BathKidsLitFest Day 9: Zombies “Don’t split up. Don’t turn the lights off. Don’t do anything they do in horror films.”
Need to know what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse? Charlie Higson will tell you. Of course, as zombies don’t exist, it’s unlikely that there’ll ever be a zombie apocalypse. Then again, he has written an incredible series that makes it all seem so possible. So, he suggests: “Don’t split up. Don’t turn the lights off. Don’t do anything they do in horror films. Be sensible.”
In his Enemy series, a sickness has swept through the population, affecting everyone aged over fourteen. Those adults that survive, “Sickos”, are hungry for children. “A lot of kids get eaten and lots of adults get their brains bashed out,” says Higson cheerfully.
It’s a bit like the medieval epics that he loved to read as a child: the power goes off, there are no adults to work anything, and so the children are plunged back into a world of books, swords and spears. Unfortunately there aren’t really any kids formed in the mould of the heroes of Greek mythology. But then again, “in the real world there aren’t heroes.” But still, the kids find themselves to be more than capable of all sorts of heroic acts.
Higson is joined on stage by the dark master of horror, Darren Shan, whose Zom-B series follows the fortunes of the teenager B Smith as she battles against racism, zombies, psychotic clowns and killer babies. “It’s never too early to tell children that we live in a dangerous world, but that we can overcome the danger,” Shan decides merrily. He’s spent a good eight years working on the series, and although it’s something of a relief to have reached the end (well nearly, a thirteenth volume will yet appear), he’s also a bit sad to step away from the all-consuming world of his terrifying series.
Both concur that horror is a fantastic genre to work in, best served in book form. Films and computer games have to meet multiple criteria set by classification boards before being released to the general public for consumption, books much less so. And books allow an author to deal with all sorts of issues – death, disease, fear and loss – in a fantasy (and therefore, essentially safe) way, continuing a long tradition of gruesome tales for children that historically bridged the gap between Roald Dahl and adult fiction.
Shan and Higson relish the freedoms of writing for kids. Adults are a bit boring, really, and don’t get as involved in what they’re reading as teenagers and children. Moreover, it’s fun. “You might be writing some of the first books that a child may read,” says Higson. Shan adds delightedly “you could get to really scare some kids, scar them for life!”
And then we go out into the dark night with Higson’s consoling words ringing in our ears: “If you think about it, zombies are a bit crap. An organised army could take them out easily. They’re already dead and pretty stupid. The zombie apocalypse would be over in about half an hour.”
Claudia Pugh-Thomas at Charlie Higson and Darren Shan The Telegraph Bath Children’s Literature Festival