September 30th saw the release of the first book in the long-awaited prequel series to Darren Shan's fab vampire series The Saga of Darren Shan. Entitled Birth of a Killer, the book (and the three that will follow) charts the story of Larten Crepsley, the vampire who first blooded Darren Shan and a character we came to know and love in the original series. In order to promote the release of this book Darren has again hit the road, with two dates in Ireland before jetting across the Irish Channel to appear in England, and more specifically the Theatre Royal in Windsor this morning and I was one of the horror-loving fans who went to hear him speak.
Before his entrance the audience were asked to shout out words that could be used to introduce the author and his young fans described him as "the master of horror", "scary", "gory", and my personal favourite: "fear manipulator". Enter the man himself.
Darren launched straight into a reading of a passage from one of his books, a scene he described as being a "nice, gentle, uplifting extract" - yes, it was the slaughter scene from Lord Loss. If you have not yet read any of the Demonata books, Lord Loss is the first book in the series and this scene is a particularly gory one that hits the reader square between the eyes in Chapter 2. Reading his own work aloud to an audience is a particular strength of Darren's, and he had his young audience hanging on his every word, even though most of them had probably read that scene several times. In fact, they were so rapt with attention that Darren's shouted cry of anguish when Grubbs first sees what has happened to his father had them jumping out of their seats.
Following this reading Darren introduced his new Saga of Larten Crepsely series. He explained that after finishing the original Saga series he started wondering what Larten's backstory could have been. "How did he come to be a vampire? How did he rise the rise ranks? And crucially why did he walk away from the clan when he did?". After a lot of thought he worked it all out and decided it was a story he wanted to tell, but he wanted to do it differently, make it a more expansive story than the original Darren Shan coming-of-age saga, and have it covering a period of about two hundred years, from how Larten first came to meet a vampire right up until he finally meets Darren Shan. He then treated his audience to a reading of a passage from very near the start of the book.
Once he had come to the end of this passage Darren then gave his fans the chance to ask him questions. I made a few notes can now bring you a few of those questions and the answers that Darren gave:
Who is your favourite author?
No surprises at the answer: horror legend Stephen King. Darren first read Salem's Lot at the age of about ten or eleven.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Darren replied that his inspiration can come from all sorts of places, but as an author the difficult part if turning the ideas into stories. He explained that developing an idea is all about asking questions, and used Cirque du Freak as an example. He described how he had this image of a boy who met a vampire at a circus and reluctantly became his assistant. The questions that then needed answering were: "How did the boy know it's a vampire? Why does the vampire want to blood the boy? Why does the boy agree to be blooded?". The answering of these questions led to plot threads and eventually the finished story.
Why do you write horror?
Darren replied that he writes books that he would like to read, books that he thinks he would have loved as a teenager. He also explained that he doesn't necessarily see The Saga of Darren Shan has being a horror series, but more of an action/adventure series, with horror elements, but also fantasy and sci-fi elements. Horror has to be about the characters and having an interesting plot, but "every so often you can cut loose and kill off a load of people, and that's just a bit of extra fun".
Why did you finish the vampire series when you did?
"Because it's all a true story". Whether you believe this or not, Darren still felt that the story had come to a natural end even though he had originally planned to write another twelve or so books. It may seem financially crazy to bring a massively popular series to an end but he always follows where a story leads him, and never makes decisions based on money. He also said that he may one day return to the saga, but Darren Shan would not be the central character.
When you sleep do you dream or do you have nightmares?
Darren replied that unfortunately he does not have many nightmares. He then went on to explain that when parents ask if if he worries that books may scare their children and given them nightmares he generally replies "No, I hope they do. That's the whole point of horror." and "...if you can take that story into your sleep and have nightmares about it then it has really worked to its full extent".
Darren then finished off the event by reading a couple of passages from one of his lesser known books - Koyasan (released a few years ago as part of World Book Day).
I then joined the snaking queue in order to have my books signed by Darren. When I finally made it to the front of the queue I finally asked Darren a question of my own (I tend not to ask questions in shows when there are so many young fans desperately wanting to ask an author something. I asked him if he had ever received hate mail from holier-than-though Daily Mail readers. He replied that surprisingly he hadn't, although wondered whether Daily Mail readers may actually like the vampires with their fascist tendencies. He did however receive the occasional email from parents expressing concern about how his books might be a little scary, but nothing more serious than that. He also told me that when he first wrote Cirque du Freak a number of publishers were too nervous to sign him up, and when it was a published one particular high street chain initially refused to stock it. This all seems a little incredible now, given the flood of teen horror books that have appeared on the scene since Cirque de Freak was first published.
It was an absolute pleasure to finally meet Darren Shan. My review of Birth of a Killer will follow tomorrow, so please watch this space.