Michael Grant and Charlie Higson: Cheltenham Literature Festival Review

Charlie Higson (L) and Michael Grant (R)

By Daphne Armstrong

Imagine a world filled with maggot-infested zombies, mutant powered children and ravenous creatures. Sounds a bit far fetched? Well, not for the infamous Michael Grant, author of the thrilling “Gone” series and Charlie Higson, creator of “The Enemy”, who gave a talk in the PAC as part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday 5th October. Discussing everything from violence in literature to tips for your own writing, it was an event not to be missed by fantasy-horror fans across the board!

Having recently released his latest novel, “Messenger of Fear”,  Michael Grant talked about his inspiration for the book.  The novel is about a girl called Mara who one day wakes up in a field believing she has died (sounding strange, I know, but trust me, it has a much deeper meaning). The novel goes on to explore the concept of how there is both good and evil in all of us, and how it is often difficult choosing which one is right. Michael Grant described Mara as being one of his most autobiographical characters to date, as when he was in his late twenties he committed two low class burglaries in a local restaurant. His actions were never discovered, but said he has always carried the guilt with him, and has since resolved: “if nothing else be kind”.

He also explained how writing for a young audience can actually be quite difficult, as unless you keep them on the edge of their seat they are likely to lose interest. This means he finds “how suspense is written” particularly interesting. Grant aims to keep his stories fast paced, with constant dramatic moments, and says if he ever feels its getting too boring he’ll just kill off another character! He aims to make the “Gone” series more realistic (ok, aside from the flying snakes, teleporting cats and the fact everyone over 14 has disappeared…) because, as in life, you never really know what’s going to happen next!

However, writing for teens does come with its perks. Both authors agreed that because young adults still have such a vivid imagination, they don’t need to include all the lengthy (and sometimes boring) description of what every building, tree and flower looks like, as their readers will simply fill in the gaps themselves with whatever they choose to envisage. (That said: maybe best not to tell your English teacher!)

The conflict between good and evil wasn’t the only philosophical discussion that arose between the two authors. Charlie Higson (maybe more famously known for his “Young Bond” series) talked about how girls are becoming increasingly interested in books containing large amounts of violence or aggression.  His “Enemy” series contains plenty of fighting –amongst both boys and girls-which is often described in quite graphic detail, and Higson says surprisingly the books are equally popular for both sexes.  This goes against the stereotypical view that only boys can enjoy books containing such large amounts of violence, which he said had become an unfair generalization in today’s society.

 This could be partially due to the fact that in the sixties and seventies, many action books were written about wars and fighting, leading to an increase in the number of boys reading in their spare time. Yet many perceived this was unfair on girls, so authors changed to more effeminate stories such as “Nancy Drew” or “The Saddle Club”, creating even more of a separation between the different genres popular to boys and girls.

But does having this much brutality in novels exert a detrimental effect on the reader?  Both Grant and Higson would disagree, and having read most of their series, so would I. So next time you’re stuck for something to read, I highly recommend giving either Michael Grant and Charlie Higson’s books a go. Although be warned – they aren’t for those with weak stomachs!

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