• Issue 224 - March 2019

    01 March 2019



    Hi everyone, and welcome to the March issue of the Shanville Monthly. It's the usual mixed bag of quirky, Darren Shan (and Darren Dash) related news and updates, including links to a few new interviews and reviews... I draw your attention towards a mention of my books on a Twilight page... I show how one fan literally tore one of my books apart to create something strange and beautiful... and a whole lot more in that vein. Enjoy!






    When I publish a book, I always write up some author notes about it. I cover all sorts of things in the notes, such as where the idea might have originated, how long it took to write, who certain characters were named after, and so on. I try to make them as informative as possible, to give fans as much insight into the creation of the story as I can. Over the last year or more, I've been updating those notes, and also writing new notes for a few that I missed over the years. I'm almost up to date -- the most recent notes I published were for Zom-B Goddess, so I now only have to add notes for the two most recent books for adults that I released under the name of Darren Dash. I meant to post them last month, but they got lost in the mix. I'm really going to add them this month, no excuses! I'll be publishing them on Facebook, but also on my website, where all the rest of the notes are collected, and you can check them out over there any time you want, by clicking THIS LINK.



    FOR FANS OF...


    Based on what fans of my books have said about the Twilight books and movies in the past, as well as what many of them have said about the Cirque Du Freak movie, I'm already chuckling uncontrollably to myself, imagining the howls of offended outrage that this post will no doubt ignite in certain quarters. But being a mischievous soul who can't resist lobbing the cat among the pigeons to see what happens (I guess I'm a bit like Mr Tiny that way -- the genes are shining through!), here is a link to an article that popped up on my Google Alert app recently...


    10 Movies That "Twilight" Fans Would Absolutely Love!


    Don't throw me in a pit of stakes, please!! I beg you!!!!







    A fan called Zelda was tasked by her art teacher with creatively destroying one of her favourite books, in order to generate art from it. She chose Cirque Du Freak and you can see some photos of the project here. Personally I love what Zelda created, and I don't mind the damage she had to inflict on the book. Most books, when read, simply spend the rest of their lives sitting on a shelf, gathering dust -- I like that this copy got a second life and was transformed into an object of freakish beauty. The one constant in life is change -- why shouldn't our books change along with us? And, hey, it's not like it's a rare beast -- if this was one of a limited edition, I'd be of a different mindset, but it's easily enough replaced.


    Other people didn't agree when Zelda shared these photos on Twitter, and she picked up a few angry remarks along the lines of "Nobody should EVER destroy a book, under any circumstances whatsoever!" They weren't too pleased with her teacher either, and said no teacher should ever demand such a sacrifice of a student. I can see their point -- and maybe the teacher was someone who doesn't love books, and it would be interesting to know if they would ask a student to destroy a piece of art as part of an art project -- but, as I said, personally I love that my art found new life in another person's art, so I've no problems with this at all.


    What about you guys??? Let the jury of Shansters decide!





    A recent tweet from a fan called Ewan made me chuckle. He wrote:


    "I think the most unrealistic part of the Saga Of Darren Shan is how quickly Darren's funeral was arranged after his death. You usually have to wait at least a week and a half to even meet an undertaker in my neck of the woods..."


    I purposely didn't set Cirque Du Freak in a specific location, giving readers the freedom to imagine it happening wherever they lived. That said, I did of course draw upon my own locale when writing the book -- for me, Darren's home town was a mix of Limerick and London, the two cities I know best in all the world, both of which I look upon as my home turf. In London (as in Edinburgh, where I think Ewan lives) you normally have to wait weeks to be buried or cremated when you die. But in Limerick, as in the rest of Ireland, burial almost always takes place within three days of death. Ireland, generally speaking, is not the most efficient country in the world -- our roads aren't great, our hospitals are in terrible shape, we don't have enough houses, government and local council tend to work even slower and more confusingly than in a lot of other countries -- but it has to be said, we do death VERY well. So, my answer to Ewan was that in a way, honestly, that scene was the MOST realistic in the entire book!!!


