Eoin Colfer: Owen COLfer (Eoin is a very old Irish name, rarely used outside Ireland with this spelling)
Matthew Peterson interviews Eoin Colfer
Matthew: My guest today is Eoin Colfer, international best selling author of the Artemis Fowl Series, which won the British Children's Book of the Year Award and has sold over 18 million copies. He's also the author of Half Moon Investigations, which was the basis for a TV series this year, plus the Supernaturalist and Airman. Eoin's latest book is the highly anticipated 6th installment to the late Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and is called And Another Thing. Thanks for being on the show today Eoin.
Eoin: You're welcome Matthew, my pleasure.
Matthew: Now, before we get into the Hitchhiker's book, let's first talk about the Artemis Fowl series, real quick.
Matthew: Those books have won a slew of awards, all of them have hit the New York Times Bestseller list, and they've been translated into dozens of languages, but like most authors you struggled at the beginning of your writing career to make a name for yourself, didn't you?
Eoin: I did, I mean I started when I was a young man, back in my early 20s. I'd just left college and I kind of knew I wanted to be a writer, but it seemed like a very distant dream, especially when you live in a small town in Ireland that already had its share of writers, we had [names three authors]. So that was kind of three international writers, and I figured that was probably our quota.
Matthew: [laughs] Yep.
Eoin: But I went ahead anyway, and I wrote a children's book because I was teaching at the time. But it was rejected by everybody. I sent it to dozens of publishers and I had these dreams of phone calls and advances, but they never materialized.
Matthew: Your brothers kind of sat you down one day and they said, "You need to get an agent."
Eoin: That's right. I had written six books and they had all done reasonably well in Ireland, but it's a tiny, tiny market, you know. If you do really, really well in Ireland, then you can possibly take the family on holiday for a week. So that's what was happening. I had six books out and they'd all been kind of best sellers in Ireland but no where else. So my wife read the first Artemis Fowl book and she said, "Ok, it's time you got an agent." And I said, "Yeah, yeah sure, I'll do that, someday." And I was quite happy toddling along, but then she orchestrated this night out with my four brothers and then basically, there was, I was going to say implied violence, but it wasn't implied, it was directly stated, "We will be violent to your person if you don't get an agent."
Eoin: So, I did that. There's something about being a writer where you don't want to rock the boat. If you have a publisher. You don't want to upset that publisher by asking for stuff like money or overseas rights. So, you just say, ok look, I'm published that's really what I want. And it was all I wanted, but then I got an agent and gave her the first Artemis Fowl book and my life just totally changed within weeks. And it hasn't really changed back since. I keep waiting for the bubble to burst, but I'm still as busy now as I was ten years ago. It's great!
Matthew: Well, I love the Artemis Fowl books. I've read them all except for the last one, I haven't gotten to that one yet. But I'm very excited for them.
Eoin: Yeah, I'm glad to hear that, Matthew. There are a lot of adults reading them. And I think it's because I really write them for the little boy in me that I still have, who still lives in there. And I think a lot of grown ups have that little kid inside them, who needs to be let out every now and then and this is a way to do that. I don't try and hold back on the vocabulary or the story so I do like to make them appropriate for teenagers or younger, but I don't like to make them too simple. I think that's a mistake people make is that if you're writing for boys--and boys like simple stories. I don't think that's true. I think boys like pacey stories, yes, they do like pace, but they don't like simple, they don't like to be able to get to the ending too easily. So, I kind of try to keep the plot twisting and turning.
Matthew: For the people who haven't read the Artemis Fowl books, give us just a brief summary of what they're about.
Eoin: Artemis Fowl is an Irish teenager, now, and he's a criminal master-mind, or at least he used to be. And his first great scheme was he would restore the family's fortunes. His family is kind of a criminal dynasty, but they're going out of business. So, he will restore their fortunes by kidnaping a fairy and blackmailing the fairy people, the leprechauns, for their crock of gold. Which is a classic story, young boy tries to kidnap leprechaun, get the crock of gold. With the twist being that these fairies are not the fairies of lore, you know, lovely simple guys wearing green suits. They're very high tech and high speck and they come back and they want their captain back and that's how it starts off. Obviously as the series progresses, he becomes more of a rounded character and he develops friendships with the fairy people. So now at this stage of the series, he's kind of fighting on their side for planet Earth in a way, there's a little ecological message in some of the books, but not too heavy. My main weapon, I think, is humor.
Matthew: Humor, oh yeah.
Eoin: That's what I like, I like to crack jokes and set up funny situations and I'm a big fan of old black and white movies and that kind of humor. So, that's what I like to use in my books.
Matthew: Yeah, they are, they're extremely humorous.
