, you’ll be an old man before you know it.
Q: What made you want to write the Young Bond Series? How many times have you had to watch the films as ‘research’?
– I was asked if I wanted to write the books by the Ian Fleming estate (Ian Fleming created James Bond, and his family still own the character). It was their idea and they approached me rather than the other way round. As a lifelong James Bond fan it was the perfect job offer. The idea was that I would try to fit in with the original books rather than the films, although I obviously wanted my books to have all the fun and excitement of the films. So I went back and reread the books and picked out anything I thought might be useful – any clues to the early life of Bond. I also wanted to get inside Ian Fleming’s mind and see how he went about writing his books. He was a great teacher. Often when I was writing the books and I wanted to get into the right mood, I would play some of John Barry’s old Bond film music very loud. That was fun and always worked.
Q: What is the current book on your nightstand?
– I am working my way through Bernard Cornwell’s series of Sharpe novels, about a British soldier fighting in the Peninsula War against Napoleon’s armies in Spain. I am about two thirds of the way through and really enjoying them. Cornwell writes really well about action and battles, something I am trying to learn about for my new zombie war series. Cornwell also reminds me a lot of Ian Fleming. You can see Sharpe as a James Bond figure, fighting for his country, with the Duke of Wellington as M.
So, on with the questions! The most recent instalment of your zombie adventure series, The Fear, was released back in September. The book carries on the tale of a world where adults over the age of 14 have contracted a mysterious illness which has killed mostly everyone, and made the survivors zombie flesh-eaters. This particular episode tells the tale of DogNut, who attempts to find his friends across the streets of London. Can we expect another in this series? And what characters across the three have you particularly bonded with and enjoyed writing about?
– I am planning to write at least seven instalments of the series. I have created lots of characters all with their own parallel but intertwining stories, so I need the space to fit them all in. My favourite characters so far are Small Sam and The Kid, two young boys who have wild adventures. The next book– The Sacrifice – which I am writing at the moment (or at least I would be if I didn’t have to answer all these pesky questions!) is all about them.
Q: Sorry Charlie! We’re looking forward to the next instalment, so won’t keep you much longer! Do your sons give you constructive feedback? Or are they your best critics?
– When I first started writing for kids I had no idea if I could do it, if my style would work, if I could actually write in a way that kids would enjoy. So I used to test everything on my own kids. As I finished each chapter of my Bond books I read them out as bedtime stories to my boys, which is why the books are so violent. My boys demanded more and more killings, blood and mayhem. They were very polite but I could tell from their body language if they were bored – for instance, if they fell asleep I knew I would have to put in another gory death. It was the same with my horror series. I used my youngest son, Sidney, as a guinea pig. I read The Enemy to him at night and if he had nightmares I knew I was doing something right!
Q: And finally, here at World of Books we are dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?
– I love books – physical paper ones. My house is full of them. There will always be a place for real books in the world, though eBooks will save a lot of paper. I hate to ever throw a book away, so I think what you are doing is wonderful. I spend a huge amount of time in 2nd hand bookshops, books have always been recycled in this way. Get the books out there and share them and keep them alive. Keep up the good work.
Fancy checking out any of Charlie’s books? Why not see what Bond was like before he earned his license to kill and pick up a book from our site today? You can find out more about Charlie at his own website over at http://www.charliehigson.co.uk/ You can also find him on Twitter as @Monstroso