When I think back to my childhood, it was full of all kinds of books, from Animals of Farthing Wood to Wind in the Willows all the way through to one of my favourites, Clive Barkers Thief of Always.
I was probably around twelve (I think) when my dad came home one day with a copy of Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan, he’d seen it in WHSmiths on his way home from the train station and from the cover alone had thought it would be something that I would like. This was when I was well into my Animorphs phase and while I was no stranger to horror at twelve (I think my mum read me Thief of Always when I was around six, thank god for book-loving parents) it was a departure from my usual fare at the time.
I cannot thank my dad enough for that little impulse gift, it introduced me to the world of Darren Shan, both the character in the book (although Larten was and always will be my favourite, to the point where a year or so ago, while I’m in my early thirties I picked up the Saga of Larten Crepsley, WHY WAS THIS SO SHORT, I NEED MORE!).
Anyway, enough of the memory lane nonsense, today I want to talk to you about Darren Shan, a fantastic author who’s introduced an entire generation to horror in a superb fashion.
Darren grew up in Limerick in Ireland, although his very early life was in London. He famously bought his first typewriter when he was only fourteen and like many budding writers wrote a variety of different styles and didn’t finish much of anything at that age (a man after my own heart, lol) but that didn’t last long. He did have success early on when he was a runner up for a scriptwriting competition at fifteen, he finished his first novel at seventeen but it was never published.
He returned to London to attend university and moved back to Limerick after getting his degree. He worked for a TV cable company for a couple of years before becoming a full-time writer at 23 (I’m not jealous, not at all, not even a tiny bit …nope no jealousy here).
He was signed early on by the Christopher Little agency and has stayed with them throughout his career as a writer.
His first book Ayuamarca was released under his real name (O’Shaughnessy) in 1999 by Orion publishing. Its sequel Hells Horizon was released in 2000, the third instalment in 2010. In 2000 he also released Cirque du Freak under the name Darren Shan (yay! Also give this book to your children, and read it yourself, you’ll thank me later). The Darren Shan saga was a huge global success and he continues to write for children and adults to this day.
His work includes the Demonata Saga, Koyasan, Lady of the Shades and I recommend The Thin Executioner, it’s not really a horror but it’s still a good book.
He also writes under the name Darren Dash so keep an eye out for him!
Why he’s Awesome
It’s very hard to say what it is that makes Darren’s books so fantastic. There is something about his style, his characters and his settings that are uniquely him. When I first picked up Cirque du Freak I was instantly held to the point where I got into trouble for reading until the wee hours of the morning as I wanted desperately to finish it.
His characters are unlike those usually found in children’s books, they are mature in ways that are unexpected, flawed in ways that grip you and powerful in ways that are realistic despite the fantastic nature of some of them. Take my favourite character Larten Crepsley as an example, he’s a vampire, but it’s established very early on that he’s nothing like the movie vampires (at least until he became one lol) and he’s pissed off about being compared to them. He’s a miserable and cantankerous bastard for a bit but its shown very quickly that there’s a lot more to him, he makes mistakes (huge ones), has compassion and by the third book he’s a fully fleshed-out character with the full range of emotions. He’s not perfect, none of Darren’s characters are and it’s invigorating to find character’s that I can love but also frustrate the hell out of me at times (for a 200+ year old vampire Larten can be so dumb sometimes and he sulks like a pre-teen).
Darren’s settings capture the imagination in a way that is gritty and real. He doesn’t skirt over the downside to the locations but also doesn’t focus on them. He mentions the beauty in some of the locations but also the negative effects, and the practical ways these setting affect his characters. A lot of thought and work goes into his settings, perhaps my favourite example is a network of caves in the Darren Shan Saga, the characters spend a large portion of the series either in the caves or going to and from. Darren has put a lot of thought into how these people would live day-to-day in these caves, the difficulties they would have, the practical solutions they have come to etc. It helps the setting’s come to life in a way many writers for young adults fail to achieve.
Overall this is another one of those authors who influenced me a lot, I really cannot recommend his books enough and often when I talk with parents I tend to try and push his books on them for their kids. It doesn’t take much to start a life long love for literature and horror as my parents did for me. A simple impulse buy on the part of my dad because the book had a creepy looking cover caused a love affair with a group of characters that still affects me today.
BUY ALL THE BOOKS FOR YOUR KIDS AND FOR OTHER PEOPLES KIDS LOL.