• Limerick Leader | 08 October 2009 |

    Anyone who has sold 15 million books might be entitled to rest on their laurels, but Darren Shan is looking further ahead than anyone might imagine, writes Gerard Fitzgibbon
    DARREN Shan is in a pleasant and reflective mood for a man driving to Wetherby, near Leeds, with thoughts of rabid demons and zombie galleons in his head.

    He's currently half way through a tour of the UK promoting his new book, the tenth and last of his 'Demonata' series, a circuit that will criss-cross Her Majesty's plot from Brighton to Dundee before it brings him back to Limerick and home. The 37-year-old is the first person to admit that now, with 14 million books sold, he doesn't need to press the flesh anymore. But he's still going to.

    "It's very different to sitting in my office writing, but I still see it as part of the job. It's a fun part. You get to meet the fans after they've queued up for hours. It's a really nice feeling. The books have reached such a level where the touring probably isn't essential. But it's something I like giving back. I started out as a fanboy myself, I loved going to comic conventions and meeting my heroes. I like to give the chance to come along and get the book signed and have a chat."

    Shan, real name Darren O'Shaughnessy, has developed into the leading children's horror author in the world by remaining distinctly childish.
    Growing up in Pallaskenry after spending his early years in Elephant and Castle in East London, Shan inhaled book after book trying to pick apart the structures and ideas that made them work. Enid Blyton, Stephen King, Tolkien - he drew upon these generational writers like research.

    But when he wrote his first novel when he was just 17, he did so because he could not find the sort of gripping and comically violent books he wanted to read. So, much like CS Lewis, he wrote it himself. But it was a gruelling process from there.

    "I think most really good books are originals that don't follow a normal formula. But it's difficult to get that sort of book published. Cirque du Freak (Shan's first children's book, published in 2000] was turned down by every publisher in the UK when we tried to sell it - I remember I got 20 rejections on the same day.

    "Now, other publishers are marketing their writers as 'the new Darren Shan'. But in the beginning, it was seen as a taboo book. Lord of the Rings was another example - 15 publishers turned it down because there was nothing else like it, and they just thought that nobody was going to want to read it. But I can understand where (the publishers] come from. It costs money to publish a book."

    Shan admits that he saw himself, then and now, as foremost a writer of adult books. But it is as a children's author, particularly through his 'Demonata' and earlier 'The Saga of Darren Shan' series', that he has found his fame and success. Does he mind that role reversal?

    "They weren't my first love, but they are my main love. At the moment I do one adult book and two children's books a year. That's the perfect mix for me. There are things I can't do in children's books that I can in adult ones and vice versa.

    "But it's not the case that the children's books are something I knock out. It's just the way my mind works. I like juggling several books around, having a break from one for a few months and coming back to it slightly more objective."

    That process normally sees him write a full first draft of a novel two or three years ahead of when it first gets published, a time in which he will begin other books, circle back to edit drafts and keep driving a creative momentum. The result has been 25 books in ten years, an "extraordinary" return in his own words, and also the comfort in knowing that he isn't going to find himself slowing down. He doesn't admit it in as many words, but Shan's fear is being idle.

    "I don't have any big celebrations when I get to the end (of a book], because it doesn't feel like anything's ended. Because of the way I work, I'm in a slightly different time zone to everyone else. I've already finished my next five books for the next three years, and I'm working on another series after that. I never get a sense of start and finish. I think bobbing about from one project to the next is good in some ways, because it means there's no delays. It keeps it nice and fluid."

    Is it difficult to for him to experiment with structure, pacing and other writer's skills when your primary audience judge a book by the prolificacy of its severed heads? Does he look for certain templates and formulas in his work?

    "I used to love formulaic books growing up - The Famous Five; The Secret Seven. I'm not knocking those in the slightest, but as a writer, they don't interest me. I'm always looking to try something a bit different. I don't write for formula. I don't say 'I'm going to do this again because this works'. I'm always trying to move forward and experiment a bit. It's always a bit of a risk. I'm always thinking 'is this going to work?'.

    "But it's more what I would have wanted to read when I was their age. I don't try and write something that I think is going to be popular. I never write with the fans in mind, I think that's dangerous. You start trying to please people and can lose what's special about your work."

    In that vein, there is surprisingly little paranoia about Shan on the eve of the first Hollywood adaptation of one of his books. 'The Vampire's Assistant: Cirque du Freak' has cost Universal Studios in the region of $80 million to produce, but Shan has had no input at all in it. He admits that he didn't and never will want any. "It's best to leave Hollywood off!".

    But he is excited by the prospect of people, perhaps, being drawn back into the books after it is released.

    "The hard thing about publishing is making people aware that your books exist. You don't have the sort of funds Hollywood has. Cirque du Freak cost $80 million to make, and they might spend another $20 million publicising it. They can reach people we can't directly, and we can just hope that people who see the film like it and decide to check out the books, and come over to my world."

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