E: How did you get into writing screenplays?
D: I figured writing screenplays was easier than writing books. It takes, at most, a few weeks to write a screenplays, but it takes, roughly, six months to write a first draft of a book, and that’s not including edits and rewrites.
The reason I prefer writing books to screenplays is because I get to own the books- I never own the screenplays. Making movies is a team effort, it’s a collaboration, and on one hand it’s great. Writers are traditionally very solitary- they write on their own, with no one around. And then, when you make a movie, you’re surrounded by people, by actors, who are really pretty, and it’s great fun, because suddenly, you know, you have friends…!
But because it is all about teamwork, it means that I can never take the credit when something turns out brilliantly, but also I can never take the blame when something turns out awful. So the nice thing about writing a book is that, finally, the writer gets to have complete responsibility for the work, for better or worse. It’s yours, it’s no one else’s. So that sense of wonderful ownership of something, suddenly, after two movies where I didn’t own anything about the project, came as a huge breakthrough for me.
E: The names of the characters, like China Sorrows and Ghastly Bespoke… what’s been the hardest name to come up with?
D: Oh, okay… the hardest name was Valkyrie Cain. I mean, I started writing this book about Skulduggery Pleasant and a girl called Stephanie, and I knew that Stephanie would have to take on a new name somewhere around the halfway mark, maybe a bit later. But I figured, no problem, I’ve got months of writing ahead of me, I’m sure a suitable name will come to me before I get to that stage. So I was writing away, and I got to the halfway point, and I couldn’t think of a good enough name, I couldn’t think of a name cool enough to be the partner of a guy called Skulduggery Pleasant. I was panicking, kind of, because I got to the halfway point, and then I got to the part of the book where she says “Okay, I’m not Stephanie any longer, my name is…” And I went “uh oh”, because there was a big blank space where this new name ought to be, and there wasn’t any name there.
So I wrote on, as if she had a new name, and I was coming to the end of the book, and the pressure was on. I needed a cool name. And not a stupid name, not something like Ravenclaw Jet or something.
Cain came about because I heard the phrase “raising Cain”. I’d heard it before bit never knew what it meant. I found out that it meant to make trouble, and I thought perfect, she’s a troublemaker, her last name is Cain. I don’t know how the word Valkyrie popped in. I’ve always liked the word. It’s kind of the same way Skulduggery Pleasant popped into my head- with no thought at all, it just appeared there, in my mind. So I had Cain, and one day the word Valkyrie appeared before it, and there it was. And it was perfect, because Valkyrie sounds like a real name, it’s almost Valerie, but not quite. So it worked.
E: And it’ll still work when she is, like, 70.
D: Exactly. If she’s a pretty, slim girl now, and she calls herself Jet, that’s cool. But when she hits her 50s and she puts on a little weight, the name Jet is going to look silly. So with Valkyrie, I don’t have that problem.
E: What has been the hardest character to write?
D: Um… there isn’t one. I populate these books with characters I love writing about, so if there’s a character that I’m struggling with, I’ll get rid of him, replace him with someone fun. So I don’t really have that problem. The EASIEST character to write is Valkyrie, and it really has to be, because most of the book is told from her perspective. Skulduggery is always a blast to write. The most FUN character is probably Scapegrace- because he thinks he’s this ultimate killer, and really, he’s just a buffoon. I think he’s hilariously inept.
E: Who has been your favourite bad guy?
D: Oh wow… it’s probably the villain from Mortal Coil, who is an assassin called Tesseract. The reason he’s my favourite is because he’s not evil. He doesn’t want to enslave the world or bring back his evil gods, he just has a job to do. And this makes him more of a threat, because the usual bad guys get hung up on their hatred for Skulduggery and Valkyrie. With them, it’s personal, and because of that personal hatred, their plans become unstuck. But with Tesseract, it’s all business. He’s here to do a job- and he’s VERY good at his job. He’s a better fighter than all of them, he’s smarter than most of them.
E: What has been your weirdest fan encounter?
