Derek Landy on living life without a boss
‘Make every chapter your absolute favourite . . . Then, when it’s done, make the NEXT chapter your absolute favourite’
Derek Landy: "I write in my office, on a Mac. I know writers who work in cafes and in hotels and on planes . . . I can’t do that. I have to be at home and I have to be alone."
What was the first book to make an impression on you? Cujo, by Stephen King. I haven’t read it since I was a kid, but it terrified me. I was too young to read it, but then I was too young to read a lot of the books I was reading, and definitely too young to watch a lot of the movies I was watching. Didn’t do me any harm, though.
What was your favourite book as a child? The Three Investigators series. I collected them all.
What is your favourite quotation? “A coward dies a thousand deaths. A brave man dies but once.” Which is a paraphrasing of a Shakespeare line – as most things are.
Who is your favourite fictional character? Spider-Man. He’s the plucky hero who just won’t give up, no matter the odds.
Which do you prefer – ebooks or the traditional print version? Print! Pages! I have an ereader but only use it for flights if the book is too heavy. They got the book right the first time out – it’s a design that’ll never be bettered.
Where and how do you write? I write in my office, on a Mac. I know writers who work in cafes and in hotels and on planes . . . I can’t do that. I have to be at home and I have to be alone.
What book changed the way you think about fiction? The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier. An astonishing young-adult book that blew my mind when I was a teenager. The sequel was just as good.
What is the most research you have done for a book? Er . . . last week I went to the zoo because, um, I have a scene set in the zoo, so . . . so I went to the zoo. (I’m not big on research.)
What book influenced you the most? Impossible to say. A few books by Stephen King, a few by Clive Barker. Spider-Man comics. Batman comics. Elmore Leonard. Hunter S Thompson. It all goes into the pot inside your head.
What book would you give to a friend’s child on their 18th birthday? Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams. If he can appreciate that, then I know my friend has succeeded as a parent.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author? Have fun. It sounds like a rubbish piece of advice, but having fun is the only way you’ll continue to write when you just don’t want to write any more. Make every chapter your absolute favourite – pack it with your best lines, your best ideas, your best writing. Then, when it’s done, make the NEXT chapter your absolute favourite.
What weight do you give reviews? Professional reviews, I listen to. Providing they make sense, providing they make a good case, even a negative review can be helpful. Online reviews are different. Positive ones are great, and might put a smile on my face, and of course I’m glad to have them. Negative ones make me shrug. I realised early on that you can’t please everyone. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, or that the reviewer has no taste – it just means they don’t like it. Which is fair enough.
Where do you see the publishing industry going? Online publishing is going to continue to explode, but then it’ll have to figure out a way to sort the good stuff from the bad. We’ll get to a point where there’s just too many online books out there, and there’ll be a return to traditional publishing, which at least is (some) mark of quality. After that, we’ll all settle into a new normal, where online and traditional will exist side by side.
What writing trends have struck you lately? The present tense thing. I’m not a huge fan, even though I use it (sparingly) in the final Skulduggery Pleasant book.
What lessons have you learned about life from reading? With great power, comes great responsibility.
What has being a writer taught you? It has taught me confidence. It has shown me who I am, and what I’m capable of. It has allowed me to live without a boss, without anyone telling me what to do. It has allowed me to live the life I’ve always wanted to live.
Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party? Hemingway, because, well . . . he’s Hemingway. He’s bound to have a few good stories. Poe, because it’s always good to have a goth at the table. Hunter S Thompson, for sheer craziness. Sylvia Plath, for the LOLs. And of course EL James, for her insights.
Skulduggery Pleasant and The Dying of the Light is published today