Be willing to kill your children. It’s the advice given to writers the world over for whom favourite ideas must often be sacrificed.
After seven best-selling instalments, Eoin Colfer, the Irish author of the Artemis Fowl series, has taken it to heart.
The eighth book in the saga that has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide is set to be his last tale of the teenage criminal mastermind and his fairy companions.
”As I was working on the previous book I thought, ‘I can’t use any more tricks to keep Artemis bad,”’ he says. ”As a character he’s a criminal mastermind, and once he becomes good he isn’t that. It’s the end. To keep trying to flog another one out of Artemis would be a shame. So in this last book he’s pretty good, and he becomes heroic, and that’s the end.
”I didn’t write ‘The End’ until the book was finished, even though I had written the end. Actually, I wrote it towards the beginning. It’s like a jigsaw; I write scenes and I put them all together and I find it stimulating because it makes you think, ‘How am I going to put that scene together with this scene?’ So the ending was one of the first things I wrote, then I knew I was going to have to get to that point.”
Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler. Colfer, who writes at his home in Wexford, Ireland, where he lives with his wife, Jackie, and two sons, won’t reveal much of the plot in Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian, and certainly not whether Artemis survives.
While speaking to the man often dubbed the Irish J.K. Rowling, I wonder if he wouldn’t kill off a character just to stop himself going back, because Colfer is certain this will be the last Artemis Fowl adventure … probably.
”I wanted to close it off for myself in case I was tempted in a few years to go back,” he says. ”When I’m alone in my office, I have no doubt that I’m doing the right thing. Then when I go out and I meet all the people who love Artemis Fowl, who say, ‘Don’t finish it, don’t finish it,’ I think, ‘Am I so stupid?’ But I’m also weak. So I’m hoping that it won’t come to a thing where they say, ‘Listen, this is what we’ll give you to do it.”’
Colfer is not only bringing to an end a beloved series – and income stream – but also his brother Donal’s favourite conversation-starter in the pub: ”Artemis Fowl is based on me.”
”I saw a photo of him making his first Holy Communion,” Colfer says. ”He was a nine-year-old and he was wearing a dark suit, and I thought, ‘He looks like a little James Bond villain.”’
That character elevated the series to much more than an Irish spin on Harry Potter when 15 years ago Colfer was writing a short story called The Lost Leprechaun. He recalls the plot as ”this leprechaun would bump his head and he’d wake up, think he was a human boy, forget he was a fairy. He went to live with some humans and went to school and it was great. Then magical things started to happen around him, he got in trouble and in the end this fairy police force swooped in to save him.
”I called the police force the LEPRecon and I thought it was quite clever.
”So I took this character, my brother Donal, the little 12-year-old Bond villain, and said, ‘What if he kidnaps one of the leprechauns for the crock of gold?”’ The short story was never submitted.
Fifteen years later and, despite such a personal investment in the series, Colfer was surprised by how emotional it was to end it.
”I remember when I killed off one of the characters in book four, people in the real world were upset and I found that hard to understand,” he says.
”So I think I wasn’t expecting that to happen to me. But when I wrote the end of this, it is like a big chunk of my life.
”It’s more than just a book. It’s bought my house, it’s put my kids in school, it’s allowed me to become a writer. So when I wrote ‘The End’, yeah, I was a bit emotional. I went in to Jackie and said, ‘I’ve finished the last Artemis Fowl book.’
”So we had a glass of wine, but it was a bit of a muted celebration. It was a little sad.”
Has Colfer killed his metaphoric child or will we see Artemis again? Still hopeful of a movie adaptation (”It’s an ongoing saga, but I’m really hopeful that they’ll sort it out”), he is also tempted by the suggestion of Fowl short stories.
”Yeah, I might do that,” he says. ”I might not come back to Artemis but definitely Holly or Mulch or someone like that might have a short story in them, just to give a bit of backstory on the saga. I’m not closing the door on that.
”But for at least the next five or six years I won’t be touching anything from the Fowl universe with a barge pole.”
In true criminal mastermind fashion, Artemis Fowl’s final story may not prove to be his last.
Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer is published by Puffin, $19.95.
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