Interview with Eoin Colfer on October 26th, 2013 at the Helsinki Book Fair

Eoin Colfer in the library database.

Interview by Riikka Pasanen, photos by Riikka Pasanen and Ella Peltonen.

Eoin (It’s pronounced Owen) Colfer is an Irish author who is best known for his hugely popular Artemis Fowl series that has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and has a possible movie on the way. He has been interested in storytelling since childhood. He was a teacher before setting that aside to become a full-time author. He has won several awards including The British Children's Book of the Year, WH Smith Award, The Irish Children's Book of the Year and The German Children's Book of the Year. His newest novel The Reluctant Assassin was just shortlisted to The Red House Children's Book Award. He is in Helsinki promoting his newest book at the Helsinki Book Fair. had a chance to sit down with Eoin to ask him questions. Big thanks to our users for submitting great questions!

You’ve been here for a few days already. How do you like Helsinki? 

I came the day before yesterday. I’ve been in Finland for three or four times before. Last night I got to go to sauna on an island.  I didn’t know Sauna involved beer and sausage. It was the best night I’ve had in a while. You can imagine, middle-aged men, it’s not pretty. *laughs* But it was great, very relaxing.

I understand you’re on a tight schedule so thank you for doing this interview with us. You are heading next to England? 

Yes, I’m going to Winchester and then I’m going home for the next few months to finish off W.A.R.P. two. 

What did you read when you were young? Did you have friends who read? 

When I was young, I wasn’t really part of a group. I was not good at sports and when you’re not good at sports it’s hard to fit in sometimes. So how I fit in, was with a group of friends, we read a lot of fantasy books and science fiction. It was my older brother and friends (he lists off names) and exchanged tomes like Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and The Lord of the Rings. The Magician by Raymond Feist was a huge book. I think there are nine or ten of those now. We read all of those and we swapped them around and you’d be waiting for your friend to finish book, too, so you could get it… It was a great way to belong.

And also, though we did not know we were educating ourselves, making ourselves smarter by reading these books. Reading has very good side effects, you don’t necessarily read to get more informed but it just happens.

On your website, there's a mention about viking stories being part of your childhood games. Are you still interested in vikings?

Yes, they’re fascinating! I live in Wexford, this little village in Southeast Ireland. Some Vikings settled there, that was a bit unusual,  and left their mark on our gene pool. You see these blond giants. It’s easy to see where those genes are from.

I understand you decided to fully concentrate on writing after the first Artemis Fowl book. Before becoming a full-time writer you were a teacher, like your parents. Was leaving teaching a welcome chance? 

I had written 8 books before Artemis Fowl. I was able to write that novel while working but with tours and signings I had to take a lot of time off and  I really couldn’t ask my friends to cover for me anymore. So I gave up teaching and focused on writing. It was a bit contrary because we had been taught to get a job and keep it because it wasn’t that easy to get a job and keep it at that time. 

Has the experience you gained as a teacher been helpful to you when you write books for children and young adults?

Definitely. Kids these days, they’re smart. They read a lot and they watch grown-up TV show, they know what’s going on in the world. It’s not good to be patronizing or underestimate them. My teaching experience has been a big help when talking to audiences, I’ve spent so much time in front of a class.

Your books are liked by kids and adults alike.

A good story is a good story, capable of captivating readers of all ages. Even if it’s a children’s book.

There's plenty of delightful humor in your books. Do you laugh at your own jokes? 

Well, I try not to, especially in public. But I do have an eye for jokes. Or an ear. So when I hit a good one, I can feel that’s going to make people laugh. So I do smile of satisfaction that I’ve made something that will cheer people up even in an another country. Which is nice, really. 

You've written mostly books for children and young adults. Have you ever had to abandon any ideas or plot twists, because they haven't been suitable for young readers?

Yes. Sure. When I write I go to this space of mind and then it in a way comes naturally. But I try to keep the readers in mind; an author has to think about their readership. For example, the books cannot be too violent. I also ask myself, if I would want my 10-year-old to read something. Then there’s always my editor who’ll say if something is not good. 

