Darren Shan is on the phone from his apartment in London, ready to start his tour of both the UK and Ireland to promote his new book, Zom-B. We briefly joke about how he has avoided a bad spell of heavy rains across his native Ireland by flying to the UK, and he sounds rested and upbeat before starting the tour, which begins in a young offender's institution in the east London.
Shan - real name Darren O'Shaughnessy - became a full-time writer at the age of 23, and has since sold over 20 million copies of his books worldwide, becoming bestsellers in the US, UK, Ireland and elsewhere. His literature became so popular in Japan that a manga series was made out of them, designed by Japanese artist, Takahiro Arai. Today, his books are available in almost forty countries in over thirty languages.
With such success already under his belt, you would be forgiven to assume that writing gets easier for Shan with every book, but you'd only be half right. "It gets easier and harder," he states confidently, as if that could never sound conflicting. "It gets harder because you're in constant competition with yourself and asking yourself what comes next. But it gets easier because you know what you have to get through."
Zom-B is the first of a twelve part series of books aimed at young adults, therefore being much lighter in style than his books for adults. The story begins with a zombie attack in a small village in Ireland, which sounds like a joke at first to B Smith, a hard-nosed kid from London. When he hears about it on the news, he's more worried about his racist and violent father, but the events in the nearby country are bound to affect B's world soon enough.
Despite their entertainment value, Shan reveals a slightly political inspiration to the new series as the books explore issues of abuse of power and prejudices. He was living in London when the July 7 attacks happened, and noticed a "nasty atmosphere" develop as tensions rose shortly afterwards, often with racist undertones. "I remember being on a bus [in London] one day," Darren recalls, "and people were practically growling at each other." Shan acknowledges himself, however, that racism wasn't a big issue for him while growing up in Ireland in the 1980s, as few people from other countries moved to what was a economically fragile country at that time. It wasn't until he returned to London for college that he observed racism between the British capital's different groups.
"I wanted to explore racism in the 21st century," Shan explains, "and to get readers thinking about it. I'm not trying to ram a particular message down readers' throats... [but] I wanted to get them thinking and to look at themselves and the world they live in." Amongst dealing with a massive zombie outbreak, Shan subtly weaves an undercurrent of prejudice into the series to make the reader do just that.
With so many young fans and readers, Shan is undoubtedly inspiring young people to become writers themselves. When asked if he would have any tips for future authors, the Irishman advised to "write what you'd like to read yourself. Don't be afraid to try out different things or to tell the kind of story you want to tell."
Details of Darren Shan's UK & Irish Tour can be found on his website. Zom-B has already been released in the UK and Ireland (and as an e-book) and will be seen in book stores across the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand over the coming weeks.
Darren has also recently released a new novel for his adult readers, Lady of the Shades, which is also available in print and online.