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Interview

TUBRIDY RADIO SHOW - 13/feb/2006

interviewer: Ryan Tubridy

 
On Monday, February 13th, 2006, I was interviewed by Ryan Tubridy on his radio show in Ireland. This was temporarily available online, and while it was, super-fan Karen K transcribed it, typing out the full interview! Bits that she couldn't decipher are marked -------. Please bear in mind, as you read this, that it was a live radio interview, and this is a direct transcript, so it won't read as smoothly as most of my interviews!!! Oh, and by the way, I've actually sold more than 10 million books worldwide, but I didn't think it would be polite to correct Ryan live on air!!!!!!!!

Host: Now, let’s move on to our next guest. He’s sold 9 million books worldwide. The last book of his series outsold “The Da Vinci Code” in this country. He inhabits a dark world of vampires, freak shows, poisonous insects, and curses. And naturally enough, the -----. Darren Shan joins us now, promoting World Book Day, which is coming up in March, but ahead of that, he’s bringing out a new novel for one euro fifty as it happens and he’s going to give us all the details. Darren, good morning.

Darren: Good Morning.

Host: How are you?

Darren: I’m not too bad, thanks a lot.

Host: I’m just fascinated by your success, it’s just incredible. So let me start by saying congratulations on that.

Darren: Thank you.

Host: And I noticed a kind of rather thick London accent. You’re a Limerick man. What’s your, what’s your -----?

Darren: Well, I was born in London. I moved back here to Limerick when I was six years old. I’ve lived here ever since. But I never lost the original cockney accent. It stuck with me like a curse.

Host: How did you get to keep it so strong, from the age of six, it must have been shoved in your throat.

Darren: It just stuck with me. To be honest, I’d love to get rid of it, cause every time I meet somebody for the first time, I’ve got to go through the whole thing, that I’m really Irish, I’m not from London. But this is what I sound like so there’s nothing I can do.

Host: No, not at all. I mean, absolutely it’s kind of a Limerick sound such as Jamie Oliver in some ways, just a little. Well, what, you are fully, fully Irish, now we’re not claiming you unfairly, now are we?

Darren: No, I’ve lived here since I was twenty-seven years of age. My real surname’s O\'Shaughnessy.

Host: Ok.

Darren: Shan is just a pen name I use for my children’s books.

Host: Very good. So, tell us a bit about World Book Day before we get stuck into your own whole success.

Darren: Well, World Book Day is on Thursday, March 2nd.

Host: Yeah.

Darren: It’s a great initiative. Basically, there will be several books released on the day, for one euro fifty each. They’re very short books, written especially for World Book Day. I’ve done one of those this year, called Koyasan.

Host: Yeah.

Darren: There’s another initiative called books for hospitals, which basically, in bookstores all around the country in March there are going to be special bins, and they’re asking people to go to the bookstore, buy a book, put it into the bin, and the collected books will be given to hospitals around the country.

Host: That’s wonderful, isn’t it? And so simple. As well, people can also put books in that they don’t want, necessarily…

Darren: Yep!

Host: Any that they might have them on their shelves at home.

Darren: Anything, basically. Adults, children, whatever you can give, it will go to hospitals.

Host: And there will be in shops around the country.

Darren: All around the country, in March, the whole month of March.

Host: You got your first typewriter at the age of fourteen. Was that where it all began, really?

Darren: Yeah, I mean, I’d been writing up until that stage, played around. I’d always wanted to be a writer. But I was fourteen, fifteen, I got my first typewriter. I found out I could actually type a lot quicker than I could write by hand.

Host: Yeah.

Darren: And I began writing in my spare time, after school, on holidays, weekends, and it’s just grown from there.

Host: And was there a TV script writing competition for ----- that triggered an interest in it as well?

Darren: There was, there used to be a show called Nothing to It. Pauline McLynn was on it, it was one of her first shows, and Michael Murphy.

Host: Oh, yes, yeah.

Darren: Gerry Stembridge used to write it.

Host: Yeah.

Darren: And towards the end of the series, every week would be about jobs, it was about these three teenagers who got a different job every week, so it had this whole educational aspect to it as well, but it was mostly just a comedy show. And during the season, they asked teenagers to send in a script, and the winning script got turned into an episode. I didn’t actually win it, I was one of the runners-up, so I got to go up and appear on the show. That was my first brush with success.

Host: And on you went then to get into books. But your first book was an adult book, is that right?

Darren: That’s right. I actually started out writing books for adults. Um, I’ve had two published, and my first adult book came out back in 1999. And I used my real name, Darren O\'Shaughnessy, when I was writing that one.

Host: Yeah.

Darren: Which is why I decided to use a pen name when I came to write for younger readers, because I didn’t want kids picking up my adult books, cause some of the material in that wasn’t really suitable.

Host: Sure, sure, and you’re aware of that, you don’t want to make, you want to make the division between the two quite clear.

Darren: Yeah, just keep them separate, two separate worlds, so when I’m talking about the kids books, I’m Darren Shan, talk about adult books, I’m Darren O\'Shaughnessy. So there’s no real, no real conflict.

