Interview with author Darren Shan

Hi there Wottareaders, here’s my interview with author Darren Shan, best known for his Cirque Du Freak, and the Demonata series, but he has written many other books that deserve to get your attention, also, this is a great chance for you to know him a bit better, so let’s start!

😀 The Man

What can you tell us about you?

I’m nearly 50 years old, I’ve been a full-time writer for the last 27 years, I’ve published close to 60 books and sold about 30 million copies worldwide. I’m best known for my Cirque Du Freak and Demonata series, and I’m nearing the end of my latest Archibald Lox series, with the final three books set to see print this summer.

Where are you from? Has your country influenced your stories somehow?

I’m from Ireland (though I was born in London, in the UK.) Some of my books have been set here, and I’m certainly influenced by my surroundings, but I wouldn’t describe myself as an Irish-specific author. I’ve always liked writing stories that could happen virtually anywhere, and I think that’s part of the reason why my books have proved popular in so many different countries around the world.

Writers are such for different reasons, which was your thing that made you decide you wanted to become a professional writer?

I’ve just always loved telling stories. Even when I was 5 or 6 years of age, still living in London, I enjoyed writing stories. If I wasn’t getting paid to publish, I’d still be doing it for fun.

One book, one movie, one song, and one videogame?

Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King; 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick; The Mercy Seat, by Nick Cave; I don’t play videogames!

Pineapple pizza, Yes or no?

No!

If you had to define yourself just using one sentence of your novels, which one would be?

I’ve always been fascinated by spiders. (In fact, I haven’t, and have always found them a bit icky! But as the old Liberty Vallance quote goes, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”)

✍️ The writer

I’d like to know about your first steps, the very first day you decided to become a professional writer, what made you do it?

As I said, I was a born storyteller. By my teens I’d decided that I was going to pursue writing professionally, hopefully as a full-time job, but there was no one point where I made that decision – it was just a slowly forming certainty that this was what I wanted to do with my life.

Do you have any rituals for writing? Any kind of habit or goal to achieve every day?

When I’m writing a first draft, I aim for 3,000 words, approximately 10 sheets of A4 paper, each day. When I wrote novels on a typewriter, I would stop each day exactly at the 10 page mark – or, if I was in the middle of a line, I might roll in a new sheet of paper and finish it, but I wouldn’t go any further than that. I loosened up somewhat when I switched to a PC (I write all my novels on a computer), but still try to come in pretty close to that mark each day that I write. If I don’t hit the 3,000 word count on any given work day, I feel like I’ve been slacking!

Do you take real people you know and put them in your stories?

Well, I use the names of lots of real people, family members and friends, but I don’t base the characters directly on them. Occasionally I’ll use a trait of someone I know – for instance, a cousin of mine can stick his tongue up his nose, so I gave the snake-boy in my Cirque Du Freak books that ability!

What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?

Write. The more you write, the more you learn, the better you get. If you follow that one key piece of advice, everything else will flow naturally, and you’ll discover what you’re capable of. But if you don’t put in the work, you won’t get anywhere. Dreaming and planning can be a writer’s worst enemies. You’re better off writing a bad story than creating a perfect one only inside your head.

Which would you say were your best and your worst moments as a writer?

The best moment for me was when I sold the rights to Cirque Du Freak. It wasn’t my first sale – I write for adults as well as teens, and had sold my first book for adults a while earlier – but I still had to depend on unemployment benefits. When my agent confirmed the CDF deal, even though it wasn’t for very much money, it meant that combined with the advance for my adult book, I knew I could afford to write as a (very poorly paid) full-time professional writer for at least one whole year to come.

The worst moment had come several months earlier, when my agent sent Cirque Du Freak to 20 different publishers, and all 20 swiftly rejected it! I thought I’d come to the end of the line, professionally speaking, for the time being, and that I’d have to go get a “proper” job for a few years, before trying again.

Let’s talk about procrastination, what is the most absurd thing you’ve been doing when you should be writing?

Oh, it’s so easy to procrastinate! It’s amazing the things you can find to fill a day – spending ages answering emails, searching online for holidays, exercising, playing word games on my phone, watching lots of movies and TV shows… I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t done it myself at various times, but at least I’ve always known when I’m procrastinating. I think that’s the trick – you can afford to cut yourself a little slack every now and then, but know when you’re doing that, and remind yourself that you shouldn’t be doing too much of it!

The Books

Here you have some books by author Darren Shan in case you want to start reading his amazing stories. Also, check out this list with the Cirque du Freak books in order.

The Archibald Lox series tells the story of a young London teenager named with the same name who discovers he is a locksmith, that is, he is able to open a gateway to a parallel world known as The Merge. What’s the inspiration for this tale?

I was crossing a footbridge in London one day, when I saw a young woman walking towards me, pulling strange faces. She probably just had an itchy nose, but it intrigued me, and I started wondering if there could be another reason why she might be gurning. I immediately thought that she was doing it to open a door to another world, that the face-pulling was a key. Hot on the heels of that, I thought it would be cool if a boy spotted her, and unknown to himself, also had the ability to open that door, and follow her across to that other world. I was hooked by the time I descended to ground level, and knew I’d be taking the idea a whole lot further over the coming years.

