Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Darren Shan

Darren ShanDarren Shan's first children’s book, Cirque du Freak, which he’d written as a fun side-project, was published in January 2000. The first book in a series titled The Saga of Darren Shan (or Cirque du Freak, as it’s known in America), it attracted rave reviews and an ever-growing army of fans hungry to learn more about vampires which were quite unlike any that anyone had ever seen before!

What comes first - plot, character or situation?

I'll catch a glimpse of a scene inside my head - it might be a major moment, a sad scene, something trivial - anything. If it grabs my interest, I start asking questions and playing around with ideas, to try to put it in context. If I can do that, then a plot starts to form, and off I go from there!

When you start to write a book, do you know how it will end?

Usually, yes. Occasionally the ending might change as I work towards it, but I always like to have a finishing point in mind.

Do you base your characters on real people?

Not directly, but I will use elements of people I know, e.g. names, physical characteristics, habits.

What inspired you to write?

I've just always loved making up stories!

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?

I do all of my writing on a PC, except for when I'm writing up my notes at the very beginning.

Do you ever get writer's block? What do you do about it?

No. While I'm sure writer's block does exist, I think it's actually a very rare phenomenon in practical terms. People can freak themselves out by worrying too much, and that gives them the notion that they've become blocked, but the idea that a writer can run out of ideas is nonsense. There have certainly been times when I'm not sure where I'm going with a story, and how I'm going to tie everything together, but in those instances I write my way through it. Writing is about confidence and trusting yourself. Focus on the positives, don't get hung up on the potential negatives. When in doubt, write!

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

The isolation. You work by yourself, cut off from the world, and that's not the most enjoyable of working environments at times.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Seeing the impact your stories have had on readers when you get feedback. It's an amazing feeling to hear strangers enthuse about characters and plots and stories which at one point existed only inside your head. Creating a good story is a bit like giving birth, except lots of other people can enjoy your "child" just as much as you can!

How much does your editor change what you write?

My editor doesn't make any changes. If he or she feels that something isn't working, they'll discuss it with me and maybe make suggestions for how I can fix it. Usually I'll agree with them and re-work the material, but I always have the final say, and there have been times when I've had to trust my gut instinct over the heads of my editors. Young writers should never be worried about editorial interference -- good editors are there to help guide you, not impose their will on you.

What do you think you would be if you weren't an author?

A struggling author! I had no interest in any other career. If I wasn't making money writing, I'd probably be temping or doing something that didn't require a lot of thought or effort, leaving me free to write in my spare time.

What is your attitude to kindles and ebooks?

I love them! They make books more accessible. When I tour, people often recommend books to me. In the past, I'd forget the titles afterwards. Now, if I'm interested, I can download the book instantly and check it out in my own time. Ebooks are the way of the future. I actually predicted, back in 2000 and 2001 when people first asked me about this, that paper books would be relics within 20 years, that digital book sales would overtake them and change the market completely. Ebooks still have a long way to go, and I've been surprised that schools haven't led the revolution -- whatever about fiction, they offer so many advantages when it comes to school books - but I still stand by that prediction...

What was your favourite book(s) when you were a child?

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Which is your favourite of all the books you have written?

The Thin Executioner. It's a one-off fantasy novel about a bloodthirsty young boy who wants to chop off heads when he grows up! But it's also my most positive book, exploring the idea that we all have the power to change, that there's hope for every single one of us.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Write! There's no magic involved in becoming a writer. The more you write, the more you learn and the better you get. Don't sit around thinking too much, or waiting for someone else to show you how to do it, or looking for shortcuts. Put in the hard graft and you will learn, improve and move forward.

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