When I was growing up, if someone asked me who my favourite author was, the response was always the same: Darren Shan. It wasn't because I liked his books better than everyone else's. It wasn't because I especially loved horror. No, I liked him because of the author he was, not the books he wrote.
To make sense of this, we need to go back a few years. As in, primary school. I read two different authors' books - JK Rowling and Lemony Snicket. Rowling was my favourite of the two, and continued to write some of my favourite books right up to the time when I got my first job. (Specifically, the midnight release of The Deathly Hallows was when I was offered my job.) Snicket, on the other hand, I only picked up - and this will sound ridiculous - because Klaus Baudelaire looked like Harry Potter.
Yep, I was that shallow.
I was completely enamoured with Snicket and Rowling, whose books were published regularly throughout the first four years of my secondary school life. But it wasn't enough. I needed a new author.
That was when I found Darren Shan, upon the suggestion of perhaps the first friend I made in second school, after a friend from primary school recommended them to me a couple of years beforehand. What was most important, then, was that the library in school actually stocked the books. I had a ton of books to catch up on, and by the time I finished them, he was getting ready to release another series.
I was also open to reading different books, the more I actually read different authors, which was a major plus. Garth Nix quickly found his way onto my book shelves, and by the time I started working I was ready to try new books by new authors.
In the meantime, I got to meet Darren Shan for the first time - on the day I arranged work experience in the shop that I would later work at on weekends. He was funny, he strangled everyone, and he made everyone in the queue for signing feel welcome.
The next few years are a blur of me showing up at every signing I could, reading The Thin Executioner even when I was supposed to be studying for exams. He imparted some wisdom upon me when my shop closed down, and helped me through that period of my life, until, a couple of years later, I moved from fan-in-a-queue to guest-at-launch.
Yes, in the summer of 2012 I got to sit down at the big fancy dinner held my Simon & Schuster to celebrate the launch of Zom-B and his moving over to them from Harper Collins. All around me were authors and journalists, booksellers and book buyers, publicists and Shan. It was wonderful, and he made sure I was comfortable before the night began, introducing me to different people from different places so that, when we sat down for dinner, even if he wasn't there, I'd know somebody.
When I was a boy, I thought authors were hermits, sitting alone in a room writing their books. I thought authors didn't know how to talk to people, because everything about the idea of writing a book seemed isolated. I think, for me anyway, I needed to meet someone like Darren Shan, whose real life personality was as big as his narrative voice. I needed to see that an author could be outgoing and write books that people loved. I needed a hero, and I found one.