You combine several fantasy and science fiction elements in your books. Are there any fantasy or science fiction themes (for example, romantic vampires) that you will never use in your books?

Well, romantic vampires, at least. I wouldn’t want to use something that has been used so many times before. I wouldn’t write about a wizard school, for example. I had a book planned about pirates, but after The Pirates of the Caribbean came out I ditched it. I could see myself doing a story about a vampire, however. But it would have to be a different kind of vampire book, with me bringing to the table something new. I’ve had this idea about a vampire who is really old but looks young. So we would have this 18-year old hunk who acts like an old man, grumpy and all. 

I wouldn’t really know how to write romance. I met my wife when she was 16 and I was 17.  I really never went through that awkward period in the twenties when you try dating and such that most romance books are about.

Do your children read your books?

Well, the younger, Finn, does. But I try not to push it on them. The older, he’s a sports guy. The younger likes to visit libraries with me and come to events. It’s also cool for him to get to meet other authors.  

Do your children know Artemis better than your readers do?

They could. But no, for them it’s just something their dad does. No dad is ever cool for what they do, they’re just dads. Even David Beckham. 

How do you feel about the possible Artemis Fowl movie? 

They bought the rights to the movie 13 years ago. So I’m a little skeptic. But what I’ve seen so far of the script and the people involved, it looks great.

Did Artemis Fowl end permanently with The Last Guardian or will you return to its world? For example, will you write independent sequels etc.?

I would like to, yes, but the Artemis Fowl series itself is over. I could see myself writing more about Holly, for example, she’d have much to give.

While writing the Artemis Fowl series, at what point did you decide how it would end?

The series begun with Artemis being bad and I knew it was to end with him being good. When I got to the point that I knew that he had to do something good and that was when I knew it was time to finish the series. I did not know it beforehand. I’m very much a go-with-the-flow –guy. Like J.K. Rowling, she had written the final chapter years before and kept it in a safe. But no, I did not know. 

Do you already know how your latest W.A.R.P. series will end? 

No! I have no idea. I only know how the book I’m working on right now, the sequel to W.A.R.P., will end.  

How were you given the responsibility to finish Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series? Was it stressful to fill such big boots? What did you think of the dark ending of Mostly Harmless? Did you intentionally try to steer the series to a lighter direction?

I was given the job by Douglas’ wife, Jane. They knew Douglas wanted the series finished off in a lighter way. That was my brief. Armed with that, I went off to write And Another Thing… I really enjoyed writing it. The ending of Mostly Harmless was… (no spoilers here) grim. I’ve always especially loved The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Usually books don’t get talked about much before they’re finished, but this was an exception and I got a little pressure. The talk on internet forums was not all encouraging, but my editor and my wife told be to concentrate on what’s really important – if it is a good book, people will like it. It was obvious that it was written by a fan – I always think of it as fan fiction, really. For me, it’s not an official ending, but fan fiction of Douglas.

It could be cool to have the book series continued by even more writers, that they’d continue and add to the series one at the time. Because they are great books, a great series. And they’re not even that long, Twilight is thicker than the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy volumes combined. When the sixth book was published, the sales of the previous books went up, too. That was great. 

If you had a chance to write a sequel to another series, which series would you choose?

Hmm. I think it’d be Princess Bride. The sequel would have to be forty or fifty years later, with their children in it… and war.

Our website has a page which lists all of your books that have been published in Finnish and users can mark all the books that they've read. According to our statistics, Artemis Fowl is one of the most read fantasy books in Finland.

Wow. That’s great!  

Do people recognize you on the street?  

I think most people who read would recognize the name Artemis Fowl and yes, sometimes I’m recognized by my name, like once in an airplane. But not on the street, no. If I were a 24-year-old young man I might be excited and enjoying being recognized but I’m an older man with his own life and family. 

The Finnish fandom bid for Worldcon (The World Science Fiction Convention) in here Helsinki in 2017. 

Fantastic! I would love to see Worldcon in Finland. It would be the ideal place for it. It really is a great way to highlight how huge science fiction and fantasy is. And I think here in Helsinki you have such a great group of people interested in that so it could really be a wonderful place. Would it be held in here? 

