Monday, November 29, 2010


And we have a winner...!

On Thursday night, I accepted the award for Best Children's Book of the Year (Senior) for Mortal Coil, to rapturous applause from everyone who loves me. Yes, fine, that means I was applauding myself as I made my way to the stage, but it still counts, dammit...

Here is the beautiful award on my mantlepiece...

I also picked up a SECOND award, for I am THAT brilliant- this time it was for the Book of the Decade thing I won a few months back. Here are BOTH awards on my mantlepiece...

Yes. I have a cool house.

Thanks to everyone who voted- it's because of you, my Minions, that the Skulduggery books do so well at things like this. And I just LOVE getting up on stage and making fun of everyone. Makes me so happy...

And, now that I've remembered how to post photos, I'll add a few random ones...

These are home-made jackets worn by two girls who came to signings a few months ago, one in the UK and one in Germany... Sweeeeet.

And here are two pictures of kittens I used to have, before I found good homes for them...!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Most Popular Author Question EVER

“Where do you get your ideas?” is probably the most asked question a writer is ever going to hear. And it’s a completely understandable one. How did Stephen King come up with Christine, a homicidal car that kills its owners? How did JK Rowling come up with Harry Potter, a kid who goes to a school for wizards? How did Stan Lee come up with Spider-Man, Bob Kane come up with Batman, Shuster and Siegel come up with Superman?

And, more importantly, how did they take those ideas and turn them into a story?

Ideas are everywhere, and ideas are- generally speaking- nothing special. Everyone has them. Quite often, when it comes to writing, people have the SAME idea, at the same time. Why do you think Hollywood comes out with two volcano movies in the same season, or two giant asteroid movies, or two earthquake movies? Ideas float around, just waiting to be plucked from the air and developed into something special- and it’s this development that decides how good it’s going to be.

I could have thought of Skulduggery Pleasant, after all, and set it in a world OF talking skeletons, where everything is magic and the fantasy overtakes the reality. Who knows, it might even have been good- but it wouldn’t have been the Skulduggery we all know today.

So the important thing, the really important thing, is what you do with the idea once you have it.

BUT- that’s not what I’m going to be talking about today. I’m here to talk about the ideas themselves, and where they come from.

Clive Barker once described the inside of his head as an attic. And in this attic, the walls are covered with posters. These are posters of every movie he’s ever seen, every book and comic he’s ever read, every song he’s ever heard. There are posters from history, from legend, from fairyales and from dreams. There are posters from his own life, his own experiences. His attic is FILLED with these posters, and they’re plastered on top of each other and beside each other, layer upon layer upon layer.

And here and there, some of the posters get torn, and frayed. Posters get ripped. And when that happens, he gets to see part of the poster underneath, and a little of the poster underneath that. And so suddenly he’s looking at a book he once read when he was twelve on top of a movie he’s just seen, combined with a dream he once had about a song he once heard.

And THAT is where ideas come from.

Different elements of different things combine to make something new. Skulduggery Pleasant is not the first walking skeleton in fiction, after all. Off the top of my head, there is Ghost Rider, Jack Skellington, Death (from the Terry Pratchett novels), and a character from a video game called Grim Fandango. I was aware of all of these things when Skulduggery came to me, but the idea of him didn’t come from ANY of these things. The idea of him came from his name, which told me who and what he was. The name Skulduggery Pleasant told me he was a skeleton detective- I didn’t come up with a skeleton detective and then look around for a name.

Of course, the books have a lot more ideas in them than good old Skulduggery, and some of them I even know EXACTLY where the idea came from. Serpine’s hand, for example, came from the Nick Cave song “Red Right Hand”, one of the coolest songs ever written. Other ideas come into existence out of sheer necessity.

Valkyrie’s reflection, for example. I started writing the book, way back in 2005, and the reflection wasn’t a part of it. I was writing a story about a 12 year old girl who sneaks out of her house and ditches school in order to spend time with a skeleton and find out who killed her uncle. She was getting into trouble in school, and she was having arguments with her parents. Every time she returned home, they’d have another argument- and that’s not what I wanted at all.

I wanted her home life to be warm, and fun, and funny. I wanted her parents to be crazy in love, and a little bit crazy. But I could write about none of that, because they were all spending their time arguing.

