Author Derek Landy: I have so many more stories to tell...

After a record-breaking eight-hour book-signing in Waterstone’s last weekend, Skulduggery Pleasant author Derek Landy talks to Donal O’Keeffe about the fans who have fallen in love in his queues, how Cork Spider-Man artist Will Sliney is just plain sound, and whether there will be another Skulduggery book.
Author Derek Landy: I have so many more stories to tell...

Skulduggery Pleasant author Derek Landy with Spider-Man artist Will Sliney and Tadhg Sliney (3) in Perry Street. Picture: Donal O'Keeffe

WHEN Derek Landy walked in the back door of Waterstone’s earlier this month, an hour before the official 2pm starting time for his book-signing, the shop was absolutely packed and a warm round of applause erupted when he was recognised.

Eight hours later, Waterstone’s bookseller John Breen would reckon that during the signing more than 300 people lined up to meet the writer, with many waiting over six hours for a chat, and the author was warm and engaging with every reader he met.

“Oh, I slept for pretty much the entire car ride back to Dublin, and my voice was close to giving out,” the author laughs over the phone.

As exhausting as he finds book-signings, the fantasy writer says they give him an incredible lift.

“I mean, you can’t do an eight-hour signing and not just be hugely grateful for that amount of support from readers and their very patient family members who take some of the readers along.”

He recalls a signing in Drogheda two years ago which he says encapsulated the broad range of his readership.

“This big biker guy in his forties, with the jacket and the tattoos and the beard, just standing there and talking about how much he loved the characters and the story, and then I signed his stuff and he headed off, and right behind him is the smallest little eight-year-old girl.”

Landy says he loves seeing people from eight to 80 mingling together, bonding over a love of imagination and kindness, and he says it blows him away that they will stand for hours on end for a few minutes of chat.

“It’s that wild disparity of ages, and absolutely nobody cares, there is no-one feeling self-conscious, or embarrassed or intimidated. It’s a wonderful thing.

“What is incredible, especially about the Cork signing, is that we reach hour four and I’m starting to apologise, in between all of the chat, I’m saying ‘Thank you for waiting so long, thank you for being so patient’. But, again and again, every time I said that, from the people there with the books to the parents or the guardians or the friends, they all laughed and said, ‘Oh don’t worry, we’ve made great friends in line’.”

Every once in a while, the Dublin native says, he’ll meet couples who met in one of his signing queues, and sometimes they’ll come with babies.

“They go, ‘We met because of you, and now we’re married and we have this kid’, and for some reason they never call the child Derek.

“Even though technically I am responsible for the kid’s existence, but nope, it’s never Derek.”

Or Skulduggery, for that matter, although he says he would be delighted if his books resulted in a generation of girls named after his protagonist, Valkyrie Cain.

It is 15 years since the first Skulduggery Pleasant novel was written, when publisher Harper Collins offered Landy a £1 million advance. Since then, Landy’s books, which are an insanely readable blend of horror, comedy, fantasy and detective genres, have sold in the millions and have now been translated into 36 languages. Not bad going for a self-confessed dreamer who failed the Leaving Cert and the first year of college and who then spent a decade picking vegetables on the family farm.

For fans of Skulduggery Pleasant, especially those who have read the fifteenth, and allegedly final, book, Until The End (2022), there is only one pressing question: will there more books?

“There will be more stories,” Landy replies carefully. “The lovely thing about writing such a long-running series is that, every once in a while, I’m given the opportunity to write a short story for use in a foreign translation edition, or a special edition. 

"Every so often I have to write short stories set in his world. So, there will definitely be more stories, that I can say without hesitation. Anything else? I can’t actually say right now.”

And what are the chances of seeing Skulduggery Pleasant in other media? There was a planned Warner Bros adaptation a few years ago, but its script, which reputedly included a musical number featuring Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror, was memorably described by Landy as the single worst thing he had ever read.

“We were with Warners, then we were with Sony, than we were with a few other slightly more independent studios over the last 15 years. The moment the Warner deal ended I took the reins again, and I’ve been fairly hands-on, which might explain why the bloody thing hasn’t ever been made yet,” he says with a chortle.

 “Now I’m working with a great bunch of producers. I can’t say exactly who yet, but we are quietly optimistic that this time this script is in a good enough shape that potentially something might happen, but no guarantees.”

