Darragh McManus: Shiver the Whole Night Through

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews
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‘Where do you get your ideas?’
This is maybe the most common question you’re asked as a writer, and it’s a reasonable one. The answer – unfortunately, if the asker is looking for usable tips – is vague. Ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. Literally: anything, from an offhand conversation to a book you’ve loved deeply all your adult life, can light that spark of inspiration.
My different novels have had different geneses, usually one to begin with: it might be a theme, an individual character, a first line, a closing line, a cool concept, a piece of music. The “idea”, such as it is, tends to percolate in my mind for years.
I might periodically write down some notes, fleshing out story and characters or recording a memorable bit of dialogue that I just know will fit in, somewhere. I might leave it altogether, in the recesses of my mind, bubbling away until, for whatever reason, my conscious self remembers this idea and drags it back into the light.
My latest book Shiver the Whole Night Through, a Young Adult mystery with a paranormal twist, is kind of unusual in that it had many different influences. But it’s typical in that these ideas were growing and evolving and “becoming” something for a long time. I was both aware of this and oblivious to it, at the same time.
The basic storyline is: bullied youngster Aidan is thinking of killing himself. When local beauty Sláine is found dead, something stays his hand; instead, he decides to investigate her supposed suicide. One night words are formed in ice on his window: ‘I didn’t kill myself.’ Aidan gets drawn into a dream-world of magic, desire, terror and revenge. He’s not sure if beautiful Sláine is a ghost, a demon or the figment of his imagination…but together, they must stop an ancient evil that might just be the death of everyone.
Shiver is part mystery, part romance, part horror-fantasy…as I said, there were a lot of influences at play here, jostling for attention before coalescing in that unknowable alchemy which, I guess, creates art. (Sorry. Told you I wasn’t great on usable tips.)
But I can give some specifics.
I won’t reveal too much of the ‘horror’ part of the storyline, but it’s been swishing around in my brain since it landed, pretty much fully formed, in the car-park at Childers Road shopping-centre in Limerick (really) a decade ago. The Famine, demonology, a desperate man crying out to older gods…it was all there.
Though having said that, I think now it might have an earlier origin: in 1999 I walked from Fanore to Lisdoonvarna in County Clare, over a mountain. Along one section were banks of pine trees and giant limestone blocks, cut by nature into steps so that they almost looked man-made, like an outdoor auditorium… I remember how a ghost story had swirled into view, about a man in love with a woman who was dead and maybe doing awful things in the black night but he can’t help loving her all the same…
And I’d long-intended to write a Gothic horror novel anyway – grandiose, gloomy, spooky, Romantic – so the West of Ireland landscape and Famine-set horror story began to merge…
At first these ideas were intended, I think, for an adult novel. But I’d recently finished my first YA – the inspiration for that is a story in itself – so was “in the zone”, so to speak, and found myself sort of transferring these thoughts to a teenage setting. I’d also watched the Danish vampire movie, Let the Right One In, and was intrigued by its moral ambiguity: how the little girl does these terrible things, but often for the right reasons. And there was the bullying aspect to that film, a subject very close to my heart (essentially, all violence or mistreatment of others is a form of bullying). Probably around this time, then, Aidan and Sláine were becoming real for me.
Meanwhile, more ingredients were adding themselves to this cerebral stew. I saw Twilight for the first time, fell in love with it to a degree that amazed me (but didn’t embarrass me!), watched the whole series over and over. The feel of it, that sustained air of dread and melancholy and reverie…this all spoke to some part of me.
Probably the same part that’s been obsessed with Twin Peaks for over two decades. David Lynch’s seminal TV show creates an incredible mood: the closest thing to dreaming while still being awake, and the feeling of being inside the beating heart of a truly scary fairy-tale. Again, I’d always wanted…to basically write my own version of Twin Peaks, particularly the way that dark, dark forest is a character in its own right.
Still more and more things mixed themselves in – influences influencing influences. Wintertime: just the notion of it, of a small Irish town becoming embalmed in frost and snow and unmoving, deadly cold. Love: a reckless kind of love for another, even if you’re struggling to even like yourself. The beauty of life, and how we often don’t appreciate that until it’s in peril. The classic mystery story: to transplant that to a YA setting but playing it straight, no irony, no nod-and-wink, this is all very serious indeed…
The sheer seriousness of life as a kid. The way things have that all-or-nothing feeling: in heaven one moment, a season in hell the next. The authenticity, excitement, despair, salvation and operatic drama of adolescence. To capture all that, in a noir-style mystery, a grown-up fairy-tale, with horror-fantasy elements, channelling Twin Peaks and Twilight and old Gothic revenge stories, all wrapped up in the endless, timeless, breath-taking cold…
And last shall be first: the title. ‘Shiver the whole night through’ is the final line of the final song on the final album Nirvana recorded before Kurt Cobain died. I’ve loved the band and man and song for decades (Kurt is actually namechecked on the first page), and incidentally, used to think those five words would make a really cool – no pun intended – title for a book.
The book is swathed in cold: so, perfect. But more than this, the very-last scene in the book leaped into view one day, before I’d even started writing it properly, and I could practically hear that song playing: the plaintive keening of Kurt’s voice, the lonely melody, the lyrics about ‘going where the cold wind blows…in the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine’.
Have I left something out? I’m sure I have, lots of things. That’s inspiration, I suppose: tricky to properly grab a hold of it. You have to catch it when you can, apply it, make it concrete, make it – yes – usable. Otherwise it might just slink off, rejected, into those silent pines in the inky night, leaving you alone, trying to find your own way out of the forest.
 
(c) Darragh McManus

About Shiver the Whole Night Through

A small town in Ireland, a chilling mystery, a teenage detective – and a message from the dead

After months of bullying and romantic heartbreak, seventeen-year-old Aidan Flood feels just about ready to end it all. But when he wakes up one morning to find that local beauty and town sweetheart Sláine McAuley has actually done just that, he discovers a new sense of purpose and becomes determined to find out what happened to her. The town is happy to put it down to suicide, but one night Aidan gets a message, scratched in ice on his bedroom window: ‘I didn’t kill myself.’ Who is contacting him? And if Sláine didn’t end her own life … who did?

Shiver the Whole Night Through is published by Hot Key Books and is in bookshops now, or pick up your copy online here.

About Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus is an author, journalist, playwright and screenwriter. Shiver the Whole Night Through is his first Young Adult book.

He has previously published two crime novels: a vigilante thriller called Even Flow (2012) and noir-style mystery The Polka Dot Girl (2013). His first book was the humorous non-fiction GAA Confidential (2007), and he released a comic novel, Cold! Steel! Justice!!!, as an e-book under the name Alexander O’Hara (2011).

For more than a decade Darragh has written reviews, features and opinion columns for several papers, including The Irish Independent, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. Several short stories have appeared in literary journals, in Ireland, UK and US. He’s also written a play, which has had cast readings in Manhattan and Belfast and will be recorded for radio broadcast next year. One of his film scripts placed in the top 5% of 6,000 entrants to the Nicholl Fellowship competition, run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

Darragh lives in the west of Ireland and is currently working on his next YA novel.

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