Darren Shan and Archibald Lox
Today I'm stoked to share all about the Archibald Lox series by Darren Shan. As a young reader, I was first introduced into the world of vampires with Shan's Cirque Du Freak series. Recently, I had the pleasure of returning into Shan's imaginative space with the Archibald Lox series and, once again, Shan demonstrates a keen ability to engage readers of all ages and offers a welcoming hand to the Merge alongside his protagonist, Archibald "Archie" Lox.
Along with this press release we're also sharing a deleted scene from the first draft!
A Major New Fantasy Series From Internationally Bestselling Author Darren Shan Darren Shan, beloved and bestselling creator of Cirque Du Freak, The Demonata, and Zom-B series, has announced the launch of Archibald Lox, his new fantasy adventure months ahead of schedule. While many publishers are delaying or outright cancelling new publications, and while supply-chain issues and school and bookstore closures are disrupting the course of traditional publishing, Darren Shan decided to release the e-book editions of his new novels all at once offering readers around the globe a literary escape from the Coronavirus lockdown.
“I am trying to bring a bit of cheer and levity into the lives of young readers,” said Shan. “I’ve been working on the new Archibald Lox series for a few years and had intended to launch it in Fall 2020. As the world has been forced to hole up due to Coronavirus, I thought I’d release the books sooner and give readers something to enjoy in their quarantine time.”
The Archibald Lox series begins with a scary chance encounter on a London bridge between a tween in foster care who is mourning the accidental death of his closest friend and a girl his own age who is being pursued by some menacing men before vanishing into a seemingly conjured hole in the sidewalk. The book’s hero Archie soon finds the fate of his world and the magical world of the Merge depending on him!
“I wrote Archibald Lox because I wanted to create a world entirely alien to–yet intertwined with–our own, a world in which everything is weird yet familiar and where adventure and unexpected twists are always lurking just around the corner,” said Darren Shan. “What I love most about reading is escaping to fantastical worlds. There are echoes in Archibald Lox of many of the books that have set my mind spinning over the years, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the books of Diana Wynne Jones and Neil Gaiman.”
Volume One of the Archibald Lox series is broken into three books designed to be read in quick succession as a trilogy, Archibald Lox and the Bridge Between Worlds, Archibald Lox and the Empress of Suanpan, and Archibald Lox and the Vote of Alignment. Book One is free for download. Each of the three books are available for purchase and download now as e-books on all major online platforms. (Amazon and Barnes & Noble links here) Darren Shan is the globally bestselling author whose breakthrough debut novel, Cirque Du Freak, the first book in the 12-book series, was released in January 2000.
Since then, he has published more than fifty books for both children and adults including the 10-book Demonata series and 12-book Zom-B series. Cirque Du Freak was adapted into a major Hollywood movie and it was recently announced that his Zom-B series was bought to be adapted for television. Shan’s books have sold in excess of twenty-five million copies worldwide, in 40 countries and 32 languages. He has made bestseller charts in the USA, UK, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, and elsewhere. He lives in a small village in Limerick, Ireland, with his wife and children.
Find Darren online at www.darrenshan.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Darren Shan is available for interviews from home and other content.
From Darren Shan:
THESPS -- I wrote way more than I needed when I was writing the first draft of Volume 1 -- almost double what ended up making the final book. I didn't cut out too many entire chapters, but I did condense a lot of them, trimming unnecessary lines and paragraphs, finding shorter ways to impart roughly the exact same amount of essential information. That sometimes meant losing some of the flavour of the first draft, but it was important to keep the book skipping along nicely. In the second and third books, Archie hooks up with a group of wandering actors, called thesps, and I gave them a lot more to do in the early drafts. Ultimately, while it was fun watching them rehearse and bicker theatrically, as they do in this extract, it didn't really need to be there, and along with a lot of similar scenes, it was slowing things down. So this entire chapter, along with much of the next few chapters in the first draft, ended up becoming just a few tight paragraphs in the eventual published book.
Baba Jen is crying. Her cute little face is scrunched up and she’s wiping tears away. “Daddy,” she wails. “Don’t leave us, Daddy.”
Oleg looks down at her and presses a hand to his heart. “My darling,” he cries. “I would take you with me if I could, but where I go, no child can thread. I must bid you –”
“It’s tread, you idiot!” Baba Jen bellows, the tears drying up instantly. She stamps her little feet angrily and screeches, “Tread, tread, tread! How difficult is it to remember one simple word? I’m sick of working with this idot. Get rid of him, Dermot, or I’m quitting, I mean it this time.” “No, Jen,” Dermot calls as she storms off-stage. “It’s just one slip. Let’s get to the end of the scene and…”
She’s gone before he can finish, and he hurries after her to try and calm her down.
