It seemed like a very good idea to have someone else do the hard work for the second bookwitch Eoin Colfer interview, so I asked Eoin’s biggest fan, Charlie, to come along to Cheltenham at the weekend to talk to him. Any 13-year-old who can persuade Foaly on Eoin’s website to publish his review of The Time Paradox, is good to have on your side. Charlie arrived lugging a box of Artemis Fowl books, accompanied by his parents and his sister Gabby, who was carrying an equally big pile of books. We met up with Eoin and Puffin’s Adele at the very pink and charming Everyman theatre, just before Eoin’s event there for the Cheltenham literature festival. We could have stuffed ourselves on fruit, drinks and biscuits while waiting in the Writers’ Room, but we were beautifully restrained, in actual fact. It could have been nerves.
When he arrives and Charlie asks how he is, Eoin puffs and says “I can’t talk now for about ten minutes. It’s a big theatre”, referring to having walked up three flights of stairs. We sit down round a table, with bottles of water and chat. The really weird thing is that this author who invents all manner of new techie stuff for Artemis Fowl, starts by admiring my iPod recorder. He thinks it’s fantastic. Don’t they have gizmos in Ireland? “Do you have a list of questions? Right, Charlie, be gentle.”
C – “Do you think an Artemis Fowl film would ruin the books or embellish them?”
“Well, it depends on the movie, I think. Some movies from books are fantastic, like Lord of the Rings is great, and others are not so great and don’t do the books justice. My favourite movie from the book is The Princess Bride; I don’t know if you’ve seen that one?”
C – “No.”
“Oh, you should go and get that book. So, on the movie at the moment I’m working with the director to write the script. I think it could be very good, because we’re going to put some new stuff in for the fans that they won’t expect, and because I’m writing it, I’m hoping they’ll allow that. I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful. I’ve just been up to Scotland last week with Adele, where we’re making Half Moon Investigations into a TV show, and that looks great so I’m very happy with that.”
Adele points out that it starts on BBC in January, and I ask about the format. It will be thirteen episodes, with the first two or three from the book, and then they will have a new mystery every week. Eoin says “it’s great. My son got to be an extra, and obviously he didn’t appreciate that. All the trouble we went to, travelling to Scotland…”
C – “After you’ve written a book, do you go back and read it for pleasure?”
Eoin whispers “those are very good questions, Charlie. You’re intelligent. I don’t, no, because in the course of writing them, I do every day, as I read over what I’ve done, so by the time I finish writing a book, I’ve read it a hundred times and literally I’m sick of it. And also I keep changing it, so if I was to read through one of my books now, I would start changing things, and that would just annoy me, so my editors say ‘that is good, leave it now’. I do read little bits when I’m giving my talks, as you’ll see today, but generally not. Life’s too short, too many books to read to read your own, so I read other people’s.”
C – “If you could be one of your characters, who would you be?”
“I think there are different characters you’d pick for different reasons. I mean, I would love to be Foaly, the centaur. I’d get to invent all these amazing gadgets. Er, I don’t think I’d be very comfortable being handsome, so I’m better off being one of the funny characters; Foaly or maybe Chix Verbil. He’s very funny. I like him.”
Here Adele asks Charlie who he’d like to be. Eoin looks at him and says “he has the Artemis hair style, but is too happy looking. Charlie, could you look evil?” “Maybe..,” says Charlie. “I’ll have to ask your parents about that”, says Eoin, considering. “You should try an Irish accent”, mutters the photographer to Charlie, so Eoin bursts out “Oh, bejaysus, where’s my potatoes? I left that potato right here, and now it’s gone…”, in what sounds like an even more Irish accent than normal.
C – “What authors do you admire, and why?”
“I admire so many writers, hundreds. Every week I read another book. Of the writers for your age group, I really think Charlie Higson is great, he does the young Bond. I really like him. So, Meg Rosoff, who’s not the kind of thing I’d usually read, but she’s just a really good writer and I really like her. For the grown ups I like a lot of Irish writers. I like Roddy Doyle, Patrick McCabe, Ken Bruen. There’s loads of people that I like. If I find a book that I like, I don’t tend to go and buy every book by that writer straight away. I spread it out so I don’t get tired of them.”
C – “Do you like any particular genre more than others?”
“No, when I was younger, when I was in my twenties, I went through a phase of only reading serial killer books”. Giggles from all of us, escalating to loud laughing. “That was very big back in the 1980s, and I wasn’t very happy unless at least two people were disembowelled in each book.” More laughing. “Now I can’t read that stuff any more. I can’t. I’ve got very squeamish, so I don’t like it when people are hurt. I read all sorts. I get sent a lot of books to review, and to put a thing on the cover. So, I read some of those. I read anything. I’ll read a romantic book, funny books I really like, fantasy books. I don’t really like the super violent books anymore, except for one or two guys that are really good. I would recommend that nobody limits themselves to one or two genres, because you’re denying yourself loads of fantastic books.”
