The bestselling author of Artemis Fowl says he is increasingly mindful of cultural appropriation after a stint as Ireland’s Children’s Laureate—and he’s applied that thinking to an Artemis Fowl redux.
"I’m not trying to steal people’s stories—I’m trying to highlight these fantastic characters.” Bestselling Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer discusses the tightrope of meaningful inclusion, three months after fellow author John Boyne fell foul of many for his exploration of transgender issues in My Brother’s Name is Jessica (Puffin), and as the debate over sensitivity readers rages on.
Colfer is discussing the dangers of appropriation amid a typically packed schedule. As well as writing children’s books, graphic novels, plays and adult books, the Dublin-based author is returning to the world of Artemis Fowl, almost 20 years after its first publication, for spin-off series The Fowl Twins. There is also the long-awaited Hollywood adaptation scheduled of Artemis Fowl from director Kenneth Branagh, scheduled for 2020. Colfer reveals he is cautiously optimistic about the book-to-screen journey. “Obviously before I met anyone or saw anything I was quite worried because this movie has been a long time gestating—it’s been 20 years because we actually sold the screenplay rights before the book so it’s been that long ago. I haven’t seen all the movie but I’m seen some of it and I’ve read the script,” he says.“I think it will be a great movie, but that doesn’t guarantee that it will be a big hit movie.”
Of the new Artemis Fowl spin-off series The Fowl Twins, issued by HarperCollins on 5th November, he says it was like coming home. “It felt like coming back to something very familiar, but it’s also all new,” he said of the new fantasy series, which follows Artemis’ brothers Myles and Beckett. “It’s a little more gothic. It’s humorous, and direct. The Artemis Fowl books are twisty-turny [but] this is so much chase, so it’s really fun.”
However Colfer is most animated when discussing the need for diversity and accessibility in literature. He writes a series of books for publisher Barrington Stoke aimed at hesitant and less- confident readers, but he says one reader’s critical response still lives with him today. “You have to be careful. I remember there was one story which featured a girl who was a native American Indian. It was a cool, time-travel series, very light-hearted, but I did get a letter from a lady who said, ‘Is this really your story to tell? If you are going to tell it, surely you should make it more culturally relevant and not just have this girl running around being an action hero.’ I really took that to heart. I still think about it.”
Colfer speaks of a greater sense of confidence in Irish writing than in previous years, praising The O’Brien Press and prominent Irish authors, such as Marian Keyes and Cecelia Ahern, for instilling aspiration in younger generations. “There was a time where, as a small island, we had this problem where you didn’t really think an Irish author’s book would be as good as an English person’s book, or an American’s book, because they would be more glamorous,” he says. “My feeling, from going into bookshops and schools around the country, is that kids are feeling really motivated because they are seeing now that you can come from Ireland and still make it [writing] a career.”
Eoin Colfer’s The Fowl Twins is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books on 5th November 2019, as a £14.99 demy hardback (9780008324810).