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” Oleg sniffs, adjusting the large fake moustache that he’s wearing. “A word here, a word there… what does it matter? It’s not like we’re doing Chekhov. Now, for Chekhov, I would make the effort, but this nonsense? Pfah!”
“The people like it, Oleg,” Jola laughs, taking a seat and fanning her face with her hands — she overheats easily on stage. “And you know what they say about always playing to the audience.”
“We never cared about the audience in Moscow,” Oleg says snootily, then slips away to rest until Baba Jen can be tempted back to the stage.
Cal leans over to whisper, “They’re temperamental, these actors, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” I chuckle. “But to be honest, I find these rehearsals a lot more fun than the real thing.”
Cal thinks about that, then nods. “You’re probably right.”
“And your moustache is much more impressive than Oleg’s,” Inez tells him.
“Well,” Cal says, blushing at the compliment, then mutters something about having to go and move some props around with Kamran.
I lie back next to Inez and we share a grin. After a while she says, “I should go too. I told Maiko I’d held her with some costumes.”
“For the actors or the locals?” I ask.
“Locals, I think,” she says.
“Do you want a hand?” I offer.
“No, that’s alright,” she says. “You stay here. Keep an eye on the cast. Let me know if I miss anything.”
Inez heads off and I make myself comfortable. I’m lying on a bed of weeds. Weeds aren’t common in the Merge. They have to be designed and cultivated, the same as flowers, and most designers would prefer to craft flowers than weeds. But they’re prized in certain zones, either because of their look or how they can change the soil — some designers need to prime the soil with special weeds before they can manipulate it into other materials. Nobody seems to know what the weeds here were originally designed for, but they’re large and soft, perfect for relaxing on if you’re watching highly strung actors prepare for an afternoon show.
We’re in the realm of Sapphire, which is where Inez brought me from the island. She’d already linked up with the Thesps by the time she came to find me. (Well, she came to find Winston, but I’m the one she ended up with.) She had run into them while crossing zones with Cal, and realised they presented her with the perfect cover. They’re headed for Cornan, the capital of Sapphire, which is where Inez wants to go. She asked them if she could travel with them. They said yes, so she left Cal there and made her way to the island, where I was waiting.
The Thesps are a troupe of actors. Dermot manages them, with the help of his wife Maiko, but she’s a designer who makes and distributes clothes while she tours around with the company, so most of the work falls on Dermot’s shoulders. Maiko was the one who kitted me out with my new gear when I arrived. She specialises in women’s clothes – her surname is Couturier – but she often knocks up costumes for the male actors, so she was able to help me out.
“How do you want to look?” she asked, having taken my measurements simply by looking at me. We were in her caravan and I was feeling awkward.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“You can choose how the world will see you,” she said. She’s a small woman, older than she looks – there are grey hairs mixed in among the black, and she doesn’t try to hide them – but very pretty, with a smile that makes my mouth go dry whenever she turns it on me. She wears a different outfit every day – she says it’s good for business – and that day she was dressed all in red, which made me think of Little Red Riding Hood.
“You can wear a suit and be taken seriously,” she said, twirling around me like a ballerina. “I can give you the appearance of someone who has fought in many wars. I could kit you out like a pirate.”
“Nobody dresses like a pirate,” I snorted.
“They do in some zones,” she laughed. “I could make you look sporty, or I could give you the look of a tortured genius. It’s your decision. Let me know what you would like, and I can make it happen.”
I thought about it for a while, wishing I’d let Inez come in with me. (She’d offered to help, but I’d told her I was more than capable of choosing my own clothes, thank you very much.) In the end I shrugged and said I just wanted to look like everybody else.
“A wise choice,” Maiko had smiled. “Why draw attention when there is no need? Although if all of my customers were as modest as you, mine would be a dreary job indeed.”
Maiko chose a plain brown shirt for me – no buttons – along with dark, boring trousers, and a pair of light brown shoes that had been stitched together with the bark of a tree that had been designed especially for that purpose. She gave me a jumper too, grey with red flecks, for if we wandered into any cold zones, along with two jackets, one thin and light, the other thick and furry. She adjusted all of the items to fit me – it didn’t take her very long – and gave me two of each (except for the jackets), so that I’d have a spare set to change into if they got dirty.
That was four days ago. (Or was it five? I’ve started to lose track of time.) We’ve been wandering the zones of Sapphire since then, stopping in a different place every day, so that they can put on a show, sometimes two or three. They’re trying out new material ahead of a lengthy run in Cornan.
