Plot Outline:Larten Crepsley's life as a human ends one grey day in the factory where he has worked since he was eight years old... and his life as a vampire begins! The first of a four book series, this charts Larten's early years as a vampire's assistant, and his formative experiences once he is blooded. We meet some familiar faces from The Saga Of Darren Shan, along with new characters who were instrumental in his growth. It all starts here!!
Author Notes:PART ONE -- "I NEVER MEANT FOR THIS TO HAPPEN"
I never meant to write a series about Larten Crepsley. It was the furthest thing from my thoughts when I was working on "The Saga of Darren Shan". My Japanese publishers actually sounded me out about the possibility of a Mr Crepsley series several years ago. "The Saga" was hugely popular in Japan -- some of the books topped the general bestsellers chart -- and books about Mr Crepsley's past would have gone down a treat. I'm sure my other publishers would have been equally eager to publish them. From a commercial point of view, it was a no-brainer. But I have never written with one eye even half on the financial side of the business. For me, the story is everything, and I approach my work today exactly the same way I did when I was first starting out more than twenty years ago. I launch each new project from as pure a position as a can, not thinking about how it might fare in the marketplace, just trying to write the very best story that I can. Back then, I had no creative interest whatsoever in writing a prequel to "The Saga" -- I was already hard at work on "The Demonata" -- so I respectfully declined the opportunity.
I finished "The Saga" in late 2004 and ploughed ahead with "The Demonata". But as I was working on that series, I occasionally found myself thinking about Mr Crepsley. I didn't know much about his past when I was writing "The Saga". He was very mysterious in that series. He didn't like talking about his history. He was a lonely, aloof figure, one who had cut himself off from the world of vampires, and there were hints that he must have had a troubled background (we learnt through Gavner Purl that Mr Crepsley could have become a Prince, but had chosen to turn his back on the clan). But he wasn't a person who would discuss such things with his young student. And since I was trying to be as much like Darren Shan the character as I could be, I didn't pursue the truth about Mr Crepsley. I figured he was entitled to his privacy and his secrets.
But over a three year period, the thoughts kept coming. I'd wonder about Mr Cresley and what his life might have been like, how he first became a vampire, how he rose through the ranks, what sort of missions he might have been involved with, and of course most crucially, why he had walked away when he did. I figured out his starting point very early on, how and why he had run away from his human life. Bits of the rest began falling into place over the next few years, but slowly, and not always in order, a scrap here, a scene there. I wasn't actively pursuing the ideas. I still didn't plan to write a series about him. I was just curious. I wanted to know what his life had been like. It didn't matter if I never got to share my discoveries with other people -- I needed to know for myself.
"Dracula" was the turning point. The famous old vampire has been at the centre of the vampire world for more than a century now, and all other night creatures are still measured by his standard. I've read the book, of course, and seen many of the film versions and spin-offs which it has spawned. In 2006 the BBC filmed a TV adaptation of the book. It was a so-so version, nothing spectacular. But when I was watching it, I had an idea for a scene in Mr Crepsley's life. It was based on the ship scene in the "Dracula" book, when he is travelling across the sea to England, and kills everyone on board. The BBC movie fluffed the scene big-time -- it was a tame, forgettable scene in that version -- but as I watched it, it reminded me of the power of the scene as it was originally written. I always loved that part of the book, the vampire picking off the humans one by one, the terror of identifying with those unfortunate passengers and imagining what it would have been like to be on that ship, knowing a force of darkness was getting ready to move in on you as soon as the sun dropped...
My mind turned to Mr Creplsey and I found myself picturing a scene from his life which was set on a ship. It wasn't a riff on the "Dracula" scene -- my vampires are not evil killers -- but it was inspired by it. I'd thought about different parts of Mr Crepsley's life by that point, and imagined several scenes from his long back-story. But it was all academic, nuggets of information as opposed to full-blooded, dramatic scenes. This was different. This was like a movie clip playing inside my head, a huge, important moment in his life, and I could see it unfold in all its spine-tingling detail. It was a scene that refused to stay implanted in my head. It demanded to be shared with others. I knew instantly that it was too juicy a scene to waste. It had to be written down. But for me to do that, and give it the context that would make it powerful, I would have to write the rest of Mr Crepsley's story. It wouldn't work by itself. I could only do it full justice if I wrote a series of books about Mr Crepsley in which I could include it.
