Tag Archives: Eoin Colfer

That’s funny

Much as I don’t enjoy the trend of famous comedians suddenly discovering that they need to write a children’s book, and doing very well and getting plenty of publisher attention for their efforts, it has caused one improvement to the state of things. Humour is now seen as something worth considering.

I have always liked humorous fiction. I have long felt there’s not enough of it, and also that it’s been so wrong to look down on it. As though humorous fiction is to children’s fiction as children’s fiction is to Booker prize type fiction; i.e. inferior.

It’s not. In fact, I’d suggest that just like writing for children requires more skill, and not less, to write good humour means you have to be really excellent at what you do. Not everyone can do it, or do it well, but when they can, the results can be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago Adrian McKinty blogged about his twenty funniest novels and it’s an interesting list. I agree with his choice, about the ones I’ve read. I might have picked others, and it could be Adrian doesn’t find them funny, or that he’s not read the same books I have. These things happen.

I do agree with him about this, though: ‘It’s got be funny throughout too. One really funny scene as in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim for example just doesn’t cut it. I’m also not allowing anything that people say is funny but which actually isn’t or perhaps used to be funny but isn’t anymore. I’ve read Gargantua and Pantagruel and they are not funny. Shakespeare’s comedies are not funny. Dickens is not funny.’

There’s a lot in life that’s not funny. But there’s also a lot that is. And yes, I hated Lucky Jim the first time I read it. Loved it on the second read. But Adrian is right; one funny scene isn’t enough. (Apart from The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke, I don’t reckon Roald Dahl is funny. Not in that way.)

I’ve not thought this through enough so I can give you my own list, but Terry Pratchett is obviously on it. Would be, I mean, if there was a list. And even if I stick to children’s books, I reckon Douglas Adams has to be on it. From there it is a quick jump to Eoin Colfer and from him to many other Irish authors (it must be the water?), and then jump again, to Frank Cottrell Boyce, Joan Aiken, Morris Gleitzman, Debi Gliori, Barry Hutchison, Hilary McKay, Andy Mulligan, Kate DiCamillo. And last but not least, my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff. She doesn’t only kill goats.

My apologies to anyone not mentioned. I didn’t go about this scientifically, but merely wanted to mention that being funny is a good thing. A good read is good for your wellbeing, and a funny read is even better. Go on, find something to make you laugh! Preferably until you cry. The hankies are on me.

Letter to a fan

Or more accurately, postcard to a fan. Postcard to an old witch, in fact, who although a fan, wasn’t expecting this.

It is very nice, and kind, and generous, when an author writes back to a fan. There obviously comes a point – for some – when they just can’t, but they want to and they do. Sort of.

I haven’t written any fan letters (ever, I think) to Eoin Colfer. Not that he doesn’t deserve them, because he does. But a witch needs to keep herself in check and not overdo things.

Eoin postcard

But there clearly was a time when I needed to communicate with Eoin, and I really don’t remember what it was about, and I didn’t have a good way of doing so. Maybe I wrote via the publisher? I’m not sure. It tends to work surprisingly well. You suspect your missive will disappear into that vast black hole that is the publishing house, but I think I’ve managed to hit the spot every time.

So too, with Eoin. I don’t know how it’s done. I assume he has someone who opens letters and then sends out the ‘personalised’ pre-written response, that can be so generally worded that it fits almost any fan.

Eoin postcard

Except when the writer was a witch on business. But it was nice enough to receive a postcard, and I like seeing what the fans of Eoin do get sent.

I’m pleased he feels my writing shows promise. One lives in hope.

Bookwitch bites #136

The rain is very wet as I write this. There is lots of it. We’ve got men working on making a new front garden and the Resident IT Consultant is feeling guilty for leaving them out in the rain. I told him they must do this a lot, so are used to it, and that they can’t very well put paving down inside the house anyway.

Here is Adrian McKinty reading the first chapter from his latest novel, Rain Dogs. It’s the one where Duffy meets Muhammad Ali. It’s rather nice hearing Adrian’s voice. It brings you closer to Carrickfergus.

Whether the weather was drier in Wexford when Eoin Colfer was a boy, I have no idea. But the photo the Guardian used for their column looks lovely and sunny. Here is the Laureate na nÓg musing about slightly illegal behaviour during his childhood. Me, I use my own photo to avoid argument (other than Eoin being told off for waving at me). It’s from the same occasion as theirs.

