Plot Outline:The first volume in a noirish, gritty urban fantasy for adults from the bestselling author otherwise known as Darren Shan. Quick-witted and cocksure, young upstart Capac Raimi arrives in the City determined to make his mark. As he learns the tricks of his new trade from his Uncle Theo -- extortion, racketeering, threatening behaviour -- he’s soon well on his way to becoming a promising new gangster. Then he crosses paths with The Cardinal, and his life changes forever. The Cardinal is the City and the City is The Cardinal. They are joined at the soul. Nothing moves on the streets, or below them, without the Cardinal’s knowledge. His rule is absolute. As Capac begins to discover more about the extent of the Cardinal’s influence on his own life he is faced with hard choices. And as his ambition soars ever higher he will learn all there is to know about loss, and the true cost of ultimate power!
Author Notes:I began writing Procession of the Dead, then known as Ayuamarca, on October 18th 1993, when I was just 21 years old. I finished the first draft in a month, wrapping it up on November 17th. It was 227 pages. I typed it, so I can’t give an accurate word count.The original idea came to me when I was watching the movie Barton Fink. I loved the weirdness of the Coen Brothers and wanted to write a book that captured some of that style of eccentricity. I had an idea for a quirky book about a young man who gets into the insurance business and hooks up with a very wacky mentor. As I mulled it over, it became apparent that the mentor needed to have more power than a normal insurance agent, and I began to gravitate towards the notion of making him a gangster. While I didn’t move all the way away from my original quirky intentions, I quickly realised it needed to be darker and more multi-layered, and the book steadily developed into something more serious than I had initially invisaged.
The Incan angle came almost by accident, after I’d already plotted most of the book. I wanted a weird-sounding name for the novel, and vaguely recalled something in a Fortean Times diary which had been released earlier that year. (The Fortean Times is a magazine devoted to strange occurrences, UFOs, ghosts, etc.) Flicking through the diary, I found a page which listed the names of the months as used by the Incas. As soon as I spotted the word “Ayuamarca” and read its translated description - “procession of the dead” - I knew I had my title. But I also knew I had my structure — if I broke the book down into twelve parts, I could give the name of each month to the chapters, and also use some of the names for my cast of characters. Although the book changed drastically between its first draft and it’s publication and now its subsequent re-publication, that twelve act structure is almost exactly the way it was when I first came up with it.
The Incas weren’t essential to the story I wanted to tell, but having gone with the title of Ayuamarca, I wanted to do a bit more with them. At some stage between the first and second draft, I saw a TV programme about Macchu Picchu and this provided me with fresh material which I could incorporate — the watana, the villacs, the Inti Watana, etc. I visited Macchu Picchu after the book had been published. I wish I could have gone while I was still writing and editing the novel, but back then I had virtually no money (I was drawing the dole for most of the time!), so a working visit wasn’t a possibility.
I wrote the second draft of the novel in 1994 and 1995 (maybe even just 1995 — I’m not 100% certain). I had a job in a TV cable company at the time, and worked on the draft at weekends, writing an average of 20 pages each weekend. The second draft was almost double the length of the first. Without altering the structure dramatically, I found ways to flesh out characters, extend scenes, and do more with the bones of the story I’d lain down more than a year earlier. Ayuamarca was a sharp learning curve for me. I’d written several first drafts of novels by that stage, but this was only the second time I’d re-written a book, and it seemed like I was figuring out more about the craft of writing every weekend. Knowledge of editing would come later, as I’d gradually come to realise that less is sometimes more, but this was when I first began to stretch myself and take stories beyond the barest bones stage.
I was proud of the second draft and I decided this was the perfect time to test the waters of professional writing. I quit my job, went on the dole, and started writing full-time. I was living at home with my parents, so I was far from uncomfortable, but I had very little play money for the next 5 or 6 years. But I was writing for a living, and that was all that mattered to me — I was living the dream.
I got an agent fairly quickly. Having read The Writers And Arists Yearbook some time earlier, I went through its list of agents and picked out five at random. (I had submitted the first draft directly to publishers, to see what sort of a response it would draw, but swiftly realised that was a waste of time — I think a good agent is essential if you want to carve out a career as a writer, especially today, when the business is more cut-throat and fine-tuned than ever before.) I photocopied the first 50 pages of the book five times, wrote up a covering letter, and sent it off into the night. I was ready to go to another five if I drew a blank first time round, and another five after that, and another five after that. I knew how difficult even getting an agent could be, and I was prepared to be patient. I was in this game for the long haul.
As things turned out, I never needed to face that second round. I went to London for Christmas and New Year’s 1995. Early in January, the telephone rang and a man called Christopher Little asked for me. He’d responded to my submission a few months earlier and asked to see the rest of the book. Now he wanted to let me know that he liked it, and was interested in possibly representing me. He said the book needed a lot more work, but if I was prepared to re-write, he’d try to help me knock it into shape. I said I was more than happy to have another crack at it, and more than twelve years later, Chris is still my agent (and still helping me sharpen up sluggish early drafts!!).
With the help of Chris and one of team, a guy called Gerry Vaughan-Hughes, I did some strong editing, tightened up the book, and added some new elements. One of those elements was the sinister Paucar Wami, who became one of the lynchpins of The City series. I’d already written the first draft of Hell’s Horizon (the second City book) by this stage, and that was where Paucar Wami originated. I decided to include him in Ayuamarca too, and although he doesn’t have a huge role in the book, I think he gave it a nice extra dimension which it was previously lacking.