C – “How did the Artemis Fowl books compare to other books you’ve written?”
“The books are all different. I like to switch the style between every book, just to keep myself interested. That’s why I wrote Airman, because I wanted to have something that was completely different. So I thought. But then people tell me, well, it’s got the same themes. It’s got the technology, it’s got the humour, it’s a big adventure, so it’s kind of you in the past. So maybe you can’t escape yourself, but I try and mix it up between every book. The Artemis Fowl books I suppose are what I’m most well known for by people, so I don’t know what that says. I think a series you have a chance to build, so just one book has got to stand on its own.”
Adele asks Charlie “Did you like Airman?” and Eoin answers, “Yes I did. Oh!” Big laugh all round. “I did, yes. It’s one of my favourite books,” says Charlie.
“Charlie, next question!”
C – “Which thing do you love or hate the most about writing, and why?”
“I love being alone.” Very loud and disbelieving laughs. “No, it’s a great luxury for any person to have a couple of hours on their own, in their own office, to put on their own music. Like most Dads…, when you’re older and you’re a Dad Charlie, you will realise that you are the only person in the world that likes the music you like. For some reason when I put on good music in our house, that I paid for, everyone starts screaming that you’re an idiot. Even in the car now, as soon as I get in the car, my son is at the dial to change the radio station. So, when I’m in my office I can put on 1970s David Bowie,” loud laughs, “Led Zeppelin, and nobody says anything, and it’s fantastic. I’ve downloaded all my old CDs to iTunes and I just sit there and I listen to this music. It’s a huge luxury to do that, which most people do not have. When you’ve got kids you do not have two hours in the day to have your music going as you work, so I appreciate that. It’s really nice.
What I hate about it is, erm, I don’t think I hate anything about it. I don’t like the time when you send in a book and you’re waiting for your editor to get back to you, because you don’t know if it’s any good. You’ve been in your room for a year and a half and you’re too close to it. You’ve re-read it a hundred times, and you’ve forgotten what excited you about it, and what were the funny bits, and so you’re waiting for two weeks for the phone call from the editor. Luckily so far it’s been pretty good. I’ve had two editors killed.” Very loud laughs. “Only in my mind.” More laughing. “They’re still alive.”
“The titles come at different times. Sometimes the titles are the first thing that comes, and for example, with Artemis Fowl it was one of the first. I came up with two things, the word LEPrecon, and then the name. I was trying to think, and I realised if it was going to be a series about this boy, that the name would have to be very strong; a little bit different and very memorable. My favourite names would be Sherlock Holmes and Huckleberry Finn.”
C – “Memorable…”
“Yes, and they would be a little bit different, but not freaky different, er, like Nickleby Chuzzlewit, or something. In the times of Charles Dickens that was brilliant, but now it would be, you know, stupid, so Artemis Fowl took me a long time, but when I finally got it I knew immediately it was right.”
C -”Are any of your characters based on real people?”
“Most of them are based on real people. All my brothers are goblins, it’s true, and my Dad is in there, and my Mother. And my wife has warned me, she told me about ten years ago that ‘anything I ever say or do, nothing is to go into one of your stupid books’, but of course it all changed when I got the big money deal. ‘Oh yes, put me in there, darling. Love you.’ So I do.” Eoin laughs. “My two kids, my boys are in the new book. They are the twins, Artemis’ little twin brothers, Beckett and Myles. I think you’d be a fool as a writer or person to ignore the inspiration that’s all around you, and not draw on them. All my friends are in there.”
“They all think they are Butler! All of them.” Big laugh. “They point ‘I’m the big bodyguard, that’s me, isn’t it?’ I say ‘The big, noble bodyguard, that’s you, yes’ So they’re all in there, but they don’t know who they are. Some of them it’s quite obvious, others not. They don’t mind. I have two brothers; one of them is Artemis Fowl, so he’s very happy about that, and the other one is Mulch Diggums. Now, he’s not as thrilled, shall we say?” Laughs again.
C – “Mulch is funny, though.”
“Yes, that’s what I say. He’s a character everyone loves much. But he’s not. He’s not.”
Adele points out we have five minutes, so one more question.
C -”Are you Foaly, on the forum?”
“Am I Foaly? Erm, no that’s not me. On my website? That’s the guy who runs my website. He is Foaly, but he’s in contact with me all the time. He has to make sure. If you have a website for kids you have to be very, very careful, that nobody gets on it that’s dodgy. So, he manages every single post to make sure. He then rings me and occasionally I tell him to leave it in. But I do visit sites. There are a couple of Artemis Fowl sites where I occasionally drop in. The fansite Artemis Confidential (www.artemis-fowl.com). That’s a great site and I do drop in there occasionally, do a video for them and so on.”
C – “I always enjoy your videos that you make. Your vlogs.”
“Yes, I must do that again,” Eoin replies.
Adele – “Do you want to get your books signed?”
“No, take them all out. No problem. I’ll do ‘em now and save you queuing up.”
