About The Author
Darren Shan is the author of the young adult series Zom-B, The Saga of Darren Shan, The Demonata and The Saga of Larten Crepsley, as well as the standalone books, The Thin Executioner and Koyasan. Shan’s books are now on sale in 39 countries, in 31 different languages and have sold over twenty-five million copies.
The Zom-B series was launched in September 2012, designed as 12 shorter serial-style novels to be released in quick succession. Zom-B Fugitive is the eleventh in the series. Shan is married, with a young son. He divides his time between his homes in Limerick and London.
Below, exclusively for Foyles Darren discusses the joys and challenges of creating long series and provides an insight into his writing process.
Author photo © Tarmo Tulit
The Author At Foyles
'Morbid' is my Middle Name!
Zom-B Fugitive is the eleventh, second-to-last book of my Zom-B series, and I’ve never been so relieved to see the finishing flag coming into sight!
Although Zom-B is the third mammoth series that I’ve written, following in the footprints of The Saga Of Darren Shan/Saga Of Larten Crepsley (sixteen books in total) and The Demonata (a “mere” ten books), it’s the first that I’ve planned from the start, so it’s presented a challenge that the others didn’t.
With The Saga Of Darren Shan and The Demonata, I never intended to write a long series. I thought The Saga might run to four or five books, while Lord Loss (the first book in my demon series) was meant to be a one-off. But as I got into the stories, more ideas presented themselves, and things grew organically. In both cases, I was well advanced before I realised the scale of the project, so there wasn’t that much further to go until the end.
Zom-B was different. This time I knew from the start what I was letting myself in for. While I didn’t know exactly how many books it would run to, I guessed it would be between nine and fifteen. I knew from day one that I was going to have to set aside several years of my life to see the story through to its conclusion, and that the word count would run somewhere in the region of four hundred thousand words.
As the old saying so aptly puts it, ignorance is bliss! It was frightening, having that sort of a mountain clear in front of me, knowing how long it was going to take to climb, aware of all the stumbling blocks I was likely to trip over. It’s much easier to be halfway through a series before the sheer size of the thing hits you.
Having said that, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the challenge and the thrill of working on a lengthy series. It allows me to spend more time with my characters, to see them evolve in ways I never anticipated. I’ve written lots of one-off books too, and I usually have more control in those, and can map out accurate story arcs for the characters in advance. But anything can happen over the course of ten or twelve books, and I often find the characters taking on a life of their own and surprising me with their actions and musings.
I also love the plot intricacies of a multi-book series, and trying to stay on top of an avalanche of ideas and information. Keeping track of everything that happens in single book is hard enough, but doing that across a dozen books is a virtual impossibility. How do you remember all that a character has said and done? How do you tie the various plot lines together and make sure you don’t write anything in the later books which contradicts happenings in book two or three?
Maybe I’m a sadist, but I relish rendering those impossibilities possible! I’ve evolved my own writing process over the years. Rather than work on a single book at a time, I juggle them around, so that I race far ahead of my publication schedule, allowing me to work on each book for two or three years, regardless of the fact that I release them so swiftly.
With Zom-B, since I knew in advance that it was going to be a long series, I held book one back for a few years, and worked on the first drafts of the next several books. Prior to starting a first draft of a new book, I’d go back and edit the earlier books in order, so that when I started the most recent, everything was fresh in my head, and I was able to ensure that there were no major clangers. (Indeed, I’ll be annoyed with myself if even a few minor clangers slip through — and so far nobody has brought any to my attention.)
The result of this strange but efficient way of writing was that I had written the first draft of book twelve before I finished my final edit of book one. I would spend the next few years editing the rest of the series, but the hardest part of the job was out of the way before the first book hit the shelves.
Would I recommend writing a long series to fledgling writers? I’m not sure. If a story takes on a life of its own and demands a bigger canvas, then yes, don’t be afraid to dream BIG. But I wouldn’t recommend pushing it just for the sake of making a statement. Small can be every bit as impactful as big.
One thing I would recommend, if any young writers out there find themselves on a long series treadmill, is trying to get as far ahead of your publishers as you can. In fact, if you can have the first drafts of all the books in the bag before the first one is due out, it means that if you die before finishing the editing process, the books can come out after you’re dead, and your story can live on after you to its natural completion.
Is that a morbid thing to be bringing up in polite conversation? Well, maybe, but hey, I am the master of YA horror... 'morbid' is my middle name!