So I got to roughly halfway through, and I realised this wasn’t working. I needed to do something. The first thing I did was to have this story all happen during the summer holidays, when Valkyrie wouldn’t have to go to school. This cut down on SOME of the arguments, but not all. I needed something else, something bigger. I needed her parents to NOT miss her when she was gone. I needed a stand-in, perhaps, I needed a... a reflection.

The moment I thought of her reflection taking over her life when she was gone, my problems were over. Now she could be gone for days on end, and no one would know. I came up with the rule that she absorbs the reflection’s memories because I didn’t want her to miss out on school-work, and also because it was an entirely logical move to make.

Not only did the reflection solve a load of problems, it also offered up LOADS of story opportunities. It changed the course of the series, as you have all seen. The reflection is changing- it is growing. I know plenty of you have your own theories about what will happen to the reflection and I totally understand why you would think that. So far, you’re all WRONG, but I totally understand why you’d come to that conclusion...


Now, when you get to the sixth book in a series, coming up with ideas is totally different to writing the FIRST book. Most of the elements are already there- they already exist. But you still need new ones.

Such as the whole Death Bringer thing. I’ve had that in mind for YEARS, and over that time, it’s changed. The more I wrote about Necromancers, the more I examined their powers, the deeper I got into their philosophy, the more I changed who and what the Death Bringer was. I needed certain things to happen to certain people in certain ways, and the ideas flowed from that.

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. If you truly NEED something, you WILL find a creative way to do it.

Er, hopefully.

The honest truth is, there is no satisfactory answer to the most popular author question ever- and I don’t think there needs to be. People ask me it all the time, like they’re waiting to hear the secret, like once they KNOW where the good ideas come from, they’ll be able to write that amazing book they know they’re capable of.

But the idea isn’t the important thing. The important thing is the work, and the effort, and how you take that simple little idea and turn it into something special. And all THAT will only happen when you actually sit down and write the thing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Approach

It is Awards time again, and you can vote for your favourite Irish book of the year here-

This year I’m going up against my good friend Sarah Webb and the wonderful John Boyne, so it’s going to be close. I’m also up against Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick- I haven’t met her yet, but I’ve heard great things...

Now, even though you are my Minions, and you would die horribly for my own amusement- which I DO appreciate- feel free to vote for whatever book you prefer. It doesn’t have to be mine.

There, now that THAT’S over, I can tell you what I’ve been thinking about for the past few days. I’ve been trying to figure out what the new book IS.

The first book was an adventure, through and through. Young girl snatched away from her ordinary life into a world of sorcerers and vampires and ancient gods… Yep, that’s adventure.

Playing With Fire was a monster movie of a book. You had the Grotesquery being reanimated, you had the Torment turning into that huge spider, you had a fight between the two and lots of running and screaming… Yep, monster movie.

The third book, of course, that was the Whodunnit- that was the murder mystery. Aside from everything else going on, there was a killer stalking teleporters, and a (possibly) surprise twist at the end… Definitely a Whodunnit.

Naturally, Dark Days was a revenge flick. That’s pretty obvious.

Mortal Coil was my Invasion of the Body Snatchers- a fantastic movie that I loved when I was a teenager. It’s also my version of The Thing, possibly the best horror movie of all time.

But what, I’ve been wondering, is the next book going to be? What handy little label can I give it? What approach should I take? And the more I thought about it, the clearer it got, and now, NOW, I have it.

The next book is the culmination of all the Necromancer stories and plots and themes, and so in one corner, we have the Death Bringer, and in the other corner, we have the person who has returned simply to DESTROY the Death Bringer- we have Lord Vile. Two hugely powerful people with astonishing levels of magic, battling it out. We’re talking tidal waves of darkness. We’re talking people being punched through buildings.

Add in the fact that now the twins know magic exists, and are making normal life tough for Valkyrie, and now she’s doing everything she can to protect her secret identity from the rest of her family.

Hugely powerful people. Secret identities. MASSIVE battles.

The next book is, let’s face it, the darkest superhero story you’re ever going to read. With a bucketload of horror.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Call For Typos


Just flicking through the books to remind myself of some details/dates, and I stumbled across a typo. I know there are a few in the books- it's kind of inevitable when the deadlines are this close together- but by the time the new paperback editions are published in April, I want all these typos to be fixed. Which is where YOU come in, my Minions.

