• CBBC NEWSROUND | 24 October 2001 | N/A

    This is a web radio interview i did with viewers of the programme, who e-mailed in their questions

    Alice, nine, Cardiff
    Darren why did you decide to write spooky stories?
    Darren: When I was a child I loved scaring myself. I watched loads of horror movies and horror, and read lots of horror books. It is fun to be scared like when you go on a roller coaster ride.

    Sean, 10, Harrow
    Is there anything in particular that inspired you to become a horror novelist?

    Darren: The writer that had the biggest influence on me was Stephen King. I read Salem's Lot when I was about 11 or 12 which is all about vampires taking over a town and that kicked off loads of ideas.

    Harry, eight, South Northamptonshire
    Why did you choose scary stories instead of mystery stories or something like what Enid Blyton writes?

    Darren: I read loads of Enid Blyton books when I was younger, and there are mysteries in my books. The current one, Trials of Death, is like a big mystery story. I add a few gory gruesome pieces just to spice it up.

    Hazel, 10, Binfield
    Do you like horror movies where there are loads of guts and gore and if yes, did these help in inspiring you with the books?

    Darren: I am not that interested in guts and gore to be honest. I prefer something which creates suspense like the Sixth Sense, which was one of the best horror movies I have seen recently, I am not that interested in blood or loads of murders. I think it is important to create an horrific atmosphere, it is much more important than visual effects.

    Alex, 10, London
    What gives you your ideas for all your stories and how do you turn them into something good?

    Darren: When you are a writer you have got ideas going through your head all the time. Writing books is a lot like a jigsaw puzzle. At the start you have got loads and loads of ideas in your head and you pick out some and get rid of others. It is just a case of putting ideas together and working out ways to connect them and create a story. It is a long process, sometimes ideas come quickly and you start books the next day. Other times you can be thinking about a book for months or even years and it can take that long for all the ideas to fall into place and for the book to take shape.

    Ruth, 11, Coventry
    Is it easy writing stories like the ones that you write?

    Darren: Any story is difficult to write because you have got to come up with all the characters, the dialogue and describe the setting. I think horror comes to me more naturally than other styles of writing. If I was to write a romantic novel I wouldn't know where to begin, but with horror I know what is scary about the world because I loved horror when I was young. I was always thinking about horrific things.

    Sarah, 13, Sheffield, and Roisin, Scotland
    Are you planning to write any more Darren Shan books in the future?

    Darren: The saga of Darren Shan will run to about 20 books in total, so there are more on the way.

    And can you give us any hints about what might happen?

    Darren: I don't want to give too much away but I will say that most of the series centres around the war between the vampires and the vampaneze. It is called the War of the Scar.

    Joe, 13, Halesbury, and Jack, nine, Tunbridge
    When is the next Darren Shan book is going to be out?

    Darren: We are bringing them out every four months for the next few books. Book six is out at the start of February and is called the Vampire Prince.

    Is book six going to answer the big cliffhanger in book five?

    Darren: Yes. Books four, five and six is one big story split up into three parts. I loved cliffhangers when I was younger, I used to watch those old Flash Gordon serials and stuff like that, where you know each one would end in a big, big cliffhanger. I loved that and I read lots of comics as well and there are lots of cliffhangers in comics, so I wrote book five with a huge cliffhanger and book six wraps up the Vampire Mountains storyline.

    Debbie, 10, Swansea
    Where did you first get the idea of the freak show?

    Darren: I wondered how a vampire would travel around, and I came up with the idea of a circus. A vampire could sleep by day protected by the circus helpers, go out at night and feed and then move on with the circus. But rather than making an ordinary circus I thought it would be more logical for a vampire to mix with other creatures of magic so I came up with the idea of a Cirque de Freak. And the Cirque de Freak is actually based on real life freak shows of long ago. I just took the stereotypes of the performance and gave them all a magical twist. Long ago most freak shows had a bearded lady and in my show there is also a bearded lady, but she is not just a woman with a beard, she is a woman who can grow a beard and then suck the hairs back into her face. All the freaks rather than being people you would laugh at they are people you actually admire.

    Jenny, 15, West Midlands
    Do you believe in vampires or half vampires?

