• CHILDREN'S BOOKS IRELAND - SUMMER 2000 (issue 23) | 14 July 2002 |

    BIRTH OF A FREAK SHOW

    Darren Shan lets us in on the creation of his first book for children

    Writing for kids - it's a doddle.

    Everyone knows that. Short books, simple words, aimed at readers who aren't as demanding as adults. Anyone could do it. Children's writers aren't real writers. They serve a purpose, they keep the young ones amused, but no one takes them seriously, and nobody actually thinks that they set about their work with diligence and thought, or that they suffer in the process of creation. Hey - these are kids books we're talking about! It's a doddle!

    Here's how I "doddled" my way through my first children's book, called Cirque Du Freak, in the shops now.

    8/5/1997: I'd been writing adult-orientated books for several years and was in the process of selling what would be my first published book, Ayuamarca (that came out in February 1999). I was working on a long, complicated novel, and wasn't enjoying it. In my diary for this date I noted: 'I had an idea for a new book tonight: a kid's one! I don't know if it'll lead anywhere…'

    9/5/1997: I decided to make a start on the kid's book, working on it at night, after I'd laboured with my adult's book by day. It was supposed to serve as light relief, a way to unwind at the end of a busy day, but I noted in my diary, on the very first day: 'It's fun, though not as easy to write as I imagined.'

    24/16/1997: I finished the first draft and modestly wrote: 'I think it's good stuff.' I enjoyed writing it, but also found it quite demanding: there was no 'coasting' on this book; it didn't write itself; getting the right narrative tone proved difficult. Maybe there was more to this kid's lark than I thought!

    17-24/7/1997: I ploughed through my first edit of the book, taking into account some suggestions of my agent's, focusing on the latter chapters, bringing them into line with the earlier sections (they were a little too mature as they were). Managed to whittle it down quite a bit. Editing involves a lot of whittling: I always like to write more than I need to begin with, then slice away at it later. It's far easier to cut a few lines out than add new ones on!

    26/11-3/12/1997: After a meeting with an editor at HarperCollins (Domenica De Rosa) I went through the book a third time. Focused on the early chapters (they were too immature: I was beginning to learn that in children's fiction, if you don't tread the line exactly right, you're going to fall one way or the other; it's a delicate balancing act which you have to grapple with every time out).

    22-25/10/1998: Another round of editing. By this stage I'd sold the book to HC and written the early drafts of a couple of sequels (along with more adult books). As more unnecessary lines and paragraphs fell by the wayside, I wryly noted: 'A few more re-writes and it'll be a @*[email protected]$*! short story!!!'

    16-18/7/1999: The final edit!! Domenica had been replaced by a new editor, Gillie Russell, who had some recommendations of her own to make, and I now found myself tinkering with the middle section of the book, tightening it up. Breathed a sigh of relief when I was finished, looked back over the two years plus which had passed since I started my 'little side-project', and promptly fainted!

    And here we are. Cirque is in the shops; I'm getting used to giving interviews and facing menacing-looking cameras (photo-shoots are killers: I don't know how models cope!!). As for the future ...

    Well, along the way my experimental one-off story about a couple of boys who go to a freak show turned into a 24 book series (approximately), the second of which, The Vampire's Assistant, debuts this June. What that means is I've got to repeat the above process 23 more times or so, building my grand overall story up piece by piece, into a 4,000 page monster epic. I'll have to juggle disparate plot lines with a huge cast of characters; remember everything I've previously written, whilst struggling to work out the problems of the books ahead; try not to go over the heads of younger readers as the main characters mature, yet keep the initial readers who are growing up as the series progresses.

    You want me to let you in on a secret, something I've learned over the last two and a half years?

    Writing for kids - it's a bloody nightmare!!!

    Darren Shan — 16/01/2000 — very shaken and terribly stirred.

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