• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

The Almost Fearless Darren Shan

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews
darren-shan

By Sarah Downey

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Writing.ie’s Sarah Downey caught up with top horror author Darren Shan and discovered that nothing scares him…except perhaps for spiders – and found out just why this incredibly successful author still feels like a “lowbrow outsider!”

Darren Shan is a man at the top of his game, frightening and delighting an army of readers across the globe.  His books entrance his fans, both young and old, with tales of vampires and freak shows all mixed in with devilish humour.  Shan’s journey to the top of the bestseller list and the dark side began early on, “I always loved making up stories, even when I was five or six years old. My Mum was a teacher, and she encouraged me to use my imagination from as soon as I started reading.  I began writing books at a very young age — I was seventeen when I first finished a novel, well, it was only a first draft, but it was still a big achievement as far as I was concerned!”

It was a few more years before Darren went about securing a publishing deal. “When I finally produced a book that I had genuine hopes for (when I was twenty-three) I followed the advice inThe Writers and Artists Yearbook, drew up a shortlist of five agents and sent a sample of the book and a covering letter to them. Four rejected it promptly. The fifth asked to see more, worked with me on re-writing and fine-tuning the book, and eventually accepted me as one of his writers. It still took more than a year after that to make our first sale, but having an agent is a crucial first step.” That agent, Christopher Little, just happened to represent another emerging writer, J.K Rowling. He has an eye for spotting new talent.

Darren has produced an impressive number of books over the years, with two in particular turning into epic series.  Yet, he doesn’t find writing a series at all limiting “It’s by no means restrictive, except that it does swallow up a LOT of your time — I spent seven years working onThe Saga Of Darren Shan, and eight on The Demonata. In both cases, I didn’t plan to write a long series — I started with small goals, which snowballed once I began writing.”

While everything worked out well for Darren, he suggests writers keep things simple and not be overly ambitious when starting out.  “I would advise young authors to be wary of setting the bar too high when they’re starting out. Try to produce a book that can stand on its own terms. If you get a deal for it, that’s the time to start looking at maybe taking things forward if you want to go further with the tale. Although, having said that, I’d already written the second book in my vampire series before I sold the rights to the first, and had written up to book nine by the time the first was published — so if Cirque Du Freak had flopped, I would have wasted a whole lot of time and would have looked very silly! Sometimes you have to gamble and ignore the logical, sensible approach — just be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions if things don’t go the way you would have wished.”

Writing for young people keeps Darren young and in touch with his own childhood.  “I love the enthusiasm that children have for the books they read. Children and teenagers can immerse themselves in the world of a book in a way which is hard for adults to replicate. I think we lose a lot of the wonder of our imaginations as we grow older and are forced to deal with real-life issues like paying bills and marrying and raising children of your own. Writing for younger readers allows me to stay in that wonder-world of my childhood years, and it’s a fun place to be!”

With all the scary scenes Darren pens, does he ever scare himself?  “I never frighten myself, because horror is only really scary if you don’t know what’s coming next. But I do sometimes come up with neat, creepy scenes by putting myself into the story and wondering, “What would scare ME?” That’s why Mr. Crepsley in my vampire books has a pet spider — I was always rather scared of spiders, so I gave him a pet that would freak me out if I’d been sitting in the audience at the Cirque!”

What does he think is the secret to his massive success and the features that keep readers returning to his novels in droves? “You know, I don’t think any writer should ever ask themselves that question. I think that if you start analysing the secrets of your success, you’ll swiftly come undone. I just write stories that would appeal to me if I was reading them, then cross my fingers that other people will like them too. I think all the best writing gets done that way. Write for yourself, not an audience. Hope that financial success comes by being true to yourself — but if it doesn’t, writing the very best stories that you can has to be enough. That should be every true writer’s goal.”

Darren’s taste in literature is surprisingly wide and varied, peppered with books from every genre possible.  “I take inspiration from all over the place, from writers as diverse as Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Enid Blyton, James Joyce, James Ellroy and lots, lots more. Writers should read widely, no matter what genre they work in, and draw ideas from as many corners as they can.” When asked what he thinks of the current Irish literary scene, Darren replies, “I like it when Irish writers in my field do well — I love Eoin Colfer’s work, and Derek Landy’s — but I’ve no interest in those who have no interest in writers like me. As a writer of children’s horror, I’m a lowbrow outsider in the eyes of most of Ireland’s established literary set — and that’s exactly the way I like it!”

And the best part of being a writer for Darren? “I get paid to do my hobby! If I couldn’t make a living from my books, I’d be writing them anyway, in my spare time. I love seeing where my imagination can take me, and because I get paid to do that full time, I’m getting to explore my mind a lot more than I could have if I had to fit my writing in around a regular nine-to-five job.”

Palace of the Damned, the third book in Darren’s popular Saga of Larten Crepsley series, is due to be published at the end of September. “I also hope to announce details of my next series at some point in 2011, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to hold that exclusive back for my own website!” You can check it out at www.darrenshan.com and also find Darren’s very own blog there, as well as all his latest news. If you’d like to meet Darren in person and find out more about his writing journey, he will be at the Mountains to the Sea Festival, appearing at the Pavilion Theatre on Sunday 4th September at 3pm – the cost? A mere €4.00! For more info on the fabulous events planned for the festival, click on the advertisement at the top of the page, or visit www.mountainstothesea.ie  

About the author

(c) Sarah Downey for writing.ie July 2011

Darren Shan, whose real name is Darren O’Shaughnessy, was born in London and moved to Co. Limerick as a child.  He is the author of several bestselling books. In 2009, the Vampire Blood trilogy of the book series The Saga of Darren Shan was adapted for the film Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant.

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