Eoin Colfer (50) is one of Ireland’s best-known writers for children. His ‘Artemis Fowl’ series is world-famous and is soon to be filmed. Born in Wexford, he currently lives in Dublin with his wife, Jackie, and their sons, Finn (18) and Sean (12)
The alarm is set for 7.20am every morning. We live in Monkstown at the moment. Normally we live in Wexford, but I was doing so much commuting for work that I suggested to my wife that we move, temporarily, up to Dublin. I’m not great in the mornings. I suffer from migraines, so usually for the first hour of the day I have a headache. I’m on various tablets for this and I’ve done every type of therapy known to man, without any luck. I wander around until the headache goes. I might have a coffee, and then I drop our son, Sean, to school in Dalkey. Our other son, Finn, is in Clongowes.
On the way, while dropping Sean to school, I pick up my mate Declan. We go to a gym in Glasthule which we have christened Mikey’s House of Pain. The trainer is called Mike. Over the last few years, I’ve lost a couple of stone. Now I have this very unusual condition of being skinny and flabby at the same time, so I decided to do something about it. Our goal is to try and make the trainer fat, but that’s never going to happen. I go to the gym three mornings a week, and I go for a run twice a week.
Exercise is really important for writing because if you’re running or doing some particularly arduous exercise, you’re only thinking about the next 10 or 15 minutes. You can’t worry about what’s due and what you need to do next week. I’m always worrying about stuff and I overthink everything. It’s just my nature.
After the gym, Declan and I go for our version of the middle-aged chinwag, with a smoothie instead of coffee. The two of us going around in shorts is not pretty, but we think we’re great. After that, I go home, have a shower and then I get down to work. I like to be at my desk by 10.30am. I ignore emails and any phone calls until after lunch. For the first half hour, I edit the previous day’s work, and then I get into the swing of writing. I work on my main project, but I like to have two or three other things going on. I try to get 1,000 words done in those three hours.
Then I go for lunch with Jackie. Having Jackie in my life has made an enormous difference. At the end of the day, I’m trying to please her with my work. If she really likes something, I’m really chuffed, but if she doesn’t like something, I’ll sulk. We’ve been together since we were 16, and at pivotal moments in my life, she has given me good advice. When I showed her the first Artemis Fowl book, she told me that it was time to get an agent.
If I’m honest, I think the writing is actually getting harder. I find it harder to sit down and spend the time writing. In the afternoon, I usually have distractions, in that I’m collaborating on a few things. I often have to go into town to meet someone. I used to resent anything that would take me away from my desk, but now as long as I can get my three hours done in the morning, I don’t mind. I like to hit the secondary projects in the afternoon. I’m doing a graphic novel with a guy in London, and I have a musical partner. I write lyrics for him and he does the music. I did a disco musical, which we’re re-working now.
I never sit back and relax. I’m always thinking about the next thing. Jackie says that I’ve done an awful lot, so I should relax a little. Every time I’m in the middle of a quagmire, which I get into with every novel, I always say to myself, ‘OK, I’m taking a year out’. But that has never happened. I always either get an idea that I can’t leave alone or I get an book. When I was asked by Douglas Adams’s widow and daughter to do the sequel, And Another Thing. . ., I couldn’t say no.
Also, I’m Laureate na nOg at the moment, which is the ambassador for children’s literature. My project has been this book, Once Upon a Place. I believe that Ireland is a really magical place, and most of the stories and poems in the book come from very specific places in Ireland. We gathered a roadshow of storytellers and we go to places where you wouldn’t normally get a bunch of storytellers. We’ve been to halting sites and Tory Island and Hook Lighthouse.
Initially, I started writing for adults, but after I started to teach, I realised that I had an affinity with kids. I was able to get through to them by doing things that you’re not supposed to do. I was an awfully sarcastic teacher and boys especially loved this. If you insulted them horrendously, they thought it was fantastic. The girls would be offended if I wasn’t being nasty to them as well. I think in Ireland we use that sort of slagging as a type of affection.
We pick up Sean at 4.30pm from school, and then he might have soccer. The evenings are given over to family stuff — dinner and then clearing up after it. Then, Jackie and I sit down and watch television. We used to love all the Scandinavian crime stuff, but I’ve had enough of it. There was a new series last week, and the first thing you saw was a pretty girl walking in the dark and then heavy breathing behind her. I’m actually uncomfortable with it. Some nights we might go to a gig in town, but it has to be seated. I like to sit down and listen to the music. I’d like to say that I’ve become like that as I’ve got older, but I’ve always been like that.
I go to bed at around 11.30pm and I try to read for about 20 minutes. That’s probably the only time that I read. I’m neglecting my reading, and I feel guilty about it. At the moment, I’m enjoying Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor. One of my problems is that I don’t sleep well at night. Because I know I’m going to wake up with a headache, it takes me about an hour to get to sleep. I try to use that time to plot. That usually sends me off to sleep, which is quite a good thing. ‘Once Upon a Place’, new stories and poems for children by Irish writers, compiled by Eoin Colfer, is published by Little Island Books, €15.99