• DARRENSHAN.COM | 09 November 2005 | Darren Shan

    A 3-in1!!! You get a short biography of me, followed by an interview, followed by a piece I wrote about the "treats" of horror!!


    I was born in London in 1972, directly opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. I lived in London until the age of 6, and started school aged 3 (I was such a wild child, no pre-school facility would have me!!). I came from a largely working class Irish family, though my mother was a primary school teacher. In London I lived in a block of council-owned apartments.

    I loved the switch to Ireland: we moved into my great-grandfather's cottage (he lived with us until his death 10 years later), out in the countryside, and I relished the freedom and dark, spooky nights (the countryside's far eerier than the city!). Irish TV was very primitive in those days (2 channels, which only aired for less than twelve hours each day!), so I had to read lots of books to pass the time. I read every sort I could find, but I especially liked horror stories.

    I was always interested in horror, both books and movies, and loved giving myself nightmares. Many of the books I write now are rooted in delightfully chilling childhood scare sessions, when I'd keep myself awake at night, imagining horrible scenarios in which vampires and other assorted creatures would surround my little cottage and lay siege!

    I live in Ireland, and have been fascinated with vampires since I was six years old. I write full-time, and I still love giving myself nightmares.....



    January 9, 2002

    Kidsreads.com writer Serena Burns recently had the chance to talk with author Darren Shan about what makes him shiver---and about the similarities between him and his main character.

    KRC: Where did the main characters of CIRQUE DU FREAK come from? Why have a character with the same name as your own? Are you actually a blood-sucking freak? Do you have a sister Annie we should be worried about?

    DS: Actually, my real name's Darren O'Shaughnessy. I changed it for this series because I write adult books under my real name, and I didn't want to confuse readers by publishing adult and teen fictions under the same name. Darren in the book is an idealized version of myself---he's much braver, tougher and nobler than I am!! I don't have a younger sister, but I do have a brother 5 years younger than me, on whom the character of Annie is based!!! Other characters are combinations of people I know, or else just completely drawn from imagination (unless, of course, this is really a true story ... heh heh!!!!!!)

    KRC: Why have a freak show as central to the story? Have you ever been to one? I'm scared of clowns...are you?

    DS: The freak show was an intriguing and different way of entering the vampire world which is central to the series. When you start reading CIRQUE DU FREAK, it seems to be a book about circus freaks, and unless you've heard in advance what it's about, the revelation that Mr. Crepsley is a vampire should come as a genuine shock. No, in "real life" I haven't been to a freak show, and no, I'm not scared of clowns!

    KRC: Mr. Crepsley is very scary, but all in all, the vampires themselves seem to be good. What ideas about good guys vs. bad guys do you want your readers to come away with?

    DS: In my books, I want people to be unsure about my characters' intentions for long periods of time -- thus, it's not until book 3, TUNNELS OF BLOOD, that we learn for definite whether Mr. Crepsley is truly good or evil, and in later books some good characters turn out to be bad, and vice versa. I think this keeps readers on their toes!! Another aim, which becomes evident the further the series progresses, is to explore the very nature of good and evil, and to question how we determine one from the other.

    KRC: There are literally hundreds of movies and books about vampires. What is it about the vampire story that makes it so timeless?

    DS: I don't know! There's just something incredibly creepy, yet alluring, about vampires. They've been going strong in fiction for more than a hundred years now, and even though they're the most over-used monsters around, people's interest in them still hasn't diminished.

    KRC: Darren is now a half-vampire. Will he ever become a full-vampire? What kind of abilities and super-powers does he have now and what sort of powers do full-vampires have?

    DS: Darren is much stronger than humans, can run faster and live much longer. If he ever becomes a full vampire (and I'm not saying if he does or doesn't!!), he'll be even stronger and faster, capable of moving at a super-fast speed called "flitting", able to communicate telepathically with other vampires -- but sunlight will kill him!

    KRC: How do you feel about BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER?

    DS: I've never watched it!!!!

    KRC: What was the last book you read that gave you a good scare?

    DS: I haven't read many horror books recently. SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King, is one of my all-time favourites.

    KRC: Did you have a particular teacher or relative who encouraged you to write? What advice would you give to aspiring young adult writers?

    DS: My mother's a teacher, and she was instrumental to my learning to read and write. My best piece of advice is also the simplest: KEEP WRITING!!! The more you write, the better you get. If you stick with it, you will eventually work your up to the point where you're good enough to be published. It takes a lot of time and hard work -- and you must be prepared to be rejected when you start submitting stories and books -- but that's ALL it takes.

    KRC: If we looked at your nightstand, what books would we find there?

    DS: A lot of crime fiction at the moment, especially the books of James Ellroy. I've also just started to read the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy by Philip Pullman.

    KRC: What projects are you working on right now?

    DS: I'll be editing books 7 to 10 of the Saga Of Darren Shan over the next few weeks, then starting work on book 11 -- I like to work far ahead of publication schedules, so there aren't long delays between the books coming out!!

    KRC: What five books would you give as Christmas presents?

    DS: 5 books I'd give as Christmas presents: THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett; REBECCA'S WORLD by Terry Nation; SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury; THE CHOCOLATE WAR by Robert Cormier; THE MACHINE GUNNERS by Robert Westall. (I haven't included any of the Harry Potter books, because everybody probably has them already!!!)

    --- By Serena Burns



    I remember somehow catching the hammy Vincent Price film, "Theater Of Blood," when I was 6 years old. It's the one where he plays a lambasted Shakespearean actor who sets out to silence his critics with artistic murderous licence. In one scene he feeds a critic the mashed-up remains of his beloved poodles, on which the poor man duly chokes. I was blown away! This was story-telling as I'd never experienced it, and even at that tender age, while other kids were glued to nice, safe, anodyne stuff, I knew I wanted more!!!

    That thirst for "more" has never left me. As a child and teenager I sought out all the horror that I could, be it in movies, books or comics. I craved creepiness. If nightmares were the result - all the better! Over the years, I moved on and found other loves (horror is fun, but it can be limiting), though nothing ever had the same effect on me as those old Hammer movies, or Stephen King's early novels, or the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

    When I came to write Cirque Du Freak, I had only one mandate in mind: I was going to write the sort of book that I'd have loved to read as an 11/12 year old. It didn't matter that, as a twentysomething, I wasn't as stoked-up by horror as I'd once been. I wasn't writing for twenty year olds: I was writing for kids, and for the kid I'd once been - and I was determined to treat them to the sort of gruesome helter-skelter ride I believed they deserved.

    Cirque Du Freak isn't a reckless, irresponsible book. Although it's about vampires and circus freaks, I wasn't interested in sickening readers or pushing back the boundaries of what is acceptable. It explores such themes as friendship, the im-portance of family, and the need to make personal sacrifices for the good of oth-ers. But, like "Theater Of Blood," it certainly isn't for the squeamish! While there are no poodles in the book, there are vampires and poisonous tarantulas; a savage Wolf Man and a Snake Boy; one character winds up in a coma, whilst another gets buried alive. It's a book designed to play on a reader's emotions. There are out-and-out scary scenes ("boo! moments" as I like to call them), but also darker, less bombastic scenes, which will linger in your mind for days (and nights!) to come.

    That, for me, is the secret of good horror: the subtle menace between the sudden bursts of action and violence. Cirque Du Freak is designed not just to thrill you, but to set your nerves on edge. It's sometimes shocking, but also thought-pro-voking. Because that's where I believe the greatest horrors lie: not in having something leap at you out of the darkness, but in staring into the shadows of the night and brooding about what lurks within...waiting...staring back...

    © Darren Shan. 9 November 2005. 

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