And so I set to work.
PART TWO -- ASSEMBLING THE CAST
I had several scenes in mind by the time I committed myself to writing a series about Mr Crepsley. Plus I had a title -- to tie in with the first series, it was always going to be called "The Saga of Larten Crepsley". (In the USA, of course, my first series was called "Cirque Du Freak", but that was the decision of my publishers -- I argued against it, but I was a young, powerless author back then, and I was overruled). I also had clues to his history from the original "Saga" -- for instance, we knew he was approximately 200 years old; that he had been in Paris with a fiancee around the turn of the 20th century; that he had mated with Arra Sails; that Evanna had given him his scar; that he had been on some sort of a mission with Gavner Purl; that he had a longstanding friendship with Mr Tall.
Luckily, I hadn't given TOO many details away already. If Mr Crepsley had spoken about his past a bit more in the original series, I would never have sat down to write a story about him. I had no interest in telling readers a story they already knew. Although there were certain bits that would be familiar, the vast bulk of it needed to be new material, stories which hadn't been mentioned or maybe even hinted at in "The Saga of Darren Shan." For the series to work, it needed to have its own dramatical rhythm, a rise and fall of plotlines that would carry readers along and thrill them and excite them and -- most crucially of all -- surprise them. I think my plot twists are one of the reasons my fans like my books so much. It wasn't going to be easy, shocking readers with twists when I was writing about a character whose ultimate end was known from the books already published, but because he had been so secretive in "The Saga of Darren Shan" it wasn't mission impossible either!
I gave a lot of thought to the story I wanted to tell. I didn't want to simply fill in the blanks and deliver a dry history lesson that would only be of interest to hardcore fans of the original series. This needed to have a life of its own, a reason for existing, a story worth telling. It quickly became apparent that this needed to have the same things at its heart that the original "Saga" had -- it needed to revolve around family and friends. Darren Shan's story sucked us all in because of the relationships that developed over the course of that series -- with Mr Crepsley, with Steve, with Debbie, with Harkat and the others. Larten Crepsley would only really work if I explored his story on that same level. Some relationships were set in stone from the start -- we knew that Seba would be a father figure, that he would have a romantic entanglement with Arra, that he would be close friends with Evanna and Mr Tall. Others would be with brand new characters who had never been mentioned in the first series -- again, because Mr Crepsley had said so little about his past to Darren, I had the freedom to do this, to put people into his life who were every bit as important to him as Arra and Seba, but who he would never have mentioned to his assistant.
But, crucially, I was also able to tweak Mr Crepsley's relationships with some of the characters that we knew from "The Saga", to add a new element to them. For instance, I'm sure everyone remembers Mika Ver Leth from the first series, and we knew that Mr Crepsley knew him -- but by having a young Mika devlop an interest in a young Arra Sails, I was able to add a bit more intrigue to the relationship between the two men!! This was vital for the series to work. We had to see more of the people in Larten Crepsley's life, character we knew vaguely from Darren Shan's point of view, but who were actually integral to Larten's life when seen from his own point of view in the past. Getting the cast right was paramount. Without them, the books just wouldn't be interesting enough to pull readers in.
Most of the characters fell into place easily enough. I knew Seba would be a crucial figure in book 1. I also knew I needed to give Larten a brother-type figure, a best friend. And I figured out his love-life fairly swiftly -- there are three women who are particularly important to him (well, four if you add Evanna into the mix). But it was one of the "tweaked" characters that proved most central to the structure of the series. I was pretty sure that I could make the first half work, when Larten was young and finding his way in the vampire world. But the second half was proving more problematic. Then I had a brainwave for giving Larten a completely unexpected link to one of the characters we know well from the first series. It became the backbone of the second half of the storyline, and once I had that in place, it was all systems go!! (You'll have to wait until book 3 to find out who I'm talking about!! I think it's one of the best and most bitterly sweet twists of either series...)
PART THREE -- WHEN IS A TRILOGY NOT A TRILOGY?
