Darren Shan: Interview with the Vampire

Tamara Malone sinks her teeth into the popular fantasy writer, Darren Shan. 

Darren Shan originally rose to fame in the early 2000s with The Saga of Darren Shan, the first book of which was adapted into a movie produced by Universal Studios, starring such renowned actors as John C. Reilly. As Mr O’Shaughnessy (as he is also known) comes to Cork for a signing of his new release – Lady of the Shades – at Waterstones, I went to ask him a few questions about successes, past and present.

Tell us about Lady of the Shades. Who is the target audience? 

There’s no target audience per se – I never set out to write for a specific demographic, I just write books that I would like to read. It’s a book for older teens and adults. At heart a mystery thriller, it also weaves in other elements and genres. In the book, a writer of ghost stories travels to London to research his latest novel. He meets a beautiful woman and falls in love, but later finds out that she’s married to a gangster. That sets in motion a traditional film noir type tale, but one with a variety of unusual twists, which challenge our perception of what is real and what is not.

Lady Of The Shades

I remember reading and enjoying the stories of Darren Shan at a young age. If we are to assume that the readers of this saga are now at university age or older, what do you think your new releases can offer them? 

I actually started out as an author of adult fiction – the success of my children’s books has overshadowed that, but this is the world I first started in, one that I have always felt comfortable in. It’s not a case of switching from writing for children to writing for adults – I have always done both. It’s a dark, steamy love story, packed with all sorts of very adult twists. My older fans will find very few traces of the Darren Shan they might be familiar with from their youths.

The genre of vampire literature exploded soon after the Darren Shan saga with the Twilight franchise, among others. How do you feel about this, and do you think that the expectations of your writing have changed? 

Water off a duck’s back! Vampires have been going in and out of fashion for the last hundred years. When I started Cirque Du Freak, Buffy was the hottest teen property on TV. When I wrote the Mr Crepsley books, Twilight was at its peak. I ignored both phenomena when writing my books (though I watched Buffy later on and loved it). I think any writer worth their salt will focus on telling stories that matter to them, regardless of what the market might be doing. I’ve never let the success or failure of other books have any sort of an impact on what I write about.

You have been hugely successful, and among your achievements you can claim that one of your books has been adapted into a movie by Universal Studios. How did this feel at the time, and, in hindsight, how do you view this achievement? 

It was fun. I love movies, so I was delighted that some of my books had been adapted. I would have been happier if they had been more faithful to the books, but at the same time I respect the right of an adapter to do what they want with the source material – I think the best films are made when the film-makers put their own stamp on the story and re-invent it in an original, heartfelt way. I don’t think the film succeeded in every way, but it was a nice, quirky, oddly dark little movie that has been building up a bit of a cult following over the last few years. It’s just important to take it on its own terms and look at how it compares with other movies – not with the books.

Describe your process as a writer. What inspires you? Have you ever had to deal with writer’s block, and how have you overcome it? 

An idea grabs me, I play around with it mentally for a few days, or weeks, or months, or years, and when I feel ready I start thrashing it out in more detail by asking lots of questions and seeing where the answers lead me. Then I sit down to write. With a first draft I’ll write about ten pages a day. I then put it aside for a few months (or more) when finished, return to it and do a rewrite, leave it for a while, edit it, leave it, edit it, and so on for at least a couple of years, sometimes even more – Lady of the Shades was spread out over more than twelve years in total!

It would appear that you are rather solitary as an Irish writer of your particular genre. Do you think that your roots, or the place from which you come, contributes to your writing in any way? 

Well, historically I’m following in the generic footsteps of other Irish writers such as Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde. Contemporarily speaking, I’m not as alone in my aims as when I first started out — Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy have both come along, ploughing a similar (though admittedly much lighter-toned) furrow in the children’s world. And on the adult side there’s John Connolly. But yeah, I’m not what you’d describe as a traditional Irish writer. And I think that’s a good thing – there should always be more to a nation’s story-telling culture than one single strand. I don’t know if where I grew up contributed directly to the sort of stories I write, but I like to think that it did.

Darren Shan’s most recent releases, Lady of Shades and Zomb-B are available online and in book stores nationwide. 

Images: Universal Pictures and Darren Shan.