Facts About Darren Shan - Meeting Darren Shan
There is no doubt about it, the Master of Horror, Darren Shan, is a prolific writer with a huge teenage (and even pre-teen) following. My son is only ten, and yet he has been hooked on Shan's books for the past eighteen months - so far he has read every single one with the exception of the novels geared towards adults. Thus, he was extremely pleased when a sign in a local department store recently advertised 'An Evening with Darren Shan' for the very reasonable price of £2.50. We went along and met the author in flesh and blood.
At this point I will admit that I am not exactly known for my love of horror and gore. I am, however, a keen writer with an interest in other writers. I like to know what makes them tick; I enjoy learning about the person behind the words. In fact, I was looking forward to meeting Darren Shan almost as much as my gore-loving, blood-thirsty son. Shan did not disappoint. He talked for around an hour, including taking questions from the audience, and was engaging and, at times, revealing.
Even as a Young Child - a Horror Writer in the Making?
After a late start (due to the large amount of fans turning up and getting seated) Shan read several excerpts from his very popular books, including Lord Loss, the first in the Demonata series. The extract he read aloud (with plenty of expression) was, as he claimed himself, the goriest piece he's written to date. I haven't read the books, but I can say that it was certainly extremely disturbing and rather revolting (that, of course, is the whole point - as Darren Shan himself would put it).
Shan obviously revels in stories of horror and gore - he actually explained that he used to lie in bed when he was about five or six, wishing for nightmares. That, surely, is the complete opposite of most young children, who generally tend to be completely terrified of unpleasant dreams. Not only did he wish for nightmares, but apparently also used to lie there wondering what it would be like if both of his parents died and he was left totally alone (as actually happens in Lord Loss). Certainly, Shan must have had an extremely over-active imagination at a tender age. My son nudged me at that point and whispered, 'He's weird - but weird in a good way.'
People who are inclined to write often do it because they feel compelled to. Becoming a writer is commonly not a particularly conscious decision, but more of a need within. It is almost as though the 'writer' element is there from the word go, just waiting to surface at the necessary point. It certainly seems true in the case of Darren Shan. In any case, writing has clearly always been an important part of Shan's life - he wrote many stories as a child, and moved onto writing novels around the age of sixteen. However, these earlier attempts remain unpublished - Shan admits that he was not yet ready to become a published author at that time, and that the work he produced then was not of a publishable standard. What this early work did do for him was to provide him with a great deal of experience and a chance to hone his talents. Writing, after all, might seem like a glamorous job but is, in reality, hard work. Few authors succeed at the first run - Shan actually published his first novel at the age of 26, which is earlier than average (the average age for a writer to first see a novel in print is late thirties or even early forties).
When Shan was questioned as to his favourite book (of his own) thus far, he revealed it to be 'The Thin Executioner'. He described it as slightly more fantasy, a stand-alone title which is a little different from his usual works. A story of redemption, it is about making choices - the right choices - in life. This was a book he immensely enjoyed writing, from beginning to end - in his own words, he 'had smile on my face every day when I was writing it'.
In reference to questions about his other work, Shan admitted that, in 'The Saga of Darren Shan', Darren Shan is not a particularly autobiographical character, despite being named after himself. In fact, the character is apparently no more or less based on himself than any other character in his books. Of course, he explained, in all of his characters there are probably elements of himself (a factor which is surely commonplace in a high percentage of author's work). The last book he published was 'Ocean of Blood', the second in the Saga of Larten Crepsley (the third book, 'Palace of the Damned' comes out next week) - Crepsley also appears in the Saga of Darren Shan / Cirque Du Freak. Shan felt Crepsley was a character who needed to be further explored - not very much is really known about him in earlier books, especially about his childhood and how the boy became the man.
Unemployment and Writing at an Incredible Pace
Shan revealed that his real name is not, in fact, Darren Shan but Darren O'Shaughnessy). He published an early novel for adults under Darren O'Shaughnessy, but then decided to move onto writing horror fiction for the younger audience. As a new writer, he felt that it would be confusing to write for both genres under the same name (now he feels quite the opposite) and so adopted a shortening of his name for his younger readers. 'Shan' did not appear completely out of the blue, but was the name his grandfather was known by.
Darren Shan always knew that he wanted to be a writer, and never really considered another career. During the talk, he explained that he did go to university, but did not reveal which course of study he took. Following university, he took a short period of time off (spent writing) before working at a regular job for a couple of years. He still dedicated every weekend to his writing, and so his entire routine was spent either working or writing. After that, however, he spent three or four years drawing unemployment benefit and concentrating on writing full time. Shan told his audience that his mother was always on at him to get a proper job as there is no money to be found in writing - thankfully, Shan has now proven her wrong! However you put it, he is certainly proof that if you are really passionate about something, then you just have to put your all into it and keep on trying. In the end you will be successful - hopefully.
Shan's love of writing is very apparent. Writing fiction really is a job that one needs to be fairly passionate about in order to achieve any level of success. Shan does not seem to need a great deal of discipline when it comes down to getting on with the job. In fact, he admitted that he loves writing so much that he would do it regardless of whether he got paid or not. He also explained that he always has several projects on the go at any one time - he does not focus on a single book, before moving on to the next one. He is certainly a writer who looks ahead - apparently already working on books and ideas that will not be released for years to come - including a completely new series with a 'snappy title' which will be published after the completetion of 'The Saga of Larten Crepsley'. Shan would not reveal the subject matter, or indeed the actual title - although he did say that even those who didn't like the books were sure to like the title. Judging by his own description of his writing habits and publishing history, it certainly seems as though Shan is a writer who can produce work at an incredible pace. He seems to have a diehard fan base, and is clearly a resounding success as a fiction writer for young adults.
One young member of the audience asked Darren Shan what he thought of the recent film, 'The Vampire's Assistant' (based on the The Saga of Darren Shan series). He confessed to liking it, even the changes that were made to condense the books into a movie. Some characters were cut out, but Shan said he didn't mind this. Books can build up and contain more detail that there simply isn't time for in a film. In fact, Shan explained that he was not a fan of fillms that stay very close to the book, as in the earlier Harry Potter movies. A movie needs to take its own path to spark. He did say that the one and only change that could have been made, with regards to the Vampire's Assistant, was to make the film a little darker - but other than that, it was great and very enjoyable.
Shan (born in 1972 and living in Ireland) came across well to his young audience. Some had met him on previous occasion and were clearly looking forward to meeting him again. He seemed down to earth, approachable and completely dedicated to his writing. At times he was funny, and he engaged his fans from the beginning to the end. As a writer who is still only in his late thirties, one can only guess at the amount of books he will have published by the end of his career. There is no doubt about it, Darren Shan is one of the best and most prolific writer's of teenage fiction - most of his fans are boys, and enjoying a good bit of horror helps as well. I have no doubt that Shan will be around for a long time to come. My young son was certainly impressed.