Host: Ok, and The Saga of Darren Shan, right? 12-book series, where did he emerge from, what part of your dark soul did that come from?

Darren: I was just sitting in the car one day, and this is back in ‘97 and I just had an idea of a boy who meets a vampire at a circus and reluctantly becomes a vampire. And it was a very simple idea. I said, it was in 1997, so it was before Harry Potter, it was before children’s books were popular, well in terms of being, you know, nobody made money in children’s books back then. The standard wisdom was, you know, children’s writers don’t really make anything, you just do it cause you love doing it. And I had this idea for this book about a boy who becomes a vampire. I started writing it, I enjoyed it, I sent it to my agent, he liked it, and it just took off.

Host: And when you say took off, translated into 20 languages, sold in 30 countries, and million copies sold in the UK alone, 9 million worldwide, I mean, what is the attraction, to whom are you appealing mostly, do you think?

Darren: The attraction, I think is that, well, I think readers always like horror, they like, people like to be scared. It’s always, horror has always done well in publicized writing. I think why my books succeed probably is, I tell quite complex stories but in a very, very simple manner. So, I have 9 and 10 year olds reading my books, but I also have 15 and 16 year olds reading them. Cause they’re very, very dark books, there’s lots of characters, lots of twists, but they’re written very, very simply.

Host: Yes, yeah. And it’s a page-turning exercise as well.

Darren: Yeah, whenever I’m giving young writers advice, I always say, write the sort of books you like to read, or the sort of stories you like to read. And I love page-turners, I love Stephen King, I love Wilbur Smith, I love books that really move fast and have a lot going on. So that’s what I write.

Host: Right, right. And what a success it’s been. Do you attribute much of your influence to comics?

Darren: Yeah, I’m a big comics fan. The first comic I really got into Evil, back in 1980, it was relaunched.

Host: And you’re bringing me back there? Yes, yes?

Darren: All the way back to 2000 AD. I never really got into superheroes because you couldn’t get American superhero comics back when I was growing up. You know, I lived here in Limerick and you know, 2000 AD was as advanced as it got. But then in later times I got into Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and so on. So I’ve always been a big comics fan and yeah, a lot of my influences would come from comics. Especially, what I love about comics was the cliffhangers. Most comics would have a cliffhanger every week, or every month, and that’s something I’ve worked into my books, a lot of my books end on cliffhangers. When I take a story forward from book to book.

Host: Yeah, of course. I wonder what would have happened if your, what direction you might have gone with in, if your influence had been Beezer or Whizzer and Chips.

Darren: Well, I read those as well.

Host: Yeah, so did I. But in the meantime, you’ve found yourself in a position where financially, I take it, you’re not doing too badly. And, good on you for that. But it allowed you to indulge in an interest, in collecting, originally, original comic artwork. Is that right, you’re kinda going back?

Darren: Yeah, about five or six years ago, when I got online, I was checking out EBay, I realized a lot of the artwork of the comics that I liked is actually available for sale. And back in the old days you couldn’t just get it, because, you know, most of it was just sold in America.

Host: Yep.

Darren: But now EBay is opened up so everyone can pretty much get in on the act. So I started picking out pages from comics I really liked, just stories that I loved, and yeah, I’ve grown into that, I’ve grown into a bit of an art collector.

Host: I know you’re a committed blogger. And this being the weblog that people like to use. Do you get many handwritten letters, we talk about them on this show quite a bit.

Darren: I do, I get quite a lot. I’ve had a website now since 2000 and in the early days I used to reply to emails. That’s not possible anymore, because I get 20, 30, 40 emails a day. I do still reply to every letter I get.

Host: Do you?

Darren: I really, I love getting those. I think if somebody takes the time to sit down, write a letter, pay for a stamp, and post it to you, it’s only polite to write back. So I’m trying to keep on top of letters. I get probably about 20 or 30 letters a week or so.

Host: And you write a little note to each one of them?

Darren: Yeah, I don’t write a big long, long reply, but yeah, it’s nice to get a little handwritten note saying thanks and answer one or two questions if they ask them.

Host: That’s extremely thoughtful.

Darren: Well, the thing is, I’m in a nice position, able to go to Sotheby\'s and buy a Van Gogh because I have fans who buy the books. So I’ve never lost sight of that, you know, I’m in the position that I am because the fans. So, yeah, I think if you have a good relationship with those, it bodes well for the future.

Host: Do you think that American children are more inclined to write handwritten letters than, say, European children?

Darren: Yeah, the vast bulk of the letters I get are from America. I think over there, they have somewhat of a more positive attitude than we might have here. They believe, I think, if they send a letter, they’re going to get a response. While I think a lot of us over here think, that guy will never reply to me. So yeah, I get loads of letters from the States. They’re not always the most legible of letters, but I like the fact that they do go for it.

Host: We got a call from Austin who you met in, she’s the country librarian in ----- She said, Darren, you’re one of the few writers who can get boys in the 10 to 12 age group to read. His books are massively popular. Darren put on a show in the library on several occasions and the boys loved him. Would you consider going back there again? Austin wishes you all the best, Darren.

