ACHUKA interviews DARREN SHAN... to coincide with publication of the first title in his new teen series, Zom-B
Darren, I don't know if you remember, but ACHUKA first met up with you in the Random House offices on the eve of publication of the first Cirque du Freak (January 2000). How many books have you published since then?
I remember it well - it was one of the first interviews that I ever gave, and I checked out your site afterwards and have been following ACHUKA ever since. Including books for adults and a short book I published for World Book Day several years ago (Koyasan), I will have published 33 books when Zom-B hits the shelves.
That's an impressive workrate. I remember back then at our first meeting you were already several books into the Freak series. Is it the same for the new series, and if so how do you account for the confidence that you have to write so well in advance of publication schedule.
Yes, I like to work well ahead of my publication schedule. With Zom-B I've actually completed first drafts of all 12 books! Because they're coming out so quickly (one every three months) I knew I needed to have all the books lined up and ready to go before the first book came out, otherwise there would be no way that I could keep on top of things. There's still lots of editing and re-writing to be done, but the first drafts are the killers - if a deadline is looming and you have yet to produce a first draft, you're in trouble! Zom-B was actually the first time that I knew at the start of a long series that it would BE a long series. The Saga Of Darren Shan and The Demonata both evolved organically - with The Saga, I had a vague plan at the beginning to write a handful of books, while Lord Loss (the first book in The Demonata) was initially intended as a one-off. I must admit, that made this the most challenging of the three. It's a bit like climbing a mountain - if you can't see the peak, you just trudge merrily along, taking each little rise at a time. But if you cann see all the way to the top, you tad there, jaw open, thinking to yourself, "I have to climb THAT?!?" I don't think I could have plotted something like Zom-B ten or twelve years ago, but having completed two other long series, I had the courage (or craziness!) to face that mountain, take a deep breath, and start up. I'm having a blast editing all 12 books now, but it wasn't much fun at the first draft stage, simply because of the scale of the thing.
Zombies are into brains-gobbling the way vampires are into blood-sucking and the first pages of Zom-B are fairly stomach-churning. Did you enjoy writing that opening?
Absolutely! Although I only added the prologue on the fourth or fifth draft. Originally it wasn't there. But because Zom-B is as interested in dealing with racism and the abuse of power, I felt the start needed a nice, old-fashioned bit of brain-munching, to ensure my more bloodthirsty readers that I wasn't going to mire them in a dry, issues-based story without any action or gore. While I like exploring moral grey areas in my books, and inviting readers to think about various issues, first and foremost I'm all about the story - if you don't create something exciting, that readers can engage with, they're not going to care about any message you might have in mind. For me books should always be about entertainment first, education second.
At the heart of this book is the relationship between your main character B and B's racist father, Todd. B displays many of Todd's prejudices in the first half of the novel but gradually bucks against them. Was there any level of publisher disquiet at presenting such a rabid racist to a teenage audience?
Not really, as by the time I presented the book to the publisher, it had gone through several drafts and I'd worked heavily on the racist angle, to make it disturbing (as a book about racism should be) but not off-putting. The first draft was far more in-your-face, featuring many more racial slurs. I tried to throw myself completely into the world of a racist and write as I believed someone in that position would write. But while that was a fascinating experience for me, I don't think it would have endears anyone to the character of B, and where sympathy is lost, readers won't engage. It was a very tricky challenge - to write about a racist but in such a way that readers can associate and identify and sympathise with them. I got to that point in the end (I hope!), so my publishers didn't have to suffer too many sleepless nights. My agent, on the other hand, who read the book at a much earlier stage, still turns pale and shivers uncontrollably at the thought of those nascent drafts!
The proof copy I am reading has blank pages where the interior art will go. The artist is Warren Pleace. How was he chosen?
