A note: Whereas I have tried to write down exact quotes in their exact context, I am a mere blogger and a bit of a shoddy journalist and my pen likes to run out when I get a bit too excited so I have to fill in the blanks. If I have misquoted or misinterpreted the intent on anyone’s views, I apologise.
When I read the statistic that 17% of children are embarrassed to be seen with a book, I was incredibly sad.
Luckily, between this talk and Anthony Horowitz’s my faith in our future generation has been restored. For as I queued I was surrounded by children of all ages (boys and girls), chatting about what they’re favourite book was in The Enemy series, who their favourite character was and speculating which character was killed in the more disgusting way.
There is nothing more brilliant than seeing children get excited over a book or series they’ve just finished. So instead of feeling sad about the kids who are embarrassed to pick up a book, I felt sorry for them. Because, god, their conversations must be dull. The two boys behind me in the queue for Zombies! were talking about zombie terrorists.
There was not an embarrassed kid in the entirety of Imperial Square that weekend, I assure you. So let’s not write them all of just yet, OK?
Anyway, let me clamber off my soapbox and I’ll start the write up.
EXCEPT, when I ask you to feel sorry for me because I am so full of a cold, it’s insane. There was a genuine concern that Mr Higson would take one look at me sniffling and with bags under my eyes and think I had taken my fangirling a step too far by dressing up as a zombie.
Which I would never do.
Nah, I just ran around Cheltenham scrawling “FREAK LIVES” on every available surface and allowing my hair to grow a bit wild so I could keep my bus pass in it in the style of The Kid.
OK, if you haven’t read The Enemy series, you are probably just asking yourself “What? When did Jo become a crazy-mop-topped vandal?”
And I’ll let you ponder that question as I start the write up…for real this time.
This talk was chaired by a man who I actually have no idea what his name was, which is a shame because he was really, really excellent and funny. It’s so good to have someone who not only knows what he’s chatting about but also loves what he does. For some reason, I have written down ‘Daniel’, so I think I’m going to stick with that. Even though it may be incorrect.
He warned us that we were going to have a “very unpleasant hour ahead” and went on to introduce Ian Livingstone, the co-founder of Games Workshop and the Fighting Fantasy series. It probably won’t surprise you that I’ve never read these books because they are hard core fantasy. With wizards and warlocks and swords and everything. And I can only just manage to keep up if a book if they mention men with white beards, so when you mention dragons…. Woosh.
And then he introduced Charlie Higson, or “the support act”, and well if you’re a regular at Wear the Old Coat then you probably know who he is already (For I adore him). He’s the author of the crazily good The Enemy series and the Young Bond series, copies of which I am currently collecting from various charity shops across the land.
We started off by learning more about Mr Livingstone. I was a bit worried just in case I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and that it would show and he’d suddenly stop talking and shout “Why are you even here?” at me. Luckily, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this did not happen.
With the help of some brilliantly retro pictures, tinted glasses and polo shits, Mr Livingstone started off by discussing how he began to develop the Games Workshop and the Fighting Fantasy series in a flat in Shepard’s Bush. Him and his friend produced their mail order magazine Owl and Weasel and started distributing Dungeons and Dragons to Europe. Also, they had a van named Van Morrison. Which, I feel, is the only thing you can call a van.
He explained how they wanted to make role play “more accessible” to the reader and turn them into the hero or heroine of the book. When they had finished their first book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, they sent it off to Penguin but the publishers were a bit nervous because the whole concept of the book and gaming in general was a bit difficult to understand.
But after one of the publishers attended a talk that Mr Livingstone & co had set up, she saw how much of a demand there was for books like this and agreed to publish it. Livingstone explained how they wanted to choose the artist for their books because they didn’t want the typical fantasy pictures (you know the ones, lovely fairies sitting on a toadstool) but they wanted pictures of monsters that “threatened to rip your face off”.
I have to admit that, as I stared in wonder at the gruesome pictures that flickered on the screen above me, I started to get interested. Me, Jo, the fantasy phobe. But they looked so cool, especially when Mr Livingstone told us how he “really enjoyed luring people to places where they’ll fall on spikes.”
And if that isn’t a sale pitch, I don’t know what is.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a gruesome fantasy book without its critics. Apparently the Evangelical Church wrote an eight page warning guide exclaiming that people have been known to levitate when they have read this book.
Again… if that isn’t a sale pitch….
Mr Livingstone then moved on to his new book and the subject of the talk, Blood of the Zombies. He explained the reason why he chose this subject was because “there’s something deeply horrible about zombies” because “there’s nothing more scary than human beings.”
Then he showed us some of the artwork and eeeh it’s so deliciously grim. The cover was drawn by Greg Staples and the interior pages Kev Crossley.
Then Daniel (if that is his real name… which it possibly isn’t) passed over to Charlie Higson. He started off by showing us the book trailer for The Sacrifice, the new and fourth book in his Enemy series.
I have to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of book trailers because the acting is always a bit ropey but this one looks so good and, having read the book, actually has some relevance. And, as I watched it, I got all excited again and tried to meet the eye of my fellow zombie fans. No one met my eye.
