• THE SUNDAY MIRROR | 27 February 2000 | Erin Doherty


    Last year Darren O’Shaughnessy was broke and on the dole. Now the 27-year-old is set to become a millionaire and it’s all thanks to his childhood obsession with vampires.

    While other boys his age played football, Darren spent hours reading horror stories and watching vampire films.

    And his passion for all things gothic has paid off as his children’s novel, Cirque Du Freak, the first of a series of nine books on the character Darren Shan, is to be made into a film.

    Movie giants Warner Bros. snapped up the rights to make a film of the book, which was published last month, for a seven-figure sum.

    Darren has also signed contracts with major publishers in America and Britain for a series of books based on the characters in Cirque Du Freak, the first novel in the series.

    And Darren intends to keep busy – he plans to publish 24 books over the next 12 years at a rate of one every six months.

    Even at his lowest point Darren never considered giving up writing to find a job. "It was just a case of whether I would be able to carry on writing full time. I quit my job in a cable television company and it was a couple of years before I started earning any money, so I was drawing the dole. I had to get by on very little money and I even considered getting a regular job if it got to the stage where I could not make a living out of writing

    "But I would have still carried on writing at weekends. The best thing about earning this money is that it allows me to carry on writing full-time, which is basically all I ever wanted to do. It’s great because I can go on and write about what I want and I don’t have to worry about getting another job.

    "The money hasn’t started coming in yet. I haven’t got a huge amount sitting in the bank, so I haven’t done anything outrageous."

    And Darren insists that he won’t let his new-found wealth go to his head.

    "The money is a means to an end. I have no interest in making money – the writing is important to me and if I make a load of money out of it, then that’s brilliant.

    "I have to focus on my work and try not to think about the money coming in, because that’s a distraction. Writing is the one thing I have to believe in.

    "I think my parents and my brother are more excited than I am. People are ringing them up all the time and congratulating them. It’s all been very exciting for them.

    "I know it probably looks like I’ve achieved overnight success, but it’s taken me 10 years of very hard work, to gradually improve my skills. I didn’t really get a big break — I would describe it more as a gradual break. I sold Cirque Du Freak to the publishers two years ago, but it has only been published now.

    "When I sold books two and three from my Darren Shan series to Harper Collins, I knew I’d received a big commitment from them. There was a big push behind my work. That’s when my agent started sending the books out to film agencies. And from last June things began to pick up speed when Warner Brothers started negotiating the film rights."

    Warner Brothers have also bought the film rights to the second book in the series, The Vampire’s Assistant. And Darren is set to make $1m from the deal.

    The novel Cirque Du Freak features two young boys who go to see a freak show and run into a vampire. The story explores what happens to them and how the experience changes their lives.

    Darren started writing when he was just 14. But he knew he wanted to become a writer when he was five years of age.

    "It was always something that I wanted to do," he said. "I started writing short stories in my spare time when I was 14. Those stories grew into my first novel which I wrote when I was 17 and I’ve been writing ever since. I wrote part time when I was at college and that progressed to the full time writing I’m doing now.

    "I read a lot of fantasy and horror books and watched a lot of movies so that I could get ideas for my books. The notions I have explored in Cirque Du Freak go back to when I was a very small child, when I watched a lot of vampire movies.



    "I used to love these movies and those images have stayed with me throughout my life. They have had an enormous impact on my writing."

    Darren has already written nine books for the Darren Shan series and he plans to write more.

    "It’s taken me a couple of years to write the first nine novels. The first one was published last month but I’d actually sold it almost two years before. And I wrote the others during that time — I like to work ahead."

    Not content with making his mark on childhood fiction, Darren has also branched out into adult fiction.

    His new fantasy novel, Hell’s Horizon, the second book in his "The City" series, was published by Orion books last month. The first book in the series, Ayuamarca, was published in February 1999 and two more books are planned for the series.

    But just how difficult is it for an author to write both adult and children’s fiction?

