Artemis Fowl creator Eoin Colfer appeared at the Bath Festival of Children’s Literature, headlining the first Saturday night fresh off a two-week tour of the US. By rights he should have been jetlagged. He should have looked tired. Instead he treated a packed house to an hour of stand-up comedy loosely themed around observations of naughty boy behaviour.
So how did Colfer come up with the idea of a criminal mastermind hero who hunts fairies? Boys “are all criminal masterminds”, he said, backing up the claim with true tales of the antics of his sons, especially the eldest Finn, and his brother Donal (he has four brothers) as a child, the two of which were the models for Artemis Fowl. As a child, he said, Donal was “a fixer” who looked “like a little James Bond villain. And then I thought: what if James Bond’s enemy was 12 years old?” He said his three younger brothers, “who moved around like the raptors in Jurassic Park”, helped him delve into the mind of pre-adolescent boys. Combine that with Finn’s constant attempts to outwit and humiliate his (clearly doting) father, and you have the legendary fairy-fighter.
The inspiration for the hero’s name is simple: Artemis (the goddess of the hunt) Fowl (winged creatures) – the hunter of winged creatures. Colfer also confessed he enjoyed slipping in references that children would not understand and adults would – for example the dwarf who squeezes through tunnels is called Colin Oscopy (which prompted a roar of laughter from parents and confused giggles from children).
Boys, he said, are now obsessed with two things – hair gel and deodorant. His stories – firmly aimed at both his young teen audience as well as the parents, used all of his experience as a teacher, brother and parents – he told tales of boys who sneeze on their hands when they’re short on hair gel, or how a cat stuck up a tree leapt to its demise on Finn’s spiky hair when it received a whiff of his over-deodorised underarms. The wilful misinterpretation of parental commands was another recurring theme, precipitating a lengthy anecdote from his days putting on the Christmas school play – Christmas shows having been his first writing gig – and culminating with a child dressed as a sheep flinging a baby Jesus 15 feet into a crib in front of an audience of doting parents.
Colfer showed his serious side when he admitted that, unfortunately, “men won’t buy a book by a woman”, or if it has ‘love’ or anything 'girly' in the title, “they won’t buy it.” He acknowledged what a crying shame this is, especially as his favourite fantasy book, which he added is “one of the best books ever”, is The Princess Bride by William Goldman, the title of which “couldn’t be more girly.”
Colfer admitted to “never” being satisfied with his work. “If I could take back everything I’ve ever written and change it, I would.” The only book he said he is very happy with is The Legend of Spud Murphy, which he wrote for his son. “Finn used to get upset when I left to go on tour – he was jealous of the other kids, so I said I’d write a book for him. Six months down the line it arrived, I took it in for him to show him, but he was too busy watching TV. I don’t think he’s read it to this day.”
When a child in the audience asked him about the Artemis Fowl film, Colfer emitted a withering sigh and answered: “It will be released two weeks after I die.”
It seems Colfer has come a long way from atomic wedgies and being bullied in the playground for reading, but he’s very much still a 12-year-old at heart.
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