For someone so good at scaring readers with his stories, it's surprising to learn that Darren Shan doesn't like silence when he is writing back at his base in Ireland. "I have music on when I write," he says. "I don't like the isolation otherwise and find the silence deadening." It's an amusing thought that The Smiths are warbling in the background (Shan remains a fan of the 1980s Indie music he loved as a teenager) as Shan conjours up flesh-eating zombies. Meat is indeed murder.
Shan, whose previous books have included demons and vampires, has just released Zom-B, a cracking new 12-novel horror series. Born in London 40 years ago before moving to Ireland when he was three, Shan says: "I grew up on all sorts of horror - Hammer Horror and Vincent Price's Theatre Of Blood. I loved the hidden, scary layers, but there wasn't that much around for youngsters in terms of horror books. I can remember reading Stephen King's Salem's Lot and Cujo but I thought there should be more for teenaged horror fans.
"Of course, scary movies are more graphic now so it's good to provide the appropriate level of horror, otherwise kids will seek out harder stuff. There is more choice now with writers such as Derek Landy and Charles Higson and horror has become more acceptable. When I wrote Cirque du Freak [published in 2000], there was feeling that some publishers wouldn't touch this genre with a barge pole. WH Smith at first refused to carry it - although it ended up being nominated for one of their book awards."
Zom-B is more than just a gory horror book. It's also a remarkably taut tale of modern Britain and racism. The main character is called B Smith who has a bullying racist thug for a dad. Was intolerance the starting point for the book?
Shan says: "I started out with the racism angle. I have generally been getting more political since 9/11 and then into the mix came the 7/7bombngs. I had been living in a flat near London's Brick Lane around that time and there was lots of graffiti and an atmosphere of different people and races squaring off. It was worrying. And there were people playing on fear, cashing in on a scary world. They were milking the situation.
"The message of Zom-B is that you have to listen to your own heart and head and question everything. Question stereotypes and the way the world seems or is being presented. Some of the people we should be most concerned about, dangerous right-wing bigots, sound convincing and reasonable. I don't expect Neo-Nazis to like the book. I grew up in 1970s Ireland and there weren't many immigrants. Things have improved in terms of racism being easier to challenge. Racist terms are not seen as acceptable. But it's not a simple thing to eradicate. Things do move in slow steps."
Shan sees a lot of children in his prolific schedule of school and festival appearances and he is adamant that the future for books is not as bleak as it's sometimes painted.
He says: "I was lucky because my mum was a teacher and showed me how to read and write. But most importantly she encouraged me to use my imagination. Nowadays, you have to get kids to relate to the entertainment aspect of books. Writers are part of the entertainment industry. You are competing against things like video games. Yet there are positives. Books are more accessible now than when I was growing up. There are many different ways of finding out about new books and publishers are embracing new ideas about promoting books. It's also worth noting that the idea that there was some golden age of reading in the 1970s is rubbish. There were always children who did not read and always children who loved books."
Shan seems quite clearly an author who can happily relate to his readers. He's amusing company and can relate to people who want to take a break from "words, words, words all day". One of his switch-off mechanisms is watching Tottenham (he gets to about 10-15 games a season) and muses interestingly on how Spurs missed a trick by seeling Van der Vart, whom he believes could have been turned into a "Dennis Bergkamp-style figure".
Fitting in football is the problem. He has written all 12 of his new series - and has a new adult book out called Lady Of The Shades - but they need editing for a pace schedule of a book being released every three months until 2015. Shan adds: "It's a book in a series like Flash Gordon, Dickens, the Sandman comic, where there are cliffhangers and you are waiting to find out what happens next."
What will certainly happen is that a lot of human brains will be munched. Did it ever get too much to write? Shan laughs: "I have got more squeamish as an adult and I am more aware of the Grim Reaper but it's horror and you have to have gross-out moments."