    Similarly, the Irish genesis of the story also explains why Darren's blood wasn't pumped out of his body and replaced with embalming fluid. While I think that happens more often these days here, it's often not necessary when a body is being buried so swiftly, especially if the corpse is that of a young person in good physical shape, and back in the 1980s (which is when the story would have taken place if it's truly autobiographical) there's a very good chance that Darren would NOT have been pumped full of chemicals after death. Which, y'know, in the grander scheme of things, was a nice stroke of luck -- it would have been a much shorter Saga if the embalmers had got on the job!!!






    I imagine most of you know that there's a Cirque Du Freak manga -- I've certainly posted about it plenty of times here -- but then again, we should never take anything for granted in this life, so it's probably a good idea to flag it up every so often. Anyway, yes, all twelve books in the series were adapted into 12 manga volumes years ago, by a VERY talented Japanese artist called Takahiro Arai. They were released initially in Japan, but were later translated and released in the UK, USA and lots of other countries. They're very faithful to the books, although the style is very much their own, and a few tweaks were made to help the story work better in a visual format.


    I'm always happy to highly recommend the manga. I think the team did an amazing job with them. I helped choose the artist, but had no further input into the project -- although I did help with the English translations, going through the translated text and doctoring it in places to make it more like the text in the books. You should be able to order all twelve volumes from your local bookseller, or else you can get them through one of the internet sellers like Amazon, or resellers like Abebooks or Alibris.





    Over the years, many fans have speculated about their dream cast for a Cirque Du Freak movie or TV show, but few have gone to the lengths of a fan called Samuel Davis (that's Davis without an e, he'll have you know!), who put together a lengthy YouTube video on the topic. You might not agree with every choice of Samuel's, but if you have 13 or so minutes to kill, this will certainly get you thinking... maybe you'll even decide to come up with a fan casting video of you own...




    Oh, and if anyone's interested in MY choices... I truly don't have any. I almost never think of actors when writing my books. Some of them are inspired by characters in other books (e.g. Vancha March was inspired by a character in David Eddings' "The Belgariad" series) but I don't think I've ever based any on someone in a movie or TV show... Oh, hang on, wait, no, I just remembered, Harkat Mulds and the other Little People were inspired by weird characters in the movie "Phantasm," but I'd forgotten about the film and only realised the link years later, so that was a subconscious piece of homage. So, yeah, on a conscious level, I don't draw from movies or TV shows. Subconsciously... who the hell knows?!?




    I'm not giving many interviews at the moment, since I don't have a new book to support, but I occasionally break cover if someone approaches me with some interesting questions that I feel compelled to answer. One of those new interviews, which went live last month, was with publishing industry heavy-hitter IndieReader. I actually answered the questions ages ago, when I was promoting the release of Midsummer's Bottom, my latest Darren Dash novel for adult readers, but it didn't go up until now. The first half of the interview is about the new book, but I also answer some more wide-ranging questions in the second half, talking a bit about the differences in publishing as an independent author as opposed to going with a traditional publisher. I think it's a nicely varied piece, and I kept the answers fairly short, so it won't take you more than a few minutes to read. If interested, you can check it out by CLICKING HERE.





    This lovely email from a teacher called Debbie popped up in my inbox last month:


    "Dear Mr. Shan, I am a fifth grade teacher in NJ, USA, and I have been reading the first book of your Cirque du Freak series to my students for the past 17 years. I've written to you before, but felt compelled to write again to tell you how much my students LOVE hearing me read this book. I have the rest of the series in my classroom library and often have to restock as they don't always get returned to the shelf. As a teacher, it's so exciting to hear the children beg me to continue reading as I finish each chapter! Even my reluctant readers show so much enthusiasm. I've also had parents buy the book/s for their children. By fifth grade, some children lose interest in reading and I am so appreciative of your novels because you get them back to reading. Thank you!"


    I'm sure you've all heard plenty of people very confidently proclaim that children don't read any more. In my experience that's utter nonsense, largely thanks to wonderful, dedicated teachers like Debbie, who work so hard to help kids and teenagers realise that books are, first and foremost, FUN. Of course there are all sorts of other distractions these days that weren't around when I was a nipper -- video games, the internet, an endless choice of TV channels -- but on the other side, books are more accessible than ever (I love local book shops, and it's important to support them, but it's also great to live in a world where you can order a book online if you don't live close to a bookseller), and there are loads of great YA books being written.


