• Children's Literature | 26 November 2008 | Michael Jung

    To fans of the popular "Cirque Du Freak" series, Darren Shan is a half-vampire who must serve the mysterious Mr. Crepsley after sacrificing his humanity to save a friend. But to those who've met him in person, Darren Shan is also the very human and very talented author of the "Cirque Du Freak" books, which have sold over 10 million copies in 30 different countries.

    Born Darren O'Shaughnessy, Shan intended to write for adults. But when his agent (who happened to be representing a then-unknown J.K. Rowling) helped him sell his first "Cirque Du Freak" book, Shan's writing career took off. Today, he divides his time between writing his new "Demonata" series and touring the world thrilling kids with news about his upcoming projects.

    I spoke with Darren Shan after one of his author visits and got him to disclose some thoughts about his writing process, children's literacy, and his relationship with the other Darren Shan.

    Michael Jung: You began as an adult fiction writer but found success as a children's author. How do you find the process of writing for children different from writing for adults?

    Darren Shan: For me there's not a huge difference—my children's books are often as dark and bloody as my adult books!!! But there are certain themes I don't explore when writing for kids, and certain places I don't take my stories. In my adult books, my characters are sometimes nastier, even the heroes—they explore a moral grey area which I'm wary of exploring in too much depth when I write for younger readers.

    MJ: Your books have been applauded for appealing to reluctant readers, especially boys. How do you feel books should be presented to entice kids to read?

    DS: I think the important thing is not to pigeon-hole books. A cover should reflect the contents of a book, but I don't think covers should be driven at any particular group., i.e. I don't think it should say "Recommended for boys" or "For 13 years or older". I have an equal mix of male and female readers, of 10 year olds and 16 year olds. A good book will find and determine its audience.

    MJ: During your book signing, one young fan mentioned he'd been reading your adult novels, Procession of the Dead and Hell's Horizon. Have you found your adult novels appeal to many children as well?

    DS: Lots of my teenage fans in the UK have read my adult books (Procession of the Dead will be published in the USA in 2009, under the name of D B Shan), and the response has been great. I don't openly recommend my adult books for younger readers, but as I said, books will find their own audience. I read my first Stephen King book (Salem's Lot) when I was 8 or 9, so I'd be a huge hypocrite if I actively said my adult books are unsuitable for kids!!! Each reader is different.

    MJ: With that in mind, do you feel there should be a split between "children's" books and "adult" books since a lot of adult and children's books have crossover appeal?

    DS: It depends on the book. Some, like [Philip Pullman's] His Dark Materials or Cirque Du Freak, DO appeal equally to kids and adults, while others appeal more to one than the other. I think a split is normally useful, especially if the novel in question is intended for adults and features adult content, but it's not essential in many cases.

    MJ: How much of Darren Shan, Vampire Prince is based on Darren Shan, writer?

    DS: I share certain things in common with Darren, as I do with all my main characters, but we're not one-and-the-same. He's his own person, and I always let him go his own way and do his own thing.

    MJ: What do you need to do to write from a young boy's perspective—particularly one with Darren Shan's abilities and problems?

    DS: I just thought about what I was like when I was 10, 12, 13 years old!

    MJ: One popular part of your author visits is when you invite kids to come up on stage and help you act out your stories from the perspective of a different character. Did you create these stories while writing the Darren Shan novels?

    DS: It was something I did for touring. I get tired of doing the same scenes too many times, so I try to come up with fresh things to do at events. It was fun seeing the story-line from a different character's point of view, but I wrote it after I'd written the book, so it didn't have any real influence on the book.

    MJ: Your first novel Mute Pursuit was never published, but did any characters and/or events from the story make their way into your published work?

    DS: I haven't used anything from Mute Pursuit in later books, but I have cannibalized some of my other early work—some of the scenes in City of the Snakes (the third book in my adult trilogy) were adapted from an unfinished book I created when I was 16 or 17. Everything in writing is connected. Readers only see what gets published, but there's usually a lot more that has gone on behind the scenes, which is all as important as what actually sees print.

    MJ: Some people are surprised when you mention Frances Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden is one of your favorite books. Did this book influence your own writing?

    DS: Yes, that book has definitely influenced me. So have lots of other non-horror books. It's important to read widely—that way you can draw from all sorts of different influences.

    MJ: Speaking of reading widely—I know you enjoy collecting and reading comic books. What are some of your favorites?

    DS: The Watchmen, From Hell, The Dark Knight Returns, Cerebus, Sandman...

    MJ: Have you ever thought about branching out into writing graphic novels?

    DS: I'd like to try writing a comic one day—it's something I used to do when I was younger— but I don't know if I ever will. Time will tell.

    MJ: What upcoming books or events would you like readers to know about?

    DS: The next two "Demonata" books (Wolf Island and Dark Calling) come out in the States in spring and fall 2009. Watch out for the Cirque Du Freak movie and manga as well in 2009!!!

    MJ: What is the best compliment a young reader has given you?

    DS: I get lots of cool compliments, but the one that always gives me the biggest buzz is when someone says "Your books are what made me want to read." There's nothing more rewarding for a writer than creating a new reader—you feel like Dr Frankenstein when he's breathed life into his monster—"It's ALIVE!!!!" Er... not that I'm comparing my fans to monsters, of course!!!!!!!

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