Some Irish boys are still living with their mammies by the age of 33. Their failure to launch can be caused by a crippling shyness, or from the uncertainty about which path to take in life, but the result is usually the same -- after your friends have forged their own trails, some boys are still left tooling around the old haunts, waiting for their lives to begin.
Bestselling Irish author Derek Landy, 37, knows all about it.
Sometimes called the Irish J.K Rowling, by the time Landy turned 30 there was a big question mark still hanging over him. His brothers and sisters had grown up and moved on to successful city careers while he was still pursuing his dream to become a screenwriter.
Screenwriting meant flying to London year after year to have discouraging meetings with disinterested producers. It meant staying in horrible, damp hotels waiting for a phone call that would never come.
His screenplay for an Irish zombie movie didn’t set the world on fire, and producers objected to his slasher thriller in which everybody dies. Things looked bleak.
But just as he reached his lowest ebb the tide suddenly turned.
The idea for Harry Potter, the boy wizard that made J.K. Rowling so rich that she is now said to possess more wealth than Queen Elizabeth II, reportedly just fell into the author’s head one day as she was taking a train journey across England.
For Landy the process was exactly the same. One day in 2005 he was over in London for a series of desultory film meetings that were dragging on and on. Then it happened.
“I had started writing movies that got made in 2003 and 2005,” Landy told sister publication of IrishCentral the Irish Voice. “But neither one made me a whole lot of money or got me to Hollywood or contributed to my actual career.
“So I was over in London meeting with various producers and I was in a really horrible hotel room when the name Skulduggery Pleasant came to me, and that was pretty much it.”
With the name came the fully-fledged character, including who he was and what he looked like.
“He told me he was a detective who was also a skeleton, and instantly I knew what he was like. But then I had to figure out if he was as interesting as I thought he would be, so I wrote a dialogue between him and an unnamed character where he explained what it was like to be a skeleton, what he missed about being alive, you know, just to see if he worked.”
It worked. In fact the idea worked so well it brought together all of Landy’s main obsessions -- magic, martial arts, detective work, murder and mayhem.
“Finally I had come up with an idea for a character who was a bona fide detective. He wore a fedora and bespoke suits, and that really that allowed me to get away with the really fast dialogue that I absolutely adore,” Landy adds.
The snarky film noir style banter between Landy’s witty cast of heroes and villains (much of the action of the “Skulduggery” books takes place in Dublin) is one of the great joys of his series. His evil characters are made so much more compelling because they’ll fleece you with words before they actually attack you.
In fact Landy’s delight in snappy word play is so obvious that some may be surprised to learn where it comes from.
“I have a stammer. I’ve had it since I was about three. I can’t remember it ever traumatizing me, but basically I grew up unable to spout these witticisms that were bubbling around in my head,” he says.
“Now finally with writing -- and with writing this style of character -- I can give vent without holding back. Finally people can see how funny I’ve always been.”
Beginning with a terrific storyline and a host of dramatic events, Landy set about writing the first book in the series. It only took him a few months.
“To be honest I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. The job of a writer is to look intelligent when really you haven’t a clue,” he says.
“In the past I would always get to about page 30 of any book I tried to write and I’d just lose interest. It always seemed to be at page 30.
“When I began to write ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ I knew it was a book for younger readers. But I didn’t know how to write it so I just wrote it.”
Because Skulduggery Pleasant is a once in a lifetime character, Landy figured he owed it to himself and his new creation to really give the book his full attention. Basically he packed the tale with everything he wanted to write and read about.
“I would love to say that Skulduggery lived in my head for years. Or that he was the result of years of hardship. But really it was a blast,” he says.
“I got the idea in the summer of 2005 and I sent the completed manuscript out in the second month of 2006. I didn’t know what I was doing.
“So I was completely free because I was living at home with the parents and I had no money. I was just working part time on the family farm. I had no other distractions. The book was my source of entertainment for six months.”
From his late bloomer launch to the unanticipated and wild success of the book “Skulduggery Pleasant” and its two sequels, “Playing With Fire” and “The Faceless Ones,” Landy feels like a Lottery winner. Warner Bros. have already brought the rights to film the series, and it looks like he’s on the J.K. Rowling fast track to fame and fortune.
Although many critics have compared Landy’s work to the gold standard set by Rowling, the truth is there’s really no contest: Landy is a much better writer.
His moral sense is certainly as keen, but his word play and his sense of fun are keener. Also, the villains that fill the pages of his books make for real shivers, not just laughs. There’s no question that the series will darken as the “Skulduggery” books pile up (he plans to produce nine in total).
“All writers want to go darker, and I’m not different. I mean can you name a series that works the other way? It’s certainly where I’m headed with these,” Landy says.
In the meantime Landy has moved out of his parents’ house and bought his own place (seven minutes away). In a development worthy of his novels, the boy who had them all worried has turned out to be the most successful of the bunch.
In the meantime Landy’s just enjoying the unexpected change of fortune.
“As a writer you’re always fully aware that this kind of success does not happen,” says Landy. “If it does happen it will not happen to you. You can keep the hope alive and you can dream about it, but my God you cannot bank on it.
“This is a story that happens to other people, a story to inspire you, and that’s all it is. To me it’s been like a fairytale. Because of ‘Skulduggery’ my entire life is different. I moved out of my parents’ house, as 33 years old is probably time enough.”
Harper Collins publishes the “Skulduggery Pleasant” series. Visit www.Skulduggerypleasant.com.