• AMAZON.CO.UK | 14 May 2001 | John McLay

    The Saga of Darren Shan, with its devilish combination of realism, humour and the darkness of the world of the vampires is captivating, not to mention terrifying. For Amazon.co.uk John Mclay talks to Darren Shan himself in an exclusive interview with a vampire.Amazon.co.uk: Darren, you're a half-vampire. How are you different from us mere mortals and what is your favourite new-found ability?

    Darren Shan: Well, I'm stronger and I can run much faster. I can also throw things over long distances and pick up very heavy weights. My eyesight is much, much better than normal human eyesight--especially at night. I can't see in total darkness--I need a bit of moonlight or stars. I've got a very keen sense of hearing. I suppose my favourite new sense is taste. I get a much better sense of taste out of things. Being a half-vampire has its drawbacks though. Unfortunately, I can smell foul stenches a lot stronger.

    Amazon.co.uk: What made you first want to write about your experiences as a half-vampire?Shan: I keep a diary. I've kept one since when I was a human. I've always liked to put all my experiences down in a diary and it just seemed like a good idea to keep on putting them down. I squeeze my writing in just before going to bed, and when I wake up, and in the afternoon. Originally my publishers were a bit reluctant to publish my books, but I paid them a few night-time visits and they soon saw it my way in the end.

    Amazon.co.uk: In your books you have debunked several widely held myths about vampires. You can't change shape, crosses don't hurt, you have reflections and cast shadows. What are the vampire truths and weaknesses?

    Shan: Full vampires can't be photographed. Their atoms bounce about and you'd only get a blurred shape. Garlic just gives us bad breath. It doesn't hurt us. However, sunlight will kill a vampire. It won't kill immediately, but after a couple of hours a full vampire will be frizzled. A half-vampire like me isn't bothered, though. Vampires don't know why--yet. Logically, there's no reason why they should be burnt. Vampire bats aren't burnt by sunlight or other nocturnal animals. It's something vampires have been puzzling about for a couple of thousand years.

    Amazon.co.uk: So how far back do vampires go then?

    Shan: It's hard to tell. Vampires believe we evolved from wolves. Originally some wolves chose to become vampires. All vampires today were originally human, and have been blooded by other vampires. However, we've kept some characteristics of wolves. We're still nocturnal, with a very keen sense of hearing and sight.

    Amazon.co.uk: Why do think vampires generally get a bum rap?

    Shan: Well, a lot of it has to do with the Vampaneze--a kind of breakaway group of rogue vampires. Vampires, normally, do not kill. They need blood to survive, yes, but only a very small amount. They operate very secretly. Most people never even know they have been fed on by a vampire. If you wake up in the morning with a little scratch on your leg--it could be that somebody has nipped in and taken a sip. Vampaneze aren't actually evil but they believe that it's noble to kill when they drink. If a vampire drinks enough pure blood of a human they actually keep part of that human alive within them--some of theirs memories and experiences survive. Vampaneze believe they're keeping the spirits of humans alive if they kill them. If they just take a small bit they feel like scavengers, feeding off humanity. That's where a lot of this bad reputation comes from.

    Amazon.co.uk: So are vampires very proud?

    Shan: Exceedingly proud. Nobility is everything to a vampire. A vampire would rather die than lose face in the eyes of his colleagues. In many ways they are too proud. And it could be their undoing. They are a very proud race, living by their own sacred rules which mean more to them than anything else.

    Amazon.co.uk: Could you describe a typical day in the life of a half-vampire?

    Shan: Most half-vampires would spend their day sleeping because they're there to serve their master when they are awake at night. However, because I'm with the Cirque du Freak I spend most of my days working with the performers. I clean up around camp, help pitch and un-pitch the tents. I also hunt for food for the Little People--who are a very strange sort of people with little cloaks. It's my job to get food for them so a lot of my day involves doing that. When Mr Crepsley awakes I spend a lot of time learning the vampire ways from him. He also performs in the Cirque du Freak and I've been going on stage with him recently as his assistant. I hunt for food too. Not every night but maybe once a week I take a bit of blood from a sleeping human.