Well, let's talk about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. It started out as a radio show. The first book came out like 30 years ago, and there was a TV mini-series, 3 musicals, comic books, video games and even a big budget movie, which I just watched for the first time last night, and after 17 years since the last book was published, the long awaited sequel has finally come out. So, Eoin, why were you chosen to continue the series?
Eoin: I don't know. I mean, I ask myself that as much as other people. I don't want to blow my own trumpet or anything, but I think where our diagrams intersected would be the humor, I think, the humor and the technology which are two big elements of Douglas's books and they're also big elements of my books. And I'm a huge Douglas Adams fan and I think, simply put, this was a scheme that as dreamed up by Douglas Adams' agent, the famous Ed Victor, whom I know because he works with my agent, Sophie. So, I think they dreamed this up and I think it has been brought up before, but they could never find someone that Ed liked because he's very very particular about this. He's very protective of Douglas' legacy. But then, I don't know, something about my style, thought maybe I could do it and when they asked me I thought, "Well, it's lovely to be asked, but Douglas's widow is never going to agree to a children's writer taking over." I mean a lot of people could do a brilliant job on this. But she did! And they said to me that Jane would love you to bring Douglas to the new generation and it's hard to turn that down. I really found it hard, even though there's a million reasons why I should, I found myself saying, "Ok, I'll give it a go." So, that's what I did.
Matthew: We do have a whole new generation of readers that might have missed The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Tell us briefly what the series is about and how your book, And Another Thing, fits in.
Eoin: Well, the series, briefly, is about an English man, Arthur Dent, who finds, one morning, that his best friend is not an actor, as he thought, but he's a reporter for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is kind of like an iphone of the future that covers the whole galaxy and that Earth is about to be blown up, which it is. And so this guy Arthur hitchhikes his way off the dying planet with his friend, Ford, and they go on a series of madcap and absurd adventures through space and time, with various characters, including the two-headed president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and a very pretty young lady, who is also an astro-physicist, called Trillian. And eventually, they end up back on the Earth of another dimension. Which is also about to be blown up. And this is where Douglas left it, where, the Earth blew up, and all the characters are killed and then he had planned to bring them back in a kind of a return from a cliff hanger kind of a way, but he died before he could do that, so the series was left unfinished. So my challenge was to show how these characters escaped almost certain death in an entertaining and surprising way.
Matthew: Well, there's a lot of things that needed to be tied up. What are some of the questions that are answered in the new book that you just wrote?
Eoin: Well, I think funnily even though it has this huge scope and scale of all these intergalactic travelers, for me one of the main things that had to be tied up were family relationships. I thought Arthur was left with this teenage daughter, who he didn't really know and kind of had no respect for him, even despised him. This wasn't a very nice way to leave things. I thought maybe they could have some kind of relationship. So, that was, for me, one of the main things. And Trillian who had kind of searched the galaxy for love and she'd hooked up with, first of all with Beeblebrox, found him to be very shallow, and then Arthur and her, even though he's the last human man alive, they never really clicked. And so she never found this great love that she felt she was destined to have, it just never materialized. And so I wanted to deal with that as well. So, it was funny, even though the themes are all planet destruction and all this kind of thing, for me the real themes were just relationships.
Matthew: And of course he's on the quest for the perfect cup of tea and the recurring number 42 and [laughs] . . .
Eoin: It's an amazing series, people don't realize the impact it's had on the country. I mean, he has basically highjacked the number 42 which is an amazing thing when you think about it. In the UK and Ireland, I'm not sure what it's like in the States, but if anyone says the number 42 or asks you, what is the meaning of life? everybody knows it's 42.
Matthew: It's 42, yeah.
Eoin: I mean he highjacked towels over here as well. People say, "I hope you know where your towel is." So, it had a huge cultural impact, even before the movie came along.
Matthew: Will there be another book? Like a seventh book of the trilogy?
Eoin: I think one book is nice and it's respectful. But I don't want to take over Douglas's mantel. I just want to provide maybe a possible ending for some of the strands, but you know, not so gloomy as the 5th book, which is, what Douglas said himself is that he left it very bleakly. And he didn't really want to leave it like that. So, this is a way for Hitchhikers to go back to the story and if they want to take a little bit of closure from it, that's great, but I mean, hopefully all I really want them to do is just to say to themselves, "Well, you know, it's not Douglas Adams, but it's very funny and I really enjoyed that." And take it in the spirit that it's meant.
Matthew: Well, thank you so much.. I've been speaking with Eoin Colfer, international best selling author of the Artemis Fowl series and the new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which is called And Another Thing. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Eoin.
Eoin: Thanks, Matthew, my pleasure.
Matthew: And I guess I should end the call, So long and thanks for the fish.
Eoin: Oh, the fish . . . very good.
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Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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