Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Higson. Charlie Higson.

Shaken, not stirred. Charlie Higson signs.
I went to see Charlie Higson last week, not in any comedy setting but as an author, talking about the process by which he came to be entrusted by the Fleming estate with the Young Bond novels. The event formed part of the Noirwich Crime Writing festival (the name of which sits somewhere on the punning scale but I can't decide if it's at the 'genius' end or the 'cringe-worthy'). The event coincided with Charlie's donation of archive materials to the host university.

Charlie came across as a thoroughly good bloke, affable, insightful and funny. For people of a certain age in the audience, like me, he even squeezed in a Fast Show catchphrase (though not from one of this characters)... which was nice.

He's a criminally under-rated author in my view, the success of his YA fiction (he writes the zombie-pocalypse series The Enemy too) overshadowing the excellence of his adult fiction. If you don't believe me, take a peak at King of the Ants and Happy Now.

Anyway, I jotted a (very) few notes of the things Charlie had to say; here are those observations.

  • Talking about Bond, Higson described the spy's dream lifestyle, not in terms of the guns/girls/fast cars cliché but by saying (paraphrase alert) he's not married, he doesn't have children, he lives largely in hotels, he eats largely in restaurants and he goes off doing exciting things. Charlie alluded to the appeal of Bond's lifestyle in part relating to not being tied down with a wife and children again later in the evening.
  • Charlie name-checked author Jim Thompson as a favourite, and influence, mentioning The Killer Inside Me and Pop.1280 in particular, suggesting the latter could be his favourite book.
  • When asked about studying how fiction is written in general, and crime fiction in particular, and how the donation of his archive to the university might support that, Charlie joked, "These days you can study anything, can't you?"
  • When discussing the merit of YA fiction, Charlie recounted how Martin Amis, when asked if he (Amis) would ever write YA, had replied, "Only if I had brain damage."
  • Charlie also mentioned Anthony Horowitz, whose Alex Rider books are often understandably considered alongside the Young Bond series. Charlie explained how Horowitz had once confided that he'd named his protagonist Rider after Honeychile Rider in Dr No, and that he considered Alex Rider to be Bond's illegitimate grandson.

Another, more general observation is how much time Charlie made for everyone in the book signing queue. Nobody was rushed, everyone seemed to have as much time as they needed talking with him. Respect also to the guy ahead of me in the queue who had some Higsons 12" vinyl (this, I think) for signing - Charlie duly obliged. Also of interest were the samples of Charlie's work in the foyer that would be going into the archive, including early drafts of the first Young Bond book, Silverfin, complete with extensive editorial notes. Proof, if proof were needed, of the value of a good editor and trusted, objective feedback, something I've blogged a bit about before.

All in all, this was a terrific evening. There was lots more of interest that I didn't note down, but the whole shebang was filmed, so maybe it'll appear online sometime. I'll keep my eyes open and, if it does, I'll post a link here. In the meantime, go and read some of Charlie's fiction, both adult and YA - you won't be disappointed.

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