Landy recently branched into writing for Marvel Comics, and, as Ballycotton-based Marvel artist Will Sliney pointed out when they met before the Waterstone’s book signing, he’s not writing just any old Marvel characters, he’s writing their frontline team book, the Avengers.

“It’s been absolutely a dream come true when it comes to the Marvel stuff, because I do credit Spider-Man with teaching me how to read at such an advanced level. 

"As a kid, I was always reading Marvel books and Batman and 2000AD, so I was brought up on comics,” he says.

A tweet from a Marvel editor led to his writing for the House of Ideas, and a number of mini-series followed, starring the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, Falcon, and the Winter Soldier, and it has just been announced that he is writing a new Avengers comic.

“I get to write all of the classic Marvel heroes, which is my absolute dream. It’s just so much fun.”

Despite a long friendship with Sliney on Twitter, lunch in Perry Street in Cork was the first time they had actually met in person.

“I’ve heard how tight the Irish crew is, when it comes to artists and writers, how much they support each other, and what a tight-knit group it is, but that was my first time meeting Will, and he just took me through the ins and outs and realities of comic book conventions, and how to do it, and, more importantly, why I should do it,” Landy says. 

“When you see the conventions being reported, there are hundreds of thousands of people, all dressed up, all chaos, so many people in such a tight space, my claustrophobia would be going crazy, so I never really was that keen, but everything Will Sliney has told me about conventions, it’s actually tempting me for the first time ever.”

He describes Sliney as a genuinely friendly and welcoming man who spent their lunch listing industry contacts and offering to introduce Landy to them.

“He’s just such a nice person. And my God, the amount of stuff he’s doing, even apart from comics, the ‘Draw with Will’ stuff, and all his talks now and lectures, he’s quite the burgeoning industry in and of himself really.

Returning to Landy’s comment about Spider-Man effectively teaching him to read, British writer Alan Moore once said Superman had taught him far more about morality than Christianity ever did. Is that something which would find resonance with Landy?

“Well, all you have to do to find a workable role model in life is look at Spider-Man. Look at Indiana Jones. Look at Daredevil. Look at the flawed heroes who keep trying, despite losing half the time,” he replies, reasoning that identifiability must be what draws readers to such characters.

“It’s why I will never understand Star Wars fans or Star Trek fans who are remotely xenophobic, or racist, or sexist or right-wing. It’s like they have missed the entire point of the stories they absolutely adore. They have missed the little fact that Star Wars is against fascism, and that Star Trek is against sexism, against racism, against exclusion.

“I don’t understand anyone who can devour these stories and love these characters and not take away every positive from them. It’s like a wilful kind of ignorance where I’m gonna read Superman, but I’m not going to let him turn me into a better man.”

Finally, asked what advice Landy would offer aspiring young writers, he admits it’s a question he gets asked all the time, but he obliges with a lengthy reply, which he later jokes is part of his new side-line as a motivational speaker.

“For every person that asks, I run through about three or four different answers, and each answer is tailored to what I pick up from that particular person, and each of them is as entirely valid as the next one. But if you’re a young writer out there and you’re reading this, and you want to know how to develop as a writer, it sounds like the stupidest and the most patronising and condescending bit of advice when I say you have to remember to have fun.”

There is a very specific reason he uses the word fun, and that is because he has learned in life, and in writing, that fun is contagious.

“What that means for each person out there is: forget about what you think people want to read about. You’ve got to focus on what you want to write, no matter how weird or bizarre or off the scale it might be. I mean, I wrote about a skeleton detective who throws fireballs and saves the world in Ireland. And I did that because that’s what I wanted to write about.

" All of the genres that I cared about, I packed into the very first book, which is why it’s a horror, and an adventure and a fantasy and science fiction and mystery and crime and comedy.

“Everything that I possibly would ever have wanted to write is a vital strand of DNA that makes up the entire series. So going in, I was determined to have fun because it leaps off the page. You know when you are reading something from a writer who’s having fun.”

He describes that joy in writing as a transferable energy, and he says everyone knows when a writer is having fun.

“It comes through your TV screen. It comes through whatever video game you’re playing, whatever movie you’re watching, whatever comic book you’re reading.

“That type of creative energy is transferable, and it is contagious and that’s my biggest piece of advice to any writers out there. You’ve got to focus on yourself and you’ve got to focus on the things that make you happy, and I guarantee no matter how weird your idea, there will be someone else out there who is on the same wavelength and they will appreciate it.

“Your job is not to find them, your job is just to write it and it’s their job to find your story.”

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