It’s quite a large company in my opinion, though I don’t know much about such matters. Twenty-six members if you don’t include Inez, Cal and me. There are the actors – they’re called Thesps here – of course, along with Dermot, who also acts, and Maiko. A chef who works wonders with mushrooms. People who sort out props and the sets. A woman who organises the audiences and arranges seats or, more often than not, places on the grass where people can sit. A couple of brothers who don’t say very much and are in charge of the caravans and keeping the show literally on the road.
The caravans are cool. They don’t have engines in the Merge, or horses, so I wondered how they’d move the caravans when I first saw them. I thought they’d maybe push them along. Uh-uh. The caravans are elaborate handcars. There’s a pole – they call it an arm – at the front of all of them, and one or two people pump it up or down, which makes the wheels move. I’d seen cruder handcars in old films and TV shows back in the Born, but never in the flesh, or one quite like this. The caravans can’t go very fast, but we cover a surprising amount of ground every day regardless.
The shows are a mix of plays the actors remember from the Born, and newly written pieces. The company lacks a wordsmith – they used to have one, but she left them to join a rival company, which is still a sore point for most of them – but they’ve memorised other plays that they’ve seen, and recreate them, tweaking them as they go.
Paper is a rarity in the Merge, so there aren’t many books or manuscripts. The Thesps rely on their memories and imaginations to produce new plays. Some of them complain about that – Oleg is particularly scathing, especially if they’re performing a serious Russian play – but others love the freedom it provides. No one can accuse them of getting a scene wrong, because there’s no written evidence to be produced in an argument against them.
The company has been focusing on diversity in their shows, performing scenes from a variety of plays each time, rather than choose just one. Tino – one of the actors, a boy not much older than me – says they’re testing out the material, and they’ll do longer extracts of the more popular plays once we get to Cornan.
The shows I’ve seen so far have been a real mix — farce, romance, historical, even a few musical numbers. I’ve recognised some of the scenes, which must have come from plays that were turned into films that I’ve seen, but most are new to me, even though the actors sometimes sigh and mutter something like, “Not that old chestnut again,” whenever Dermot presents them with the setlist for the next show.
Today they’ve been rehearsing a scene from what feels like a dry old play, about a man who leaves his family to go work for a powerful, corrupt politician who has demanded his support. (We’re never told what his job is, at least not in the scene that I’ve seen.)
Baba Jen is playing the man’s daughter. She plays all the younger roles — they often turn the character into a girl if it’s been written for a boy. Baba Jen is about five years old, but she’s been living in the Merge for more then seven hundred years, longer than any of the others, and she’s something of a grouch. She looks like a sweet, cuddly little girl (and maybe she was once) but she curses worse than anyone I’ve ever heard when she loses her temper, and often throws props and set furniture at the other actors. (They usually rehearse on a bare stage whenever possible.)
Dermot manages to tempt Baba Jen back to the stage – it’s really just a very large blanket which they spread out on the ground – and Oleg is summoned. Jola is still there. She’s the lead actress, even though she’s quite heavy, and the most relaxed of them all. I haven’t seen anything upset her yet.
“He’d better get it right this time,” Baba Jen growls, giving Oleg the evil eye.
“Please,” Oleg sniffs, turning his nose up into the air. “I graced the finest stages of Moscow and St Petersburg. I performed for royalty. It is an honour for you to share this space with me.”
“Then why do you keep messing up your lines?” Baba Jen barks. (Only she uses a far nastier turn of phrase than that.)
“When the critics are watching, I will be word perfect,” he assures her.
“If you don’t get it right in rehearsal, you won’t live to perform in front of any critics,” Baba Jen warns him.
Oleg huffs and waves away her concerns.
“Let’s carry on from where we left off,” Dermot sighs, then sidles up to Oleg and says, “Please, this time, will you do it right, just for me?”
“Of course, mon capitan,” Oleg laughs. “It is time to get serious. I understand. I will be the consummate professional from this point on.”
“Thank you,” Dermot smiles, failing to catch the wicked twinkle in Oleg’s eye as he turns to exit the stage.
Baba Jen screws up her face and the tears come instantly. (She can turn the tears on and off as if they were on tap.) “Daddy,” she wails. “Don’t leave us, Daddy.” Then she stops and scowls at Oleg, daring him to get it wrong.
Oleg presses a hand to his heart. “My darling,” he cries. “I would take you with me if I could, but where I go, no child can…” He pauses, makes cow-eyes at her, then says loudly and clearly, “thread.”
“You lousy, no-good –” Baba Jen starts to roar, and after that it’s just a series of shrieks and curses and threats.
I lie back in the grass, laughing with delight, figuring it’s true what they say — there really is no business like showbusiness!