Interview With The Vampire: Darren Shan
Originally published in UCC Express
Arts and Literature Editor Eoghan Lyng catches up with “The Master of Horror”!
To say that Darren Shan is a popular writer is as much an understatement as stating that Queen Elizabeth II owns a certain amount of property. Darren Shan`s books have been published in every continent of the world, selling over twenty million copies in the process. What makes this feat even more impressive is that Shan`s first book was only published in 1999.
Since that year, Shan has hardly refrained himself from writing, having churned out nearly forty books in the last fifteen years. Shan himself has noted that such a prolific output can be difficult at times. “It ain`t easy” Shan tells Verge. “You just have to keep your head down and don’t come up for air!”
Breathlessness is right. Darren O`Shaughnessy (or Darren Shan to his fans) has had, on average; two books published a year since 2000. Equate that to fantasy writers J.R.R Tolkien (who only published two major works in his lifetime) and Philip Pullman (who has not written anything of note since 2000) and Shan comes out on top as a consistently prolific artist. Arguably, only Stephen King has been as consistently efficient in the world of fantasy! Shan must be the Irish equivalent to Stephen King!
On the topic of Irishness, it is interesting to note that Shan himself does not think his Irish surroundings have influenced him in the same way they inspired other great Irish writers like Seamus Heaney or James Joyce. “I’ve lived here most of my life” he says “and what I have experienced here has certainly fed into my work, but I think I would have been a writer no matter where I lived, and would have taken inspiration from whatever I found in my surroundings.”
Though Shan has maintained an expansive backlog of work, it is “The Saga of Darren Shan” that he is best known for. Based around an eponymous character forced to leave his existence and move into a vampiric world, the twelve book series dealt with themes and ideas untouched by other authors. The books started off as a gothic reflection of the lives led by social outcasts such as vampires, werewolves and other freaks, before developing into a fantasy of legendary proportions. By the end of the series, the main character in question underwent many great personality transformations, both psychologically and sexually, written in a way that J. K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett never quite managed to pull off. Shan attests that the books were always meant to be read as a paean to adolescence. “I realised it was a coming of age tale. The books followed Darren through his teenage years, as he made his way through the world and learnt about growing up. By the time of book 12, he had come of age, and it just didn’t feel right to carry the story on any further.” This coming of age essence must have been universal, as the first book, “Cirque de Freak”, was made into a Universal Pictures film in 2009 starring John C. Reilly and Willem Dafoe. Although the film featured an A-List cast, the film met with critical and commercial derision.
What`s most interesting about the books is their allusively literate style. “The Saga of Darren Shan” should be more readily compared to Charles Dickens for its imaginative scope than other Vampire based sagas such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Twilight”. The books certainly have a Dickensian feel to them not readily found in books for adolescents. Shan himself has openly acknowledged Dickens`s influence on his work. “He [Dickens] was a great story-teller” he admits to Verge. “Even if you haven’t read his books, you’re most likely being influenced by writers who have. He knew how to put a hell of a good story together, and the methods he developed still work today”. Shan has frequently admitted that “A Tale of Two Cities” is one of his favourite works. With many other influences, it`s not always easy to see the shadow of that book within Shan`s work, although the polarising worlds between humans and vampires in the twelve book cycle may be a nod of the head to the works of the great nineteenth century writer.
If “The Saga of Darren Shan” was a titillating look at vampires in a Dickensian context, then his next collection, “The Demonata” series, was an opera of Faustian standards. Connecting three differing characters in a series of demonic events spanning over many centuries, worlds and portals, the series is arguably his best work to date, one in which Shan readily admits himself.“ “The Demonata” is the series I’m proudest of, because it’s the one I had to stretch myself the furthest to make work. It began as a collection of demon-focused stories that didn’t really connect up smoothly, but I somehow managed to pull all the disparate strands together and weave them into a fluid, carefully interconnected whole”.
“Lord Loss”, the first “Demonata” book, was nominated for Children`s Book of The Year in 2005, becoming a UK #1 hit in the process, a success he sustained with the rest of the series. Since then, Shan has often been described by his honorific title “The Master of Horror”. Unlike many authors who come to dislike the genre they helped propagate, Shan seems readily content with the macabric universe of horror novels. “I think horror is a fascinating genre. It allows you to go off in all sorts of interesting directions. My books are a real mix of genres – I cover all sorts of strange ground – but I find the dark element acts as a catalyst for everything else.”
Shan`s writing style has certainly changed over the years. His current series for teenagers, Zom-B, is his most expansive in thematic style yet. “As well as being a grisly zombie apocalypse tale, it’s also my most political series” he explains. “[The books] look at racism, religious extremism, the abuse of power, and so on. There’s plenty of thought-provoking material in amongst all the brain-munching”.
Vampires. Demons. And now zombies. There does not seem to be any Hammer Monster that Shan has not written about in length. Shan may not have veered too far away from the realm of fantasy and horror, but his writing style certainly has. He readily accepts new forms and styles, refusing to allow complacency step in his way. As Shan himself says, “I’m always looking to take on new challenges and do new things. I think a writer should look to develop all the time. It’s dangerous to hit a plateau!”
Darren Shan lives in Limerick, Ireland. His current release “Zom-B Baby” is available in all bookshops.