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The Dying of the Light (HarperCollins) is the last book in the amazingly brilliant Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. Expect to see Skulduggery and Stephanie finally confronting the evil Darquesse, who plans to turn the world to cinders. Will they be in time? Who will win this spectacular showdown? And what will become of Skulduggery, the wise-cracking skeleton detective, once this last battle is done...?
Don't miss out on the recent Skulduggery Pleasant anthology - ARMAGEDDON OUTTA HERE - a collection of short stories starring our detective hero!
We asked Irish author Derek Landy to tell us more about the Skulduggery Pleasant books, about writing, about ending this epic series, and about what comes next....
Q: The Skulduggery Pleasant books have become a global success with a huge online following, but what got you into writing in the first place?
A: I have always wanted to be a writer and the unfortunate part of that is that when you know you're going to be a writer and you're not satisfied with anything but being a writer, you don't focus on anything else. At school I was a day dreamer and I didn't do well because I didn't pay attention. I messed up my exams, eventually got into art college and was kicked out after the first year so I went to work on the family farm. I started working there full time when I was 20 and got the idea for Skulduggery Pleasant when I was 30, so I spent ten years working on the farm and as tortuous as it was, it turned out to be invaluable. During that time I taught myself to write and I really honed my craft.
Q: How did you manage to find time to write, given that farm work starts so early and ends so late?
A: I would get up early and work late on the farm and it's horrible, horrible work but it's physical so I developed a knack of working with my hands but my mind was free, I would write in my head, and come up with a dialogue and then the next bit and I'd repeat that and go forward, so everything is literally written in my mind. I'd go over the words so much that by lunch time all it took was to eat fast and go to the computer and it would all come out. So I taught myself to write when I was not actually writing; when I did get to a pen or keyboard, I'd just transcribe.
Q: One of the things we love about Skulduggery Pleasant is the dialogue; how did you get to be so good at writing that?
A: That was because I focused on writing screen plays, which is where I learned how to write. My books are pretty much structured like screen plays because that is how I think and the glorious thing about writing screen plays is that it is mostly dialogue.
I have always loved the 1940's fast-talking, private eye characters played by people like Howard Hughes or Humphrey Bogart. When I was three I developed a stammer and that lasted into my 20's so I was never able to speak fast and when I'd watch Humphrey Bogart and Carry Grant speaking so quickly, I fell in love with dialogue and with fast dialogue especially. So, like anyone here in Ireland, Skulduggery has the gift of the gab; dialogue is my speciality.
Q: What gave you the idea for a series based on a skeleton detective...?
A: I was in London to get my third film made. It was 2005, I was in a terrible hotel in Piccadilly Circus that was all I could afford. It was the middle of summer and it was hot and sticky, there was no air and I was pacing around my hotel room when the two words 'Skulduggery Pleasant' came into my head as a name.
I don't know where it came from, I wasn't thinking about skeletons or words or writing, it just came into my head. The moment those two words appeared, they told me everything about him, who he was, what he was like. I remember the feeling when it happened and the sense that this was different somehow from all my earlier ideas, I knew it would mean something if I developed it.
I wrote the first 30 pages and sent it to my agent, who had always been on at me to do text not screen plays; she got back to me and said, keep it going. I ended up writing a massive book that was twice as long as the finished version, we edited it down to half its size ourselves, so there was a six month period between me writing it, editing it down and rewriting it and then we sent it off and within two weeks, there was a bidding war for the book.
I have so many amazing memories from this period but one stands out. I had just dropped my parents off at the airport, they were going to a wedding, and my mum had always worried about me because I was the one kid who had never applied myself to anything, I was the black sheep of the family, and on this drive I remember my mum telling me that there was a job opening with a company looking for someone to deliver mattresses. I said I'd stick with the writing for a little bit longer and she was saying, well maybe it's time to jack it in, try something else. Then I went to my favourite comic shop in Dublin - I couldn't afford to buy anything - and then my agent called to tell me that there were seven or eight publishers who really, really wanted to publish Skulduggery Pleasant. Of course I called my mum at the airport and said, 'You'll never guess what Mum...' and I think she had a very nice wedding because she told absolutely everyone what had happened!
Q: Did Skulduggery change much as your wrote about him?
A: Skulduggery came fully fledged, he was always who he is now, always fast-talking, always arrogant and in control of his emotions. He's very capable and practical - and arrogant, but that's something I believe to be an unappreciated virtue, the proper kind of arrogance can elevate you so much. He was the one character who didn’t need any work, I immediately knew who he was, a hero who is haunted by his past and like everyone in these books, he's compromised.
When you set out to write nine books, the characters have to be a multitude of things. At the start, Skulduggery is very much driven by the need for revenge and is consumed by his past and the terrible things he has done but during the series, from the moment he achieves some kind of vengeance, he's lost because without his anger, who is he? It's Valkyrie who gives him his purpose and he realises that his life is now about redemption, and that comes to a head in the final book.
Q: What can we expect from the last book in the series?
A: I have carefully cultivated a reputation with my readers of being thoroughly malicious; I will give them a character to love and have tattooed on their arms and then I will kill them, because it's so much fun to do that.
It started in book three because, frankly, Skulduggery had too many friends so I had to kill some of them off and the readers started not to trust what I'd do to my characters, or that I'd provide a happy ending. But I also have a reputation for subverting what they expect so these nine books have been a huge game of misdirection and, as with the final one, they don't know what to expect.