    Darren: I do believe the Vampires as described in my books could be real. I don't believe in creatures who come back from the dead and kill people and are affected by crosses and holy water, I don't believe they exist, but I think vampires are just like humans who live for a very long time, who are very tough and who just need blood to survive.

    Alan, 12, Broughton
    Why do you like vampires?

    Darren: I always loved horror, but I had a special fascination for vampires. When I lived in London aged five or six I had a big poster of Dracula on my bedroom wall. I am not sure what the fascination is, it is just something really spooky about these people who only come out at night and have to drink blood to survive.

    Why do you think there is such fascination with vampires all over the world?

    Darren: Most monsters are like Frankenstein. They are created in a laboratory or they are ghouls and some form of magic creates them. With vampires it is something that you could imagine happening. They are fantastical creatures but you could imagine yourself being turned into a vampire and then facing the dilemma of having to drink blood to survive. The most fascinating part about vampires is the actual need to drink blood. Most horror books they don't actually dwell on that, it is just that vampires are evil and they never actually enjoy drinking blood. What I think is interesting about vampires, is that if you have to drink blood to survive you would you be able to do it? You know you weren't evil, that you were just the same as you are now, but with this need for blood. If you had to do it, would you be able to? I think everybody likes imagining dark, dark things, dark stories and vampires, I don't know if it is just something hooked into the imagination of people and they are not letting go.

    Do you think vampires have always got a bit of a bad press over the years?

    Darren: Definitely. I am trying to write about vampires as realistically as possible. Rather than make evil monsters, they are just creatures. They are like humans only different, they need to drink blood to survive, but don't have to kill the living. I am trying to write realistically about how people like these would live if they did exist.

    Naseema, West Ham
    Are you really into spiders?

    Darren: I was actually always rather nervous of spiders, which is why I decided to use one inside the Freak. If you are scared of something yourself it is quite easy to write a horror story about it. But at the launch party of Cirque de Freak we had live tarantulas that I had to hold. Since I held the live tarantula I have been perfectly OK with spiders.

    Rosie, nine, Uckfield
    What has got you so interested in handling bugs and other creatures like that?

    Darren: I never used to. It was something I made up for the books. But since then I have become more interested in spiders, they are actually very interesting. I know spiders look creepy and nasty but they are actually very nice creatures, they are very fragile.

    Do we get to find out more about Madam Octa's origins in the books?

    Darren: We don't find out about her origins, but there are more spiders in the Vampire Mountain books and Madam Octa has a big role to play in book six.

    Mark, 10, Croydon
    What is the most disgusting animal that you have ever had to hold?

    Darren: Well I haven't held that many animals. I have held a tarantula that I was quite nervous about at first, but I was OK after a while. I am nervous about holding a snake, I have got a slight phobia about snakes. I am not very fond of them, I might be a bit squeamish if I had to hold a snake, but so far I haven't been asked.

    Rhiannon, 12, London
    Do you have any pets of your own and if so what are they?

    Darren: I'm afraid I am a very boring pet, I have got a cat at the moment. I used to have dogs but no rats and spiders.

    Rachel, 11
    I think you are a great author Darren and I would like to know if you could recommend a spooky pet so I can scare my friends to bits.

    Darren: I think a rat is a good pet because a lot of people are afraid of rats. But rats are actually very intelligent creatures and are perfectly safe. If you have got a pet rat, not a wild rat, you won't get diseases off it. I think I would recommend a rat, a nice white rat with big red eyes.

    Brionny, 12
    Do the stories you write ever make you scared on dark nights when you are all alone?

    Darren: Not really no. It is very hard to scare yourself when you are writing a story because you know everything that is going to happen. One of the great things about horror is you don't know what is going to happen. You know a writer or a film is able to spook you by throwing something unexpected at you. But of course when you write the book yourself you know everything in advance. I turn to Stephen King and Clive Barker to scare myself.

    Dan, 10, Sheffield
    What is the most spooky thing that has ever happened to you?

