Darren Shan’s UK tour, MCBF Trailblazer, Friday 4th May, The East Manchester Academy
Words by Claudia Conerney, photographs by The East Manchester Academy pupils
This afternoon The East Manchester Academy in Beswick became the host for internationally acclaimed horror writer Darren Shan, who is currently conducting a UK tour to promote the release of the two latest additions to his highly popular Larten Crepsley series, Brothers to the Death and Palace of the Damned.
Darren lives in Limerick in Ireland with his girlfriend Bas, and has been writing horror fiction since he was a teenager. To date he has written nearly three dozen horror titles, which have been translated into over 30 languages, from Hebrew to Japanese. In 2009, the first 3 books in the Saga of Darren Shan, were made into a Hollywood film by Universal Studios called, Cirque du Freak: the Vampire’s Assistant, starring John C Reilly as Larten Crepsley and Chris Massoglia as Darren Shan.
This afternoon, however, Beswick beckons. As Darren enters the Academy with his publicist, Rosie Crawley from Harper Collins, he is greeted by a warm welcome from Principal Guy Hutchence and year 8 pupils, Jerome Hickey and Kaia Spurrett-Hogan, who escort them into the hall where 150 horror fans from Asbury Meadow, All Saints, The Heys and St Bridgid’s primary schools are literally screaming his name in excitement.
Director of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, Kaye Tew, kick starts the event with a game of Heads and Tails, which is won by Hajira Ali of the Heys Primary School who receives a free signed copy of Brothers to the Death, much to her delight.
As if the opportunity of hearing their favourite horror writer read from two of his latest novels isn’t enough, Darren also treats the children to an extract from his forthcoming book, Zom-B, the first in a series of 12 to be launched in the early autumn. The children eagerly soak up every last detail of blood, guts and gore, while the adults in the audience struggle to keep their stomachs from churning.
This spine tingling teaser is followed by an informative Q & A session, led by highly intelligent questions from the primary pupils, keen to know what advice Darren has for them to become successful writers.
Darren tells the pupils that he started writing books at a very young age, “I wrote quite a few books that weren’t published. I was 21 when I wrote the first draft of what would eventually become my first book, Cirque du Freak, and I was 26 when it was first published. I always say to young writers to begin by writing short stories and not to worry about making mistakes as this is how you learn to improve. Many writers start out over ambitiously, trying to write an entire novel and then get to the third or fourth chapter before abandoning the project entirely because they become overwhelmed. Being a successful writer is about learning to structure your ideas and once you’ve learnt to do that, you have the tools to see a project through to the end.”
Asked where he draws his inspiration and ideas from for his books, Darren responds: “From comics, films, the people I meet – everywhere really. I think everyone is full of ideas. All you have to do is look around you and you can see a dozen stories going on all the time. It’s just a case of choosing the ideas that you want to write about. I always say to young writers, write the short stories you’d love to read. Even if I wasn’t paid to be a writer, I would probably do it in my spare time because I love writing. I’ve always loved horror from being a very young child. My all time favourite horror writer has to be Stephen King. I read my first Stephen King book about thirty years ago and I’ve been reading them ever since; I love his books.”
Of all the books he has written, Darren’s favourite is The Thin Executioner, a fantasy novel about a boy who wants to be an executioner when he grows up, so he can chop off heads. Darren doesn’t actually read his own books, but goes through them seven or eight times before they get published. “I think you’d have to be very vain to read your own books for pleasure. I can’t sit down and see them the way that you guys do. It’s one of those disadvantages of being a writer, you hope to be able to write very good stories, but you never get to enjoy them or experience the emotional roller coaster in the way that your audiences do.”
Finally, with the Q & A session at a close, the children clamber to the front of the hall to purchase their eagerly anticipated signed copies of Darren’s new titles, and to steal a photo opportunity with this horror legend.
It’s been a fantastic afternoon here at The East Manchester Academy. Pastoral Administrator, Kaylee Barclay, agrees; “The children have been looking forward to this all week and we are very proud to welcome Darren Shan to our school. We look forward to reading the children’s entries for the All Write competition, which I have no doubt will be inspired by his work.”
For more information on the All Write competition and other MCBF projects and competitions, take a look in the sidebar to your right. There’s something for everyone (children that is).