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Author Notes for The Evil And The Pure
PART ONE -- a "short" career break.
The Evil And The Pure was released on the 1st of February 2014, and marks the point where I started to use a completely different name for my adult books. (I previously published four novels for adults under my YA pseudonym, Darren Shan.) I commenced work on the book on 25th April 2001, and finished my final edit a "mere" twelve years later on 10th August 2013!
First of all, I didn't spend twelve years slaving away on the book! Since very early in my career, I've juggled books around -- I'll do a first draft of a book, then set it aside for several months while I work on other material, return to it and rewrite or edit, set it aside for a few months again, and so on. Usually the process is spaced out over a two or three year period, but in this case there was a rather long gap between edits.
What happened was... my Darren Shan career. I've had two parallel and separate experiences as an author. Commercially speaking, on the one hand I've been a hugely successful YA author, while on the other hand I've been a struggling adult author. My books for younger readers took off and sold by the millions, but my books for adults never did, and sales have always stayed down in the thousands.
While I'm disappointed that my books for adults haven't done better, it's hard to be too downhearted about it, given how well my YA books have sold. In fact it's kind of neat to have a secret other life, one where I can do very different things, where I don't have to worry about having to please an editor and a publishing house, where I also don't have to worry about pleasing a large existing fan base -- because on the adult front I don't have one. Every book that I've published has meant a lot to me, regardless of its critical reception or sales -- I judge The Evil And The Pure just the same as I judge Cirque Du Freak, even though in terms of sales they're books that exist in totally alternate universes to one another.
I started out writing for adults, and for a time I was rotating pretty evenly between books for adults and children -- I'd write one or two Cirque Du Freak books, then a book for adults, another few CDF books, another for adults. But as my YA career went from 0 to 100 miles per hour, something had to give. Success makes demands of a writer. I toured aggressively and extensively in support of the books. I gave loads of interviews. I wrote a lot of supplementary material for the website -- indeed, I designed and uploaded everything on the first Darren Shan website, and maintained it by myself for quite a few years. I also went on quite a lot of holidays, and bounced back and forth between Limerick and London on leisure time -- I wrote in quiet and seclusion in Limerick, but lived the high life in London and abroad, going to loads of football (soccer) matches, fancy restaurants, art galleries, the theatre, and so on. Hey, I'm all for hard work, but you've got to enjoy the fruits of your labours too!
There just weren't enough hours in the day to maintain two careers. Something had to give, and when my adult publishers didn't come back for more after Hell's Horizon came out to minimal sales, it was an easy decision to make. I decided to put my adult books on hold while I focused on taking my Darren Shan novels as far as I could. I didn't mean for it to be as lengthy a break as it ended up being, but time has a way of slipping away unnoticed when you're busy and enjoying life, and several years swiftly passed without me working on any new adult material.
Then, as I've explained in my notes for The City trilogy, my YA publishers Harper Collins got interested in my earlier books for older readers and asked me if they could republish them. I re-edited Procession Of The Dead and Hell's Horizon, and returned to work on finishing off City Of The Snakes. The City trilogy sold quite well -- a lot better than they did the first time round -- but the books weren't bestsellers and my publishers struggled to break me into the adult market. I think a large part of the problem was that they published the books under the name of Darren Shan -- I always felt that was a mistake, and I objected to it at the time, but I was over-ruled, and reluctantly went along with it.
We ended up taking my fourth adult novel, Lady Of The Shades, to a different publisher, Orion, who had also published Procession Of The Dead (as Ayuamarca) when it was first released in 1999. They had a good plan to turn me into a writer of mainstream thrillers in the line of Lady Of The Shades, which sold well for them -- but, alas, I had other ideas. I'm a big fan of authors who can churn out high quality thrillers of a similar vein -- writers like Robert Ludlum, Lee Child, Michael Connelly -- but as a writer I've always been drawn to experimentation, trying new things, mashing up all sorts of genres, going where the wind and my imagination blow me.
Orion wanted another book like Lady Of The Shades, but I only had one of those in me. I presented them with a few different options -- I had lots of unpublished books in my back catalogue, and I'd written a new one about a guy who gets badly sunburnt in Bulgaria -- but they weren't keen. My first choice was The Evil And The Pure, which I had intended for quite a few years to be my next book after Lady. Orion actually worked on it with me, almost up to the point of publication, but then god cold feet and asked if they could cancel the deal that they had agreed when they signed me up. I might have been able to force them to publish it, but I didn't think there was any point in making them go with a book that they clearly weren't happy with, so I agreed to terminate our contract and we parted on amicable enough terms.
I knew I would face similar reservations if I took the book to another publisher -- and even if I could one who wanted to publish it, they would no doubt be looking for something similar as a follow-up, whereas I knew I was next going to release that book about the sunburnt guy in Bulgaria. So I decided, after much thought, to go down the self-publishing route. That wouldn't have been possible when I wrote the first draft of Evil, as the world of publishing was a different place back then, but much had changed and ebooks had made self-publishing a much more viable prospect. I knew nothing about that world, how to publish a book, or how to market it. The only thing I was certain of was that it was going to be a real tough struggle. But I've never let the prospect of a tough struggle put me off, so I rolled up my sleeves, started to do some research, and (having bandied around a number of possible pseudonyms) embarked on a new life as the unknown indie author, Darren Dash.
