• Issue 227 - June 2019

    01 June 2019



    Hi everyone, and welcome to the June issue of the Shanville Monthly. I'm starting the month in Madrid, where I'll be watching my football (soccer) team, Tottenham Hotspur, compete in the Champions League Final -- if we win, it's going to be an incredible month for me. Heck, even if we lose, it's going to be special anyway, as this is the first time we've ever made the final. All the gang in Vampire Mountain are keeping their fingers crossed for a famous Spurs victory!!! But enough about footie. Let's crack on with the real reason we're here, to catch up with all the latest Darren Shan and Darren Dash news and updates. Let's kick things off (sorry, couldn't resist a football pun!) with...





    Edinburgh is a beautiful, majestic city, worth a visit any time of the year, but it's especially worth visiting in August, when the Edinburgh International Book Festival runs for three glorious weeks. It was the first book festival I ever did a public event at, and I fell in love with it. I've been lucky enough to have been invited back ever since -- this year will be my 20th appearance in a row!!


    The details for the public events won't be announced until the 6th of June, but the Schools Programme has now opened for business, so I'm free to reveal that I will be doing an event for school students on Thursday, August 22nd, at 11.45am. If you're a Scottish teacher or librarian who would like to bring students to see me give my talk (or any of the other amazing authors who are taking part over the two weeks of the Schools Programme) then CLICK HERE for more information and details of how you can apply.


    If you're a student who would love to come along, get some friends interested and try pitching a proposal to your school teacher or librarian, and maybe you can convince them to apply on your behalf. Hey, you never know until you try!!!






    A fan called Mathias emailed me a while ago to say that he was about to start re-reading my Demonata series, but should he start with the first book -- Lord Loss -- and read them in the order published, or should he start with the story that is set the earliest -- Bec -- and read them in chronological order?


    For those unfamiliar with The Demonata, it features three narrators, and the over-arcing storyline dances backwards and forwards in time between them, especially in the first half of the series. You certainly CAN read them chronologically -- starting with Bec, then Demon Thief, then Lord Loss, Slawter, Blood Beast and onwards -- but I think the story works best if you read them in the order I arranged the books. There's nothing random about the structure of The Demonata -- I planned it very carefully, even delicately, sometimes in ways that most readers probably didn't even consciously notice. (For instance, are you all aware that the order of the narrators is the same in reverse as it is going forward? That was to play on one of the themes from the series, that time can be circular.) For all the gore and action, it's an intricate puzzle box of a story, one that stretched me to the very limits of my story-telling abilities and took me quite a bit further beyond where I thought I could go.


    So, yeah, by all means DO read the books chronologically if you wish, especially if you're re-reading them like Mathias and are curious to find out how the story plays out that way. But for the very BEST reading of the series... trust the writer!


    If you don't own The Demonata, you can buy the full set of the UK paperback editions at an incredibly low bargain price over on Lowplex UK -- less than £20 for all ten books! They ship worldwide, and even with far-flung shipping costs included, they still work out at good value, no matter where you live. You can also get the set through Amazon stores and other places, so do look around for the very best deal you can find -- though Lowplex are usually very hard to beat, especially if you live in the UK or closeby. They have all my other series on sale too, at similarly giveaway prices.





    There was an interesting article over on the Book Riot site recently, about what is the longest YA Book Series, based on either the number of books or the page count. It's a trickier one to call than you might expect -- for instance, do you include prequels? And how do you gauge word count as opposed to page count? And the limits are obviously defined by those series that the person writing the article is familiar with, and also how they define a YA series -- thus, my Cirque Du Freak series is included (although the Mr Crepsley prequel books are not factored in), while my Demonata and Zom-B series are not, even though I would say that CDF might more accurately be described as a middle grade series, while the other two are definitely YA.


    Anyway, the whole point of an article like this is to get people talking and arguing, so the end result should be seen more as a conversation piece than a definitive answer. I certainly enjoyed it, and admired the compiler's attempts to be as comprehensive as possible, even though it's a mercurial task. To find out what answers Book Riot came up with, and to compare them with your own, CLICK HERE.






    I was very touched by this short article by Khadija Osman, a member of staff at the Round Table Books store in Brixton, London, talking about the impact that my character Debbie Hemlock had on her when she was a young girl.


    I've always tried to write about different types of people in my books. It's not that I'm overly PC or trying to provide a wider appeal to boost sales -- it just seems like a natural thing to me as a writer, to try and observe and understand the world through the eyes and minds of others. A lot of my key characters ARE white and male, because I'm white and male, so it's obviously the perspective I most readily identify with. But I'm always wondering what life would be like if I was black or Asian or a girl or a woman or, or, or...


