The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in London, but moved back to Ireland when I was six years old. I’ve lived there ever since, but never lost my accent, so I still sound like a Cockney! I went to school locally in Limerick, then to university in London.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
A writer. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5 or 6 years old. I love telling stories. If I wasn’t getting paid to write, I’d be doing it in my spare time, as a hobby.
I believed that I knew a lot more than I did, and that my opinion was always right! Twenty years down the road, I’ve come to realise that you could fill a black hole with the gaps in my knowledge, and that life is all about learning and revising your views of the world based on the people you meet and the things you experience, not trudging along with your chin held high.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Blimey, there were so many! One book that had a huge impact on me was Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I had always loved horror, but this was the first modern horror book for adults that I read (when I was about 10 years old!) and it changed the way I saw the genre and what it could do.
A movie that impacted deeply on me was “Santa Sangre” by Alejandro Jodorowsky. It made me realise that passion and weirdness were good things to bring to a story.
The music of The Smiths was crucial to me when I was a teenager. Our teens can be a lonely time, and through their songs I found a voice that I could identify with, which helped me in turn find a voice of my own.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I tried all sorts of things when I was starting out, poetry, short stories, plays, comics, TV and film scripts. But the novel was what I was most drawn to. I still dream of working in other fields – I love movies and the theatre – but nothing has so far appealed to me so much that I’ve wanted to put my work on novels to one side for a significant span of time.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
I’m in the middle of a four-book series, “The Saga of Larten Crepsley,” which charts the course of a vampire’s life over a period of two hundred years. Mr Crepsley first appeared in my original series about vampires, “The Saga of Darren Shan,” but he was a mysterious characters, with a shady background which he only rarely alluded to. After I’d finished the series, I found myself thinking about him and trying to put the piece of his long, twisted life together, and eventually that led me to write this brutal, tragic tale, the story of a good man who was destined never to know much true happiness in his life.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they go away thinking. Good fantasy should always be a reflection of the times in which we live, and although I write about vampires and demons, etc, I’m also dealing with issues such as the current troubles in the Middle East (most particularly in my book The Thin Executioner in that case). I also reflect a lot on the origins of stories, dreams, life itself, on the way we structure our societies, and on the thin divide between good and evil, and the fragility of life. I firmly believe that a top-notch book should both be entertaining and thought-provoking, and that’s what I have in my sights every time I set out to start a new book.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Stephen King. I’ve been reading his work for close to thirty years now, and I’m astonished both by the quality and quantity. I love the fact that, regardless of his huge success, he has continued to push himself and tried to make the very most of his abundant talents. Success brings all sorts of distractions and temptations, and I admire him for not falling prey to them, as so many other authors in his position have.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To write a book that is better received by critics than Joyce’s Ulysses, and that sells more copies than The Bible. 🙂 Of course I’ll never hit either of those goals, but I’m a big believer in aiming for the stars – if you fall short, there’s always a chance that you might make it to the moon!!!
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write. Many people talk the talk, but all the good ideas and elaborate plans won’t count for anything if you don’t sit down, shut yourself off from the world, and dedicate yourself to your task. Don’t make excuses, don’t search for short cuts, and don’t drag your heels. If you want to be a writer, you need do only one simple thing, which is what every writer has done before you. Write.
Darren, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, was published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.