PART TWO -- a love song to London.
As with pretty much all authors, my literary influences are legion. I draw inspiration from all over the place, from things that happen to me or that I see, from movies and TV shows, and of course from books. Ever writer is in one way or another the product of the books they've read, and I've always worn my inspirations proudly, happy to openly tip my hat to the authors and books that have fed into my work. Sometimes they're not easy to credit, as the inspirations come from my subconscious -- for instance, the Little People in the Cirque Du Freak were inspired by the movie Phantasm, but I'd completely forgotten about it when I was writing the book, and it was only year later when I came across it in my DVD collection that I went to myself, "Oh yeah!" But I always knew that The Evil And The Pure was in large part the product of my love for James Ellroy's novels.
Like many people, I came to Ellroy through the movie of L.A. Confidential. I was blown away when I saw it, and swiftly started working my way through his entire back catalogue. Some of his earlier books were very rough around the edges, and he took his curt writing style a bit TOO minimal for my liking in some of his later work, but those classics in the middle... damn, they were great! I loved the speed at which the stories moved, the darkness they explored, the troubled and often unlikeable yet sympathetic characters at the heart of the plots. He usually pinned a story around two or three main characters, and of course they were mostly set in Los Angeles, a city that he probed just as deeply and beautifully as he probed the psyches of his flawed creations.
I was born in London, and although I've spent most of my life in Ireland, I've always bounced back and forth between the two. In the late 90s and early noughties I started spending more time in London than ever before, because as I started to get paid for my writing, I was able to travel more freely. I felt like I wanted to write a novel that served London as a dark love song, in the same way that Ellroy's novels eulogised L.A. And although I'd written most of my books with one main character at the core, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a leaf out of Ellroy's books and cast four flawed, evil men as my narrative foils.
Actually, I guess if London could be classed as a fifth character, this was really a story of six characters -- the sixth being Evil. I've always been fascinated by evil and its workings, and have explored the nature of evil in many of my books. In this one I decided to go further than normal, to look at evil in as many of its distinct and different hues as I could. Thus, each of my four man characters represented a different type of evil -- a gangster who is a decent guy in many ways but who will commit terrible acts as part of his job; a nice, easy-going guy who will happily sell drugs that destroy lives, caring only about the money he makes; a thug who is full of rage and fear, who lashes out and kills to feed his dark urges; and a dangerously obsessed man who feeds on a lurid perversion and will sacrifice everything in pursuit of it.
Each character came together with speed and ease. I often find that the dark, troubled characters are the easiest to write about, and this was a book full of villains who would have been the key bogeyman in any other novel -- there were others in addition to the four I mostly focused on, such as the fallen priest and the mob boss who wanted to go straight.
The only real difficulty I had with the book was pulling back from the darkness over the course of the rewrites and edits. The first few drafts were even darker than the finished book. I gave my cast more leeway, wrote about their dark acts in greater detail, took the hypothetical readers closely and intimately into their warped worlds. That's something that I often have to do when writing about extreme characters -- to fully get under their skin, I have to go with their dark whims. It sometimes takes me into very uncomfortable zones, places where I know most readers won't want to follow. The task is then to whittle the story down, to draw back at times rather than always follow. It's not about watering down the darkness, but making it more palatable. I wanted these to be nightmarish creations, but not so repulsive that they drove readers away.
I based most of the book around the southeast of London, around landmarks and streets that I had explored as a child and later as an adult -- in many ways, even though the story has nothing to do with my life, this is my most personal and autobiographical work. I'd lived in an area called The Elephant And Castle, and stayed there when I was an university, so that featured heavily in the book. I had a great-aunt called Nora, who lived on Long Lane close to Tower Bridge and London Bridge, and I used to stay with her when I'd visit London in the late 90s and early noughties, so those areas fed into it too. The church where the foul Fr Sebastian lives was modeled after the English Martyrs church, which was my family's local church when they lived in the area -- my parents were married there and I was baptised there. The lab where the imprisoned Dr Phials works was based on a garage in a cul-de-sac a row or two along from Walworth Avenue, which is where my grandparents lived and where I stayed when I went to university. And so on, and so on.
A few of the characters were named after (but not based upon) real people too. The vile Kevin was named after a cousin of mine. And the taxi driver who appears late in the book, Dave English, was named after my taxi driver friend who has popped up in more than one of my novels -- if I come to a scene that requires a cabbie, I usually name him after Dave!
There's no denying that The Evil And The Pure is a dark, troubling book, but I hope I layered it with enough light and purity at the same time to render it an enjoyable read too -- ultimately it IS a story about good triumphing over evil, and shows that in even the bleakest of environments, there's always hope. I have to admit that this is a book of 99% evil and 1% pure, but that 1% is enough for light to win out over darkness in the end. I like to think it always will be.