    Children and teenagers DO read, but while part of it's thanks to writers like me who provide the books, an even larger part of it is because of teachers, librarians and parents like Debbie who help make the young aware of what's out there -- so let's have a huge round of applause for the under-appreciated facilitators!!






    As I said above, I haven't given many interviews in recent times, since I tend to mostly do that when I'm supporting the release of a new book (the interview with IndieReader was actually conducted in the middle of last year), but a new-to-the-scene blogger with the handle of The Millennial Blogger emailed me last month to politely request a new interview. She hasn't posted very much, but her love of books was clear, so I asked her to send me some questions and said I'd see if I would be able to answer them, but no guarantees. Well, the questions were good ones that stimulated me to respond, so I quickly fired off some answers, and you can find the entire, short interview (it won't take you more than a few minutes to read) if you CLICK HERE.





    A new review for the first Zom-B book appeared on the A Little Fool Reads blog recently, and you can read it by CLICKING HERE.


    I had a little chuckle at the lengths the reviewer went to avoid mentioning B's gender. The Zom-B series finished a few years ago, and I figure most of you reading this will be aware of them, and even if you haven't yet read them, you'll know that the main character is a girl. But that fact is cunningly disguised in the first book. One of the key messages of Zom-B is that it's dangerous to make assumptions about people, based on the colour of their skin, or their religion, or how they look, or what they wear.


    The thing is, I think most of us are guilty of that to an extent in our day-to-day lives -- it's just human nature. I wanted to highlight this for those who would argue that no, they never judge a person superficially -- so I wrote B in a very specific way in the first book, to make people assume as if the story was being told by a boy. At no point does B describe herself as a boy -- indeed, there are some very clear indicators that the character is a girl, such as when she sits down to do a wee on the toilet -- yet pretty much everyone assumed she was, because... well, because, as I said above, we all make those sorts of assumptions all the time, and we need to be aware of them and work on them, especially if we're going to be critical of other people who make them.


    To put it another way -- I think the vast majority of us like to think of ourselves as "the good guys" in the story of our lives, but I don't think we can truly fill those good guy boots unless we spot when we're acting like "the bad guys" and work hard to correct our course and change. It's a life-long job, and as a general rule of thumb, anyone who thinks they've achieved perfection... almost certainly hasn't. "Must try harder" is my motto as a writer. I try to make it my motto as a human being too.






    Vampires. They're a complicated bunch, aren't they? I think most people assume they know all there is to know about vampires. They drink blood, live forever, sleep in coffins, and only come out when it's dark -- right?


    Well, no, that wasn't even true in the key defining work about vampires -- Bram Stoker's Dracula -- which laid the groundwork for the entire genre. In Dracula the vampires actually CAN come out in the day -- they just don't have any supernatural powers when the sun in shining.


    In the century-plus since Dracula was released, there have been LOADS of books and movies about the creatures of the night, and the rules keep changing and being re-written. Handily for those who like to keep abreast of the changes, someone has put together a list over on Wikipedia, of vampire traits in folklore and fiction. It includes references to loads of books, including my Saga of Darren Shan books (aka the Cirque Du Freak series). It's a bit clumsily constructed, and scrolls down forever, but for those who are interested, CLICK HERE.


    "The children of Wikipedia -- what music they make!!!"






    There were some amusing posts on Twitter last month, by fans speculating about the location of Vampire Mountain. Is it in the Himalayas, America, Northern Europe? People weren't sure, and that's exactly the way I like it! I kept the settings of Cirque Du Freak and the rest of my vampire books deliberately vague most of the time, so that readers could supply their own locations and personalize the books. A few found that unsatisfying -- "Damnit, Shan, just tell us where the mountain is!!!" -- but I think it worked for most and might be one of the reasons why the stories have worked so well in so many different countries around the world.


    The Demonata is largely set in Ireland (even though I don't make that crystal clear in the books), and Zom-B is pretty much all set in London, and perhaps the settings worked against the stories going global. But Cirque Du Freak and the rest of the Saga... they could be set just about anywhere, which might be why they spread so far, as readers had the freedom to imagine the story happening in places familiar to them.