Probably. There aren’t that many places big enough.

Okay. But this place is great and Finnish people speak English so well that it would be no problem to communicate and I’d be happy to attend if it’s okay with my publisher here. It would be good promotion to Finnish authors and literature. It’s easy for me to be translated here, but I hear it’s very difficult to get translated into English if the book isn’t a huge success already. 

I’ve been to ComicCon a few times, I collect some comics myself, and the atmosphere is amazing. People dress up in costumes and it’s great, I wouldn’t brave enough to dress up in a costume, but I admire the people who do. Everyone is there just to have a great time.

Here in the Helsinki Book Fair I’ve walked around looking at cover art. I also take pictures, that some migh consider weird. I really like the cover for Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey. 

So if Worldcon was organized here, I would certainly come.

To finish this off, what do you think; would it be possible that there are fairies in Helsinki?

I want to believe there’s more to the world than we can see. Once I was contacted by a fairy who blamed be for exposing them since I had already gotten close to the truth in Artemis Fowl but unfortunately that person was an actor trying to audition for a role somehow. But sure, why not. Helsinki would be a good place for fairies. Maybe snow fairies?

Thank you so much, Eoin! Welcome back anytime!


Quotes from the interview on Louhi stage with students from Kallion lukio:

“My first piece of writing was when I was 4 years old and I knew I wanted write stories. But I could not write, I was four. So we had a board, blackboard, it’s chalk, in our house and I just began scribbling, not real words, just… and my mother came down and said, oh, what are you doing, little boy, and I said, I’m writing, obviously, and she said, what’s the story about, and I said, can’t you read?! She still reminds me of this first story. The first thing I wrote that got actually, not published but  it was a school play, I was the teacher, and it was about Christmas, it was very exciting, when I saw people in the audience laughing at words I had put on the paper I thought, this is what I want to do. I want to make people laugh as much as possible. And that’s what I do.”

“When I was younger, I would take my books and hide them in different rooms, because in my imagination, there would be an earthquake in Ireland, the first one. And I would be locked in the bathroom, so in the bathroom behind the toilet there are paperbacks. My mother would go crazy, because sometimes I would push the pipes out and there would be flood.”

“My little brothers were horrible. They would go around the house and find my books and tear off the final page. And then they would sell the final page back to me. If you go to my library from my younger days, all the final pages are taped in.”

(About the W.A.R.P. –series) “I have a vague idea that everybody will survive, except that one guy.”

“The nicest thing I can hear is when a mother or a father comes to me and says, my son, he never liked reading and now he has your book and he loves reading and that’s the best thing I can ever hear. Well, apart from Mr. Colfer, here’s a check for 1 million euro. That, I like that too. But the best thing is to create for people who read.”

“The thing about Artemis Fowl is, I’m a grown man, I’m middle-aged, and yet I’ve been thinking about fairies for fifteen years and that’s not natural. It’s time to think about more mature stuff like time travel. It was quite nice for me to have a new subject. I spent long, happy time with Artemis, but now it’s time for me to do the next thing. I could have done twenty Artemis Fowl books but I think they would have gotten very boring. Especially for me. So it was new, I was excited and I don’t really feel pressure to write a good book because I’ve never been lazy about books, I always want every book to be the best book I’ve ever written.” 

“I’ll give you an example how funny my son is. I did a huge event in London in the Royal Albert Hall. 7000 kids and I brought my son, whose name is Finn. He thinks he owns this country because his name is Finn, and he has Finnair, that’s his own airline. He put his hand up to ask a question and I’m thinking, no way, no, because he would say something sarcastic. So I was ignoring him. And all the other kids around him, someone said that’s Owen Colfer’s son, so they began to point at him, saying Finn, Finn, Finn. I looked at my wife who you better ask him, so I said YES… little boy? What is your question? And he said, um, Mr. Colfer, I believe you have two sons. And I said, yes. And he said, which one is your favorite? So I couldn’t think of anything, it was too quick, too funny, so I just laughed.”

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