    I can never truly know, of course -- well, unless reincarnation is a genuine thing and I've been those people before or will be them further down the line -- but that doesn't stop me wondering, and exploring those alternatives with my stories. I think it's a good thing for us humans to do, to put ourselves in the shoes of others, even if they're shoes that we can never actually fill. Bridges between us can only be built if we're willing to study the gaps between us from both sides.



    PASTA WHO?!?


    "Who the hell is Pasta O'Malley?!?"


    That was a question posed by a fan over on Twitter last month. The tweeter had re-read the series, spotted his name in the final book, and couldn't recall him ever being mentioned in it before. What was going on?!?


    The answer was to be found on the Darren Shan Wiki page, which gave a full run-down on the two brief mentions of Pasta -- and I have to be totally honest here -- I had to look that up to find out! I'd completely forgotten about the character!!


    To be fair to myself, Pasta in the books has the most fleeting of fleeting appearances. He's mentioned very briefly in book 8, but doesn't actually appear in it, and then is seen very briefly in book 12, but he's dead. Not much action for poor old Pasta, I'm afraid!!


    I forget a lot about a book and a series when I move on, especially when a good chunk of time has passed, but when I'm creating, I'm fully immersed in that world, taking care to put a polish on even the finest of details -- which is how an obscure, minor character like Pasta, who was only name-checked once before, can pop up (albeit dead) in a crucial scene in the final book. I try to make the worlds of my books as real as possible, and in real life, not everyone is a star. We're surrounded in our day to day lives by Pasta O'Malleys, people with full and rich histories of their own, but who only briefly register in the stories of OUR lives -- just as we only briefly register in the stories of THEIR lives.


    I've always liked books that give nice little moments to far-fringe characters -- David Eddings did it in his lovely Belgariad series, where a pair of guys are met fleetingly in one of the books, then turn up again unexpectedly in a tiny but poignant moment much later in the story line -- and that's why I try to include a few Pasta O'Malleys every now and again, along with the more memorable heroes and villains.


    Sorry for forgetting about you, Pasta -- I'll try not to forget you again -- and I hope this post makes up for it!!!






    The students at Team Kolbe House are studying Cirque Du Freak, and were challenged to come up with adverts for a vampire's assistant. You can see their wonderfully creative responses in the photo. This is a great example of how reading can be both fun AND educational. Inspiring teachers know that you can tease much more out of students if you find alternative ways for them to muse upon the text of their favourite books, rather than just making them write dull, straight essays about them. Bravo for the imaginative teaching vampire of Team Kolbe House!!





    An Italian fan called Frankie is working their way through my Saga Of Darren Shan/Cirque Du Freak series, and writing a review of each one in turn. Frankie recently reviewed the 7th, Hunters Of The Dusk, and you can find the review by CLICKING HERE -- if you're not an Italian speaker, you can copy and paste the text into Google Translate or a simialr service for a very good translation. At one point in the review, Frankie noted:


    "Arriving at the seventh book, one might think that there is nothing left to add to the story. Too bad it's not like that: for poor Darren the adventures (and troubles) never end."


    I think this was a well-made and important point. I've never been interested in repeating a story pattern over the course of a long series. I don't find a winning formula and stick to it. I'm always keen to explore with my stories, to take them in unexpected directions, to surprise and disorient readers as I lead them down channels and side-roads that they weren't expecting. Thus a series like Cirque Du Freak can start out with three low-key, small-scale books, before expanding out to take in Vampire Mountain, the Lake of Souls, a full-on war, and everything else that I packed in. The twists and turns don't work for every reader -- I'm sure there are plenty of fans who wish I just stuck to whatever style of mine it is that they like best, whether that's the outright fantasy of The Thin Executioner or the full-blown horror of Lord Loss or the politically-driven Zom-B books -- but I think they've played a big part in making my books work for the majority of my readers who like story-telling on a vast and unpredecitable scale. You never know exactly what you're getting with a Darren Shan series -- even seven books in.


    Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Only the readers can decide. But I'll tell you one thing for sure -- it's a Shan thing!!!





    A Spanish reviewer recently reviewed the last three books of my Saga Of Darren Shan/Cirque Du Freak series, on the site El Club De Las Sebaduras. It wasn't an easy undertaking for the reviewer, because they had read the first nine books in Spanish, but my Spanish publishers stopped releasing the series at that point, which meant they had to look elsewhere -- I'm not sure if they read the books in English with the help of a translator, or if there are fan-translated versions of them online. Since I would have to report it if I found out it was the latter, I prefer to believe that it was the former!  Either way, you can read the review by CLICKING HERE and copying and pasting the text into Google Translate or a similar service -- but be warned, the review does contain some SPOILERS for the last few books.




    I like the @BookMoles group over on Twitter, where students post pictures of themselves holding a book that they've recently read in front of their faces, along with a very short review of it. A pupil called Ben recently posted a pic of himself with my Zom-B Baby book, which he deemed:


    "Intense. Gory. Excellent."