    Darren: Nothing very spooky has happened to me. The scariest thing that ever happened to me was when I was on a really old roller coaster in Ireland and as I set off I was sitting by myself in the back seat, the safety bar snapped open and it wouldn't stay closed. I had to spend the whole ride just gripping on to the bar in front. It was quite spooky, but the lucky thing about it was that I had been talking to somebody a few years before and I knew that the force of gravity actually keeps you in your seat. So I knew as long as I stayed sitting down I would be safe but it was still quite scary.

    Helena, 14, Sussex
    Have you based any of the characters in the books on real live people who you know?

    Darren: Small bits of people do creep in, what I tend to do is take bits of people and mix them up. But one character who is based on a live person is Evra Von the snake boy, now Evra has a really long tongue which he can stick up his nose and wriggle around and I have a young cousin who can actually do that, that is where Evra in fact came from.

    Lots of people want to know is there any news on the Cirque de Freak films at the moment?

    Darren: Well the last time I heard what they are planning to do is take the first three books and combine them so take bits out of each book and mix them up into one big story line so you would have Sam Gresque, you can have a Merlock you could have a Mr Tiny, there would loads going on in it. Now there is no sign of a script yet, we are still working on that. There is no guarantee there will be a movie but they did renew the rights this year, when they first bought they had it for 18 months and now they have bought for another 18 months so they are still working on it. But there is no definite news yet.

    But hopefully in the next few years we will be able to go and actually see it at the cinema.

    Darren: They do seem genuine, they do want to make one, so keep your fingers crossed and hoping.

    There are so many books in the Darren Shan saga, how do you manage to keep track of everything that you want to happen?

    Darren: It is quite tricky, what I do is I have the overall story line in the back of my head but I don't plot it out book by book until I actually come to each new book. So for instance, I don't write the plot of books seven or eight until I finish book six.

    It is quite difficult, what I have to keep doing is go back over my notes because I keep plot notes for each book and so I keep flicking through the notes, sometimes I read bits of the earlier books, just re-familiarise myself with characters and the plot line. It is quite tricky but it is also a lot of fun.

    So I have been writing, I wrote the first part of Circus Freak four years ago. So for four years now I have had all these story lines bouncing around inside my head and you know it is going to go on for at least another six, seven, eight years, so I am going to be working at it for about that amount of time. So everything is bouncing around and I have got loads and loads of ideas but it is tricky but it is also a lot of fun.

    Is Steve Leopard ever going to come back and if so what might happen?

    Darren: That's a question I get asked most often, and yes the answer is he does return in book eight. He is grown up when he returns, he is pushing 30 and I am not going to tell you whether he is good or bad, you are going to have to wait until book eight to find out

    The other one that seems to fascinate many many people is Mr Tiny. Do we ever find out more about him he seems a very eerie, eerie character?

    Darren: Very spooky and mysterious character. We do learn more about him as the series progresses. He keeps cropping up in the books and whenever he crops up it is usually a sign that something bad is going to happen.

    Mark, 11, Cardiff
    Are you jealous of JK Rowling's success?

    Darren: No. I have read the first three Harry Potter books and I love them and I think it has been good for writers generally speaking. The success of the Harry Potter books has raised the children's literature, there are more and more people are buying children's books now and they are taking it more seriously.

    But even apart from all that I think writers tend not to be jealous of other writers. Because every writer starts out as a reader, I started out as a reader of books, I loved reading books which is why I got into writing them and so I always love to find a really, really good author, you know I love reading the Harry Potter books. You know I don't sit there thinking 'Oh she is selling more copies than me', I sit there thinking 'When is the next one out so I can read it?'

    And is she a fan of your books?

    Darren: Apparently yes. She did read Circus de Freak when it before it came out and she said it was a compelling book. So yes she wrote me a fan letter which is great, I have got a fan letter from JK Rowling, one of my prized possessions.

    Roysin, 14, Scotland
    Are you planning on writing books about any other characters?

    Darren: I have written a couple of other books over the last couple of years. The trouble with bringing them out is because the Darren Shan books have come out so fast there isn't really time at the moment to bring another book out under the name of Darren Shan. But also because I write the saga of Darren Shan - a true story - that also makes it tricky to bring out any other books under the Darren Shan name. So what I might have to do is use a pseudonym, a different name, to bring out other books under. I am definitely writing other books and will hopefully be publishing them over the next few years, but I might have to use a different name for them.

