The two children I’m with have been excited for weeks, and I’d say Derek Landy is as welcome as Father Christmas, judging by how they jump. I’ve borrowed two very big fans of Derek’s for this meeting, to lighten things up a bit. Charlie liked Derek’s new book so much that he wrote two reviews of it for the local bookshop’s review page. Various transport issues means Derek is late, and Phoebe and Charlie can barely contain themselves when he finally turns up. The delay means we have to let Derek sign books for the customers in the shop first, before we interview him. But they are happy to simply stand next to him and chat.
Derek came last year when his first book about the dead detective Skulduggery Pleasant was published, so he has a wide fan base locally, and judging by the length of the queue they have all turned out to see him again. I’d say Derek has got more used to this role over the last twelve months, and this time he is accompanied by only one helper, Sam.
“I’m not so keen on that”, says Derek to Sam, as he sees the books ordered by someone who wants to sell them, with special requests on how they should be signed. The books get left on the side. He gets on with talking to the young buyers who have turned up in person, asking what their names are and finding out what kind of face they would like with the signature. Derek does a cartoon face of himself for each book, and he has a range of happy and sad and scary and angry, and many more.
While Sam admires Phoebe’s intricately plaited hair, a souvenir from Dubai, Phoebe stands next to Derek and helps with the choice of faces. “Happy face” she whispers, and Derek agrees that “sometimes you just know” what it should be. Charlie gets carried away with all the books around him, and decides to buy some more, just for the fun of it. “You’re going to get more awkward as you go on, aren’t you?” Derek says. “This is going to be good”, about the cartoon he has in mind. Then, for good measure, he makes engine noises. Boys will be boys, even at the age of 34.
He says no thanks to the offer of cake, however, and I try and decide if Derek has lost weight. He’s wearing his signature black shirt and black trousers, which looks just right, in- between formal and informal. Derek remembers names despite being introduced to so many in a short period of time. “Charlie, are you here again?”, as Charlie is back for more.
Derek decides to sign the ebay-bound books after all. ”I don’t mind people selling on ebay, as long as it’s not a whole box”. He’s been requested to write the first line, and says he should learn to start all books with a short word like “Pow”, from now on, to cut down on what has to be copied out. Phoebe tells him to do sad faces for the ebay books, but he explains they get no faces at all. They are laughing as they wonder if Derek could put in a little threat in his books like “if you buy this book on ebay, a little angel will die”. More laughing.
Phoebe wants to know how they made the edges of the paperback glow-in-the-dark, “really cool”, so Derek explains how when they are not busy, the PR staff get put in the basement to colour in the edges with special markers. Very funny. He asks “who’s your favourite author, apart from me, obviously?” Always nice with a man who believes in himself.
Derek can multi-task, so we start the interviewing once he gets going on signing the huge piles of books waiting, which just require a signature. Accompanied by the sound of books piling up, Charlie and Phoebe decide how they will divide up the questioning.
C – “What’s your favourite part of Playing With Fire?”
“In the first book Skulduggery was this awesome warrior, who beats everyone he comes up against. Here I wanted a bad guy who was his equal. My favourite bit is when he first confronts Baron Vengeous and – how do you say this nicely – he beats him soundly. The reader finds Skulduggery is not invincible.”
P – “What’s your favourite bit of book one?”
“When I came up with the vampires. Vampires are usually not scary enough. These are just ordinary people, and when the sun goes down, they just rip their skin off.”
C – “How do you think of the names?”
“Skulduggery just popped into my head. For others I keep a notebook, for when I hear a cool name or word that could be altered slightly. Then I just go back and find it.”
P – “When did you start writing?”
“I’ve always been writing, since I was eight or nine. I kept on writing when I was a teenager, and got expelled from college. After, I worked on the family farm for six years, writing scripts, for films. Then with Skulduggery Pleasant, writing books.
C – “Will Ghastly come back?”
“Yeah, he WILL come back. Probably in the third book. You’re lucky Tanith is still around. In the first draft for the first book she dies a horrible, disturbing death. But my editor said ‘no,no, you can’t do this.’ If you end a book with one or two murders, no-one’s going to have a smile on their face after that, so she convinced me to keep Tanith alive. Since then I’ve been taken up with torture for Tanith, because in my mind she should be dead. Very hard to kill.”
P – “When is your next book out?”
“Next April, ages away. It’s nine books in all, out every April for the next seven years. By the time you are sixteen the series will be over. Stephanie will be seventeen. You’ll be growing up together.”
C – “How do you think of the ideas?”
“You are drawing on everything you’ve ever experienced. You find there are two books about everything at the same time. It’s called Zeitgeist. Practically everyone is thinking at the same time, experiencing the same things. They stew in our heads. Good question!”
P – “What do you normally do in the day?”
“I get up about 11 or 12. When do you get up? I have lunch, walk the dog, play games, might watch a movie, laze around. Then I start writing around four and go on right through to three or four in the morning. Just straight through. I love all the fun things in life, but there’s nothing I find more fun than writing.”
