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Charlie Higson: "We were a huge part of Thatcher’s Britain"

Charlie Higson on his mother's death when he was a teenager, being a terrible snob – and hitting the big time with Loadsamoney

Charlie Higson

I kept myself to myself a lot as a teenager. I had friends, but I spent a lot of my time alone writing little books, drawing and painting and walking my dog in the wood. I read a lot. I was really into fantasy – Michael Moorcock, Tolkien – then I discovered science fiction. I always liked books that took me out of my mundane world and off on an adventure. I was a terrible snob. I would deliberately not listen to pop music – only classical and jazz. And I read big heavy tomes like Kafka and Beckett. My advice to my teenage self would be to lighten up, actually.

My mother got very ill when I was 15 and she eventually died when I was 18. When I think back now I see how painful and difficult and what a loss it must have felt to her. But teenagers are very self-centred and instead I saw my mother’s illness as something being done to me. If I could go back now I’d say, stop thinking about yourself so much and think about her. Make more of an effort to get to know her before time runs out. I can’t claim it made me a wiser person – I was too shallow for that – but it did give me a sense of the impermanence of things.

I was quite bright and funny, but I was a private person. I still am

If I met my 16-year-old self now I’d probably think he was a bit of a twat. A bit pretentious. I was a kind of arty kid – maybe not cool but a bit of a poser. But I hope with some prodding I’d prove quite interesting. I was quite bright and funny, but I was a private person. I still am. I didn’t – I don’t – give a lot out. That combined with shyness could make me hard work, probably. If the teenage Charlie met his future self he’d say, ‘God, you’ve got fat’. I was small and thin as a teenager. He’d be appalled.

Of everything I’ve done, the younger me would be most impressed that I’ve met Michael Palin. I was obsessed with Monty Python. I used to write little plays just ripping them off. I hope he – the younger me, not Michael Palin – would be very pleased with the way my life has panned out. I’ve had the life I dreamed of having. When I was 16 my father, who was an accountant, gave me the most important advice anyone has ever given me. He said, by all means carry on the writing in your spare time, but whatever you do get yourself a proper job because you will never make any money from your writing. And that was brilliant because I was a teenager and so ignored everything he said.

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The big turning point for me and Paul [Whitehouse, who Higson met at university] was Loadsamoney. He was the second character we wrote for Harry Enfield on Saturday Night Live, after Stavros. Loadsamoney went absolutely nuts. In terms of comedy it was the biggest thing in the country; it became a huge part of Thatcher’s Britain. Overnight people were treating us like established comedy writers. I wanted to act as well as write but Harry wasn’t keen for me to do much, which is one of the reasons we broke away and did The Fast Show. I like performing but I prefer to do it in heavy disguise, hence the various wigs and moustaches. I like being someone else. I could never do stand-up.

The great thing about having children is they bring back so many memories of your own childhood. I couldn’t write my books for kids if I hadn’t had my own. I wouldn’t know how they talk and what they’re in to. When my sons were younger and I was writing the Young Bond books, I’d read each chapter to them and get their response. That’s why the books are so violent.

The Sacrifice, the fourth instalment in Higson’s bestselling teen zombie series, The Enemy, is out now (Puffin, £12.99) in hardback

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