My publishers presented me with a choice of a few different artists who had been recommended to them by an agency. Being a comics fan, I was familiar with Warren's art from way back - I'd read one of his early pieces, True Faith, as well as a graphic novel he release a few years ago called Incognegro. I knew he could deliver a very distinctice style, and I was excited by the thought of being able to work with him. So he was my first choice (by a long way) and thankfully we were abe to persuade him to come on board. He's already produced some fabulous images, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with over the rest of the series.
The proof copy also has a foreword by you, pleading early readers of the novel NOT to give away any plot twists in spoilers. Are there any spoilers out there yet that you should warn your fans to avoid?
There are two major twists near the end of the first book. Readers will know what they are when they come to them. One is easy not to talk about and give away. The other presents a far trickier dilemma, for me as well as the readers - I haven't given it away so far when I'm talking about the book, but it's going to be a struggle not to when I go on tour! All I can ask of fans is what I'm asking of myself - just try your best not to spoil the huge twist for others, so that they can enjoy it the same way you did. Every reviewer so far has respected the twists. One or two have inadvertently alluded to one of them (it's the harder of the twists to avoid giving away), but nobody has actively sought to spoil the books for others.
In a promotional video interview for this book you talk about going 'on tour' and meeting your 'fans' in the same way a rock group might speak. Is this an indication that you conceive of your relationship with your audience a little differently from most writers.
Well, I don't know how other writers view their audience! In my view, if they don't see them as rock groupies, then they should, as it makes touring a hell of a lot more fun than it would otherwise be! I love books, the same way that I love movies and music. But I don't like the dry atmosphere that many people in the publishing industry (from writers to publishers to critics to readers) promote. For me, a book isn't a sacred, serious object that must be venerated and discussed in hushed tones. I want a good book to rock my world and fire up my imagination and set me buzzing. That's what I look for when I read, and that's what I look for when I write. As dark and thought-provoking as my books are, I try to get readers worked up into an excitable lather about them too. When I go on the road, I do my best to give fans a fun night out - some scares, some laughs, lots of interaction. For me, it's the way the world of books should be.
From early on you have been adept at using the internet (notably through Shanville) to build your fanbase. Are you surprised that so few authors follow your example?
Not really. It's becoming more common, and I assume it will become ever more so, but you need to understand the technology in order to fully engage with it. I started writing full-time at a very young age and am still, even nearly 13 years after the release of Cirque Du Freak, one of the youngest published writers at work. I grew up on computers, but I was among the first generation to do so. As younger writers who are web-savvy come through, they will make even more use of the net than I ever did. But I think most older writers don't spend much time online, which is why they don't pay as much attention to the web side of things as I do.
Can you say a little bit about Lady of the Shades - your first stand-alone 'adult' novel - for people like me who have not read it and don't know much about it. Is it like your younger fiction in any way, or completely different?
It's a noir-style thriller, but with a (possibly) supernatural angle that allows me to take the story off in some very unexpected directions and really mess with people's heads! It's a different type of read to my children's books, but I'm sure there are many similarities too, in the pacing, the way I put sentences together, the twists that litter the plot and catch readers by surprise. It's been getting a very positive reaction, so I'm hoping it builds up a nice head of steam - I love writing for kids, and if I had to choose, I'd plump for the career of a children's writer, but in an ideal world I'd straddle both posts and continue to write for all ages.
What is your attitude to ebooks and what do you think the next 10 years hold in store for Darren Shan?
I love ebooks. I might have mentioned during our first interview (as I did in quite a few of my early interviews) that I thought paper books would be largely defunct within 20 years (i.e. 2020). I still stick by that prediction. I'm not saying paper books will disappear completely - like many readers, I love the physical qualities of an old-style book. But that's a sentimental attachment - in terms of which is actually better, it's ebooks by a mile. They make books far more accessible, and anything that does that is always an advancement, the way that papyrus improved upon chiselling in stone. I'm sure there were cavemen who thought the new format would never take off, that stones were so much nicer to touch and look at and smell, but hey... this isn't and should never be a world for cavemen!