INTERVIEW: Darren Shan – “I’ve Always Loved Telling Stories”

Cultured Vultures probably wouldn’t exist without Darren Shan. No, it’s not because he’s a secret investor, as much as we wish we had someone backing the website to stop our servers from becoming potatoes every few days. Without the work of Shan, I may never have found such a strong passion for writing and connecting writers, and CV wouldn’t have happened.

One of the most prolific and respected horror writers out there, Shan’s big break came from the phenomenon that was the Darren Shan Saga: a sprawling series of books told from the perspective of a recently blooded vampire. Despite being aimed at young adults, the books dealt with some very dark and macabre subjects while also having an emotional, personal backbone, which struck a chord with a generation.

Since the series concluded, Darren hasn’t rested on his laurels, going on to create new series’, including The Demonata and Zom-B, as well as standalone novels such as Lady of the Shades and The Thin Executioner. He is focusing on going into more adult territory under the pen name of Darren Dash for the future; another sign that this is an author who doesn’t want to play it safe.

With more than little bit of teenage nostalgia fuelling me, I was honoured to be given the opportunity to talk to Darren about life after the saga, being a modern author and how animal combat isn’t a good thing.

Darren Shan

Hi Darren, how are you?
Good, thanks. Just finished an edit of a book, so enjoying a few days R&R.

What was the last thing you ate? Score out of 10?
Egg sandwiches for breakfast this morning. Always a 10!

Tell us about your work, what do you have coming up for us?
I’m working on a new book for adults which will hopefully be released before the end of the year, or else in early 2017. I release the adult books under the name of Darren Dash, and you’ll be able to find out more about that on the Dash site over the next few months:

On the Darren Shan front, I’m hard at work on a major new series, but I don’t have a release date for the first one yet, as I like to get well ahead on a series before I start bringing the books out. Once I’m ready to go, you’ll hear about it first on the Darren Shan site:

The Saga of Darren Shan series was huge. When did you know that it had taken off?
Well, nobody wanted to touch it when my agent first touted Cirque Du Freak around, and it didn’t sell for a very big advance. But as we got closer to the release date, more people in-house started to read it and get excited about it, and then Warner Bros optioned the movie rights not long after it was released (although it wasn’t filmed until many years later, by Universal). At the same time, it was a gradual growth – none of the books in the series hit the bestseller charts, and it was a few years before word really started to spread and they began to become a big thing in the UK. Although having said that, in the meantime they had become quite big in the USA and other countries, and absolutely huge in Japan and a few other countries in the Far East.

How did you find the transition from a series that had made your name known into different territory with something completely new? Was it daunting?
No, because of the way I work. I like to spend at least two or three years working on any one book, and I juggle lots of different books around over that period. So I had actually written the first draft of Lord Loss before I finished The Saga, long before I had any idea of how popular I was going to become. I never think about an audience when I write. I just stick my head down and crack on with telling stories that interest me. After that, I take them to my publishers and hope they do well, but writing good books is all I’m truly interested in, not in being popular.

What drew you towards writing about the undead with Zom-B? So many books and games have centred around them, did you have any difficulty with writing something that would be fresh?
The zombie craze wasn’t in full swing when I began the first Zom-B book. To be honest, I was annoyed by how huge the genre suddenly became, because by the time that first book was released (more than three years later) it made it seem like I was jumping on the bandwagon! But Zom-B, for me, was never truly about the living dead. It started with me wanting to write about racism, and the rise in far-right parties and individuals, and the dangers in what happens if we don’t speak out in the face of fearmongers and hatemongers. Zombies just seemed like a good match for the stories I wanted to focus on, which is why I used them.

When did you realise that you have a love for writing?
Since I was five or six years of age. I’ve always loved telling stories. If I wasn’t get paid to do it, I’d write as a hobby.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you have set days where you force yourself to sit down and write or do you wait until it comes?
I never rush the brewing process, when a story is coming together inside my head. Ideas can come from anywhere, and sometimes it can take a long while to figure out what to do with them. I’ve had books where I’ve started writing a few days after getting an idea, and others where I’ve been playing around with ideas for several years or even longer. When I’m ready to begin, I jot up a plot outline, sometimes vague and short, other times detailed and long. Then I start writing. I aim for 3000 words a day on a first draft (about ten A4 pages) and try to work at least five days a week.

What are some of the problems you have faced as a modern author?
Although my YA books have been sold in most territories as horror books, my work is actually a real mishmash of genres, with all sorts of new and unusual stuff going down in them. That’s presented me with all sorts of problems, because publishers don’t like books that are challenging, that don’t sit neatly in a prescribed genre bracket. They want the same sort of book, over and over, as they know how to handle and market work that is familiar. When you’re forever changing gears, as I am, it presents publishers with difficulties – “How the hell are we supposed to sell this when it’s not like everything else the author (and other authors) has written?!?” My originality has always been my strongest selling point in my eyes, but also the most problematic in the eyes of the publishing industry. I’m amazed my books have done as well as they have, given the wide, experimental risks I’ve taken with them.

Describe a writer’s life in three words.
Failing, learning, improving.

Who else should we be reading right now?
Darren Dash!

Do you have a favourite quote from a novel?
“Nil carborundum!” from The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall. It’s a shortened version of the Latin phrase, Noli illegitimi carborundum, which translates as “Don’t let the bastards grind you down!”

And finally, who would win in a boxing match: a kangaroo with one leg or a baby gorilla with vertigo?
I think they’d know better than to fight for the entertainment of humans. They’d make their peace, share a few leaves, and chat about their lives and the differences and similarities between Africa and Australia.

It would be a beautiful thing, and all those bloodthirsty people in the audience would experience a life-changing moment that would leave them with tears in their eyes and love and understanding in their hearts. Grown men would weep, then hurry home to tell their families how much they love them. And all would be well in the world.

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