The auditorium is full, the lights are dim, there’s an amazing hanging giant electric blue artwork above the stage, and a goodie bag on every seat. JUST like a fashion show, if the audience all wore the same thing, and actually SHOWED their excitement. This first session of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Schools Programme is a standout success for these kids already. And when, with very little fanfare, the star wanders out on stage and starts talking, our joy is complete.
Eoin Colfer (“It’s pronounced Owen” – more on this later during the interview that will follow the session) is a master storyteller, not just on paper, but also on stage, and it quickly becomes clear that he’s here to tell stories. If you are searching for deep and mysterious nuggets of truth about the multi-layered complexities of the craft of writing, you are out of luck. If, instead, you want to hear “horrible educational stories” about families, teenagers, revenge, big and little brothers, and poos and wees (can I write this in a blog? yes, I can – it’s Festival-week), you are in for the time of your life.
If you still needed an excuse to listen to this session, you could say that Mr Colfer is answering that most awful of all questions, Where do you get your inspiration? By the time he’s halfway through his first story, however, no-one cares why he’s talking, they just don’t want him to stop. The row in front of me is full of 9 year old boys (I know because Eoin asked if there were any 9 year olds here, and they all leaped about wildly waving their arms, as if being 9 was something particularly difficult that only they had successfully achieved), and they are spellbound.
We get to hear about Eoin’s own family first – he utters a warning: this first story is set in a horrible time in the history of the world – the 1970′s. There’s a frightening tale involving the lack of that device known to us as a TV Remote Control, four older brothers armed with a variety of missiles, and one baby brother whose only purpose in the world was to lie on the floor and change the channel every time something was thrown at him. Then more stories about the three youngest ones (he’s second of five boys) – described as three little gollums who seemed to spend their entire childhood dressed in nothing but an assortment of undies, unable to use any words but nouns, and who SEEM to have been so unbearable to live with that Eoin said the only way he’s coped with it all is to become a writer so he could put them all in stories and then kill each of them off in unspeakable ways, at least once a year for each brother. The eldest brother gets a kinder mention – he is the inspiration for Eoin’s most famous creation evil boy genius Artemis Fowl, and is apparently okay with this.
There are popsicles and boogers, number ones and number twos, attics and ambushes, a description (from the years spent as a teacher) of boys being “anti-learning ninjas”, a tale about a visit to a French urinal involving volcanoes, astroturf, aliens and an elderly French gentleman, and finally the audience questions. A mixed bag this time for questions, but some of the highlights for me were these:
- the final Artemis book – possible name (in order to sell as many copies as possible, you understand) to be called Artemis Fowl and the philosopher’s goblet of azkhaban, and to be set in Phoenix at twilight.
- a crime series for grown-ups, following on from the success of Plugged (which I loved, go find it in the library please – adults only, mind you)
- new kids’ series called WARP – Witness Anonymous Relocation Programme, involving the use of time travel to hide witnesses to crimes – like the FBI, but much cooler
- Eoin’s inspirations – great time to be a reader, H Potter, Hunger Games (roar of approval from the bloodthirsty audience here), not Twilight (another roar of approval – interesting …), but also older stuff – Mark Twain etc
- One book to rule them all? has to be The Princess Bride (I tell you, could this man be any greater?)
And his final words -
don’t ever restrict yourself by saying you will only read one type of book, but instead read whenever and wherever and whatever you can because it can only make you much more smarter.