Eoin Colfer

Someone else who is very friendly and has a fancy title is the new Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay. I have to admit to being rather hazy on what a makar actually is, as I only encountered the term after moving north (for some reason you don’t talk so much about particularly Scottish things down south). Looking it up on Wikipedia the answer is poet or bard. And Jackie certainly is that. I’m so pleased they chose her as our new Makar.

Jackie Kay

And, there is the Manchester connection, too. Jackie still lives there, while being thoroughly Scottish.

The Seal’s Fate

One way or another, Bobby, in Eoin Colfer’s re-issued story The Seal’s Fate for Barrington Stoke, won’t club the seal to death. You know this. But how will he avoid doing so?

Inspired by something Eoin’s father told him, this is set in an older Ireland, in a fishing village where things are not going well. There is less fish every time, and now they feel it’s the seals eating their catch that is the problem. And the solution is to offer the children money for every seal they kill.

But Bobby doesn’t feel like a seal killer. On the other hand, he can’t disappoint his fisherman father. His friends all seem far cooler about this clubbing of seals, too.

I couldn’t work out how Bobby was going to get out of it.

Eoin Colfer and Victor Ambrus, The Seal's Fate

(Wonderful illustrations by Victor Ambrus.)

W.A.R.P. – The Forever Man

That FBI. It gets everywhere, including the 17th century. But that explains a lot, actually. And it’s lucky they wear those fetching overalls, with the letters on the back, so you will know it’s them. And there is always one more wormhole through which any combination of characters can fall, to some time other than their own. Quantum foam. Hah.

Yes. So Eoin Colfer thought it’d be more normal to write about time travelling FBI agents than leprechauns. It’s easy peasy getting your head round tunnelling dwarves and foil-clad centaurs, but my head always gets confused when it tries to think about time travel. Like, if so-and-so did this then something would/would not happen. And you mustn’t meet yourself.

Eoin Colfer, The Forever Man

I enjoyed The Forever Man, which is the last instalment of Eoin’s W.A.R.P., the time travel-based witness protection scheme which put people safely in Victorian London. I wasn’t sure I would, as the time travel slipped back to Cromwell’s days – which I’m not keen on – and Riley’s old boss was going to reappear. I’d really hoped to have seen the last of him. But that strange thing happened; where you find yourself almost fond of the baddie, because you go a long way back and familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.

So – the now unkillable – Garrick is back, and his latest hobby is to burn witches at the stake. And he decides Agent Chevie is a witch. Riley needs to free her, but the trouble is that he and Garrick know each other so well, that it’s almost impossible for one to trick the other. Luckily the FBI has one or two tricks up its sleeves, and not everyone in this witch-hunting village believes that burning witches is a marvellous idea.

This is exciting, and romantic – yes – and funny. It even restored my faith in the FBI.

Eoin; please consult me if you need more timetravelling Swedish bores. Sorry, boars. Or similar. Especially if they are to be called Olaf.

It’s easier if the authors are dead

On that cheerful note Chris Riddell and his illustrator pals Chris Haughton and Oliver (but Chris for the day) Jeffers ended a humorous – as well as sold out – Sunday morning talk about drawing pretty pictures. The Haughton Chris was saying he finds it hard to make pictures for someone else’s words, whereas the Riddell Chris went so far as to say he prefers other authors to be dead. If he’s going to illustrate their words, that is. Apparently he’s doing stuff to Lewis Carroll at the moment. (Maybe he didn’t mean it?)

I was so tired I even forgot to switch off my mobile phone, but luckily a good event like this will perk you up. A lot of people had crawled out of bed for it, including some of the Chrises’ peers, including the Irish Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer. I suppose he wanted to check out his UK counterpart, or to see how his illustrator Oliver ‘Chris’ Jeffers performed.

It seems they had already covered the most interesting topics in the yurt, but there was the odd snippet left worth hearing. They sort of interviewed each other, with the Riddell Chris taking the lead. (Well, he is the eldest.) The place to get ideas is in the shower or when making dinner, not sitting at your desk. The Haughton Chris has a rug project, and it now appears all illustrators want to make rugs.

Oliver got his idea for The Great Paper Caper while watching an episode of Columbo, which the Riddell Chris felt explained his coat. As for himself he often begins with the number of pages in his sketchbook. He has a naughty drawer where failed ideas marinate until they can be used. Oliver’s alphabet book came from two bad ideas, that worked when mixed together.