On January 7th, 2007, I started physical work on the series. First I went back through all 12 books of "The Saga of Darren Shan", jotting down all the facts abut Mr Crepsley and others from his past that I could find. It was vital that the two series tied smoothly together. I didn't want the new books to contradict the old. It was essential that if you were a new reader, and you read all four of the Larten Crepsley books first, and then read "The Saga of Darren Shan", that you wouldn't spot any mistakes or clashes of information. The Crepsley books do cast new light on many of the characers from the Darren Shan books, but the two had to be perfectly in sync in all other ways.
When I had my notes in place, I started writing down plot notes for all four books, experimenting with ideas, trying to piece different scenes together. I knew the storyline would cover 200 years, which is a massive amount of time for any one book to focus on, so I would have to be selective. I didn't want the series to drag, so that would mean leaping over certain years and decades of the vampire's life. I had to decide which parts of his life were most important from the point of view of the story I wanted to tell. The main narrative thrust of the books revolves around his decision to walk away from the clan -- that's what everything ultimately leads towards. It wasn't something he just blithely decided to do one day. So I decided to mainly keep in the parts that would link in with that. There are a few asides which perhaps were not utterly essential in terms of the key plot development, but not many. In a way, this is a detective series. We know that Mr Crepsley walked away from the clan at a key time in his life. This series sets out to uncover the secrets behind that decision.
When I started writing down my ideas, things began falling into place very quickly. I often advise young writers not to think TOO long and hard about their stories. You normally learn more by writing than you do by thinking about it. When I start jotting down ideas, that usually sparks more ideas, and it makes it easier to pull them together and make sense of them. Within a week of starting work on my notes, I was ready to begin, and with a fair amount of nerves, I threw myself back into the world of the orange-haired grouch and started writing.
One thing I was certain of when I began was that this would be a trilogy. I had thought of it as a three-book story arc since Day One. In its most basic terms, I saw the series as breaking down into three parts, each of which covered a core part of Larten Crepsley's life -- child Larten, teenage/early 20s Larten, adult Larten. But as I worked my way through the first draft of Book 1, I realised there was just too much story to tell. Even though I had decided to streamline the novels, to focus on the most vital parts of Larten's life, it was still a very large story, and if I went with my original structure, Book 1 was going to be massive, twice the size of Books 2 and 3. I realised I had to split that section of his life into two, to re-imagine the structure in simple terms as a four book series -- child/teenager Larten, early 20s Larten, late 20s/early 30s Larten, mature Larten. (I must stress, the series doesn't divide up quite as neatly or simplistically as that makes it sound -- that was just the guideline that I gave myself when starting out.)
The change of structure threw up a problem, in that I now didn't have a last dramatic act for the end of the first book. The scene on the ship, which had initially inspired me to actively start work on the series, was originally supposed to come at the end of the first book. I now saw that it would have more impact coming at the end of Book 2. I played around with the idea of creating a big fight scene to round out the first book, but ultimately I felt that would feel forced, and wouldn't tie in with the main thrust of the series. So in the end I took the rather bold move not to have a big cliffhanger at the end of the first book -- although it does end on a rather ominous note, and points the way towards the difficult years which lie in store for the charcacter. Some fans might feel the end of the first book is a bit of an anti-climax, but trust me, there will be gory, twist-filled climaxes galore in the next three novels!!
Finally, the title. For a long time the four books have different titles to those that they ultimately came to have. Larten uses a few different names over the course of his life (we heard about one of them, Vur Horston, in the first "Cirque Du Freak" book) and my original idea was to name each book after these names. Book 1 was going to be called "Larten", book 2 would have been "Quicksilver", Book 3 was "Vur Horston", and book 4 would have been "Mr Crepsley". But having thought about it for a few few years, in the end I decided the books required sharper, more enticing titles. The second, third and fourth proved quite challenging when it came to finding an apt title for them, but the first was relatively straightforward. In the book, Larten murders a man early on, abandons his human life and is spiritually re-born as a child of the night. Hence, "Birth of a Killer".
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Birth Of A Killer - USA sketch
Birth of a Killer back cover (Japan)
Birth Of A Killer - UK fourth draft
Birth Of A Killer - UK first draft
Birth Of A Killer (Korea)