The main plot lines will be tied up in a very iron clad manner, it's basically about redemption. By the last book, Valkyrie / Stephanie has turned to evil but there's always hope. The books in the series get darker and darker as the readership gets older, but no matter how dark it gets, there's always hope.
Valkerie has changed the most, she is a good guy but if she was as good a person as she's been telling people, she would have given up the magic years ago, once she'd realised that she's destined to become the villain. She should have walked away from magic but she didn't; she's prepared to die for her friends but she's also amazingly selfish and compromised. So by the time of the ninth book, the Valkyrie we know is no more but that's not to say there's no hope for her; even in the worst villain there are moments of humanity.
Stephanie, Valkyrie's 'reflection', has been a lot of fun to write. She stepped out of the mirror in the early books to take over Valkyrie's life while Valkyrie's on her missions and to do the boring things like go to school and eat Sunday dinner. Then it goes wrong and she slightly malfunctions and develop secrets and desires of her own. There's a moment in one of the books where readers say, she's the villain, she's horrible, and then you get to the next book and half way through, Stephanie is doing something nice and decent.
It's a game of always wrong-footing the audience but staying true to the character. It's been so much fun to have a hero who turns into the villain and the villain turns into a hero - and the hero and villain are the same person!
Q: What have been your favourite moments with Skulduggery and Valkyrie?
A: There have been many scenes and chapters throughout the series that I'm delighted with, and with these two characters in particular. For Valkyrie, it tends to be the scenes with her family that I enjoyed the most because you can write the fight scenes and there are villains and horror and fantasy - and the books are full of these things - but then you get the quieter moments when she's with her parents and her new sister.
I wrote those scenes at the time my sister had children and I was suddenly surrounded by these children who you had never met before and you know you're going to see them grow up and it's instant love and that's what I wanted to give Valkyrie with her sister, those moments when she's allowed to be a girl and a sister.
Skulduggery writes himself and he gives himself the best entrances and exits and words, he's never let me down, but again my favourite moments with him are not the big loud fights or quips but the moments of introspection when he looks at how the last few hundred years have affected him as a person. So for both of them, it's the quiet moments that I loved the most.
Q: What will life be like for you without Skulduggery and Valkyrie?
A: I reckon I'm going to miss them immensely and I'm waiting for the moment that it becomes real. It's over in one sense, because the book is written, but we're not not there yet because the process of publishing it goes on. Once you've finished writing it, then you edit it, then you approve the proofs etc. I'm also doing a huge amount for the publication, touring etc, so I have stopped thinking about what the 'last book' means.
Q: You've built up a huge following on social media for Skulduggery Pleasant - how did that happen?
A: The community itself has created that. If a publisher took on a book and said they wanted to build up a community around it, that would never work. You can't make it happen like that, it's either there or it isn't, and the Skulduggery Pleasant community built itself up.
I didn't have anything to do with it but I have been able to watch it grow and it's the most astonishing thing you can hope for as a writer to see all these people coming together through your books, many of them people who were kids, loners, didn't fit in but who have found themselves surrounded by friends. Many friendships have been formed online. It's astonishing, you can't really explain it, but it's wonderful to witness and the Skulduggery fans are the happiest and warmest people you could hope to come across – booksellers have also commented on how lovely they are during signings.
Q: Can you tell us what you're writing now?
A: I'm quarter of the way through writing the first book of whatever my next series will be. At one stage I found myself floundering because I felt something was missing in my writing and I realised I was missing the relationship between Skulduggery and Valkyrie but I couldn't change what I was doing to bring that in. If I had wanted to imitate it, I should have just continued the old series, so the new one just has to be completely different - and that was my first understanding of how writing will be from now on for me.
The new series is different from Skulduggery Pleasant, it's more horror and more thriller, it's less jokey which is something I struggle with. On the other hand, it is nice to write something different and to be writing in a different tone.
I want to keep the same publication dates with the next series as the Skulduggery Pleasant books, which is the very beginning of August, because I have built up a momentum with my readers of bringing out one book a year at that time. I want to continue that momentum and rhythm that the readers have come to expect, so I'm not going to pause it.
Q: What is happening with the first Skulduggery Pleasant movie?
A: There will be an announcement soon about the way forward for the film of Skulduggery Pleasant, so watch this space....
Q: Will we ever see Skulduggery Pleasant as a comic strip?
A: I am such a comic fan that it would have to be done right, I would want a proper comic artist and completely new material. I've no interest in seeing the book as a comic but seeing the characters in a comic would be fine.
Q: What do you do to relax when you're not writing?
A: I love sitting down at the end of the day to watch a movie or television, my mind has to 'unspool' before I can sleep - or I play video games, anything creative or that has a story or character like comics or TV.
In my spare time I train in self-defense although as we speak I'm sporting a sprained wrist and a crick in my neck. I started out in martial arts and gave it up and went into self defense it has given me my only official qualification – I am a qualified bodyguard. I just wanted to see if I could do it and to have the skills inherent without any intention of using it. Now I'm my own bodyguard! So that's what I do to unwind, I hurt people and I'm hurt by them....
My life has changed dramatically as a published author, but it's a mark of how good your life is that something you thought you'd never be doing is the one thing you come to hate – and I hate touring. I like being at events and signings and meeting readers, I genuinely love meeting them, it's just that I can't stand being on tour – the airports and hotels you have to pass through.
I am forced to go to Australia and New Zealand every two years - something that thousands of other writers would love to be forced to do! - but for me it's an unfortunate part of being a writer. So when others are seeing the day that all tours are doing via Skype and worrying about it, I'm going, 'yeah, bring it on!'