At the just-concluded Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Darren Shan, 39, the prolific horror and fantasy author from Ireland, thrilled his young readers with a first-ever reading from his new book Zom-B. The other two books he will be releasing this year are Lady of the Shades and Brothers to the Death.
His current audience's average age may only be ten years old, but he didn't start his literary career writing for children. He has been writing adult fiction since he was a teenager, jumping between different genres and styles. He wrote his first novel when he was just 17, and although it never got published, Darren didn't let that deter him. He credits this never-give-up spirit to his mother, a teacher, who not only taught him to read and write, but encouraged him to use his imagination to pen lots of stories when he was a child.
A developing talent
At the age of 14, Darren bought his first typewriter and started writing. He hasn't looked back since. Having turned full-time writer at the age of 23, his writing is slightly better received now than it was back then - with his books being published in 34 countries and translated into 27 languages. In 2000 he took a break from adult fiction and turned to children's books, producing The Saga of Darren Shan series (the first book of which is also known as Cirque du Freak).
Since 2010 he's been juggling writing for both children and adults with ease - although he is better known for his vampire and demon stories aimed at young adults. He has written 30 books so far, and his books have topped the children's best-seller chart in Ireland and the overall best-seller charts several times in Japan; an achievement he is proud of.
And no, these books weren't written on the typewriter, he has since graduated to computers. "I can work faster that way, and it also makes the editing process a lot easier. Having grown up with computers since the early 1980s (my first was a ZX81), they feel natural to me," he says. But the computer also posed a problem. He recalls losing most of Killers of the Dawn (the ninth in The Saga series) when his PC crashed. He says, "I hadn't backed it up, a mistake I've never repeated. Since it was my fault, I just grimaced, gave myself a break, came back a few weeks later and did it all over again".
So, does he have a designated writing room where he locks himself away for hours and unleashes his creativity? Interestingly, most of his books were written from his parents' house in a cramped bedroom. These days, however, he has a nice, spacious office in his house in Limerick, Ireland, "with a lovely view over the river Shannon and the hills beyond". It's the perfect setting, as he loses himself in the world of the book he's writing, and notices very little of the world around him.
Although he likes holing himself up in the countryside while writing, he sometimes finds the silence very solemn and lonely. Is it because he's afraid of the vampires that stalk the pages of his books? Certainly not, he says, since he doesn't think that his books are about the blood and gore popular in certain horror films or books whose only drawcard is people getting hurt or killed.
"My books always focus on the response of the characters to extreme events. As dark as they get, they are ultimately positive, uplifting books about children who take control of their lives and overcome great adversaries. I think that is why they have been so popular," he says.
With such powerful themes, Darren is sure his books will stand the test of time: "I hope readers in 50 years will be as excited by my stories as today's readers are, but I prefer to focus on the real fans now, rather than the potential fans of the future."
From his impressive collection he picks The Thin Executioner - his personal favourite out of everything he's written - as the book that will endure. Although the book didn't sell as well as his others, it has proven hugely popular with those who have read it, and seems to be picking up a lot of new fans every year. According to Darren, the book has "a slow-building momentum which I'm hoping will see it enjoy a long journey through the affections of the public".
Writing for two markets
Darren enjoys writing for both adults and children equally, as he loves reading a mix of children's and adults' books, and so it feels normal for him to work in both fields.
"I think you can spread yourself across any number of genres when you're a writer, as long as you have a deep, abiding love for each of them," he says. In fact, when he began writing children's books he used the name Darren Shan (his real name is Darren O'Shaughnessy) in order to market himself differently in the children's and adults' markets. However, the strategy didn't work as well as planned when he started gaining popularity, as readers would get confused; he is now known only as Darren Shan.
When he's not busy writing or promoting his books he watches films and TV, reads, travels, visits museums and art galleries and goes to football matches. "This helps me unwind and also gives me an opportunity to see a lot of places and meet interesting people," he says.
Aside from drawing inspiration from everything around them, his other piece of advice to upcoming authors is, "Write! The only way to learn and hone your craft is by working hard and writing regularly.
"Many people think that it is important to have a title before you begin writing the book but I think you should never sit around waiting for the right title to strike before you start writing. Crack on with the story, put in the hard work, and the title will come eventually," he says.