Charlie Higson | "I wanted to write something really scary for kids in the horror vein"

Charlie Higson | "I wanted to write something really scary for kids in the horror vein"

If vampires are the "undead" of choice for girls, then it has to be zombies for the boys according to author, actor and screenwriter Charlie Higson. His new trilogy, which launches in September with The Enemy, is a terrifying glimpse of a future London after a mysterious plague has swept through the city.

The plague has killed most adults but left many so ravaged with sickness that they turn into gruesome, crazed creatures intent on finding fresh meat. London becomes an eerie ghost town in which small groups of children struggle to survive, battling with starvation and the groups of zombie-like grown-ups who want to eat them, and frequently do.

It was his son's obsession with zombies that sparked the idea for The Enemy, combined with a "what if" from his own youth says Higson. "I'd always been fascinated with the idea of: 'What if everyone disappeared and you had the run of London?' I wrote a couple of sci-fi books when I was a teenager— they were really awful— but they explored the idea of a post-apocalyptic London where the infrastructure was still intact and you could go and live in Buckingham Palace because all the adults had disappeared.

A change of direction

"After writing the Young Bond thriller books for children, I also wanted to write something really scary for kids in the horror vein. My son, Sidney, is obsessed with zombies, he finds them scary but intriguing. Instead of playing 'It' in the playground, they play 'zombies' so if someone touches you, you turn into a zombie.

"So The Enemy begins as a horror story although it then becomes more of an adventure story; it's probably more of a Lord of the Rings fantasy quest than Stephen King-type horror. But I am always aware of how I can make it scary. Children tell me that they find the Young Bond books scary but in those, you always know that James Bond will survive. So it's nice to come up with a cast of characters and to make it clear to the reader that any one of them could die. That makes it quite tense.

"I can get away with some of the more extreme parts of the story (children getting eaten by adults, for example) because this is fantasy. Also, we've learned through Young Bond what sort of levels of violence you can take things to. I can see from my own children, what kind of computer games they play and what they watch on television. You get all sorts of things in books and on covers that wouldn't have seen the light of day a little while ago, but this is also how you get boys to read. Sidney helped me with the book and loved the gruesome parts. If I had written it his way, we'd have had people being killed randomly on every page.

"I do get attached to the characters and it can be hard to kill them off. You put a lot into making each character distinctive. As a child I loved Roman and Greek heroes— I've got a not-very-heavily disguised Achilles in the story. If you think about it, those heroes all had a defined role and look that told you who they were. In my book, you have to introduce each character through the way they talk or look or what they do— and then you kill them off and have to start with a whole new group of characters.

Child's point of view

"The story begins after the children have gone through a period of chaos and have reached the stage where they are better equipped to survive, they are quite organised. I think that children probably would become quite organised in a post-disaster situation, they would have to.

"The good thing about writing from a child's point of view is that you only know what they know. The children are trying to find out what is going on and what their future might hold and that becomes a big part of the story.

"We don't know what is happening to the adults, what has made them ill. I hope that in the end we will know where the plague came from. I don't personally think that something like swine flu will come along and kill everyone— although the timing of the outbreak has been a bit of a PR coup for me.

"There is also quite a bit about relationships in this story and, after writing the Young Bond series and focusing on one person, it was good to write about boy/girl relationships but to do so in a way that wouldn't put off the boys, hence the backdrop of fighting.

"I'd like to write more Young Bond books but I've only got a narrow point of time to work in because at the end of the last book (By Royal Command, Puffin), James Bond leaves Eton and he's almost an adult.

"I still enjoy my television work, too. I've got a new comedy series airing in the autumn called "Bellamy's People", based on BBC Radio 4's "Down the Line" phone-in host Gary Bellamy. It plays on all the television series of 'famous people exploring Britain' that have been made over the last few years and there's a lot of improvisation in it.

"Writing the books works well for me in between my television work. I've actually signed for three books with Puffin initially, but I have lots of ideas for where we can go after that and how to explore the world that these children are growing up in. That will depend on how well these books are received— and you can never guarantee anything with young people."