    "My children’s fiction is quite dark," he explained, "so it’s not like going from horror to Enid Blyton, but at the same time my children’s books are toned down quite a lot from my adult fiction. There are certain things you have to be careful of when you are writing for children. I find that it’s really good to write for adults and children because they feed into each other. You learn things writing for children which you can bring to the adult books, and vice versa. An adult book is usually longer, so you have to work that little bit harder. However, children’s books can be just as tricky.

    "It’s important to find the right voice for the characters I’m writing about. For example, when I first wrote Cirque Du Freak, the voice wavered. I wanted to write a book for teenagers but it started out as a story an eight or nine-year-old might like. I had to work very hard in order to perfect the right tone of voice."

    Darren also relied on the views of youngsters when he wrote his first children’s novel. His mother, Breda, teaches in a primary school and he gave her copies of the book to circulate among her pupils. He also gave her questionnaires for the children to fill out so he could get some feedback on what he had written.

    "I got a lot of ideas from the questionnaires," he said. "I could pick up if they thought the book was too mature or too scary. And they also told me what they would like to see in the book.

    "Every adult thinks they know what children like to read, but until you actually ask the children, I don’t think you can know. We all like to think that we are in touch with the inner child, but most of the time we’re not."

    Darren included the pupils of Askeaton Primary School in the dedications of the book as a thank you for the vital advice.

    But there’s also a mischievous side to Darren’s character. He brought a collection of live tarantulas to the launch of Cirque Du Freak to see how people would react.

    "At first people were terrified and wouldn’t go near the spiders, but as the evening wore on people got closer and closer and everyone ended up handling them in the end.

    "I think people have a fascination with horror — they can’t help being interested in it. They like to try things that are a little bit dangerous."

    Darren believes that his childhood and upbringing has played a major role in his decision to become a writer.



    "I was born in London and stayed there until I was six years old. Then my family moved to Ireland, to the Limerick countryside. Living in a quiet place has been very beneficial to my writing because it gives me the space to focus on my work with very few distractions. When you live in a big city there are always things to do and places to go."

    Despite the big contrast between Darren’s fantasy novels and the place where he lives, he believes that he has the best of both worlds.

    "London is like a second home to me and I go there quite a lot. I went to college there for three years, so I’m used to the big city environment as well as living out in the countryside."

    But he plans to stay in Limerick for the foreseeable future and continue writing.

    Darren has already been compared to the king of horror Stephen King. He is delighted to be mentioned in the company of such a prestigious writer.

    "Stephen King is one of my idols. I grew up with his books. I read Salem’s Lot when I was 11 and I thought it was a brilliant book, so he has been a big influence on me. A lot of writers and books have influenced me, especially Tolkien and David Eddings. I loved the ideas and the storytelling in those types of books. I don’t think I’m quite in the league of those writers yet but it would be wonderful to give them a run for their money."

    With such a hectic schedule it is difficult for Darren to find time to relax.

    "I go for an hour-long walk and watch two or three movies every day — not all of them are horror. I watch practically anything.

    "I’m pretty much a loner actually, so I don’t get out that much. I might go out with my brother Declan or a few friends but mostly I’m happy just watching my films and reading some books. That’s my idea of relaxing."

    Little Brown publishers have purchased the rights for Darren’s book to be sold in America.

    Despite the impressive history of Irish writers, there are very few who are currently working in this field. Darren’s work embodies the genres of horror, fantasy, crime and mystery. His first novel, Ayuamarca, an adult fantasy novel, was published last February and is a mixture of these genres. The novel follows a young gangster who is determined to make his way up through the criminal ranks by any means possible, even if it means becoming involved with a serial killer and betraying those closest to him. The title of the book means "procession of the dead", so it promises to be a chilling thriller.

    The second novel in the series, Hell’s Horizon, which was published three weeks ago, is about a man investigating the murder of his girlfriend. The story is set in the same nameless city as Ayuamarca but is less of a fantasy novel and more of a mystery. Darren has already finished the first draft of the third novel in the series and it is planned to be published next year.

    No date has yet been set for the release of the movie version of Cirque Du Freak. HarperCollins publish Darren’s books for older children and teenagers and Orion books publish the adult fiction. His latest novel, Hell’s Horizon, was released on February 10.

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