Darren Shan is the author of the 12 book series, Zom-B, the 10 part series The Demonata, and the bestselling series Cirque du Freak (known over in this side of the pond as The Saga of Darren Shan), for which he became a big name in the publishing industry in 2000. His books have sold more than twenty-five million copies, and have been translated into thirty-one different languages. Shan currently resides in Limerick, in the south-west of Ireland.
To start off with something different, and because I’m quite curious since you spend most of your time trying to scare people with your books, what scares you?
Lots of stuff — spiders, snakes, not too fond of heights… I don’t have any actual phobias, and always try to confront my fears, e.g. I’ve held tarantulas, wrapped a few big snakes around my shoulders, done some bungee jumps and sky dives. I think it’s healthy to acknowledge our fears and respect them, but not to let them control our lives.
What do you think makes a good horror story?
You need to create interesting characters. No matter what else you throw in, a book of any genre will stand or fall on the strength of its characters and how much readers care about what happens to them.
Having lived in Limerick most of your live, has your surroundings influence any of your work?
Indirectly in many cases, yes. For instance, when I wrote Cirque Du Freak, although it’s not set anywhere specific, I based parts of it on Limerick, e.g. I drew upon my recollections of the old Theatre Royal for the old, abandoned cinema theatre where the show is staged. And Bec, in my Demonata series, started out in Pallaskenry, the village where I live, although it wasn’t called that in the book, as the story was set back around the time of St Patrick! I’ve also written some books that are fully set in Limerick, though I’ve yet to publish any of those. In fact, the first will be coming out this June – it’s one of my books for adults, which I release under the name of Darren Dash these days. It’s a light-hearted, fantastical story about a group of terrible actors who put on an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream each year in a forest (based on Curraghchase, my local forest). The fairies in the book decide to take action to break up the actors and stop them performing again. It’s very different to anything else I’ve published (the Purveyor of Darkness enters the light!), so it will be interesting to see how my readers react – each Darren Dash book has been an experiment and a new venture, but this one is really pushing the boundaries of what people expect of me! I’ll be putting out more information about the book on my Darren Dash website – http://www.darrendashbooks.com — closer to its release date for anyone who’s interested.
Why did you decide to use your name for your protagonist in Cirque du Freak?
Because it was all a true story… 😀
Larten Crepsley wouldn’t be seen as a traditional vampire. Did you want to put your own unique spin on it?
Yeah, I’ve always loved vampires, but I had no interest in doing another straightforward Dracula spin. For years I mulled over how I could bring something new to the vampire table. Then, one day, I thought of two things – a) telling the story from a child’s point of view, and b) basing my vampires as much on tribes like the Masai Mara and the ancient Celts and Samurai as on the undead. As an ex-sociology student, the anthropological aspects of the story interested me as much as the blood-sucking stuff – what would nocturnal, blood-quaffing people who lived for hundreds of years actually be like?
Was there any vampire from history that your drew inspiration from?
I just riffed on vampires in general, adding in the sociological stuff that I’d picked up over the years, and using my imagination.
How did it feel to see your work hit the big screen?
It was great. Even though the film was a very loose adaptation, and didn’t perform very well at the box office, I know how lucky I am to have seen my work adapted into a big budget Hollywood movie. I didn’t get involved in the process, and had nothing to do with the script or anything else, so I’ve been able to remain very objective about it. I knew it would divide fans of the books – every film does, even if it’s faithful and is a hit – but I also knew it would bring a whole new slew of readers into my world, introducing my books to people who had never before heard of them. I love movies, but even if I didn’t, I would see films and TV adaptations as a welcome bonus, because they basically act as free and effective advertising for your work. (Contrary to popular assumption, many writers don’t make very much money on film and TV deals, but books sales can soar off the back of them.)
Would you like to see any more of your work be adapted for the big screen, or even the small screen?
I’m always open to my work being adapted. One of my books for adults, Lady of the Shades, was optioned for a movie a few years ago but didn’t come to anything, but we’re working on maybe tweaking it for TV. A TV adaptation of Zom-B has also been mooted, and there’s actually a team working on trying to develop that at the moment – it’s still in the very early stages, but hopefully it will work out and get the green light. And I’ve been trying to get a musical stage version of Koyasan (a short book I wrote for World Book Day many years ago) off the ground for the last few years – again, it’s still very early, but that’s looking a little bit promising too.
You obviously love writing for both, younger and older audiences. Which one do you prefer?
If I had a preference, I’d limit myself to that field. I enjoy jumping about between them. There are far different challenges in writing for adults and children or teenagers, but I find that I learn from both, and benefit from those learnings. I always write books that I would like to read, and I’ve always read a mix of books for adults and younger readers, so it just feels natural to me that I move between the two worlds.
What were the main differences between writing for a younger audience and older audience?
Well, apart from the obvious – swearing and sex are permitted in adult books, not so much in YA – I tend to go a lot morally darker in my adult books. My YA work is by no means frothy, joyous work, but there’s a clean dividing line between good and evil in those stories, and I try to be positive with them, to depict a world where good can always triumph over the evil. In my adult books, I don’t feel that need to be protective of my readership. I do darker, deeper, into the recesses of the human experience. Although, having said that, the next book is the lightest thing I’ve ever written and about as heavy as a feather – I’m not all doom and gloom!
When writing for younger readers, did you feel restricted creativity wise at any time?
No. There are certain restrictions that I do have to be aware of – as I said above, swearing and sex are the biggies – but creatively you can be just as experimental and free when writing for children as you can be for adults. Indeed, if you want to write good children’s book, you must be.
You have two separate series with vampires and zombies. Both seen as undead. What is the difference in writing them?
Although they share the same origins (there wasn’t much difference between vampires and zombies until Bram Stoker gave us his version of the undead with Dracula) they’re two very different species. Vampires are intelligent creatures, whereas zombies by and large are braindead. I’m not a huge zombie fan actually, as I find them quite limited – the classic zombie tale, of a group of humans trapped by an army of zombies, doesn’t have much legs and has been done to death. The trick is in finding a new way to make them fresh. With my vampires, as I’ve said, I took a sociological approach. With zombies, it was all about the politics – I wrote Zom-B in response to 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings in London, and the rise of the far right on the back of that. While terrorism is an obvious, easily identifiable threat, I wanted to write about the dangers of over-reacting to terror attacks, of placing power in the hands of fearmongering groups like the BNP or UKIP, of letting powerful billionaires use us as playthings and how they would milk us dry to suit their own ends if we gave them the chance. There are lots of people and groups in the world willing to prey on us and use our fears and anger to drive us down dark and troubling paths, and they’re just as dangerous, if not even more so, than the terrorists. Sadly, the series has become more relevant than ever in recent years, with Brexit, the frightening rise of far right groups across the world, Trump, etc.
Zom B is a pretty lengthy series. Do you think it would work as a tv series?
Yes, I think most of my long series – The Saga Of Darren Shan, The Demonata and Zom-B are probably better suited to TV than movie adaptations. Television has come a long, long way over the last couple of decades, and it’s possible now to tell a large-scale story without compromising on the look of it. That said, I’m always open to adaptations of any kind, so I wouldn’t shut the door on any possible prospects.
What are your upcoming plans?
I’m doing my final edit of the next Darren Dash book ahead of it June release, then I’ll be returning to the next Darren Shan series that I’ve been working on for the last few years – I’d hoped to have book 1 ready to go by now, but it’s taking longer to knock into shape than I had anticipated, so I’m guessing it’s going to be 2019 before we (hopefully!) see that hit stores.