Eventually the book was ready to be submitted, but the path to publication was far from smooth. Publishers weren’t sure what to make of the book. It had a bizarre title, and it couldn’t be easily categorised. I still have difficulty putting the book in a corner — is it horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi? I don’t know. I don’t think it matters either - it’s just a damn good book - but publishers don’t see things the same way that writers do! It took us about a year to convince a publisher to take a chance on it, but finally Orion came on board and snapped it up for the grand sum of £5000. That was big money for me back then!!!
I liked my editor at Orion, a young guy called Simon Spanton. He helped me work some more on the book and made some very good suggestions. But although I worked quickly, it was a slow oad to publication, and the book didn’t see print until February 1999. In truth, I probably could have done with another six months to polish it off to my satisfaction. I was still learning about the editing process, finding different ways to pace and tell a story. Ayuamarca was at least one more draft shy of being, in my mind, a really good book. It needed one more round of tightening and pruning. But time ran out and I had to publish it as it stood. I was never entirely happy about that, and always looked upon the book as unfinished business. I promised myself that if the book was every republished, I would go back and re-edit, to do true justice to the story. It took eight years, but in the end I got to do the edit I wasn’t advanced enough to execute first time round. I also gave the book its new name — one of the things I realised early on was that people couldn’t pronounce Ayuamarca, nor understand it if I told them the name in conversation. Simon had strongly urged me to change it, but being a first-time author, I hadn’t wanted to start my career with a big capitulation. While I’m glad in a way that I stuck to my guns, I’m a lot gladder that I now have the opportunity to give the book a title which I can at least state clearly and confidently when giving an interview!!!
Ayuamarca was originally slated to be published by a New Fiction branch of Orion, but during the drawn-out publication process, it got moved to the Millennium imprint, an outlet for pure science-fiction books. I always felt uneasy about this, as there’s actually very little sci-fi in the novel, and indeed the only real criticism that came the book’s way in reviews was from sci-fi reviewers, who complained huffily that it wasn’t what they considered science-fiction.
But in all honesty there were very few negative reviews. Most were very positive, and although the book wasn’t widely reviewed, the clippings that I collected were far more encouraging than any first timer has a right to expect. But, despite the good reviews, sales were slow, as they so often are for debut authors. It shifted about two thousand copies in its first year, which is where it stuck. I think the title certainly played against it. And I think it was misrepresented as science-fiction, which didn’t help. But also, being as objective as I can be, I think the book was a bit bloated. Chapters were longer than they needed to be. I’d find a good way to say something, but then spend another three or four lines elaborating on my description. It wasn’t as pacy as it needed to be. It had a confusing prologue. I look back at it now and I have to say, hand on heart, that while two thousand copies sold was probably a bit less than the book deserved, it doesn’t count as one of the most cheated books of all time!!!!
But that’s not to say it was a bad book. On the contrary, I believed that with a bit more work - that one last edit which time had denied me - it could be a VERY good book. I was backed up in this belief by the responses of a small group of very fervent fans, most of whom picked the book up having read my children’s books (Cirque Du Freak et al) which I began to publish in January 2000. These guys LOVED Ayuamarca. Indeed, some hailed it as my best work. They were furious that it had failed commercially, annoyed that it was so hard to find a copy of the sequel, Hell’s Horizon, and aghast that they couldn’t read the third book of the trilogy. A few tried mounting petitions to force my publishers to bring out City of the Snakes, or pleaded with me to make it available online. I did consider that option, but I wanted to wait a while, to see if any publishers came back into the equation. I’m a very patient person when it comes to my books. I didn’t mind waiting five years … ten … maybe even more.
Fortunately for those fans chomping at the bit, I didn’t have to wait quite that long. The publishers of my children’s books, HarperCollins, became interested in my adult novels. They asked my agent to read them. They liked them. And they asked me if they could republish them.
And I said no.
I was reluctant because they wanted to publish the books under my Darren Shan name. I realsed Ayuamarca as Darren O’Shaughnessy, and the reason I changed it for Cirque Du Freak was so that children wouldn’t pick up Ayuamarca thinking it was a kid’s book. I wanted there to be a clear distinction between the books I wrote for adults and the books I wrote for younger readers. When Collins approached me and asked to buy Ayuamarca and release it as a Darren Shan book, I had no hesitation in turning them down. I was anxious to see the book republished, but not at any expense.
Luckily, they gently persisted. They didn’t let the matter drop. They really liked the books and wanted to publish them. They presented a strong case for letting them buy the rights, and agreed to compromise on the name if I was willing to keep the Shan brand. I suggested O D Shan which could stand, of course, for OverDose Shan, but also Older Darren Shan. That tickled my fancy, but nobody else’s!!! In the end we settled on D B Shan, D B being the initials of two of my middle names — my full sobriquet, as listed on my birth cert, is Darren William Barry O’Shaughnessy.
Having agreed on the name, I was happy to let Collins have the books, and once the contract was signed, I returned to Ayuamarca - now firmly established in my mind as Procession of the Dead - and set to work on re-editing it in 2007. It had been 8 or 9 years since I last worked on the book, but I slipped back into the world of Capac and The Cardinal with incredible ease. The story was still alive somewhere inside my mind, and it was like I’d only been away from it for a few weeks. But although I was instantly familiar with the work, I was now a much better writer than I had been back then, and I edited it at a furious pace, trimming it down without any sentimentality at all, cutting what needed to be cut, shortening what needed to be shortened, changing some bits that needed to be changed.
The resulting book is a novel I like to think the 21 year old me would have been delighted with. It’s what I was dreaming of doing with the story when I first thought of it. The curse of young writers, I think, is that we can sense what we want to do with a tale; we can picture it exactly the way we want it to be; we know where it should go, what it should do — but we don’t have the experience to do our vision justice. I always knew there was a good book in this story — it just took 14 years to squeeze it out!!!!!