I know that most of you have read these books a few times because you're, you know, insane and everything.  Have you noticed the typos? Can you remember where they were? There are a few glaring ones, mistakes that I just should have caught, but for whatever reason I didn't. Care to help?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lesson One

I have found myself thinking about the next Skulduggery book a LOT lately, thinking about which of the story strands are going to intertwine and pay off, and which of the strands are going to continue into the next three books. Last week I wrote a five page scene where Valkyrie, consumed by rage, breaks into a police station and beats the hell out of a prisoner. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you what DRIVES her to do something this extreme, but the fact is I wrote it, and that can only mean one thing:

I am now writing Skulduggery Pleasant Book Six.

I don’t really have much choice in these matters. I just seem to start without realising it, and eventually I stop and look around and go “Oooooh, I’m writing a book, so THAT’S what I’ve been doing for the past few days...”

It’s not like the timing is convenient for me, either. I have a couple of short stories to write for various things, I have to rewrite a horror-comedy script I wrote last year, and it looks like I’ll be working on at least one brand new script over the next few months (none of this Skulduggery related). And now, aside from all that, I’m apparently writing the next book, too.

I’m going to do my best to document the stages of writing as I reach them, in order to explain how I write. I know there is a bizarrely large proportion of you, my Minions, who are also writers, and I keep getting asked to give out tips, so hopefully, in the writing of this book, I’ll be able to respond to those requests.

This doesn’t mean, by the way, that this accursed Blog is going to turn into a writing class. The fact is, most of my time will be spent sitting at this desk, tapping at this keyboard, writing words just like these, and that’s not exactly going to be exciting reading. So the Blog will continue as normal, but a certain section will be taken up trying to explain what I do, and how I do it. And along the way, I might even leak some little tidbits about what what you can expect to happen to poor old Skulduggery and Val...

So, what is the first thing I do when I start a book?

A lot of this work has been done years ago, when I planned out the series. I knew that certain things have to happen in certain books, and I wrote it all down and I keep going back to it, taking bits out or adding bits in. It changes as I go, of course it does, but fundamentally it remains the same.

So, for Book Six, I have certain things that have to happen. Let us take, as an example, the first segment of my plan for Playing With Fire, which I think all of you have read. Very simply, I would have opened up a Word document and written:

Val more powerful.

Guild new Grand Mage. Doesn’t like Skul or Val.

Vengeous escapes. Meets Dusk.

Plans for Val’s family reunion.

China tells Skul/Val about the Grotesquery.

Val meets Echo-Gordon- tells her about the Torment.

Vengeous searching for Vile’s armour.

And that’s how I go on, literally keeping it that simple. Very short sentences that I just need to glance over. I don’t show this to anyone, by the way. I don’t show it to my agent or my editor- not even to Laura- because this is the roughest of rough outlines. Each one of those lines can be changed around. Maybe we know about the Grotesquery from the very start of the book. How will that affect everything else? There’ll certainly be more momentum, because once our heroes know what the threat is, it’ll be full steam ahead. But maybe I don’t want that. Maybe I want a few fun, bizarre chapters to start off with, and then BOOM- they’re told what’s at stake once all the subplots (the family reunion, China’s revelation that she used to worship the Faceless Ones) are established, and THEN they take off.

Occasionally I’ll already have some chapters written- like the Valkyrie breaking into the police station scene- so I don’t mind flitting from the start of the book to the middle to the end, and back again. I’ll link it all up later. Right now, I just want to start the book having fun.

The outline will grow as I go. The deeper I get into it, the more notes I’ll be making, and so eventually my nice and simple approach won’t work anymore. For every point, there’ll be a few lines, explaining why and what and how. But for now, at this early stage, I can get away with broad outlines, because not everything has been decided yet.

This is really useful for building enthusiasm for the book you’re about to write. You’ve put down enough notes to form a bare story, and you can suddenly see how these elements can be chopped and changed to make something better. 

My advice is, don’t spend a lot of time on this. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Don’t waste all your enthusiasm and all your excitement on this part- keep all that for the actual writing. Which is what I’m going to do right... 


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Look at these! My mate Gregor Ruigrok (pronounced Greegor Rug-Rock) carved these for Halloween! The first one is Michael Jackson from Thriller...

The second is Bub from the original Dawn of the Dead...

And the third is the witch from... from... oh God, what's that Disney film...? Anyway, it's the witch!

And the last pumpkin was carved by my good friend Katie, who decided to show us what a drunk pumpkin looks like. Thanks, Katie.