Saturday, July 10, 2010

Skulduggery Pleasant

Derek Landy
Not so very long ago, before we moved to live in Bahrain, I was a member of Irish PEN. We met once a month in the United Arts Club to discuss contemporary Irish writing and writing related topics – one month there was a panel of Irish publishers and literary agents and the topic was ‘How to get published...’
The panellists said all the same thing – they were inundated with unsolicited manuscripts and did not have time to read them. They were reduced to reading only those writers recommended by word of mouth.
A lone voice from the back of the hall said: “But what about the true original – the writer who starves in a garret, who does not have literary friends, who is not already established?”
Derek Landy was at this time living and working on his family’s farm. All day he cut cauliflowers, pulled leeks and packed lettuce; and all day he was thinking about the novel he was writing. After work he sat down and wrote out all the things he’d been thinking about.
His novel was about a twelve year old girl, Stephanie, who inherits her uncle’s house when he dies. The first night she spends alone in the house, Stephanie is attacked by a man who demands a mysterious key. He’s seeking a magical object, the Sceptre of the Ancients to give to his master, Nefarian Serpine, who will use it to establish himself as master of the magical universe… Brave Stephanie puts up a terrific fight until she’s rescued by her uncle’s odd friend, and Serpine’s sworn enemy, Skulduggery Pleasant.
Skulduggery was once a powerful magician until Serpine killed him, burnt him and dumped his bones in a river. Now Skulduggery is a skeleton held together by magic and fuelled by vengeance...
Suddenly Stephanie’s humdrum existence is altered beyond recognition- she’s introduced to a magical world which coexists with the real world. She becomes Skulduggery’s partner, and when she’s off gallivanting with him, her reflection pretends to be her so her parents are never alarmed by her curious disappearances...
Once it was written Skulduggery Pleasant was snapped up by Harper Collins and Derek Landy, a true original, was offered an advance of one million pounds – I’ve written the number in words so you don’t think my finger slipped on the zero key. The book is dedicated to his parents – his mother in particular ‘for the look on her face’ when he told her. It’s marketed for confident young readers, it says age 9+ on the cover but don’t let that put you off, in this case age is just a number – like Harry Potter these novels can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Skulduggery is such a terrific character, so charming and articulate; he is without doubt the first skeleton I’ve ever heard shouting “Flee” in a novel...
And Stephanie is an excellent role model – she’s intelligent, resourceful, tough. And not afraid to challenge authority. (Derek Landy, a karate sensei, says he modelled her on girls he trained in the dojo).
Now Mr Landy has written four books about Skulduggery Pleasant - Dark Days is the latest release. Stephanie is no longer a child, she’s a force to be reckoned with in the magical world, she has taken the name Valkyrie Cain, and she’s plotting a dare devil rescue of Skulduggery who has been sucked into a magical hell by the Faceless Ones....
VERDICT: Beware the quiet man among the cabbages – he could be plotting out a novel full of magic, horror, action, suspense – it’s always the quiet ones you have watch...

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