As UEA’s Literary Festival continued into its third week, it welcomed two more former students, David Almond and Charlie Higson, into the open arms of Lecture Theatre 1. They were greeted by an audience of all ages and it was refreshing to see the younger members eagerly waiting to see their favourite authors. This diversity shows the popularity of Almond and Higson, who have achieved great success in their careers so far.
Starting from a very young age, they immersed themselves in reading and writing, sharing a particular fondness for Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. This very candid interview also touchingly revealed the darker times in their childhoods, with the deaths of Almond’s younger sister and his father, and also the death of Higson’s mother. On the one hand, Almond used his writing as a way to objectify his feelings, whereas Higson used his writing as a barrier between himself and the outside world – two very different ways of dealing with such trauma.
Later in life, Almond and Higson were clearly on the same page when deciding which university to attend: they both chose to study English and American Literature (and Film in Higson’s case) at UEA. The versatility of the courses was the main attraction, an attribute that students still enjoy today. After graduating, Higson formed a band with Paul Whitehouse, The Higsons, before becoming a painter and decorator to earn more money, whilst Almond became a teacher in the hope that the long holidays would give him plenty of opportunity to write: no such luck.
Eventually, everything seemed to fall into place. Higson, along with Whitehouse, achieved huge success writing for Harry Enfield’s television show Saturday Night Live and The Fast Show, to name but two, whilst Almond left the teaching profession to pursue writing. Sure enough, Skellig, as Almond phrased it, ‘happened.’ With the audience hanging on his every word, Almond fascinatingly described the way in which Skellig came to him sentence by sentence; he never knew what was going to happen next. Skellig went on to achieve unbelievable success, winning the Whitbread Children’s Book Award, and is now studied in schools all over the country. Almond did not intend to be a children’s author, it simply happened. Similarly, Higson began by writing crime fiction for adults in the early 90s, yet he too became immersed in the world of writing for children, with his immensely successful Young Bond and Enemy series.
This eye-opening event ended on a very uplifting and positive note. Both Almond and Higson championed the importance of writing for children and young adults, and they praised the fantastic work in this field today.
For Almond, reading is one of the most important forms of culture because children can learn so much from it. Both authors, having visited many schools, emphasised how enthusiastic children are about reading and writing; the stereotype that young people are reading less and less seems to be very much untrue, thanks to the brilliance of authors such as these.