Mr Higson explained how he was a bit nervous being at a talk about zombies because his books aren’t actually about zombies. If you’re not familiar with the series, everyone over the age of fourteen is exposed to a virus that turns you into a shambling, child-brain-eating…well, um…. zombie. In the words of Higson himself, they’re “a bit like an Enid Blyton story.”
He agreed with Mr Livingstone that it’s “very upsetting being chased by psychotic people who want to eat you” and that zombies are the things that scare him most. After all, he explained, you “can’t write something scary if it doesn’t scare you.”
One of my favourite things about Higson’s books are they are genuinely scary and not just in the “Eeeh, a bit grim” way, I mean “look over your shoulder because you’re legitimately going to get chomped on” kind of way.
“Zombies have exploded,” Mr Higson said when Daniel asked him about the trends in YA books recently. “Quite literally.” I’d have to agree. I think zombies are the ‘next big thing’ at the moment and so many books are being given the zombie treatment even when, perhaps, they don’t really need it. You know which ones.
When he was asked to speculate why zombies were so popular he stated that “they are the perfect enemy because they’re already dead” and “they’re fair game.” After all, he said, “you’re never going to get a zombie spokesperson on Newsnight.”
He has a point but I have to admit, I would love to see the TTs on Twitter if that ever actually happened.
The discussion moved on to paranormal books in general and why zombies and, of course, vampires are so popular. Mr Higson said that, on the whole, girls prefer vampires and boys prefer zombies. On behalf of all the girls who like zombies better than vampires, I snorted in derision. Then the house lights came on and he asked for a show of hands who preferred vampires and who preferred zombies.
Naturally, zombies won. Although I have a sneaking suspicion the title of the talk was a bit of a spoiler….
“Girls want to go out with vampires,” Mr Higson explained when a few teenaged girls (who had the decency to look a little sheepish) had put their hands up. “No one wants to snog a zombie.”
Speak for yourself, Mr Higson.
I kid, I kid.
He said that zombies aren’t glamorous. They lurch around with their pants round their bums, they have a poor diet and they communicate in grunts and “they’re basically teenage boys.
The trio then went on talk about the appeal of horror books and why young adults and, um notsoyounglikeme adults, love them so much. Mr Higson suggested that there’s an “appeal of the horribleness”, something which Mr Livingstone agreed with. He explained that there’s something great about being “scared in your own room” because there’s a sense of still being frightened but knowing “you’re still safe”.
Leading on from this, and a topic I’m always fascinated in especially when it comes to young adult books, was a discussion about censorship and whether books should have ratings. It was obvious that all three men were against this and they all agreed that life is dark and as Mr Higson explained, “horror is a great way for kids to learn to deal with that.”
The conversation naturally went to the idea of ratings on video games and, whether it. With the idea that “you can get away with more in a book” and there’s a degree of control when you’re reading a book because, well, you can just put the book down. Mr H said how it always made him laugh when the government and teachers tell kids to get off the computer and to read a good book. Psst, kids… go read one of these guys’ books. That’ll sort you out.
Then the floor was opened up for questions and the first one asked, much to my delight, was how many more books were there left to be released in The Enemy series. Well, I thought that The Sacrifice was the last one and then I finished it and after my nervous twitch had subsided I realised that even Charlie Higson couldn’t be that cruel to leave the story there. The Sacrifice is the middle book in the series and there are three more to come.
Needless to say, I am excited. Apparently the next few books are going to explore the disease and we will get to learn more about the cause and, maybe the….cure? I don’t know if that’s true or not, I’ve just made that up because I am a vicious rumour-spreader. He also said that the pivotal scene (and this isn’t a spoiler) is the conversation between The Kid and The Green Man in the cave under St Paul’s cathedral. He explained that, in this scene, there were similarities between Bilbo and Gollum exchanging riddles in the cave.
Also, in the next book we will be catching up with the Holloway gang.
BLUE, I’VE MISSED YOU.
When asked about whether his books would ever be turned into films, CH said that every author wants their books to be turned into films because they “act like a giant advertisement for your books.” He did, however, express his concerns that if his books were ever turned into films, and kept faithful to his stories, the majority of his readers wouldn’t be able to go and see them because they would be at least a 15.
Mr Higson also joked that he was thinking of setting up a Zombie Tour of London where we would travel around in an open top bus looking at the places that feaure in the series. I have no idea why he was joking because I would be there in a heartbeat. I’m still trying to persuade my Southern friends to indulge me in going to the Tower of London while I tell them how I would escape a gaggle of zombies.
After the talk had finished, I went to the Waterstones’ Children’s book tent (which, I have to say, is the best book tent you can get) and got my book…
and, because I’m a loser, my ticket…
You’ll be happy to know (or sad, depending on how mean you are or how much you find my “I just made a fool of myself in front of my favourite author” stories entertaining) that I didn’t make a fool of myself in front of these two. Well… um… I did kinda, sorta, definitely designate myself as the Official Spokeswoman For Girls Who Prefer Zombies to Vampires and put Mr Higson straight on his delusion that all girls like bloodsuckers over brain eaters. Well, when I say put him straight I kinda, sorta, definitely rambled at him for a bit then ran away.
Don’t worry fellow GWPZtVs*…. I got your back.
*We probably need a snappier title, right? Answers on a postcard…