    Many writers fear and avoid reviews, but that's the kind of feedback that I think even the most thin-skinned of us could happily live with!


    Personally, I've always been intrigued by reviews for my books, and read every one that I find, be it good, bad or indifferent. It's not that I like having my ego stroked, or enjoy being angered or saddened by an especially harsh review -- I just like to gauge how my work is being received. An author's view of their books doesn't always tally with the view of most readers. I've published books that I absolutely love, which have only met with mild interest, and others that didn't entirely satisfy me, which have sent fans wild. (And, no, before anyone asks, I'm not naming any titles!)


    From a purely academic point of view, I like to know how my stories have gone down with readers, if they've been given a collective thumbs up or thumbs down. Reader response to previous work doesn't impact on what I do in the future, but still -- I like to be well informed.


    I collect every review that I find for my books over in the Reviews section of my website. I haven't updated it recently (Zom-B Bride was the last book that I added new reviews for), but if you ever want to find out what the general reviewer consensus is like for any of my novels, CLICK HERE and embark on the path to enlightenment -- but be warned -- it's a LONG path as there are a LOT of reviews!!!





    The above post about a boy who'd enjoyed Zom-B Baby and posted a short review of it on Twitter reminded me of some harsher critics, who succeeded in having the book removed from the shelves of a supermarket chain -- and, to be honest, I kind of sympathised with them, even though it obviously hurt my book sales. Here's how I summed it up in my Author Notes for the book a while back:


    "When the book came out in the UK, it ended up being removed from the shelves of a prominent supermarket. Because books are treated like any other item in a supermarket (e.g. a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread) the staff in those stores aren't aware of the literary differences between a book for a 4 year old and a book for a 14 year old -- hence, all "children's books" tend to be lumped together. This meant that Zom-B Baby ended up being stuck very close to copies of the Peppa Pig books, and angry parents complained that the VERY scary cover was frightening their young ones! I guess that answers the question of who would win in a battle between zombies and Peppa Pig!!!!"




    If you'd like to read all of my notes for the book, you can find them, along with my notes for every other book that I've ever published, over on my web site, by CLICKING HERE.





    As a writer of many very bloody books, it's not often that my works gets features on a site like... Raise Vegan! I'm sure I have lots of vegan and vegetarian fans -- there's no reason why a person shouldn't have a taste for literary horror just because they abhor the horrors of meat-eating -- but I'm equally sure that there aren't too many vegan and veggie sites recommending my books as the perfect accompaniment to a healthy, delicious meal of Sugar Snap Pea And Carrot Soba Noodles!


    But as this is a universe where just about anything that CAN happen eventually DOES happen, last month I spotted a mention for Cirque Du Freak in an article on Raise Vegan, to link in with National Library Week. It listed three books that teenage boys might love to read -- and Cirque Du Freak was one of them. To check out the article, along with a whole world of vegan-related items, CLICK HERE.


    I'm not sure if the character of RV from my vampire books would be beaming or fuming about this one...






    Early in May I posted about Cirque Du Freak getting a shout-out on the Raise Vegan web site (see above), and pondered what the character RV would have thought of it. Destiny (DesTiny) being what it (he) is, very few things in this universe exist in complete isolation, and connective links usually crop up sooner rather than later once a topic is highlighted. Thus, just a few days later, although it had been ages since I posted anything at all about RV, I was sent this photo of a vegetarian burger, by a fan called Laura. Her brother had spotted the Reggae Veggie burger and got excited, because at first he thought it said Reggie Veggie, which is RV's full nickname. I thought that too at first when I saw it, and even though we were both wrong, it's strange that it should pop up at this precise moment in time, so soon after the previous post.


    Coincidence? Destiny?


    I have no idea.


    But I know a small man in a yellow suit, with big green wellington boots, who probably does...





    I thoroughly enjoyed reading teacher Jon Love's review of Cirque Du Freak, though I was surprised at first to see it mentioned as a "classic," as I normally associate that term with much older books that have been around for years and years. Then I remembered that this coming January will mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Cirque Du Freak, so, yeah, I guess the cap might just about be starting to fit. I suppose the next stage will be kids moaning about that "rubbish old book that's SO out of date!!"    To read the full review, CLICK HERE.






    I recently received a lovely email from a fan of my Darren Dash books for adults, which put a big smile on my face. The fan is called Tatyana, and she lives in Bulgaria, where Sunburn -- the book in question -- is set. Here's what Tatyana had to say about it, and I'll tell you afterwards why I grinned so broadly!