C – “Do you type or write by hand?”
“I type. On the farm, I put it in my head, and when I got in I’d go straight to the computer. Taught myself to type fast. Which is why my handwriting is so awful, because I hardly ever use my hands.”
P – “Do you base your characters on real people?”
“Skulduggery Pleasant is based on me, obviously. Very smart, very thin. The main person is Stephanie, who is based on a girl in my martial arts class. Exactly as Stephanie, she’s tall, pretty, she has dark hair, is slim, strong. Exactly the same personality. She’s twenty now. Most impressive girl I know.”
C – “Have you ever had to use your Munchkin Army?”
“Not yet”. Derek laughs. “I’m pretty sure the ninjas are out to get me. Then I’ll use my army; take over the world. It’d be brilliant.”
P – “I’d heard there’s going to be a movie. Is this true?”
“In theory, yes. I’ve written the script, which is in with Warner Brothers, and we have a director, but I’m not allowed to tell you his name.” Sighs. “It’s completely unpredictable. Might shoot in 2009, might shoot in 2010 or late this year. Might not shoot at all. I remain cautiously optimistic. All the signs look good, but it might never happen.”
C – “Why did you give the Cleavers scythes?”
“I came up with the Cleavers years ago, for something totally different. For a script, fairy tale kingdom. I needed palace guards to be impressive, silent, cold, unique. Slightly strange, slightly scary.”
P – “Is the Skulduggery Pleasant film going to be animated or real?”
“Real. Skulduggery, I’m trying to have a real actor, with a blue mask for special effects. Don’t want him completely animated. Sometimes when you do, it’s really, really rubbish.”
C – “What is your favourite TV programme and what’s your favourite game?”
“Favourite television of all time; Buffy. Recently – a toss-up between Lost and Heroes. Games; I like everything with the military.”
P – “Your favourite book?”
“I like crime books. You get the best dialogue.”
C – “How long does it take you to write a book?”
“First book took about six months. Second, five months. The third, about five and a half months. So I average about five months, so far.”
P – “Have you written the third book? And is it, like, with the editors?”
“I’m editing it now. I sent it in, and they sent it back, with suggestions. I like editing. I like suggestions for how to make it better.”
C – “Do you like the cover art?”
“Brilliant. Tom Percival works with Harper Collins, and it’s like he opened up my brain and scooped up my thoughts from my skull and put them on the page. He’s wonderful. Brilliant. He really is.”
P – “What colour will the third book be?”
“I don’t know. We have a limited number of colours. I don’t ever want a pink Skulduggery book.” Laughs. ”I don’t want that at all. I think that’d be bad. Only so many colours till you start getting onto pink. I don’t know.”
C – “How did you think up your style of drawing?”
“I went to animation college, so my style is mostly lazy cartoonist. I started doodles in books.”
P – “What do you do when not writing books?”
“Nothing. I lead a very boring life. I write books, I walk my dog, I buy my toys. That’s pretty much it.” Shocked giggles from Charlie and Phoebe.
C – “Have you finished the fourth book?”
“No, but I have written about one third of it, OK. So, yeah, I’ve got it all planned out. Most of it. Some bits I haven’t a clue. Any more questions?”
P – “I have one more. What’s the worst of being an author? The most boring.”
“Eerm. Doing the line. You know when someone asks you to write the first line. Yeahh… No, it really is all fun.”
Bookwitch – “Are you working towards a pre-determined end of the series? Something complete?”
“I know what the last book is about, and I know where everyone is by then, but I don’t know what happens, or who lives or dies. A definite plan. I’m of the opinion that as long as I know roughly where I’m going, but I don’t know exactly, it’ll keep things fun. That’s my only criteria for being able to write and have as much fun as possible.”
By now we are nearly an hour late. Sam frets a bit, but Derek is totally calm. So I offer my book to be signed, now that Derek has worked his way through close to a hundred books while talking. He talks as he draws, “for some reason I’ll be wearing a little witch’s hat. Haha. I’m on a broom. Happy bookwitch, not a bad witch. Skulduggery can go on a rocket ship. I’m riding a broom, and he always has to be cooler than me. Hehehe.”
The children’s mobile phones are out. They need photos to prove they were there. Charlie’s sister Gabby desperately needs to put a question to Derek. “Where will you be holding the auditions?” Haha. “I’m sure it will be all over Ireland. You need an Irish accent. Say grand, a lot, you know. That’s good. Cabbage, celery. It’s one of the things you’ll probably hear about. Go on the websites. Try the bebo page for Skulduggery. All the news will be there. I will be there. Nobody wants to talk to me. They all want to talk to Skulduggery.”
Phoebe and others promise to talk to Derek. “Chuck, this has been a lot of fun.” He shakes everybody’s hands before Sam drags him away.
All photos except the last one by H Giles