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Interview: Eoin Colfer on Atlantis, Fanfiction, Writing and ArtyxHolly
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Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex
Eoin Colfer
Interview with Eoin Colfer
By Feffy / Spinebreakers Crew

Feffy: Hello, welcome to Spinebreakers.

Eoin Colfer: Thanks, I’m glad to be here.

Feffy: For the benefit of those who waited excitedly for your book to be released, where did Artemis Fowl find himself in the latest book?

Eoin Colfer: Well, in the latest Artemis Fowl book we open in Iceland and Artemis Fowl has finally discovered a way to save the glaciers which he wants to demonstrate to the fairy folk. But, in the middle of his demonstration they’re interrupted by the arrival of a space probe, which is a fairy space probe which is not due back for five more years. It’s a catalyst, he’s been in the middle of a mental breakdown, which is kind of child-genius syndrome, but is also complicated by his messing with fairy magic. So he has got all the symptoms that a nervous breakdown has got and an alternate personality emerges which is very courtly and no good to anybody in times of stress, but very funny for the sake of drama…so I kind of like that aspect. So Iceland, the short answer with Iceland and long answer is that waffle that I just said.

Feffy: How do you come up with the plots for the new Artemis Fowl books? Is it already there, is it a long process?

Eoin Colfer: Well usually I come up with something very small and I build around that so I don’t get one massive ‘Oh my God! Lightening strikes’ big idea. What usually happens is something tiny will occur to me, just a one-liner or a situation.

What happened this time was, I was on tour in America, I was in, I think, San Francisco doing an event. And a hand went up and the child said, will Artemis Fowl ever pay for his crimes. And I thought ‘that’s a very interesting question’. And your first thought is, well yes, he’d have to go to prison, but then I thought, ‘what if that’s not how he pays?’, he pays mentally through his anguish, because in the last book he put his mother in a lot of danger, so I thought well what if he can’t handle that guilt? He’s mesmerised his parents, he’s got Butler shot, he’s alienated a lot of people, he’s made enemies, he’s hurt the people he loves the most. A lot of people when they feel that burden of guilt, but I thought well Artemis, what if it’s worse? He’s meddled in magic as well, so what if he manages his breakdowns like a super breakdown, triggered off by messing with his own brain?

And so that’s what I did. And then I said ok, so he’s in a situation where he’s having a nervous breakdown and he doesn’t trust anybody, what would be the best time for this to happen, or the worst time? What happens if there’s a space ship falling on your head and all your friends are around you and you don’t trust any of them? So I began to build up from there and it just comes together slowly like a jigsaw, little pieces one at a time.

Feffy: So do you write these plots separately then? Or are you thinking ahead about books in the future and putting in hints?

Eoin Colfer: I do, I keep what’s cleverly called an ideas folder on my desktop computer and any little thing I think of I put in there, anything, it can be one line, it can be a paragraph, it might not necessarily be connected to anything I’m working on. It’s surprising how often you think, ‘well I’ll never fit this in this book’, your subconscious works around to that and you suddenly realise, ‘wait a minute, I can use that volcano scene there’. That happens with me quite a lot.

Feffy: And how do you divide your time daily? How much of your time is devoted to writing?

Eoin Colfer: As much as I can, I love writing. It’s not necessarily the act of writing but I love sitting and thinking about stories and I will have my computer there. I don’t do as much writing as the time would suggest. If I was actually writing for all the time I spent in front of my computer, I’d write five books a year, but most of the time I’m reading back over stuff, I’m checking things on the internet, I like my research to be pretty accurate. So I spend, if I’m at home and it’s a school day, the kids are in school, I would spend at least 6 or 7 hours in my office working, possibly more.

Feffy: With a series like Artemis Fowl is it inevitable that you begin to feel connected to the characters?

Eoin Colfer: I do, it’s a little bit like Star-Trek, where you got the main five who are always on the bridge, well I’ve got Holly, Artemis, Butler, Mulch and Foaly and they’re my five and they always show up. And then there’s other people around those, you’ll have your bad guys and your bad guys’ henchmen and sometimes Juliet is in there. So I suppose she could be number six.