    "I just finished reading 'Sunburn' (it took me awhile to accept and give a chance to your Not-Darren-Shan-or-Mr-Crepsley-Saga books). I will be as quick as possible - you nailed Bulgarian nature and sights. I wouldn't comment on the people because I've heard stories and am willing to believe some are as you have described. I can't find the words to tell you how excited I was while reading a story in English that was situated in my country - the familiarity really hits at the right spot. The book is fascinating and it brought your 'Darren' magical world upon our Bulgarian reality - though while reading the story, I didn't find it magical at all but horrific! (I told my parents and they got interested and excited by the story. They made me retell it to them in Bulgarian! - well, I skipped some disturbing details) I'll stop here - don't want to take too much of your time. I thought you might find the Bulgarian perspective (more of a quick comment) of the book interesting - or rather I don't think others would see and appreciate the background check you've done, the accuracy... as we would. So thank you for the amazing experience!"


    I've heard from a couple of other Bulgarian fans who said the same thing that Tatyana said, about the book accurately capturing Bulgaria, and the smile I smiled was a smile of huge relief -- because I've never been to Bulgaria!!!


    Generally speaking, I don't do a lot of research for my books, as the majority are either set nowhere specific at no exact time (like Cirque Du Freak), or somewhere that I know extremely well (like Zom-B, where I used London landmarks that I was deeply familiar with). There are a few exceptions -- Bec was one of them, because it was set in Ireland at a very clear time in the past, so I wanted it to be as historically spot-on as possible, which meant digging into the past -- and 'Sunburn' is one of those few. I could have set it somewhere vague, but felt that the story called for real locations. I toyed around with various countries, settling in the end on Bulgaria because of its landscape. The only fly in the ointment was, as I said above, I'd never been there.


    Originally I planned to go on a trip to study the landscape, the towns and cities, the villages, the people, and of course the mountains and forests. But then I started using the internet to do some research, and was amazed by just how much I was able to learn about the place online. I still meant to go on an actual visit to the country, but as I kept on surfing the web, it became something of a challenge for me inside my head, and on the spur of the moment I decided to see if it was possible to use only the resources of the internet to build up what would hopefully be an accurate representation of the Bulgarian countryside, living quarters, and its people.


    It was a gamble, one that could have misfired spectacularly, but based on the feedback I've had so far, from Tatyana and other fans like her, I seem to have pulled it off. Hence the smile. Phew!!!!


    If you'd like to learn more about Sunburn and my other Darren Dash books for adults, visit www.darrendashbooks.com





    Checkmate! CLICK HERE for a nice, short promo video for Lord Loss, made by a fan called Brandon. Nothing fancy on the technical front, but it goes to show that sometimes simple can be very effective.






    I had a trip down memory lane recently when shifting some papers around in my office. Pretty much all of the fan art that I feature on Facebook and my blog these days is sent to me electronically, but back in the old days it was mostly posted to me by fans (or given to me by them at signings and events). I used to keep those drawings in a folder (indeed, some old pieces are still inside it, waiting -- probably in vain, I'm afraid -- to be processed) until I had time to scan and upload them. If you're interested in checking out the old fan art (some dating back almost twenty years) it's still up on my site: CLICK HERE


    Anyway, back to the point.


    I hadn't looked at that art folder in ages, and it has become buried under a mound of other bits and pieces. A short while ago, I stumbled across it, and noted the two words written on the cover -- ART, whose meaning is obvious and, RAMPANEZE, which is more puzzling until the story behind it is explained.


    Many moons ago, back when I was putting together my ideas for Tunnels of Blood (the third book of my Saga Of Darren Shan/Cirque Du Freak series), I had planned to feature an evil vampire in the story. But the world had seen more than its share of evil vampires, even by that stage, so I started to re-think my approach, and decided to come up with a breakaway group of vampires, with their own beliefs and customs. While these ideas were bubbling around in my head, one day I was making up stories to tell to a young cousin of mine called Kealan. I was always doing that for Kealan and his brothers (and later his sister), but on this day I decided to encourage him to use HIS imagination and tell a story to me. He came up with some weird kind of monster which he called a RAMPANEZE. I liked the sound of that and wrote it down on the folder which ended up being used for fan art, thinking it might be a good name for the breakaway gang of vampires that I was planning to write about. In the end I decided to tweak it slightly and replace the R with a V.


    And thus were born the VAMPANEZE!



    IT'S A WRAP!



    And that's it for June. Although I gather together all the main Darren Shan related news items here every month, there's a lot that I share on my daily blog and Facebook and Twitter that doesn't make its way here -- such as tattoosfan art and more. To give you a taste of what you're missing if you're only checking up on me once a month, here's a stunning drawing of Mr Crepsley and Arra Sails, by a fan called Eszter. If you'd like to see more like that, start following me on the blog, Facebook and Twitter, and I'll do as much as I can to spoil you rotten on a more regular basis! Either way, I'll be back here at the start of July with a roundup of all the latest news and updates. 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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