    Amazon.co.uk: How many types of vampires are there?

    Shan: There are three types of vampires. Ordinary vampires, vampire generals and vampire princes. There are about 400 vampire generals, but only four vampire princes. They are very, very rare. They are obeyed without question and their word is law. Vampire generals will always stick to the laws but if they wanted to they could change anything

    Amazon.co.uk: Are you spooked by the vampire generals?

    Shan: Some of them! They're a very tough crowd, but they also have a sense of humour. Lots of them are very stern--they don't like me personally because it's not the done thing to blood children. It hasn't been done for a very long time. It's been over a hundred years since there has been a half-vampire as young as me. They don't like Mr Crepsley for doing it, either. I think he could be in a lot of trouble for it soon…

    Amazon.co.uk: Have you studied vampire history yet?

    Shan: Not very much. Mr Crepsley doesn't say much about it but I've learnt a few bits and pieces. I'm looking forward to going to Vampire Mountain soon because I think I'll learn a bit more.

    Amazon.co.uk: Do you wish you'd never heard of the Cirque du Freak?

    Shan: To be honest, yes. It has changed my life completely and it's meant I've had to give up my family, my friends and move away from home. I'm more comfortable with it now because it's been a fair few years since it all happened. I've learnt to accept what I am. There's no going back. If it was possible to go back, I think I would be normal again. There are drawbacks to being a half-vampire when you care so much about humans. It's very easy to hurt somebody. Although this sub-world I live in is very fast and interesting--there are times when I do look at normal people and wish I could be one of them.

    Amazon.co.uk: Who's your favourite act at the Cirque du Freak?

    Shan: My favourite act from the start was Mr Crepsley and Madam Octa. I've always loved spiders, but I must admit I sort of went off Madam Octa after she bit my best mate Steve and made me leave home and everything. I used to collect spiders when I was young. I got one as a birthday present once but it got sucked up by a Hoover. Quite unfortunate. My parents didn't let me get one after that. I like the way they move, and catch and eat their prey. When I first saw Madam Octa I fell in love with her because she was so big and so marvellous and could do so many magic tricks. My next favourite is Cormac Limbs. He can cut of bits off his body and they'll grow back. He's fascinating to watch. He's never cut off his head, though. That would be too risky maybe--a bit on the dodgy side.

    Amazon.co.uk: Have there been any particularly interesting acts that you know of that Mr Tall, owner of the Cirque du Freak, has discovered but never been able to lure into a life on the road?

    Shan: Not really. Mr Tall can be quite persuasive. He has a secret way about him. He doesn't say too much but he always seems to know what's going on. For instance, when I first met him he knew my name without me telling him it. He's a bit like Mr Tiny in certain ways--they both have a certain mysterious insight into people. Mr Tiny is even more secret than Mr Crepsley. I know nothing at all about him. I don't know where he came from or if he actually started the Cirque du Freak. There is a rumour Mr Tiny started the circus but I don't know if that's true. There are always lots of rumours...

    Amazon.co.uk: Do you still miss Steve Leopard, your sister Annie and the rest of your family?

    Shan: Dreadfully. Not as much now as when I first left. I've got used to Mr Crepsley even though he's a grouchy old sort. He has got a nice side to him. I know her cares for me. I've settled into the life of a half-vampire but I do still miss them, yes. Up until recently I was unsure whether Mr Crepsley was good or bad. But he offered to trade his life for that of my friend Evra, the snake-boy, so now I know he's not evil. He really cares about people. He's my teacher, but he's also my stand-in father. He's not quite like my dad, but he's the closest thing I have now--even though we're still at odds sometimes.

    Amazon.co.uk: In the first volume of your autobiography, Cirque du Freak , you were buried alive to fool your family into thinking you were dead. What was that like?

    Shan: It was a deadening experience. It was horrible. It's really hard to describe. The hardest part was before I was actually buried, I was lying out and I could hear my parents and all my friends around me crying. They thought I was dead and that was horrible, that was the worst part. But I had to do it so that I could become Mr Crepsley's assistant. That was the deal.