Darren: Hi Austin. Yep, I’ve always tour in some way or another. I’ll be doing a lot of stuff around May and June, that’s when I’ll have a new book coming out, and in the late year, probably around October, I’ll be touring around as well. Yeah, I had a good time there, that was around October 2004 was the last time I was up there.

Host: That’s a great library too. J.K Rowling, Darren, what do you think? Hero or villain?

Darren: I love her. I really like the books, and I think they’ve been brilliant for children’s books in general. As I said, when I wrote Cirque Du Freak back in 1997, children’s authors didn’t make fast money. Publishers didn’t pump money into children’s books. So when a children’s book came out, it would come out in a very, very small print run, and it would sell over time. It would take normally 5, 6, 10, 15 years for a book to really gain speed. Cause it was basically word of mouth that would spread a book. Harry Potter’s changed all that. It’s made it now so publishers are now more willing to take risks on books, they give them more publicity, they push them harder. So I think it’s been great for the entire children’s literature.

Host: Do you think from your travels, Darren, that book-reading is alive and well with the competition from TV, TVs in children’s rooms, computers, X-Box, iPod, you know, Gameboys, everything. Do you find the interest is still very much alive and well or is it diminishing ever so slightly? Can you tell if -----

Darren: I think it’s very alive and well. I think, if anything, the Internet is a boom for writers, because it makes it much easier to get a hold of books, to find out what’s hot, what isn’t. Because the trouble with books, especially children’s books is actually knowing what’s out there. There aren’t, there are very few magazines about children’s literature, it’s very rare that children’s authors turn up on television talking about their books. So, I think children can sometimes find it hard to know what’s new, what’s coming out, what should I be reading? And the internet had made it much easier. There’s loads of great sites now you can go on, you can see what other people are reading, you can read comments, or you have a way of communicating with authors or finding out about them. So, no I think its going great at the moment. There’s this misperception that books don’t sell, but I think, in the travels that I’ve done, there’s loads and loads of readers out there.

Host: Text in, I’ve been a fan of Darren’s for the last five years, he’s just amazing, keep at it. So there’s a little bit of encouragement from a fan, and Helen, good morning to you, says Darren is a real gentleman, he stayed to meet the children at Armani’s, I presume that’s Armani’s book shop in Limerick.

Darren: I’ve been there several times.

Host: I’m sure you have, long after you were supposed to be, you stuck around. I get the impression that you generally enjoy the company of your readers. That is to say that the younger people who read your books, you know, you seem to like them, as opposed to sitting in some cave, writing, dispatching your manuscript to the publishers.

Darren: Yeah, I mean, to me that’s the most enjoyable part, is going out to book signings, to school events, libraries, basically, I’m a big fanboy. You know, I was a fan of writing years before I became a writer.

Host: Yes.

Darren: And I used to go to comic conventions.

Host: Did you?

Darren: I’d meet my comic heroes, I’ve been standing in line for an hour waiting to get a signature, and I know what its like to be a fan. So, when I go along to events and stuff, I know it’s exciting for those who come to them. So I try to you know, to chat with them, to sign all the books that they bring, it doesn’t take much to be nice, and for me that’s the enjoyable part.

Host: Do you censor yourself when you’re writing, because you are writing kind of horror stories. Do you find yourself going, Whoops that’s a bit much, I’ll hold back off that.

Darren: I do, yes, I always bear in mind that I am writing for, well I say younger readers, I also said that I have 15 or 16 year olds reading my books, but I also have 9 and 10 year olds. So, even though I put in lots of dark material, I always bear in mind that, you know, some of the readers won’t necessarily be ready for complete darkness. So, yeah, I do censor myself, I do. My yardstick is, I do lots of school events and library events, and anything that I would feel uncomfortable reading out live, in front of a group of children, I won’t put into the books. So if there’s something especially gory or juicy, I’ll save that for one of my other books later in life.

Host: Very good. And do you think that adults would enjoy The Saga of Darren Shan?

Darren: I get loads of feedback from adults. Normally, its quite guilty, its like a mum sends me a letter saying I know I shouldn’t be reading this, but its my kids book, I picked it up, I really enjoy it, so yeah, I think, because what I was trying to do with these books, I didn’t write for an audience, I write for myself. I thought of myself when I was 12, 13, 14 years of age, and I thought about the books which I loved to read, about ----- Roald Dahl, and other children’s books, but I was also reading Stephen King and James Hurbert, and what I wanted to do with my books, was combine the best of both worlds, basically adults books and the children’s books. So even though my books are written for children, there’s a lot of adult material in there. So, grown-ups, yeah, they do like…

Host: Good crossover. Well, World Book Day is on the 2nd of March, that’s a Thursday, it’s a great event, and one that we wholeheartedly support. And don’t forget the boxes that you can put books in, that will be going to hospitals, it’s another terrific idea too. Darren, I’m very impressed and I really wish you well in the future. Good looking. Keep it coming.

Darren: Thanks a lot.

Host: Thanks a lot. Darren Shan joining us there, and he’s sold 9 million books worldwide, is doing extremely well with his Saga of Darren Shan.

 
© Darren Shan 2005. All rights reserved.