I used to have to think really hard about what those characters would say in a situation, because the mistake writers make is that they say what they would say in every situation…and that gets quite boring after a while. Let’s say you’re kind of a ‘smart Alec’ and you’ve got ten characters in your book and then suddenly they’re all ‘smart Alecs’. After a while it stops being funny and they are all speaking exaggerated sentences. You can only have one guy like that, so you really need to vary what everybody says and how they speak.

Initially I would have to think about that, and think ‘well Holly you are based on this person that I know, so you’re going to speak like her. And Root, you are based on this friend of mine.’ So when Root died I basically killed off my friend. Oh sorry! I’ve said that on tape now…but anyway. I don’t have to think anymore like that, I think well Juliet, that’s how she speaks, because I feel connected to the characters.

Feffy: So you’re essentially controlling their fates, do you ever feel guilty for what happens to them?

Eoin Colfer: I do if I don’t show the consequences. So if Artemis does something bad I usually think it’s hilarious, I don’t know what that says about me. But I would feel bad if I didn’t show that by him stealing this, these people are affected, this person is put in danger and it is not a good thing to do. I don’t mind if the bad guys do something because basically they’re not there to be an example to anybody. But if it is one of the positive characters, and Artemis is slowly becoming a positive character, then you do feel obligated to show consequences of their actions. I do anyway.

Feffy: In the Atlantis Complex, Artemis’s problems can manifest themselves not only physically but psychologically as well. How did you get inspired to write from that perspective?

Eoin Colfer: I think I’m a little bit like that, I think many people are creative in some sense, they conduct internal discussions all the time from various points of view and all it would take would be two days in prison and you would have a full mental episode. Not to scare you, but I often have discussions in my head so I find it quite easy really to transfer that to Artemis. And all I had to do really was make him into another character for that portion of the book. I changed his name and I made him a different character. It was pretty much like creating a new person in the book. The character of Orion… it’s kind of a running joke, so he is quite two-dimensional. We don’t really need to know about his development or how he changes or his journey, he’s only in it for three chapters or whatever, so he can be like, ‘Oh my darling, Oh fair maiden’ for the whole time and it doesn’t have time to get old.

Feffy: You’ve mentioned it just now and before, but when creating a genius character like Artemis Fowl, there is always a lot of research behind it. Do you make an effort to try and make everything as scientific as possible?

Eoin Colfer: I do, and the reason that I do that is so that sometimes you don’t know what is actual, real, and what I’ve made up. So I could make up a disease or a piece of technology and it sounds real. I like that because it makes everything more real and easier to believe. Even though you know, when you put down a book, you say none of this is real, but while you’re reading it, it is imperative that you lose yourself in it. Even though you know that if your mother says your dinner is ready, you say ‘ok’, you don’t say ‘Oh I can’t sorry, I’m in Iceland’, but you just want it to be easy for the reader to pretend to themselves that it is happening. And that is another way to do that.

Feffy: Romance has also been suggested, especially between Holly and Trouble in this latest adventure, is that going to be taken further?

Eoin Colfer: I’ve been leading up to that for a while but I’ve been skirting around it. I’m not afraid to go there in the end of the series which would possibly be the next book. Everything is going to have a resolution of some kind and I think Trouble and Holly will probably get together in some way. I mean these aren’t romantic books, so I think it would be suggested that they have a future rather than a big development of their relationship. It’s not going to be Twilight, you know? It’s not going to be any staring at each other. At the end of the book, you know, ‘Do you fancy a smoothie?’

I would like Artemis to have something, I mean he’s 15 now. Minerva was there for a while but she dumped him. I’ve invented a back-story for that, not in the books but because people keep asking me this, they went to the Nobel Peace Prize and she met a skier and in spite of all her talk about brains, as soon as she saw this guy skiing she dumped Artemis and he was like, ‘Oh, come on’.