Chris Haughton

The Haughton Chris once had an idea about scale, which didn’t work at all, but which will be out as a book next year, with the title Goodnight Everyone. Riddell’s Goth Girl was based on one bad pun, ‘mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes.’ (I reckon you need to read the books to get it.)

They love their editors! The editors adjust the words they have written and make their books good. Oliver’s advice on quality is to trust your own ability. He is his own audience, and only wants to do what he himself likes. Chris Haughton wants everything to be as simple as possible, and keeps reducing until he gets there. Chris Riddell learned from David Lloyd that if you can’t read it aloud, then it is no good. These days he has a very useful daughter, who is quick to judge his work.

A young man in the audience wanted to know how to draw eyes, so all three showed us their eyes. Oliver Jeffers said you only need two dots. Chris R mentioned a ‘talking cockroach with manga eyes’ and Chris H is so ambidextrous he could barely decide which hand to use to hold his ‘great lump of lead.’

Asked how to deal with procrastination and to scare one member of the audience into getting on with it, Oliver told her she’d soon be dead. Chris H had talked about plans for a children’s book for so long, that in the end all he could do was buy a ticket to Bologna and then make sure he had something to show when he got there. Chris R told us about his first meeting with Klaus Flugge’s eyebrows, which caused him to pretend he’d left his story at home, allowing him just one night to write his first book.

So, paint yourself into a corner.

The three listed some of their illustrator heroes, and how you can’t really come up with anything new. You can only try and do the same, but better and prettier.

Oliver’s parents didn’t insist he get a proper job, for which he’s grateful. He and Chris H both work in places where there are many other likeminded people who can inspire and support. And Chris R has his daughter.

Chris Riddell, Chris Haughton and Oliver Jeffers

The father of a six-week-old baby, Oliver is starting to work shorter hours, when before he would do 12 hours seven days a week. You have to relax sometimes, in order to be creative. On the other hand, Chris Riddell relaxes by drawing every day, or he gets fidgety. He has a sketchpad in his pocket all the time. Chris Haughton works quite randomly, and he has those rugs, as well as sketchpads where he collects his ‘best of,’ and words and thinks ahead. Oliver has been known to stare at old notes, not understanding what he’d been thinking when he wrote it.

And here is where they came to the conclusion that dead authors are easier to work with than live ones.

Some more Saturday in Charlotte Square

The first thing I decided after travelling in to Edinburgh yesterday morning, was that rubbing shoulders with Francesca Simon had to go. It would have been lovely, but the party at the Edinburgh Bookshop I’d kindly been invited to meant returning home on a late train, full of rugby fans and festival goers. And I like my trains a bit emptier than that!

Chris Close

So it was with a heavy heart that I didn’t go and meet all those authors. (I’d like these festivals and things to be more spread out, and for me to be the only one out travelling on a weekend.)

And I actually bought a book. Chris Close who has been photographing visiting authors since 2009 (that’s when Bookwitch started bookfesting as well), has put some of them into a book and I simply needed to have this book, and Chris signed it (rather more politely than I suggested) for me as well.

Kirkland Ciccone by Chris Close

He also pointed me in the right direction to find his recent photo of Kirkland Ciccone. Kirkie wore his loveliest test card jacket and tie (disappointingly with a plain white shirt) the other day, and it’s not that Chris is a bad photographer, or that your eyesight has gone funny, but he gave Kirkland the 3D treatment. (Personally I suspect the aerial needs adjusting.)

Oliver Jeffers had an event on before I arrived, so I caught him signing in the bookshop afterwards instead. He’d been dressed as one of his characters earlier, but looked more his normal self by then.

Oliver Jeffers

After my photo session with Eoin Colfer, we encountered a small child playing with the ducks. It struck me as unusual, but very sensible. The child’s father tried to claim he was from Fife, but that was the most American Fife accent I’ve ever heard. And I could only partly explain the purpose of the ducks to him.

At this point I spied a man arriving, elegantly dressed in a mac, which I suppose is suitable for a Scottish trip. He was none other than David Fickling, followed by Mrs Fickling. And I forgot to ask what I’d been thinking I needed to ask.

I hung around hoping to take pictures of Darren Shan (you can tell it was most of the Irish boys all in one day), but that didn’t come to anything. He did wear a rather fetching t-shirt as I saw him race past before his event.

So I finished by going to find Marcus Sedgwick in his bookshop signing instead. And that was nice too.

Marcus Sedgwick