After completing eight books (in a series that was initially supposed to be a trilogy), Eoin Colfer thought he was finished with Artemis Fowl, his devilishly naughty anti-hero, when his last adventure released in 2012. Not quite. Colfer returns to the Fowl universe with a new series featuring Artemis’s younger brothers, 11-year-old Myles and Beckett, “the first recorded nonidentical twins to be born conjoined,” boys who are as different as night and day…We spoke with Colfer about revisiting his popular characters in The Fowl Twins, out next month from Disney-Hyperion.
Your new book is dedicated to your two sons, Finn and Seán, who you write are “neither twins nor fowl.” Are they flattered?
Well, I haven’t told them yet but they are definitely the inspiration for the twins. One is blonde and he’s wild, and the other is dark and serious. Of course, I have taken the differences in their personalities to the extreme and I’m hoping they won’t hold it against me. Usually, I’m urging them to read my books but this one I’m trying to sneak past them.
The Fowl Twins thoroughly combines Irish folklore and science fiction. The story features fairies and trolls and you have a Dublin estate where two kids can be left alone because they are guarded by NANNI (NanoArtificialNeuralNetworkIntelligence system), a supercomputer. Can you talk about that blend?
I think I accidentally happened onto this. When Artemis first came out, the combination of lore and science fiction plus fantasy, I presumed hundreds of people had done that before but I have become known for that and it’s a nice place to be, to straddle those worlds. I mean, there are plenty of writers who combine fantasy with something else. Neil Gaiman is already doing that pretty well, and Rick Riordan adds mythology, and J.K. Rowling is doing okay, too.
Well, now that you bring her up, something you have in common with Rowling is that you are both very good at coming up with names. Such as your villain: Lord Teddy Bleedham-Drye.
Terry Pratchett is good at it, too. I think it goes back to Charles Dickens, thinking the name you gave someone was really important. Bill Sikes. That nails it right there. He’s a baddie. Dickens was the king of that. Finding not just the name but the right sound.
I might have had Lord Teddy Bleedham-Drye’s name for 10 years waiting for the right character to give it to. I have a file for good character names and I add to it all the time. My favorite thing is acronyms though. I will spend days making the right acronym.
Which usually have something to do with all the space-age technology in the Fowl universe. Are you an early adopter of tech yourself, or do you do a lot of research to dream up all these amazing gadgets?
I do like technology but I’m not sure I’m actually an early adopter. I do research it and there are a lot of really good sites, even YouTube, where you can get an idea of what’s coming next. I jump on that and extrapolate. I imagine the trajectory. The closest I got to actually getting it right was in Artemis book 3 [The Eternity Code], he had a little pocket calculator that was also his phone and could take photographs. Six months after the book was released, the first iPhone came out, so I believe Apple owes me several million for that.
In The Fowl Twins, you have not one villain but two, Lord Bleedham-Drye and Sister Jeronima Gonzalez-Ramos de Zárate, who works for ACRONYM, the Asociación para el Control, la Regulación, y la Observación de los No-humanos y Magia, an intergovernmental fairy-monitoring organization.
The acronym-generating business is getting tougher. I had to go into Spanish for that one. But the way I write, if I have the bad guy, the story springs from there. I had these two ideas, the nun and this English nobleman who is searching for the Fountain of Youth and I loved them both so I said, “You know what? Let’s throw them both in there.” It was an impulsive decision but I think it works.
Sister Jeronima is a “knife specialist trained in black-ops nunterrogation.” Do you have some personal bad experience with nuns you are attempting to exorcise?
Jackie [Colfer’s wife] and I were both primary school teachers, trained at Carysfort College in Dublin and schooled by a number of nuns teaching there. They were quite stern. There was no messing around. They treated everyone under 40 as if they were five.
I know there’s been talk for years about an Artemis Fowl movie. Any update?
It’s coming out! May 29 from Disney, directed by Kenneth Branagh. I’ve seen little bits of it and you can see the trailer online now. I had enough strength of character to resist meddling. I did not offer any suggestions unless I was asked to. It helped that the screenplay was written by a friend, Conor McPherson, who is a brilliant playwright. He’s done a few movies already and he’s got a play on Broadway now, Girl from the North Country, which I highly recommend you go see right away.
Who was the lucky kid chosen to play Artemis?
They found two Irish kids for Artemis and for Holly. Artemis is a boy named Ferdia Shaw, who happens to be [film actor] Robert Shaw’s grandson and Holly will be played by Lara McDonnell. I predict they are both going to be big stars. Oh, and someone named Judi Dench is in it, too, as Commander Root, and Josh Gad plays the dwarf, Mulch Diggums. It’s been 20 years in the making and you never know when you sell a book to Hollywood if it will ever get made so it’s a nice bonus.
How do you balance all this fame and multiple commitments and tours and still manage to write new books?
I’m not quite as prolific as it may sometimes appear. I do a lot of stuff but sometimes you work on three different things and they just all come out together so it appears like I’m working a lot harder than I actually am. I really pulled back on all the tours seven or eight years ago. I’m trying to stay at home as much as I can and I’m pretty disciplined. I work every day. I have a writing room at the end of the garden and I retreat down there. I play a lot of 1980s music, do a lot of reading. There’s a little sofa. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m napping. But if I’m on the sofa with my eyes closed, rest assured, I am thinking.
But not resting on your laurels, right?
Not at all. I mean, you create something in your 30s that’s a big hit and you get a little precious, thinking, “I should write something more serious.” But then you realize, those eight books, they’re my legacy. They’ll always be on my shelf. I mean, when I die, my kids will take them off the shelf and put them in the attic but until then, they’re on the shelf.
I also have to ask how you had the prescience to introduce a character named “The Whistleblower.” Luck of the Irish?
I always try to sneak in things like that for the parents. But this book is just supposed to be pure escapist fun. Kids these days need that, I think. It’s all doom and gloom on the news. We’ve got Brexit, and refugees, and racism. It’s terrifying. So I deliberately set out to write a book for kids in which they will not learn anything at all.
The Fowl Twins by Eoin Colfer. Disney-Hyperion, $18.99 Nov. 5 ISBN 978-1-368-04375-5