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Darren Shan's new fantasy series

Darren Shan's new fantasy series

The first book in Darren Shan's new series, Archibald Lox and the Bridge Between Worlds, is available as a free download. Here, Darren blogs about the moment that sparked the idea for his Archibold Lox series:
"Where do you get your ideas from?"

It's a question I get asked all the time. I imagine most fiction writers are in the same boat. People want to know how our brains work, where our stories originate, what sparks it all off. They're used to Eureka! moments from films that they've seen or books that they've read, where a writer sees something that sets the tumblers rolling and leads them immediately into the heart of a story.

Sorry to burst the bubble, but in my experience it doesn't work that way most of the time. Usually a novel will slowly come together from a variety of places and sources. You often don't know what initially inspired a story, and can't explain how it gradually fell into place.

But to the relief of the more dreamy among you, I can confirm that there are exceptions, stories that explode from one specific flash point, and my latest novel, Archibald Lox and the Bridge Between Worlds, was one of them.

A few years ago I was walking over a footbridge in London, when I spotted a young woman walking towards me, pulling bizarre faces, scrunching up her nose and grimacing. She probably had an itchy nose, but I wondered if there might be another explanation for it. What if there was a doorway to another world on the bridge, and those tics and grimaces were the key required to open it?

And I was off!

I immediately knew that this would be my next book. By the time I descended from the bridge, I knew that the girl in my story would be fleeing from a pair of killers, that my main character would be a boy who found out he had the powers of a very skilled locksmith, and that he would reopen the doorway and follow the girl out of our universe and into a place called the Merge.

I still had a lot of work to do before I started writing - I had to figure out why the killers were after the girl, why the boy had those powers, what sort of a world he would discover - but I knew I was going to put in the man hours and solve those problems. The story had caught me, like a hook snaring a fish, and there could be no wriggling free.

It would be a long path from that moment on the bridge to eventual publication. My other series had mostly been set on Earth. True, I populated it with vampires, demons, zombies and other fantastical creatures, but the settings were familiar to readers, easy for them to visualize.

This story would almost wholly be set in the Merge, a universe that operated in ways very different from ours, where the sky could be any colour you wanted, where countries could be the size of a living room or the size of a planet, where the passage of time couldn't touch you. That meant working everything out for myself, including working out things that had no real bearing on the main story, but which I needed to know in order to be able to present the world to my readers as a fully formed, believable place.

After spending far longer than usual on the planning process, I started writing the book back in 2013, and it was HUGE! Although I ended up publishing the story in three parts (as The Bridge Between Worlds, The Empress of Suanpan, and The Vote of Alignment), I wrote it as one massive story, and the first draft finished up being almost twice the length of the final three books. I explored the Merge in great detail, figuring out as much of it as I could. Archie - the boy who follows the girl across worlds - asked more questions than any lawyer ever asked in a courtroom. He wanted to know about everything - because I needed to know about everything.

The resulting book was far too flat and filled with facts to hold the attention of all but the most avid lover of world building stories. That was OK. I knew it would never see the light of day in that format. As a writer, you sometimes have to put in a lot of work that your readers are never going to know about. A story sometimes resembles an iceberg - the finished book is the tip that everyone gets to view, but below that in the water can lie an unruly beast five or six times its size, a beast made up of discarded drafts, slashed or abandoned chapters, gutted side-stories.

I usually go through a book six or seven times before it's ready to be published. With the first Archibald Lox volume, it took me 14 or 15 attempts to whittle it down and fine-tune it to the point where I was happy to set it free. It was a grueling process. Although many writers hate it, I actually love the editing process - the first draft is always the hardest part for me - but this one pushed me to my limits, and by those last few run-throughs I was starting to tire, like a boxer in the old days, when a fight could last an indefinite number of rounds, wearily shuffling out of his corner for the 50th time in the same bout.

Having said that, the story never failed to excite me once I resumed work on it. That buzz that I'd felt years earlier on the bridge in London always came back when I sat down and followed Archie through the doorway again. I'd often have to reluctantly drag myself back to the Merge for another edit, but every time I got there, I'd engage instantly and revive like a flower that's just been watered.

Anyway, it's taken me a few years longer than anticipated to unleash the wonders and mysteries of the Merge, but hopefully it will have been worth the wait, and readers will connect with the books as fervently as I did. If not, I'm in trouble, because there are at least two more volumes to come, and they're even bigger, more personally challenging beasts than the first one!

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