D: The funniest one was probably in Australia. I was to meet a few people before an event, prize winners, and go out to lunch and have a laugh. And two of these prize winners, two teenage girls, came dressed up. Now, usually, when people dress up, they dress up as their favourite characters, so you’ll see a lot of Skulduggerys and Valkyries and Taniths… but these two came dressed as the Canary Car and the Purple Menace, Skulduggery’s back-up cars for when the Bentley is out of action. They had these big cardboard boxes with the bottoms cut out, held around their midsections by braces, painted yellow and purple with doors and headlights and everything. These two perfectly intelligent and charming young ladies, walking down the street in the middle of the afternoon, chatting away, dressed as cars. Weird.
E: Why do the books have different covers in America, and why does the first book have a different title?
D: The accepted logic is that things that work here don’t work over there. Most books have different covers in the States than they do here, that’s just a fact. So they took a look at our covers and they said, no, it probably won’t work over here, so we’re going to come up with our own covers. Which was a huge mistake. The American covers aren’t half as good as ours, they just looked flat and kind of boring, which probably had something to do with why Skuldggery hasn’t take off in America like it has over this part of the world. Then they relaunched the series with a new title, The Sceptre of the Ancients, in the hope of getting lucky the second time around, and that didn’t work either. But, hey, there you go. Can’t have everything.
E: What has been the hardest book to write?
D: Definitely the third one. The first took 6 months to write, second took 5, and the fourth and fifth took about 6 as well. But the third took about 13 months. I just lost focus. I couldn’t concentrate. I’d sit and I’d write a page but it wasn’t working. This was, I think, coming to the end of 2007, and that was a hectic year for me anyway. But I couldn’t focus.
Then, it was New Year’s Eve, and I sat down that afternoon, I forced myself to write a few words… and suddenly it was back. It flowed again. I could focus. I wrote that whole afternoon, I called up my friends and I said I’m not going out tonight, and I wrote up to midnight and through it. It’s become a kind of tradition now, to be writing through New Year’s Eve. Start the year as you mean to continue.
E: How is the movie going?
D: Um… There’s no real news. There is always a lot of behind the scenes news, but no real, actual news. And we don’t tell people the behind the scenes news because, you know, it’s behind the scenes. It’s all just talk. There’s nothing happening that will inform anyone on if or when the movie will get made. I wrote the first draft, we gave it to another writer, and another, and another, and that’s how Hollywood works. A half a dozen writers will work on any one screenplay. It’s unfortunate that I don’t have any definite news, because I always get emails from people asking when the auditions are…! I keep telling them there are no auditions planned, but they still ask…!
E: What books would you recommend?
D: Abarat, by Cliver Barker. Absolutely stunning books. His Dark Materials, by Pullman. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. The Harry Potter books. I love any writer who can do things that I can’t. I mean, there are some awful, terrible books out there, which I won’t mention, but there are some masterpieces too.
E: When did your blog start?
D: Argh, the blog. I didn’t want to do the blog. I have nothing to blog about, you know? Writers sit at their desks and write all day- how is that interesting to anyone? So I really didn’t want to do it, but I eventually gave in, because my publishers kept asking. They also want to do Twitter, but I put my foot down. I can barely find something interesting to write about once a week- and they want me to write interesting snippets five times a DAY? Not gonna happen.
The cool thing about it is the comments section, where all the readers have started to form their own community and friendships, and they’re quite happy to talk and discuss things on their own. That’s really nice to see.
E: Has there anything you’ve ever read that, afterwards, you go “I wish I’d written that”?
D: Yeah… I mean, I wish I was good enough to write like Pullman or Gaiman or Clive Barker. It happens a lot, but I make the best of it. Whenever I read a book that I wish I’d written, I take all the fun and enjoyment that I got out of it and I move it over into whatever I’m writing, to continue that experience. It’s a nice way of getting enthusiastic about writing, when you read something you love.
E: And lastly, do you have any advice for writers?
D: My advice would be, you’ve got to stop thinking about other people, and stop thinking about the books that are out now. Write for yourself. If vampires are big this year, angels will be big next year. By the time you finish your book, romantic, brooding hedgehogs will be the in thing. You’ve got to have fun. Pack it full of the stuff you want to write about.
I packed Skulduggery full of my love for comics and movies, books and music, martial arts and horror… I just had fun. Fun is contagious. If you have fun writing something, I guarantee that someone out there will have fun reading it.
E: Thank you very much for speaking to me.
D: My absolute pleasure, Eleanor!