We parents might know Charlie Higson best as an actor and comedian, especially for the brilliant sketch show The Fast Show, but chances are if your children are aged eight or up (and especially if they are boys), they will have become engrossed in his novels. Charlie is author of the best-selling Young Bond series about James Bond before he became 007 and the teen zombie The Enemy series.
He chatted to us about his writing inspiration, getting boys to read and his latest book, The Sacrifice.
How do you get in the mindset to write for children?
I suppose by using my own kids as guinea pigs. They are now 19, 17 and 14, but when I was offered the James Bond job, my eldest, Frank, was only 10, so I very much wrote that book for him, having never written for children before.
As I'd write each chapter, I'd read it to him as his bedtime story!
You've said before that children will not read if they don't see their parents enjoying books. Did you make a conscious effort to be seen as a 'reader' by your boys?
I've always had a house full of books - actually, now there's virtually nothing else in it! I get sent so many to review and read that there wasn't ever a decision to do it.
In the end, what really makes kids read is them finding the book that speaks to them.
How can parents help with that?
It's very difficult. I remember with my boys we were always getting books from friends who'd say 'my 10 year old loves this series, you must read it' and my kids wouldn't. You do have to put quite a lot of work into seeing what they like and don't like. In the end the Harry Potter series and Alex Rider and the Deep Wood series worked really well. Frank got fed up with me saying 'right, that's it for tonight, no more' when I was reading Harry Potter to him that he said, 'oh sod you, I'll read it myself!'
What did you read when you were young?
I grew up in the 60s when there was a lot of fantastic historical fiction around, people like Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliffe.
I loved any book that took me on an adventure, that took me out of my mundane little world.
I read tonnes of Greek myths and legends and Viking stories. King Arthur. Robin Hood. Basically, if the hero had a sword I was happy!
Do you find writing your young adult books is form of escapism? Do you love retreating into the world of zombies?
Definitely. The great thing about having kids is you start to remember so much of your own childhood, and you get plugged back into that. Through writing for kids, it has put me back in touch with them. I now spend a lot of time doing school visits and talking to kids and it's been brilliant.
What feedback do you get from kids when you do signings and school visits?
It was funny, I went up to an event at my kids' school: they'd been running this creative writing course and the kids were reading their stories out that they'd worked on for the year and every one of those stories was incredibly violent and gory and upsetting.
And I spoke to one of the girls after and said 'that story that you read out was very nasty', and she said 'What you have to know is, kids love death'.
And that's the main message I seem to get from doing the books with kids, they love gore and splatter and violence. When people know I write horror they say 'boys must like that', but girls do love horror too.
Who mainly reads your books - girls or boys?
I think it probably is more boys than girls, but I would imagine that it's not a huge percentage difference. For instance, the Twilight books are vampire books with a horror element to them and all the Tim Burton type of goth, Corpse Bride type of films are very hot amongst girls. That whole sort of morbid, Goth, zombie thing works very well.
Do you think the design of your books makes them more appealing to boys?
The books are designed not to scare boys - they're not pink. I mean they'll scare them in terms of they've got skulls and zombies on them.
Boys won't read anything that even has a sniff of femininity about it, and certainly won't be seen in public reading it. Girls don't mind, girls are happy to read something if it looks like a boys' book. So I suppose my main thrust is trained at boys, but there are a lot of female characters in the books and I make sure they've got a lot to do.
There's always lots of discussion about how to get boys reading. What do you think is the answer?
One of the things that got me into writing - and we talked about this a lot when we started doing the James Bond books - was 'how do you get boys reading?' We thought there should be more books out there that are bang squarely aimed at boys and getting them to read. I think there's been a big shift in that; there's a lot more around now that boys find accessible.
Finally, your latest book, The Sacrifice, says on the back 'contains strong language and scenes of violence' - brilliant marketing ploy to get kids interested?
Well that's why I put it on the back. It's not a warning at all, it's a recommendation!
The Sacrifice is published by Puffin Books
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