Darren Shan: Tales of the Undead
Baille Gifford Theatre
Edinburgh Book Festival
After an introduction by Simon Radcliffe, Darren Shan didn’t need any help to fill the next hour with words. Ebullient and enthusiastic, he charged ahead into excerpts of his new stories, whetting the appetites of his young fans. He sat quietly at first, slightly hunched and brooding, but uncurled into a robust, fun entertainer, impressively immersed in the imaginary worlds of his own making. And how many worlds they must be. My son, who drew me there in the first place, is a major fan, as are most of his schoolfriends, but I didn’t realise how much of a heavyweight in literature for children and young adults Shan is. He’s written around 26 books and published close to 50.
He’s been billed as the ‘Master of Horror’ by his publicists, but he says that is way too narrow a category. Horror was his first love, indeed, from the time he was a young child obsessed with Dracula and whatever else might be lurking in the shadows. However his stories defy categories, in fact, as their particular forms emerge from his love of many different genres, such as fantasy and adventure, and he keeps pushing himself to try new and more challenging ones. He’s an assiduous worker, spending five days a week writing with a fairly set routine of 4 hours a day and a word count goal. His mother instilled in him a love of books from an early age, helped to channel his wild imagination and get him all the books she could in any genre he desired. He was published at 26 and has written for more than 20 years. I wonder if he might break a record during his lifetime, as he certainly shows no sign of slowing down.
He reads two excerpts from his new work, and while he reads, as anyone reading to young people must, he launches into the different accents appropriate for each character, but interestingly, I noticed, making a conscious effort to avoid cliche and stereotype. He walks about, restless with creative energy, speaking without notes, except for when reading his work. He obviously enjoys his work a great deal, and relishes sharing it with his audience. His reading is clear, like a Jackanory storyteller’s voice, with careful pacing and drama. He builds a sense of suspense and brooding with careful language, appeal to the senses and his own dramatic voice. Even his semi-romantic scene has elements of humour before it descends into true gruesome horror. I had forgotten the stomach the young have for disgusting scenes. He’s very savvy with subtle self-promotion, knowing he can continue the conversations with the kids on social media, and so peppering his talk with all the possible avenues of communication.
His books have a serious point to make too, which is probably why they resonate with readers of all ages. The Thin Executioner is his favourite book which he wrote as a response to the kind of world ushered in after 9/11 and the 7/7 London bombings. His urgent message to young people is to be wary of fearmongers and be careful not to hate people. He’s interpreting the world through horror and zombies, but this is not so far off the mark when it comes to real life. One of his zombies bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump! The Edinburgh Book Festival is his favourite festival, and has returned seventeen times. He’s happy to make this the place where he makes his big revelations about his new series, of course without giving everything away, to looks of absolute glee and excited anticipation from his fans. This new series is ambitious in scope, with each book five times as long as usual. This ‘new world’ is becoming so big in fact, that it is taking far longer than he expected to produce.
He takes his relationships with his fans very seriously and works hard both to keep a close rapport with them and encourage them to follow their own dreams of authorship with some sound advice. Don’t wait for the muse to strike, he said. It’s work, and you have to sit down every day and write even when you don’t feel like it in order to get anywhere. Write the stories that you love, not the ones you think you should write. The long queue for his book signing was slightly frustrating, but I’d promised my son we’d not come away without meeting him and getting his autograph. The queue moved at a snail’s pace, but as we got closer it was clear to see why. He engaged individually with each eager fan, signing every book they had brought with them, answering their questions and taking photos with them. My son wasn’t disappointed by Darren, pronouncing his unusual name correctly on first go, engaging him in conversation, and posing for a mocked up strangulation. We’re both excited for the next series of books, and the huge imaginary world he’s begun to create.
Reviewed by Lisa Williams
One thought on “Darren Shan: Tales of the Undead”
August 18, 2016 at 5:19 pm
Many thanks for taking the time to write up such a lengthy and informative report of my talk. Much appreciated! 🙂