• COLLEGE TRIBUNE | 19 February 2008 | Cian Taaffe

    "I was six when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I wrote a story in school and got to go to another year and read it out. My Mum taught in the school, but I decided to go to a different room where a girl I fancied was. I can remember her beaming up at me while I read it out - and that was that," claims Irish author Darren Shan, best known for writing children's books about Demons and Vampires.

    Born Darren O'Shaughnessy, the author decided to write under the pen-name Darren Shan when he began writing for children. "The first book I ever published was for adults and I released it under my real name. When I came to write a book for younger readers, I decided to change my name, so as not to cause any confusion. Given the number of books I've signed since then, I'm delighted I did. My hand would have dropped off years ago if I'd had to sign O'Shaughnessy every time."

    Shan who started out writing for adults, found his literary feet with his children's series', The Saga of Darren Shan which began in 2000, and more recently The Demonata, although he never realised his children's novels would be as successful as they became, "I wrote the first book for fun, as a side-project. I hoped it would get published and do well, but I never thought I'd make a career out of it. Children's books don't normally sell in huge quantities in the short run, despite anything you might read to the contrary; you need to be very, very lucky to succeed in this branch of the writing business."

    Shan's genre of writing can be truly terrifying at times, especially if you're a twelve-year-old child, but Shan confirms that he doesn't make it his goal to scare his younger readers, "I often temper scenes in my books; as hard as that might be to believe when you read about a boy seeing his father hanging upside down with his head cut off , or another boy visiting a world made entirely out of guts; but I'm not interested in grossing readers out. I want to take readers to the edge and give them an experience they've never had before, but it would be too easy just to throw a load of gore their way. When I'm editing a particularly juicy scene, I always think, 'Would I be comfortable reading this out in a live environment, in front of a group of kids and their teachers or parents?' If the answer is 'No', I look at ways to fine-tune it."

    There has been much speculation made as to why Shan chose to name the main character of his first children's series, The Saga of Darren Shan, after himself, but according to Shan, that character is based no more on himself than any of his other characters, "All of my main characters are based on myself to a certain extent, but I've never tried to represent myself entirely with a single character, not even Darren in The Saga." With a film adaptation of The Saga in the making, Shan reveals that he has nothing to do with the film and is more than happy to stay out of it, "When you sign a deal with a Hollywood giant like Universal, you give them the right to do whatever they want with your stories. As a writer, you can't exercise control over what happens next with the film, and most writers who try end up bitter and disillusioned, having wasted a lot of time and energy trying to fight the system and control that which is uncontrollable. My philosophy is a simple one; take the money, thank them nicely, and use it to fi nance your writing career, to ensure you can go on writing the sort of stories that matter to you most."

    Although Shan is currently focusing on writing novels for an adult audience, he is adamant that he will continue to write books for children, "I'll definitely be writing more children's books. Whether I ever do another long series again, I don't know. I've never planned a multi-book series - The Saga of Darren Shan and The Demonata both grew organically. I hope that happens again, as I love working on such an ambitious scale. But it's not something I'll ever try to force. We'll just have to wait and see what comes out. "Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Jonathan Carroll and James Ellroy have all had a huge infl uence on me, but so have many other writers, along with filmmakers and artists. No matter what genre you work in, you should seek inspiration from a variety of sources and fields. Good writers should try to subvert and change the rules of the genres they work in, not just work to an established formula."

    As an Irish writer, one may presume that Shan would only be a recognised name in Ireland, but Shan's books have been successful worldwide and many readers are not even aware that Shan is Irish, as his stories are never set in any specific location, "I like the vagueness of location. It means readers in any location can imagine the story happening wherever they live. I think that's part of the reason the books have worked so well for different audiences, all around the world. The only advice I can offer to aspiring authors is to write. There are no shortcuts; the more you write, the more you learn, the better you get. When you've put a lot of hours and graft in, and think you might be getting to the stage where you could get your work published, read The Writers And Artists Yearbook - that gives you all the practical advice about publishing you'll ever need."

    Shan is currently working on his first trilogy aimed at adult readers, in his home in Limerick. The first book of the trilogy, Procession of the Dead, will be released in March this year under the name D.B. Shan, with the second part, Hell's Horizon, being released in March 2009, and the conclusion, City of the Snakes, in March 2010. "So I've a busy few years ahead," he concludes.

    Interviewed by Cian Taaffe.

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