Monday, June 9, 2014
People always ask writers THE question, the question we all dread,because there’s no real answer to it – “Where do you get your ideas from?” People never ask plumbers that, or surgeons. But one of the ideas I had that inspired me to create my YA ‘zombie’ series, The Enemy, was that I wanted to write about contemporary London teenagers. I have three boys who all grew up and went to school locally where I live in Tufnell Park in North London*. I wanted to write something for them, about people like them. I knew I’d have only one shot at this. Once they'd grown up and left home I wouldn’t have the source material on hand. So I talked to them, I read with them, I eavesdropped on them to make sure I would be able to write as accurately as possible about their lives. The details had to be right. But the thing is, I need to have a lot of action and adventure in my books, I need to have that engine driving them. I can’t write about ordinary people doing ordinary things. I wish I could, but it’s not part of my skill set. So I put my observations about London teenagers into a zombie horror series.
How do you sell a massive leap into fantasy like that? Ian Fleming used to say that in order to pull off the more fantastical elements of his James Bond novels he felt it was important to keep the everyday details as real and as accurate as possible. The cars and the weapons Bond uses, the places he visits, the food he eats, the clothes he wears, the hotels he stays in, all are meticulously true to life. This meant that Fleming could then have villains with sold gold Rolls Royces, giant pet squids, secret lairs inside volcanoes and three nipples. Readers are much more likely to question the mundane details about something – something they know about – than the outrageous, fantastical stuff. Stephen King takes the same approach in his novels. He goes to great lengths to build up a very recognizable reality before unleashing the supernatural. This makes the horrors that much more frightening. Personally I think a horror story set solidly in the real world around us is that much more effective than something set in 19th century Transylvania or whatever (that being said, when Bram Stoker originally wrote Dracula, he set it in his present day, in a recognizable contemporary England. It’s only now that it’s seen as a period piece). So I wanted the world in my books to be as real as possible in order to pull off the fantasy aspect of having a disease that turns all adults into zombies.
My obvious choice of location for the first book was therefore the streets around where I live – Tufnell Park and Holloway. The next thing I needed was somewhere specific for a large gang of kids to hold up in - somewhere they could defend themselves, somewhere logical for them to be. There aren’t a lot of options around Tufnell Park, other than schools, and I don’t think any kid fantasizes about living in a school - unless it’s Hogwarts, I suppose. I also had the idea of two rival gangs of kids hanging out somewhere close to each other in places that would say something about who they were and how they differed. It seemed like a good idea to choose the two big local supermarkets. So I have my main group of characters barricaded inside Waitrose. Waitrose is a more expensive, middle-class, supermarket (almost parodically so). The other gang lives in Morrisons, which is cheaper and used by more working class people. An English reader would very quickly and easily understand the basic difference between these two gangs of kids and their backgrounds.
The reason I chose a supermarket as a hangout was as a homage to George Romero’s brilliant film, ‘Dawn of the Dead’, the film that really put zombies on the map. He’d made the first ever cannibal zombie apocalypse film, ‘Night Of The Living Dead,’ in 1968, and the cult had grown over the years until the great Italian horror director, Dario Argento, persuaded him to make a sequel in 1978. ‘Dawn of the Dead’ was a massive hit and spawned sequels and imitations that are still being made today. In the film the characters hide out in the Monroeville shopping mall in Pennsylvania. Shopping malls were still a novelty back then and George Romero thought that they were a perfect metaphor for an increasingly consumerist America. The mall is a microcosm of the country, and when the zombies take it over they look like any other bunch of mindless shoppers. You can watch the film as a comic satire of American Society, with added blood and guts.
A mall is the perfect place to hold up – it’s full of food, clothing, tools and, of course, it being America, plenty of guns. There are no malls near me, so I put my characters into the closest equivalent - my local supermarket, where I shop every Sunday. Researching this was pretty simple. I’d often imagined what it would be like if zombies attacked and started wandering up and down the aisles. However I did need to find out something about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ areas and so I contacted the manager. I fully expected him to tell me to get lost, and not want to have his pristine supermarket associated with zombies. In fact it was quite the opposite. I’ve found this has always been the case, whenever I’ve needed to do research for my books people have been really excited and keen to help out. Twitter is a great resource for this. People seem to love the idea of zombies taking over their places of work. So a very excited store manager showed me round, and pointed out all the neat places that zombies could attack. It was quite interesting seeing the ‘backstage’ workings of a big supermarket -where the food is brought in and stored before being stacked on the shelves, as well as all the areas where the staff relax and the offices etc. I put as much of this as I could in the book and the descriptions of the supermarket are all as accurate as I could get them.
I didn't really want to set the whole series in a supermarket, however, so in the book the kids set off for somewhere they’re promised is safer - Buckingham Palace. A whole different kettle of fish.
* The four quadrants of London have quite distinct characters. West London is where wealthy hedonists and city banker types live. East London was traditionally the working class area, but is now full of artists, trendy students and start-up entrepreneurs. North London is where the writers, media types and liberals end up. South London - south of the Thames - has always been considered less desirable and is therefore a bit cheaper. It’s full of all sorts, who sometimes feel quite chippy about it (London cabbies are notorious for not wanting to take passengers south of the river late at night). Central London is the West End, where all the shops and galleries and theatres are.
About the Books:When the sickness came, every parent, policeman, politician - every adult fell ill. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry.
Only children under fourteen remain, and they’re fighting to survive.
A gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city - down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground - the grown-ups lie in wait.
About The Fallen: As the chilling Enemy series continues to build toward its grand finale, the kids who have survived the diseased grown-ups grow more desperate for food, for a cure, for hope of any kind . . .
First the sickness rotted the adults' minds. Then their bodies. Now they stalk the streets of London, hunting human flesh.
The Holloway crew are survivors. They've fought their way across the city and made it to the Natural History Museum alive--just barely. But their fight will never end while the Enemy lives, unless there's another way. . . .
The kids at the museum are looking for a cure. All they need are medical supplies.To get them they must venture down unfamiliar streets, where it isn't only crazed, hungry sickos who lurk in the shadows.
In this fifth terrifying entry in Charlie Higson's Enemy series, suddenly it's not so clear who--or what--the enemy is.
Check out The Enemy Series on Facebook, and follow Disney Hyperion and Charlie Higson on Twitter.
Courtesy of Disney Hyperion, I'm thrilled to be able to offer a giveaway of The Enemy Series! One winner in the Unites States will receive all five newly repackaged books in the series.
To enter, just fill out the form below by June 20, 2014. Winner will be notified via email.
Be sure to follow the rest of the Blog Tour!
June 10: MyBookishWays.com
June 11: AliceMarvels.com
June 12: TheBookSmugglers.com
June 13: BittenByBooks.com
June 14: Chapter-by-Chapter.com
June 15: ForeverYoungAdult.com
Posted by Amy at 12:23 AM
Charlie Higson's Guide to London Blog Tour: Guest Post + Giveaway!