C – “I tried to get my Mum to read them.”
C – “She started the first one, but she likes more sad ones.” Laughs.
“The Wish List, then, is the one. That’s the sad one.”
C – “Yeah, I quite enjoyed it.
“I find that the ladies like The Wish List.”
C – “Do you spend quite a bit doing PR and that?”
“Yes, I do. I do spend quite a lot of time, but I enjoy it. I don’t enjoy all the airports. Who does?” He has had to lie to his wife about Cheltenham, telling her how much it’s raining, so she won’t have a clue about the lovely October sunshine Eoin has been enjoying.
After all that signing (is the boy planning to sell signed books?), it’s time to say goodbye, and for us all to rush downstairs to the theatre’s auditorium. The girl on the door wants us to hurry, but I feel we’re safe, as we know for a fact that the star attraction isn’t on stage yet.
Once Eoin starts I don’t want him to stop. Even Charlie’s Mum, who so far has resisted the books, is charmed, and with a bit of luck we’ll have her discussing the finer points of the relationship between Artemis and Mulch in no time at all. When Charlie asked him, Eoin said he had no idea what he was going to talk about. It comes to him as he’s on stage, apparently.
Eoin starts off by talking about his brothers (they’re five boys) with a disgusting tale of long ice lollies and underwear. It seems that it would be unwise to accept a snack from his brothers, on account you can’t be sure where it’s been. He then swiftly moves on to talking about his sons, the eldest of whom has attitude. Anything he says comes with the word “actually” at the end. Eoin has two “spare” sons, as well as the real ones. He talks normally to the real child, and then turns round and strangles the imaginary child, which is one way of letting off steam.
The Spud Murphy books were written when Eoin’s eldest son complained that his Dad wrote books for older children, that were too difficult for him to read. “You like them better than me”, was the comment which had Eoin sit on a plane across the Atlantic, writing a book for his son. Eoin is pleased with the result, whereas he claims the boy never bothered reading The Legend of Spud Murphy.
There is a tall tale of hair washing. The youngest Colfer boy doesn’t like having his hair washed. It’s a case of three against one; two to hold him and wash his hair, and one to brandish a portable DVD player to take the boy’s mind off the ordeal. Can’t say I believe the story about the same boy’s Christening, however. The priest was fine about the DVD player as long as it was a Mel Gibson film. On the other hand, this is Ireland so maybe it’s true.
It’s quite clear, now, who many of the male characters in Artemis Fowl are based on. Holly Short is a blend of some 12-year-old school girls Eoin used to teach while he was still a teacher. He mimes the difference between boys and girls requesting a visit to the toilet during lesson time.
The inspiration for Butler comes from the imaginary bodyguard Eoin Colfer had as a boy. Not for him an imaginary friend. He thought nobody would want him, so he had a bodyguard instead. Eoin himself is Foaly. He likes thinking he could come up with all the fancy electronic stuff that Foaly invents. He says he guesses what might be possible one day, and is amused by the things that have come true in a relatively short period of time.
When asked, again, about what he reads, Eoin suggests The Princess Bride by William Goldman, and assures the boys in the audience that the fact that the words princess and bride are in the title, does not mean it’s a particularly girly book. It’s a bit of a swash buckler, and should appeal to any fan of Airman.
There’s a crazy tale of Eoin taking his laptop out into the garden to write, when the weather was good. The light interfered with the screen, so he devised a shelter using a cardboard box. The laptop would sit in the box, and Eoin would then stick his head inside the box, and type. The trouble was that he likes talking to himself while writing, and this time one of his wife’s friends turned up, to find him sitting talking inside a cardboard box.
One of the questions for Eoin is about how long he can continue writing about Artemis Fowl. He has at least one more Artemis book planned, and he says that to make amends for his early criminal activities Artemis needs to repent, and this can only happen with him going to jail. So somehow our favourite Irish master criminal will end up in prison in Haven. Not for long, we hope. Readers have the early brainwave for LEPrecon (the elite branch of the Lower Elements Police) to thank for the whole Artemis Fowl series, which by now is a very long trilogy. Eoin was thinking about a kind of fairy task force for something else he was writing, when LEPrecon jumped out at him, and he knew he had to make good use of it.
As someone who read the whole of the first Artemis book wondering whose side to be on, and not really liking the boy criminal, it’s a relief to finally learn that Eoin didn’t originally mean for the story to turn out as it did, with both Artemis and the fairies as main characters, and eventually “good guys”.
“What’s the point of your books?”, was one rather unfortunately formulated question put to Eoin at the Everyman. Apart from paying the Colfers’ Mastercard bill, I’d suggest that it’s to entertain us, which is something Eoin Colfer is well suited to. Did I mention I could have remained there all day, listening to Eoin?
Talking about suits; Eoin has got another jacket now. Two years ago he claimed to own only one, and this one was different, so he must have been out shopping. But grey pinstripes, Eoin?
(All photos by H Giles)