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Review: The New Policeman by Kate Thompson
Author of the month: Eoin Colfer
Wednesday June 29, 2005
Artemis Fowl, The Opal Deception, by Eoin Colfer
Published by Puffin, £12.99 (hardback)
It might not catch on in a big way straight off, but Eoin (pronounced Owen) Colfer, best-selling author of the Artemis Fowl books, had a novel way of dealing with being one of the smaller teenage males in his neighbourhood and not much good, really, at football. He spent his adolescence painstakingly tracing Celtic fairy drawings.
"But I was into fairies with axes; I was never into them flitting round the garden. Because the fairies of Irish mythology are not like that at all, they are very warlike. Always up for a fight.
"My brother Paul and I, we were obsessed. We weren't very sporty, either of us, so this was our thing. But it was very much a minority thing then, as was reading, actually. You didn't have many friends you could swap books with, and when you did, it was a really tight band, and great to be part of, if you weren't good at football, or you weren't very big or popular with the girls."
In a manner, however, of which jocks all over the world will thoroughly approve, Colfer's turned that early interest into serious money. The anti-hero Artemis Fowl, criminal genius, and sometime friend of the fairies frequently occupies the New York Times No 1 bestseller slot. The fourth book in the series, Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, has just been published. Miramax and Tribeca own the film rights.
Colfer, born in 1965, in Wexford, grew up surrounded by males. One of five brothers, he went to the boys-only Christian Brothers School. So what does he draw on for inspiration for his female characters?
A teacher for years - from 1986, until just after the first Artemis American tour in 2001 - he reveals something about his characters which should provide reams of fodder for those department of education memo-senders. "I drew mostly on the kids I was teaching," Colfer says, straight off. Then, quick as he is small and pixie-like, he catches himself: "Well, not for Opal of course, who's kind of horrible ... but funny," he finishes a little weakly.
Anybody who's ever been to school will recognise Opal: utterly pragmatic and self-centred evil fairy. Catherine Zeta-Jones would be fantastic as Opal. "Yup, she'd be a very good Opal, she does a convincing baddie," says Colfer. "If she's willing to be digitally shrunk. If you know her, you can put in a word ... and Michael can be Cudgen, and the kids could be pixies, so the whole family ... Kirk, yup, no problem."
The producers had narrowed the search down to three boys for Artemis about a year ago, but in the process of the rewritings, the boys have now outgrown the role. There will be some animated characters, but mostly it's going to be played by live actors, with all the human characters being Irish, and all the fairies American.
Colfer has tried his hand at screenplays, and it remains an ambition, but he hasn't been involved with the Artemis script. "They explained to me why they didn't ask me. They said, this is a big-budget movie, and you really have to know what you are doing."
Colfer reckons he'll do one more Artemis Fowl novel. In the meantime he's begun a story about a boy detective, which he wouldn't mind turning into a series. The success of Fowl surprised him - his six previous books had featured a character whose naughtiest action was to leave his baby brother unsupervised, and that had the Irish press saying this was no kind of role model. So he expected Artemis, the master-thief, to be pounced upon. Instead, it has made his family life, with his childhood sweetheart and two sons, financially secure. "It's a wonderful thing to be self-employed; after 15 years of teaching, it's indescribable the relief of not having to be somewhere at 9am."
The price he pays is the amount of travelling he has to do. Meeting him in London, though he makes no song and dance of it, I can see on his face how much he misses wife and children. He has it down to a routine - four months away from the family, six months at home, two months all together on holiday. "I met Terry Pratchett, a big hero of mine, at some awards ceremony. I ran out after him, thinking, 'Oh my God, this is such stalker behaviour', and I said, 'Excuse me Mr Pratchett', and I explained who I was, and he said, 'I've heard about you - you don't like to tour'.
"And he said: 'In the early 1980s there were four, five big sci-fi writers that came out of the UK and made it big; there's only two of us left now, because we toured.' He said, 'You have to tour, you have to meet your public.' And then he swept away, and I was looking after his limo, calling, 'OK, Mr Pratchett, I'll tour.' "