An interview with the one and only Darren Shan/ Dash!!! I was delighted to find out that we share a favourite Christmas film and an idol, Stephen King.
I just want to say thanks again for allowing me to review An Other Place and thank you for agreeing to do an interview with me. As I’m sure you could tell from my review (To read my review of An Other Place click here) I thoroughly enjoyed An Other Place. It was the most surprising and unique book I’ve ever read. So on to the digging! I’ve a mixture of questions for you, including some festive ones!
An Other Place differs greatly from your children’s books.It’s gritty and has scenes of drugs and sex. Is it nice to be able to write uncensored for an adult audience?
Yes — but the nicest part is being able to do it out of the sightlines of my younger readers. I’ve always been interested in both worlds — I love watching children’s movies and reading children’s books as much as I love movies and books which are for grown-ups. I’ve never had a problem moving between the two as a viewer/reader, and I like to take that same approach when I’m writing. It’s not a case of “dumbing down” for children or throwing in loads of sex and swear words for adults — that’s a mistake many authors make when they set out to create a book especially for a specific market. I simply go with what works best for any individual story. With Cirque Du Freak I did think about making the main character older and writing it for adults — the story could have gone in a much darker direction if I had — but I had a gut feeling that the story would work best if I kept the character young and wrote it for a young audience. I’m a big believer in going with your gut, in making calls in response to what a story demands, rather than imposing yourself on a story and making it work the way you want it to work. That can be difficult when you have an established audience, as I do on the YA front. An Other Place would never have worked as a YA book, and if I’d released it under the Darren Shan brand, I would have been conscious of just how disturbing it could have been for any children who picked it up by mistake, which might have led me to water it down. Having another name (or An Other name!) is very liberating, granting me the freedom to go as far as I wish with my imagination and not compromise at any stage.
It seems like Newman roamed as freely as he liked with his actions and was definitely not a standard “nice” character. Even in your books for younger readers you’re not afraid of writing horrible characters. Do you enjoy writing unsavoury characters?
It’s not so much a case of enjoyment as fascination. I find flawed characters more interesting to work with. Most books (especially in the children’s market) tend to feature bland, uncomplicated protagonists, and to be fair, I can see why, as they provide an easy access point for the readers. But I’m more drawn to the stories which explore the dark crevices of the human condition, which look at what scares and disturbs us. We miss so much about ourselves if we only focus on the superficial levels. For me, while the first purpose of story-telling is to entertain, it can also be a way to shine a light on ourselves and find out more about what makes us tick. I’m sure I could have written a very interesting book about the unnamed city with a nicer character than Newman, but I don’t think it would have been as interesting as the story I told with Newman at the centre. Very few of us are truly good or bad — we’re a mix of the two — and I like to make my books as realistic as possible, even when telling a surrealistic story like this one. Readers don’t always like it — maybe we don’t like seeing true reflections of our darker selves when we read, as it makes us ponder our inner twistedness — but it shouldn’t be a writer’s job to pander to his audience.
Were you worried about the reaction to the scene where Cheryl is violated by Newman? I felt it was very intrinsic to the story but it did shock me. I’m guessing that the independent publishing route allows you more freedom with your ideas and themes?
Yes, this was a tricky one to write. It was essential from a narrative point of view, in order to manoeuvre Newman into the place where the storyline was driving him, but he obviously lost a huge amount of audience sympathy by doing what he did. I spent a lot of time working on that scene, trying not to turn Newman into a complete monster, but rather show him as someone who, through a mixture of loneliness and frustration, does a monstrous thing. It was an uncomfortable scene to write, and it’s an uncomfortable scene to talk about, but this is a book that’s all about facing the uncomfortable factors that we can encounter in life, and to shy away from it would, I felt, have been to do the story an injustice.
For some reason An Other Place reminded me of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life – an unhappy man is transported to a reality like his, but different. This other place allows him to reflect upon himself and others. Would you agree?
Hmmm. My first thought was to say, “No, they’re nothing alike at all, are you crazy?!?” But having mulled on it some more, I tend to agree with you. An Other Place goes to much darker and more lurid lengths, of course, but at the same time there’s something genuinely disturbing at the heart of It’s A Wonderful Life — when Jimmy Stewart rears up on his family and makes his children cry, it’s truly terrifying and unsettling. So yes, maybe that was in among the mix on a subconscious level when I was pulling the pieces of the story together.
So while we’re on the Christmas theme – seeing as it’s the festive season, have you a favourite Christmas film and are you a Christmas fan or is it all about Halloween for you?
Oh, I love Christmas too! It’s A Wonderful Life is probably my favourite, though Life Of Brian would be up there too. What’s that, you say? Life Of Brian isn’t a Christmas movie? Heh. It is, in An Other Place!!
Is there any book you like to re-read at Christmas or look forward to reading this year?
No. I stopped re-reading books decades ago. I don’t get as much time to read as I once did, so I focus on new books now, that I haven’t read before.
If you could pick one character from your books to be for one day, who would it be and why?
Well, it would have to be Darren Shan, wouldn’t it?!?
Do you have an idol? If so, who is it and why?
Stephen King. I love the quality of his books, of course, but also the quantity. He has an incredible work ethic which is truly inspiring. He’s continued to push himself throughout his career, never resting on his laurels. The results haven’t always been spectacular, of course, but that’s what happens when you continue to be productive over a long period of time — some stories just work better than others. I always believe in putting your work out there, to ultimately let the readers decide, not least because you truly don’t know as an author. Sometimes, yes, but not always. For instance, I was sure that An Other Place was going to get a rock response from readers — it’s just so weird that I assumed it would turn off most people. Yet it’s been picking up great reviews and looks like it might become one of my most popular books for adults to date. Authors can have their own opinion of their work, and how their various books rank against one another, but we don’t always call it right, and I think it’s good to put all your work (well, at least that which you deem to have worked) out there for the public to pick through and make up their own minds about.
You’re going to have a dinner party and you can pick 5 people (living or dead)to attend, who would you pick?
Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, John Lennon, Vincent Van Gogh, Preston Sturges.
Do you have a favourite book of 2016?
My favourite book that I read in 2016 was either Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon or A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.
Are us readers going to be lucky enough to get more Darren Shan and Darren Dash books? Can you give us any clues about what’s coming next?
Yes, hopefully there will be plenty more on both fronts. I’m working on a massive fantasy series on the Darren Shan front, though I’m not sure when exactly the first book will see print — hopefully in 2018 if all goes well. I might bring out my next Dash book in 2017, though I’ve been averaging a new one on that front every 15 to 18 months, so it’s more likely that it’ll be 2018 for that one too — not least because I haven’t yet decided which book to focus on next.
Could you write a little message to your readers for the New Year?
As bad as things might get, they’ll never be as bad as you can imagine they can get, so face the future with hope and positivity.
I’ll leave you with that powerful closing message! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from The Corpse Bride!
An Other Place, Darren’s latest novel for adults released under the name of Darren Dash, is on sale exclusively through Amazon stores worldwide, either as a paperback or ebook. To find out more, click on any of the links for Amazon below (the book is also available through every other Amazon store worldwide) or else visit the Darren Dash site: www.darrendashbooks.com