Author of the Skulduggery Pleasant book series on being in the right place at the right time - and topping it all off with a well-deserved holiday
Derek Landy is one of Ireland’s most successful authors, having sold more than 17 million books in 33 countries around the world. Yet he takes nothing for granted. 'I know that my book landed on the right desk at the right time,' he admits. 'I'm amazed and astounded by the success of the books.'
In the past five years alone his series of Skulduggery Pleasant books - centering around a skeleton detective - have sold over one million copies in the UK and Ireland alone. Indeed, the first book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series was voted the Bord Gais Irish Book of the Decade, beating off stiff competition from literary and commercial big names such as Joseph O’Connor and Marian Keyes.
'I put winning down to the strength of my fanbase - people who went online and just went mad voting,' says the author.
What strikes you when in conversation with Landy is his humble nature - and his strong belief that it was fate that intervened and made him a success. He recalls how, when he was at home one day in 2005 the two words ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ just ‘popped into my head’. 'I remember the name just came to me and it was as if I knew everything about him. The character and the book formed from there.'
Now numbering five in the series, the Skulduggery Pleasant books chronicle the adventures of the eponymous skeleton detective and are narrated by his teenage sidekick Stephanie Edgley (aka Valkyrie Cain). The central story arc concerns Valkyrie's struggle to stop evil forces threatening the world and to finally find justice for her late uncle's death.
Fantastical in nature, it seems that Landy tapped into the zeitgeist of the mid-2000s teen fiction phenomenon, and he accepts his books have that ‘Harry Potter factor’, not least because while they are aimed at children aged between 9 and 13, they attract readers of all ages.
'Book signings are always interesting,' Landy laughs. 'First in the queue can be the sweetest little eight-year old girl, followed by her granny and then maybe a middle-aged biker. The books definitely have that cross-over appeal and I think that is what makes them so successful.'
While Landy is experiencing phenomenal success now, he knows what it feels like to slog hard for little or no reward. His first attempts at writing were at screen plays. He wrote 'largely unsuccessful' zombie films for the Irish market. Both of his scripts were made into films but, he says 'made very little money'.
His Skulduggery Pleasant epiphany was to change all that. 'I’d like to say he lived in my imagination for years, but that is far from the truth. He just popped in there one day and I decided to write about him. I already had an agent from my work on the screenplays, so he sent it out for me and I expected to receive rejections by the bucketload. I was fully prepared to do the tortured writer routine.'
But within three weeks a buzz had grown around Landy’s book and the offers started to flood in. 'It seemed the book fitted square into what publishers were looking for at that time - we just hit it lucky.'
Landy was initially contracted for three books, further depending on how well the first trilogy sold. Now he plans to write nine books in total in the Skulduggery Pleasant series. Writing each book takes around six months, he says, with the word count increasing with every novel.
With his remarkable success Landy has gone from working on his parents’ farm in north Dublin to writing full-time. 'I know that very few authors, even those people would perceive to be successful, are lucky enough to be able to write full-time. It is certainly something I do not take for granted. I’m making the most of it, because I know how life can change dramatically in a moment.'
Landy is gearing up to release the fifth book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series - Mortal Coil - and to accompany this release he will be visiting Northern Ireland on September 13. The author will be attending a school event in Methody College in relation to the Northern Ireland Book Awards in the morning before travelling to Eason's, Foyleside in Derry that afternoon for a public signing.
He is also planning to take a quick break from the Skulduggery Pleasant series before completing his contract. 'Once Skuduggery is finished I don’t want to panic about what comes next,' he said - but more immediately he is planning a well-deserved holiday.
Mortal Coil is release by Harper Collins on September 2.Buy it and the other Skullduggery Pleasant novels in Culturenorthernireland's Amazon store.