Master of teen horror Darren Shan marked his 15th consecutive appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year by reading from one of the offshoots from his wildly popular series of books featuring the shambling undead horde, Zom-B: Circus.
Originally pitched as a short to be given away as part of World Book Day, the organisers rejected it as being “too dark” for its intended audience. Unperturbed, Shan has published it as an e-book, and takes obvious delight in regaling the eager young audience with excerpts from its gory tale of the most twisted circus in London.
Surprisingly, when asked what first attracted him to zombies, Shan claims that they are “not my favourite monster – they can get a bit dull”. By interspersing his series of books with fully-realised characters facing constant threat and moral dilemmas, he has however succeeded in his aim to “write about racism”, and to respond to the sense of panic and suspicion which overshadowed London life after the 7/7 bombings of 2005. “I’m always dubious of people who tell us to be afraid,” he says.
When asked who his favourite authors are, Shan shocks no-one by namechecking Stephen King, but then mentions the slightly more surprising likes of Mark Twain, Enid Blyton and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Though, as all of Shan’s books grip with the power of a master storyteller at work, the influences are understandable if not obvious.
He describes being a writer as “like running a puppet show”, being in control of the characters behind the scenes and – through knowing their fates ahead of time – is largely unmoved by any of their grisly ends.
Having produced adult horror as well as books for teens, Shan describes the difference between writing for the two age groups as “a wavering line at best”, before stating that the main defining factor of his teen fiction is the “moral tone, rather than the grisly details”.
When asked about whether he consciously aimed to reflect the rise in popularity of zombies when writing his Zom-B series, he states that he did not, encouraging others to ignore whatever the latest trend may be. “Never try to catch the wave,” he says. “A good story will always shine through.”
Shan hints at what he is working on next – something “completely different” which he hopes may expose him to a whole new readership. Though, with a legion of fans devouring his prolific series of books, he is likely to have a ready and willing audience keen to join him on whatever path he decides to take next.