    Again on Twitter last month, there was also a quizzical thread started by a fan called Vampire Council, who asked if there were vampire interpreters or if all the vampires spoke a common language -- and if they did, what was it? This is a question that, to my surprise, hardly ever gets asked. If you think about it logically, the vampires in my books come from all corners of the world, and speak all sorts of different languages, so this obviously must be an issue. They can live for centuries, of course, which gives them plenty of time to learn a new language common to the clan -- but what would that language be?!?


    English? Well, yes, it's the most common global language today, but it wouldn't have been when the older vampires were nippers and following the example of their elders.


    Maybe they speak the language that is spoken in whatever country Vampire Mountain is set? Possibly, although as I make clear in the books, the mountain is set very far away from any human settlements, so there would be no real reason for them to use a "local" language, since the vampires are the only locals in the area.


    Perhaps they invented a language of their own thousands of years ago, and use that whenever they get together? Very likely. It makes the most sense, and is most probably the actual answer. But then when did Darren learn it, and why does he never mention it in the books?!?


    Heh heh! To be honest, it was never something I thought about too deeply, and it goes to show just how much you can get away with if your story is strong enough. Some writers think it's important to include all the relevant details when telling a fantastical story, to cover even the most minor of explanations, so that readers can fully understand the world that is being created for them. But in truth, it's amazing the amount that you can leave out. At the end of the day, the story is king. Give readers characters they can care about and get invested in. Throw lots of crafty plot twists their way. Build up to some shocking reveals and have your heroes go on a journey of change and enlightenment. If you do all that, virtually no one will care about the "small" details... such as what language everyone is actually speaking!!






    SPOILERS!!! I do not recommend reading this post unless you have read both Lake of Souls (book 10 of The Saga of Darren Shan) and Ocean of Blood (book 2 of The Saga of Larten Crepsley).


    A fan called Nikki-Lou was re-reading my Saga Of Larten Crepsley series recently, and came to a scene in book 2 that suddenly made her stop and her head spin. There was a character in the book called Daniel Abrams, who has a small but crucial role to play in the story. First time round, she didn't think anything more of it, just read straight on. This time, though, her thoughts darted back to my original vampire Saga, and a character in book 10 called Spits Abrams. Was this just a big coincidence? Surely Mr Tiny couldn't be THAT cruel and devious!


    Heh heh! It was no coincidence, and yes, Mr Tiny IS that devious! Daniel and Spits ARE one and the same -- that was why I had Daniel spitting so much in the book. I thought most readers would twig that Daniel was a young Spits Abrams, but in retrospect I maybe needed to find a way to make it even clearer, as many missed it -- perhaps I should have had one of the other sailors openly refer to him by his nickname at some point. Then again, I think that makes the link all the sweeter for those who DID spot it and put two and two together!






    I stumbled across this drawing of Darren from my Cirque Du Freak/Saga of Darren Shan series over on Twitter a while ago. It's by a Japanese fan, but I wasn't able to decipher the name. It puzzled me at first. It was clearly labelled as a drawing of Darren Shan, but I couldn't work out what part of the story it related to. Then my gaze focused on the streaks of red, and suddenly it clicked and my brain put two and two together, and... well... I'd be lying if I said a sizeable lump didn't rise in my throat.


    (If you're unsure about the scene, as I was, even after reading the above and staring hard at the picture, all I'll say as a way of direction is... book 9, Killers of the Dawn.)



    IT'S A WRAP!



    And that's it for March. Mrs Shan and I took Dante to the circus for the first time last month. Sadly, the Cirque Du Freak wasn't playing in Limerick, but Tom Duffy's Circus was a more than adequate substitute, and I'd highly recommend a trip if it comes to a venue near you any time soon. You just KNOW you're gonna have a great time at a show that starts with five men on motorbikes in a Globe Of Death! March is set to be a momentous month for the Shan clan, as if all goes well we will be welcoming our second little monster into the family fold. I'll be back at the start of April with all the latest news and updates, and maybe a photo or two of the new arrival. Until then, all my bloody best, Darren Shan. x x x



    Follow Darren Shan on Facebook and Twitter. He also has a (very rarely updated!) YouTube page.





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