Not better than the real thing

February 7, 2010 at 22:23 (1)

Finished my latest edit of the first book of the post-Crepsley series on Saturday. Each book in this series is quite short — I’m going for a fast-paced rhythm each time, full of shocks and twists. I’ve experimented with a more relaxed narrative pace in my previous five books (The Thin Executioner and the four Mr C books) and they’re also longer than most of my other published books. Having done that, this time round I wanted to go in the opposite direction and write books which were honed down to the bare essentials, books that you’ll hopefully read in a breathless single sitting. That makes them a breeze to edit — I literally fly through them!!! The first book is probably the hardest-hitting of the series on many levels — though it’s by no means the creepiest or bloodiest of the books, it deals with domestic abuse and racism, and those are hard subjects to write about, especially the latter. (I don’t want to make it sound like I’ve crossed over into the realm of realism — these are still horror/fantasy books, but I think you can deal with all sorts of issues in a good horror book.) It’s going to be an uncomfortable read, and it was an uncomfortable book to write, but I think it’s a dark, gripping start to the series, revealing just enough of some of the series goals and themes to wet your appetite for more… But I’m saying too much. I’d better stop there before I give anything important away!!!

Went out with my friend Kenny in the evening. Saw Spurs draw 0-0 with Aston Villa, then went for a nice curry in Copper & Spice — though I made the mistake of ordering the garlic and coriander naan bread — it tasted delicious going down, but my breath stank to the high heavens for the rest of the night and the following morning!!! After that we went to see a Smiths tribute band in Dolans, called These Charming Men. It was the first time I’d seen a dedicated covers band. I mean, obviously I’ve seen plenty of bands over the years playing songs by other artists, but they’ve covered a variety of singers and groups. This was the first time I’d seen a band cover just one band, and try to pass themselves off as the original group. It was an interesting experience. They’re very professional, and cover the songs nicely, and I enjoyed myself a lot. But at the same time it never felt REAL. I was always conscious that I wasn’t really watching The Smiths, and I always felt there was a barrier between me and the band — this was a game of pretend, and it only partially succeeded.

I sometimes get letters or emails from young writers who are worried that their ideas are going to be stolen, or that somebody else will come up with the same ideas that they have had. I always tell them not to worry — there really aren’t many new ideas left in the world of story-telling, merely new ways of shaping and telling stories. Originality isn’t about coming up with an idea that nobody has ever thought of before — it’s about finding a way to tell a story in YOUR way, a way nobody else can quite replicate. Success in any field breeds imitators and copycats — the Harry Potter books have spawned many wan offshoots, countless numbers of bands tried to copy The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, a hit movie usually results in lots of similar films getting the green light. But those cash-ins never feel the same as the originals. Some of them might do quite well, or even work quite well, but people CAN tell the difference. These Charming Men are NOT The Smiths. You can enjoy them for what they ARE — and, as I said above, they’re very good at what they do — but you don’t get the same buzz that you’d have got watching the real band in action in the mid 1980s, just as you don’t get the same buzz if you read a book about a school for wizards which was written to cash in on the success of the HP novels.

In short, if your heart is truly in a story that you are telling (or a song that you’re writing, or a painting that you’re working on, or whatever), it doesn’t matter if a thousand and one copycats try to jump your ship. Originality and freshness shine through in any work. If you pour yourself into your work, nobody else can ever truly capture the spirit of it, the feel of it… the YOUness of it.

3 Comments

  1. Miley said,

    Good advice Darren! If only I could tell that to my neice…

  2. Stefanie said,

    100% Agreed. I know my site isn’t original (I thought it was until I saw hundreds we’re doing the same). The thing is, they are not doing exactly what I’m doing and I’m not doing exactly what they are doing. The words I put down and the experiences I share are all unique to me. The thing about my project is that even if no one ever sees or even cares about it, my heart and soul is in it and I will always love what I have created. At the end of the day, I’m happy with what I accomplished. 🙂

    I also agree with Miley… I wish I could get my spoiled cousin to see life that way.

  3. Isaiah said,

    Darren Shan,
    I wrote to you but yet you choose not to write back, i am aware you are a busy man but, i wish you had the cortousy to write back.

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