Feffy: Are there any other matches out there for Artemis?

Eoin Colfer: I think he would have to find one like Holly but human. Someone who is more of a real person, rather than just a surreal person, because he is useless, he can’t do anything. He would need someone who was kind of a ‘take charge’ girl who won’t listen when he starts to lecture, who will just leave the room and say ‘I’ll be back in ten minutes when you’ve finished talking to yourself’. Because that’s what he is doing really, he’s talking to himself. So I don’t know who that will be, but I think we’ll find someone.

Feffy: Another big issue in the Artemis Fowl books is the environment, do you think that humanity is doing enough to help the environment?

Eoin Colfer: I don’t think so, I mean the governments talk about it a lot, they say ‘Oh yes we will’, but it just seems to be one environmental disaster after another and the last one, the big oil leak in America has just proved it again. It took so long to get that tapped. Hopefully we are getting better because the children of the 70’s and 80’s, that was when the environmental awareness was just starting to come in, people of my age, are starting to get into power in places, so over the next few years, I don’t know how old David Cameron is but he’s around my age, a bit younger even, so he should be part of a generation that is aware of these sorts of things…Barack Obama even. The green children are finally coming into power so hopefully they won’t forget what they learned as kids.

Feffy: Do you think irreversible damage has been done to the environment. Is there hope?

Eoin Colfer: I don’t know, I don’t think so. I think given enough time the earth will repair itself, it’s been through worse than us. If they are right about the dinosaurs being made extinct by comet debris obviously the earth has been devastated before and been covered by a massive ice age. I think it will, but I don’t know if man can recover. I think the planet will. There are certain things happening with nuclear power and species being made extinct. We will have lost half of our species by 2050 apparently unless something is done. It is a bit depressing when you start thinking about it.

Feffy: The media too seem to be picking up on this ‘environment’ issue with films like ‘Avatar’ proving a huge blockbuster success as well as pushing forward a ‘green’ moral code. Are these films more of a media gimmick than anything else?

Eoin Colfer: Well it is a media gimmick but I think it’s effective, I don’t think James Cameron did it as a media gimmick, he’s clever and a very sincere man with honest beliefs but if that happens to be a huge international smash hit as well then great, because that feeds off the other. And again, it is the guys who grew up in the times of the hippies and the first generation to be aware of their surroundings. These guys are making movies now and trying to get their messages through. And when you people get into the positions of power in about ten years or whatever, you can do the same thing and hopefully it will become more and more prevalent as the years go by.

Feffy: If there was one thing you could do for, if everyone in the world did it, for the environment, what would you do?

Eoin Colfer: That is a tough one isn’t it? Well if I could do one thing, I think it would be great if people stopped smoking. Because people are not just harming themselves or the atmosphere, they are just throwing millions and millions of these butts away every year and kids have to sit and watch their dads dying of lung cancer. So if you could ask everyone to stop smoking that would be great. Can that be arranged? You have till Friday, I’m here till Friday, Saturday actually, so you have all week.

Feffy: Now that Artemis is fully a teenager surely he must have stumbled across one of the dozens of social-networking sites? Could you ever see Artemis having a Facebook profile?

Eoin Colfer: I think he has one, I mean it’s not me doing it, it’s someone else doing it. I was on Facebook and Twitter for a while but I just had to get off because it became, ‘Can you come to my school?’ and I can’t, as much as I would love to I can’t communicate with children on a social network. It just wouldn’t be appropriate. I think they’re a great way to make friends and to learn more about your friends but unfortunately there is a down-side to all of these things and people use them to bully other people and to exclude them. But I think people will always bully and exclude so it’s important now while they are in their infancy that people watch them and make sure that they are not used for evil.

Feffy: Moving away from Artemis Fowl and onto your other projects such as your recent book ‘And Another Thing’ how do you feel about the value of fan fiction? Are you a fan?