You use the name of Darren Dash when you publish a book that is targeted to an adult audience, of all the ones signed under this name, which one you think has the most mature content less appropriate for teenagers?

Well, they pretty much all have their moments! But I published a very weird sci-fi novel called An Other Place, in which in one long section the main character wanders around a deserted city, completely naked, creating an ark-full of animals by… Well, you’d have to read it to believe it, and even then you’ll probably have to double-check to make sure what you thought you read actually did happen!

In The Zom-B series a teenage Irish boy, B Smith, struggles to find a place in a world of racism, zombies and darkness. What is worse, zombies or darkness?

It becomes evident, fairly early on in Zom-B, that the zombies are by no means the greatest threat that humanity has to deal with. Zombies are just natural killers, no more to blame for their actions than a tiger or a lion. Humans with a choice, who choose to embrace their baser desires and drives… those are the real monsters.

 Also, you mention on your website that starting this series was a dauting task, because it’s addressed to a young audience and the main character is a racist. I guess you were aware that it could create controversy when published, how did you prepare for that?

I never worry too much about potential controversy. I’ve been pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable in “childrens books” for more than 20 years, and I’ve actually never run into any real controversial battles. B Smith (the main character in Zom-B) was a complicated, hard-to-like character, a teenager who aped her father’s racist views in order to be able to live a quiet life. I wanted to explore the dangers of complicitly, to illustrate that silence isn’t a just defence, that if we don’t actively take a stand against racists in our lives, that we risk ending up being just as bad as them. B doesn’t share her father’s racist views, but by not standing up to him, she ends up mirroring those views, and becoming a monster far worse than the living dead who are terrorising the world. She does find a road back to redemption – one of the key themes I wanted to stress in this series, as I did in my stand-alone fantasy novel The Thin Executioner, is that we all have the capacity to changes paths in life, that we’re not tied to the roles that we’ve been assigned, that there’s hope for even the most wretched of us – but it’s a long, difficult road, and it would have been far easier for her if she had taken her stand earlier. Procrastination is as dangerous for those who fail to stand up to evil as it is for writers who choose to play on their phones instead of working!

The Demonata series is a YA horror story composed of 10 volumes, in each of them we’ll meet a kid who will have to, one way or another, deal with a demon.  Does this carry the message of “you have to overcome your demons in order to grow up”?

I never really thought of it that way, to be honest. Although, that said, there is a scene in the first book, Lord Loss, where a boy family are killed by demons. He descends into madness, then slowly starts to piece together a new life for himself, and in that instance I was directly saying to readers, using these fantastical creatures, that kids can overcome any obstacle this world throws into their paths, even the loss of people they love with all their heart.

Also, the first volume in the series, Lord Loss, you stated that the second chapter of this book is the most shocking thing you have ever written in a children’s book, is that still true to this day?

Yeah, I think it would be fairly hard to top chapter 2 of Lord Loss! To be truthful, it’s not something I’ve set out to attempt. It might sound strange, given the amount of violence that has featured in my books over the years, but I never use violence gratuitously. If it’s there, it’s there for a very strong reason, and my stories explore how it impacts on the characters, and how they have to change in reaction to it.

Going back to your earlier question about controversies, I think this is the reason there has been so little fuss about my books. One of the reasons Cirque Du Freak was turned down by publishers to begin with was that they thought it was too dark for a children’s book, that parents would object strongly to it, that it would be banned. What they missed was that the books aren’t about the darkness – they’re about coming through the darkness. They’re about the power children have to recover from any setback, to press on and get their lives back on tracks. Readers got that instantly when Cirque Du Freak came out, and parents saw the positives that kids were getting from the book – and all those that have come since – and that’s why there’s neer been the wave of negative feedback that those publishers were anticipating. As grisly as my books can get, they’re never grisly just for cheap effect.

Cirque du Freak was a major success; however, its movie adaptation didn’t perform well. Fans agree this story has so much potential it needs to be rebooted, any chance this will happen?

Hopefully. There’s a team in the States, working on trying to reboot it, most probably for television (though they haven’t completely ruled out a cinematic return). I can’t say much more than that right now, and it’s still in a very early stage, so I wouldn’t urge any fans of the books to get over-excited. But yeah… the books might get another bite at the movie/TV apple in the not-too-distant future… fingers crossed!

What are you writing right now?

I’m about to begin my very final edit of the last three Archibald Lox books, ahead of their release later this year. And I had an idea for a sweet-natured zombie book a month or two ago, which I think might be my next new project when I’m done with Archie and co…a zombie novel to this time tug at your heartstrings, rather than rip your heart out through your chest, as my last zombie story did!

Thank you to author Darren Shan for answering my questions! we wish you good look with the last 3 Archibald Lox books, and let’s wish the Cirque du Freak series gets a reboot!

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