• SUNDAY HERALD | 01 June 2008 | David Christie

    How does Darren Shan, master of teenage horror writing, deal with nightmares? David Christie finds out.

    DARREN Shan likes to haunt you in your sleep. And make no bones about it (excuse the pun!), the teen horror guru isn't playing games.

    "If a story can chase you into your dreams then it is a good story," laughs Darren. "I hope my books do give people nightmares. That's part of what you read horror for - you want to creep yourself out. I didn't really have nightmares as a teenager, but as a younger child I had quite a lot and I loved them. If I woke up from having a really big nightmare I would go back to sleep straight away and try to have it again."

    Darren is chatting to fresh over the phone, now that he's back home in Limerick in Ireland following the publication of the seventh book in his celebrated Demonata series. Death's Shadow is the darkest, most menacing of the books so far, with the threat that demons pose to our universe becoming increasingly apparent. Is he concerned he might have overstepped the mark this time with all the blood and gore?

    "I am not interested in grossing people out, I am interested in exploring the consequences of violence. Yes, bad things do happen in my books, there are very violent, vicious scenes, but they are always there for a reason. If I come to a scene and feel I've gone too far (which I sometimes do) then I'll tone it back."

    With more twists and turns than Portugese winger Cristiano Ronaldo, Death's Shadow is complex yet utterly, terrifyingly gripping. Darren admits he takes great pleasure from keeping his readers on their toes, or as he puts it: "My mind is quite chaotic and I need to go off in different directions. Sometimes those things will work, sometimes they won't, but I've got to have that freedom to try. There are certain things I put into books which readers will see coming because I want them to see them coming, then there are others which come as complete surprises. But if everything is a surprise it just becomes silly. It does become a challenge how you play with readers and take them off in directions where they think they know what's happening then you twist the tables."

    The 10-book Demonata series is scheduled to conclude in October next year, and follows on from his previous epic 12-book Saga series. But while this latest marathon writing mission is progressing without hiccup, Darren didn't intend for it to go beyond a single book. He explains: "It's all on schedule, I've done first drafts of 9 and 10 and they are even at an advanced stage now. But when I wrote Lord Loss I never planned to write any more, then I had an idea about another book about demons, then another one, and they sort of began to weave together.

    "I didn't know if I could pull it off, as it was going further than I ever intended. It could have all gone terribly wrong, it could have been a short series, but I stuck with it and it turned out well so I am really pleased." But he admits: "I won't be too sad when I finish, it will be more of a relief!"

    Darren (full name Darren O'Shaughnessy) also reveals that he's a talented juggler - well, when it comes to books anyway - and enjoys working on a multitude of novels at the same time. He has also written several books for adults as well as his teenage fiction. How does his mind keep track on which character goes into which book?

    "It actually goes very smoothly for me. I find I can do a draft of a book then leave it for a few months while I move onto another," explains Darren. "When I come back to one, I might not have thought about it at all when I was away, but as soon as I sit down I instantly click back into that world and fire away."

    Darren has no problems escaping from the horror genre, though. He says: "I might be writing the most disturbing, grotesque scene ever written, but as soon as I finish at 3pm I can head off and watch a Disney movie."

    On the subject of movies, the freaky vampire tale Cirque Du Freak, the first in his Saga of Darren Shan series, is currently being filmed in New Orleans and should hit our cinemas next February (it's likely to be a 12A certificate). More "a movie inspired by the first three books" than an adaptation, Cirque Du Freak stars Salma Hayek, newbie Chris Massoglia and has X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner among its ranks, too. Although Darren has sold the rights and has nothing to do with the film, which has been talked about since 1999 (before the first book was even published), he has nonetheless been keeping tabs on its progress.

    "They might even be finished by now," he says. "It will be nice to finally see it up on the screen. I don't know how it is going to turn out but they certainly have a good cast. The word from the set has been really positive about the look of it and the effects and so on. The good thing about it being made now, as opposed to eight years ago, is that technology has moved on vastly so hopefully they will be able to do it in a realistic way."

    Films aside, Darren's books are now published in 36 countries worldwide - leading to humorous name translations like Cirque Du Freak character Mr Crepsley becoming Mr Crapula in the French version. So is Darren ready to put his feet up on a big pile of notes and retire? Forget that idea.

    "Money can't be the driving issue, your goal has to be to write the very best books you can. At the moment there is a four-book series but I don't want to say what it is about yet, there is a one-off fantasy book and I've just started the first book of what might be a long series," he says, tantalisingly. "I'm not hanging around getting worried about what I'm going to be doing next, that's for sure."

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