The Conversation: Author Darren Shan on racism, sex and a zombie apocalypse

 

Your new series is quite unusual – a zombie apocalypse from the perspective of a racist teenager. How did you come up with that?

I began thinking about it not long after the 7/7 bombings – my flat was in the East End at that time. A friend of mine knew where the wife of one of the bombers lived, and he stormed over there, but she was gone. I asked, "What were you going to do?" and he said he didn't know, he just wanted to do something. I wanted to say to young readers that we might live in scary times, but that's no reason to become racist.

Reading it, you don't expect the main character – named 'B' – to be a girl.

It's about confronting assumptions. You don't find out until the end of the first book.

In this series, a black boy is sacrificed to the zombies, and a praying child has his head ripped open. Do you ever think, 'This is too much for children'?

All the time. I do often edit down from the first drafts. But this is for teenagers. As long as there's a supernatural element, you can get away with a lot. B sacrifices the boy, then spends the series trying to atone for it. The important thing is showing the consequences. One of the books in my previous series has one of my most shocking openings: a boy finds that his dad's been decapitated, his mum's been ripped to pieces and his sister's been bitten in half and a demon is using her carcass as a hand puppet. It's traumatic, but then I explore the consequences. He doesn't just go, "Oh well, too bad". You can't be morally ambiguous in the way you can in adult books.

Anything you can't get away with?

You can have heads ripped open and sacrifice. The only time you get in trouble with the publishers is if there's kissing.

Really?

Sex is a no-go. Apparently boys don't want to read about sex. It's ridiculous. We should be more concerned about violence than exposing teenagers to sex. Teenagers making out is perfectly natural, but killing each other…

When you started writing, there wasn't the 'young adult' genre we have now. What do you think of it?

I'm not a fan of the YA term, but it's a good way to describe the books for that age group. I started writing horror for children because when I was younger I had to jump straight into Stephen King, which isn't appropriate for 10-year-olds.

Does the YA label make books an easier sell?

It does. There's a recognisable market. In 1997, I wrote the first 'Cirque du Freak', which was turned down by pretty much every publisher in the UK. WHSmith banned it, and then the following year nominated it for one of their awards. I'll never forget a meeting with one publisher where they said we don't publish books for teenage boys; teenage boys don't read. Well, publish books they want to read and they will. It's not that they get to a certain age and go, "I'm not reading any more".

What do you think of 'Twilight'?

I haven't read them. I saw the first film, which I loathed. I thought it was a spoof, like Scary Movie. But I'm pleased with the success of Twilight. It's always good for horror to cross over into the mainstream. It opens up doors for other writers.

I've got a real soft spot for the films. I cried.

I cried as well, but I don't think it was for the same reason as you!

Biography

Darren Shan, 41, is a horror writer from Limerick in Ireland. He has sold 25 million books worldwide, and is best known for his young adult series, 'Cirque du Freak', and 'The Demonata'. Zom-B Baby, the fifth book in his latest series, is out now

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