    And they also want to know did you always want to be a writer when you were young?

    Darren: Yeah, even when I was five, six years old I always knew I wanted to write. I loved to do stories, I loved writing stories at school and reading mysteries out in class. I used to daydream about being other stuff, you know about being a footballer or a singer or I thought about being a vet at one stage because I have always liked animals but a writer was what I always wanted to be.

    Now I am sure we will have lots of people logged on who also want to be writers when they are older. What kind of advice would you give them?

    Darren: The main advice I can give a writer is the only thing you have to do is write. Now it sounds very, very simple but it is that simple. All writing is is writing, you start out as a writer when you are very young. If you stick with it you learn more as you go along, every time you write a story you learn from it and the more you write the better you get. It takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work but that is all that is involved. If you are determined to be a writer and you don't give up, you will succeed.

    Amy, Birmingham
    Is it true that garlic can keep vampires away?

    Darren: Not my vampires. Garlic just gives them bad breath.

    So what are your vampires scared of, running water?

    Darren: No there is a legend that if a vampires dies in running water its soul will remain trapped. That is where the legend of not being able to cross running water comes from. They are not actually afraid of much except sunlight, sunlight will kill them. So that is the only real thing that they are afraid of, crosses don't hurt them, holy water doesn't hurt them but yes sunlight will sizzle them to the bone.

    Now the vampires you write about, they have very noble traditions don't they? Was that very important to you? You know things about the way that they die and what happens to them when they get older?

    Darren: Absolutely, especially as the books go on you begin to get the sense that the books four to six - the Vampire Mountain trilogy - because I wanted to do these as believably as possible, and the way they exist is they are like Samarai warriors or Celtic Warriors from long ago. They live apart from mankind, but we live by very strict laws, they have set their own rules, they are not bound by the laws of man so it was important to me that they had their own laws.

    And a lot of what I am doing on this series is trying to imagine how these people would live, if you were somebody who could live for five or six hundred years and were much more powerful than humans, how would you set laws to govern your life? And that is something that recurs about the series as we go into a lot of vampire history, vampire culture, the laws they live by and also what happens when those laws break down, which is what happens in books seven to nine with the start of the War of the Scars.

    Lots of children want to know do you have titles for all the books yet?

    Darren: I have titles for the first 10 because I have written the first 10 books. And actually on my website I have revealed the titles of books seven, eight and nine but that is far ahead as I have revealed so far.

    As the books are incredibly popular here in the UK, where else around the world are they popular?

    Darren: In Japan it is selling a huge amount. I think it is really, really good and successful over there at the moment. The first two have just been released and I have been getting loads of e-mails from Japan. In America Circus Freak made the top 10 in the children's list, it is also doing very well in Germany I think. It has been released in lots of other countries as well that I haven't heard back from most of them yet. Writers are often the last to hear about whether a book is doing well or bad in a specific country. But I know definitely in Germany, Japan and America it is doing very well and here in Ireland of course, Trials of Death is currently number two in the Irish charts.

    Are you looking forward to your trip to America?

    Darren: Yes, it is going to be very busy. I have got two weeks there and I will be doing an event every single day but yes it is the first time I have gone to America and hopefully it is going to be interesting to see what the America readers are like because I have met lots of readers here in England and Ireland and in Scotland. I have done a lot of travelling over the last couple of years so it will be interesting to see if the readers over there are different and what they like about the books, how they respond to the books.

    What is the best part of being a writer?

    Darren: For me the actual best part is meeting the readers because when you write you write by yourself, you know it can be quite lonely being a writer. But when your books are successful and you get to go around to meet people who have read the books and who have enjoyed the books I get a real buzz out of having them ask questions. Having them get so interested in the characters, that has definitely been the highlight when I get to go around and meet people who have read the book.

    Do you ever get asked really odd questions?

    Darren: The strangest question I have been asked was actually last week. I was in a library and one boy asked me are you a big fan of Rolf Harris? This just came out of the blue because I write horror books so I was trying to imagine, what does Rolf Harris have to do with horror books? I was a bit confused for a few seconds until I realised he actually meant Thomas Harris, who writes the Hannibal Lecter books.

    There is a difference.

    Darren: A slight difference yes.

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