What can you tell us about Zom-B Goddess? Where do we find B Smith at the start of this final chapter?
It’s the twelfth and final book in the series, so I don’t want to reveal too much about it, for fear of giving away spoilers for the earlier books. What I can say is that B is being held captive by a very powerful couple of foes at the start of Zom-B Goddess, and seems to be in a hopeless position. That would be worrying enough by itself, but the truly troubling aspect of B’s situation is that if B falls, so will the remnants of humanity’s survivors…
Does the final book in a series feel like a different proposition when you sit down to write it?
Not really. To me, the books are just like very long chapters. It’s always nice to get to that final stage, and to see the strands of the story starting to wrap themselves up, but every chapter is as important as the other. A book is only as strong as all its component parts taken together — a strong finish can’t save a book that sags badly in the middle.
You’ve been working on the series since 2008. How does it feel to stand on the other side of it, having completed the tale?
Well, firstly it’s nice to have made it to the end alive! It’s an odd feeling, actually, because I finished my final edit of the book more than a year before its release, so I’ve already said goodbye to it once, and now here I am, saying farewell to it again. It’s nice to have sent it out into the world, though I’ll need some more time away from it before it truly feels put to bed.
It’s not your first book series; does the process writing a long series of books get easier, or do the challenges remain the same?
It gets both easier and more difficult. Easier, because I learn something new every time I write a story. More difficult, because I keep raising the bar and trying new things that will challenge me all the more. I’m not an author who is happy to repeat a successful formula. I have an itch to explore new ground, and that drives me ever onward into hostile and alien terrain.
To what extent are you aware, or do you look for, fan feedback when you’re working on a series like this?
I imagine that you probably had some very clear ideas about where certain characters should end up! I never take the readers into consideration when I write. I think it’s very dangerous to focus on anything other than the story. If you start worrying about fans’ reactions, you might start tinkering with the book in order to cater to their tastes, and then you end up being a slave to the fans rather than a slave to the story, and will probably end up satisfying no one. I write my books in as much of a void as I can, then send them out into the world and cross my fingers and hope that they find a welcome home on bookshelves.
You’ve said that these books were a way to talk about the anti-immigration feeling in our culture. How have you found the reaction to that over the years?
It hasn’t changed much, unfortunately. When I started Zom-B, it was in reaction to the bombings in America and London, and the rise of parties like the BNP. Fast-forward a few years to the release of the final book, and it’s against the backdrop of atrocities in Paris and Brussels, and the rise of Donald Trump in the States. The hateful minorities of various groups are as active as they ever were, and the fearmongers are busy trying to captialise on that and play to the worst in the masses and bring out the ugly, combative side of people in order to profit from the chaos. They do a dance, the terrorists and people like The Donald, and neither side cares about the many people who get hurt while they’re stomping across our freedoms and trying to limit them.
Do you feel like there’s a freedom in YA, and in horror, to address those big themes without it feeling like preaching or lecturing?
Yes, horror has always been a way to get people thinking about this issues, while primarily entertaining them. I think fiction is important in that regard. This is a world of so many complex issues, and sometimes the simple messages – such as don’t put faith and power in the hands of people who tell us to hate other on the basis of their skin colour or religious beliefs – get lost in the mix. Pointed stories can drive those points home and encourage readers to look beyond the more lurid headlines in newspapers, and to drown out the shouting of bullies over the airwaves.
How do you think the YA marketplace has changed since the start of The Saga Of Darren Shan?
It’s become a far bigger beast than it was when I first began. Teenagers weren’t seen as particularly important by book publishers when I was trying to sell Cirque Du Freak. In fact I had one editor tell me that they didn’t publish books for teenage boys because teenage boys didn’t read! Thankfully they’ve come to realise that if you provide teenagers with quality books that they can engage with, then yes, they will read, and will find a place for books in among all their other twenty-first century forms of entertainment. There are lots of people in every generation who like to moan about the young and say they aren’t reading as much as we used to when we were their age, but I think people like that are full of hot air. This is a golden age for literatures. Books are more accessible than they ever were, and scores of new writers are rising to meet the demands of a hungry public.
How important is it to you as a writer to have the interaction with your readers on social media?
It’s something I enjoy very much, and have focused on since I first started being published. I put together my own website back in 2000, and although it’s since been redesigned by a professional, I’m still closely involved with it and update it regularly, including putting out a newsletter at the start of every month. I was on MySpace back in the day, and these days post daily on Facebook and Twitter. I was a reader before I was a writer, a fan before I was an author. I try to provide my followers with the kind of access that I would have loved to have had with my favourite authors when I was growing up.
Finally, what is your favourite zombie novel or film?
The original Dawn of the Dead, the second George A Romero zombie film. That one’s the daddy for me!
Darren Shan photo credit: Kieran Clancy