    Amazon.co.uk: In your second book, The Vampire's Assistant you made friends with Sam Grest--but his getting killed was a bit of a shame. What can you remember about him?

    Shan: I liked Sam. He was a lovely chap. I do miss him, but because I drank from him at the end, I still have a part of him living on inside me. If a vampire drinks enough pure blood of a human they actually keep part of that human alive within them. Some of their memories and experiences, so it's not as if he's gone forever. Sometimes I come out with words that I don't know the meaning of but that Sam would have used. I do miss him, though.

    Amazon.co.uk: I know it was tricky for you at first, but are you cool about drinking the odd bit of human blood now?

    Shan: Now I am, yes, because it's a necessity. My initial reluctance to drink human blood was because I thought that if I drank it I would turn evil, that I would become a big overbearing monster. Now I see that I need it to survive, and I really only take small bits of people. I try to live as ordinary a life as possible otherwise. It's just something I need to do. I do it as discreetly as possible. It's not the nicest thing to drink in the world but you get used to it.

    Amazon.co.uk: What does it taste like?

    Shan: It's very thick, very salty. Quite bitter, really. Not recommended at all for normal humans. It depends of course on the person. Different people have different flavours, and thicknesses. I wouldn't drink it socially but when I have to I do. I don't need that much to keep myself at full strength because I'm a half-vampire. A full vampire would need to drink much more. I just have it maybe once a week. It's better to drink a small bit regularly rather than leave a few months go by and get drunk on it. If you drink a lot, that is when you can damage the person you're drinking from. I take a small bit here, a small bit there.

    Amazon.co.uk: How about that Mr Desmond Tiny and the Little People, then? They're a bit weird aren't they?

    Shan: Nobody knows anything about him. Somehow, he's all powerful though. He's been alive thousands of years. Vampires normally can live about 700 years. Very few pass 700 because vampires don't like to grow old gracefully. They live very hard lives and don't like to die in their sleep. We like to go out fighting a wild animal, or fighting the Vampaneze or climbing a high mountain. There are no retirement homes for vampires.

    Amazon.co.uk: In Tunnels of Blood, you were quite friendly with a human girl called Debbie Hemlock. So did you quite fancy her then?

    Shan: I did like Debbie, yes. I had a very soft spot for her. She was my first girlfriend, I suppose. I was chasing Mr Crepsley around trying to kill him at the time, so we didn't get as much time together as I'd have liked. It's been a long time since I've seen her now. She's probably grown up by know. I'll always remember her how she was though. I've not kept any photos of her. Nor of my family. I like to travel light

    Amazon.co.uk: Can you do that apparent flying trick that Mr Crepsley does? Can you flit yet?

    Shan: Not yet. Mr Crepsley will tell me eventually, he explains things to me on a need-to-know basis at the moment. He tells me a lot more than he used to but he's still a bit cagey.

    Amazon.co.uk: What happens in Vampire Mountain, the fourth volume of your life story?

    Shan: Well, Mr Crepsley has to take me to see the vampire generals, unfortunately. He shouldn't have blooded me so young, you see, so I get the feeling I might have prove myself as a vampire in front of them. There's no middle ground--I win or die. If I didn't do it, Mr Crepsley would be disgraced and I'd never do that to him.

    Amazon.co.uk: Is it true that some Hollywood film producers are going to turn your early half-vampire life into a film? What can you tell me about that?

    Shan: Yes, it is true. I've met them. Funnily enough, there are quite a lot of bloodsuckers in Hollywood, too. They're combining the first three books into one huge, exciting story. I'm hoping, of course, they can find somebody handsome enough to play me. My story is very, very grim, so you'd need somebody serious to play me--to express just how much of a hard life mine is. There are laughs, but generally it's very, very dark. I'm delighted they've chosen my books to adapt. I always thought that maybe one day I would write something. I never knew it would be my autobiography though! I might still write fiction books in the future. Yes, one day, I might try to write a totally made up story.

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