Eoin Colfer: I mean obviously I am, I think fan fiction is great on one level for young people, it helps them to improve and work on their style, but it can’t be your goal that you want to continue on someone else’s work. I think its fine to do it, once or twice, but eventually you’ve got to do your own thing. And most fan fiction is not going to pay the bills for you, it is just a pastime on the internet. I was lucky in that I was able to make money out of doing the ‘Hitch-Hiker’s’ book and it was received really well. It was by and large a good experience but not something I would do again. But I always get a giggle out of fan fiction and even Artemis Fowl has fan fiction sites. I suppose I feel flattered that young people spent hours writing pages and posting them up. I mean it takes time and work to do that sort of thing. I do know that some writers don’t like fan fiction and they’re against it, but personally I like it.

Feffy: Have you read anything that has made you laugh a lot in terms of Artemis Fowl fan fiction?

Eoin Colfer: It all goes very Manga. They always put the picture up and it is those big eyes, Holly and Artemis are always getting together and holding hands and going on dates and stuff so I think people are trying to tell me what they want, and they are always much more violent than I am, you know there are always arms and legs torn off and heads torn off and trolls biting so when people say to me…sometimes the writers are accused of being too violent, it’s the kids that are too violent for us poor writers. My fragile mind is being destroyed by you people.

Feffy: You mentioned an end to the Artemis Fowl series?

Eoin Colfer: I think its time, you know, I think it’s good to go while it’s still strong. I don’t want to see it fallen off and for it to become, where it used to be interesting and edgy, just the same old boring stuff. So I think with this book there’s some interesting stuff in it and the story is good but the main premise is that you’ve got this boy who used to be a nasty criminal mastermind and now he’s just becoming better. I’ve done seven books so when is going to be good? So I think, you know, one more book and then he’s good.

That’s not saying I’m going to say goodbye to the world, I mean Holly could have a book or Butler or maybe Mark Diggims or Juliet, or the two little Fowls. You know there is a lot of scope there. But for Artemis, for his character, one more book, which I should probably do next year or the year after.

Feffy: What about your other books?

Eoin Colfer: Yes, I like to leave a door open so I can go back. Supernaturalist is one I might revisit, that’s being turned into a graphic novel this year so we’ll see how that goes. Also I really like Airman, of all my books, that’s my favourite that I’ve written. But I don’t think I’ll go back to that because it’s so…in a way it’s so complete as it is. I think I should just leave it. But you never know, I always do what I feel like doing. I’m very lucky in that Artemis has done really well so now I can just write what I want to write. I mean I worry about, is it going to make any money, but at least if it doesn’t make money I’m not going to be out of a job. I’ll be ok.

Feffy: Would you write more for adults?

Eoin Colfer: Yes I’m doing a crime novel which is coming out in spring. It’s called Plugged and I would like to alternate, one adult, one kid.

Feffy: What are the main differences between them?

Eoin Colfer: There’s not a lot of difference, there really isn’t. I thought when I was writing ‘And Another Thing’ that people would say, ‘He should have stayed with the kids books. It’s so childish his style’. But nobody said that. Everybody was very complimentary and big book critics that I thought were going to kill me, I thought they were going to say horrible things, they all loved it. So I said, ‘Alright, well I’m not changing a thing.’ It’s exactly the same style as I use for teenagers. Maybe there are a few more complicated sentences or maybe the plot is just a little more dense but really, the line to line stuff is pretty identical.

Feffy: How would you get more kids reading it as well?

Eoin Colfer: We need to embrace, as writers, technology and try and get our stuff on e-books and try and get them on video games so just kids come across them. That will definitely help them. If you say, ‘I hate technology, I’m staying away from it, I deny its very existence’, a lot of people do that, then I think you’re going to suffer.

People often think that to write for kids you have to write simple but I don’t believe that. I think you have to write fascinating, you have to entice them in with the story and keep them there even when it twists and turns, keep them guessing and interested. I try to do that in all of my books and keep them accessible to everyone.

Original interview is found here: Link!

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