Plot Outline:

Darren Shan's an ordinary schoolboy, until he and his best friend Steve get tickets to the Cirque Du Freak, a bizarre freak show featuring such arcane performers as Hans Hands, Gertha Teeth, the Wolf Man and Rhamus Twobellies. In the midst of the ghoulish excitement, true terror raises its head when Steve recognises that one of the performers -- Mr Crepsley -- is in fact a vampire!

Steve remains after the show finishes, to confront the vampire -- but his motives are anything but ordinary! In the shadows of a crumbling theatre, a horrified Darren eavesdrops on his friend and the vampire, and is witness to a monstrous, disturbing plea.

Later, in a moment of insane daring, Darren sets out to steal the vampire's magnificent performing tarantula, an act which will have severe, tragic consequences for both Darren and Steve. Their lives will never be the same again ...

Author Notes:

It was published in January 2000 -- the perfect way to mark the start of the new millennium! -- but I had the idea for “Cirque Du Freak” on May 8th, 1997. I was looking after one of my aunt’s children. She was shopping, the kid was asleep in the back seat of her car, and I was sitting up front with nothing to read, having forgotten to bring a book with me. Out of boredom I looked around the car and found one of the Goosebumps books. I’d never read Goosebumps, since they weren’t on sale when I was growing up. I flicked through the book, reading little bits here and there. My two observations were: (1) It wasn’t a very good book, very formulaic and easy to predict. (2) Regardless of that, I’d have probably liked the book when I was younger, since it was so full of cliffhangers and easy to read.

Then I started thinking that what the world really needed was a book that was as fun and easy to read as Goosebumps, but which had some of the darkness and depth of Stephen King. That led me to think about one of my favourite King books, Salem’s Lot, and how I used to try to scare myself when I was younger by imagining what would happen if a vampire attacked me and turned me into one of them. That set me thinking about writing a story about a boy who meets a vampire and reluctantly becomes his assistant – and a few days later I was writing the first book of The Saga of Darren Shan!

This was the book that changed my life, although I had no idea it would do so at the time. I'd always wanted to try writing a book for younger readers, but had no idea if I'd be any good at it, or if my agent would be interested in it. I enjoyed writing CDF, and my agent enjoyed reading it, but every children's publisher in the UK hated it -- we sent it to 20 different publishers, and every single one of them rejected it! I thought my "career" as a children's author had finished before it even started.

But then my agent arranged a few meetings with editors, to chat about the book and their reaction to it. One of those, a lady called Domenica DeRosa, read the manuscript again ahead of our meeting, and second time round it stirred something inside her. She suggested making some changes, so I went ahead and wrote another draft, and she signed me on. We still had trouble getting the book out there -- Domenica went off to have twins and never returned, and her replacement wasn't keen on the book at all -- and it sat in limbo for more than two years, but eventually it saw the light of day in January 2000.

You often hear writers talking about lucky breaks, and we all need them, regardless of how talented we might be. During the two years that CDF sat in limbo, one of my agent's other YA authors went stratospheric -- one or two of you might have heard of the Harry Potter books? I think the success of the HP series maybe made the people at Collins reassess CDF -- I imagine the thought going through their minds was, "Well, if Christopher Little was right about THAT series for children, maybe he's right about THIS series too."

And, of course, he was. :-)

Cirque Du Freak wasn't an immediate bestseller. It took the series a long time to really start selling in the UK -- I didn't make the bestseller charts until my follow-up series, The Demonata -- and although it made a more immediate impact in other countries when it was released worldwide, such as the USA, Japan and Taiwan, back in the early noughties I still wasn't sure if I'd be able to continue writing full-time or if I'd need to get another job. So far I've done OK with the writing and haven't needed to look for alternative employment, but hey, I never take anything for granted -- Cirque Du Freak is all the proof I need that you never know what's waiting around the corner.

Global Cover Variations

  • Book Cover Image Cirque du Freak (New Zealand)
  • Book Cover Image Cirque du Freak (Hungary)
  • Book Cover Image Cirque du Freak (Ireland and Uk 2nd Edition)
  • Book Cover Image Cirque du Freak (Sweden)
  • Book Cover Image Cirque du Freak (Montenegro)
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