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The Big Interview: Eoin Colfer

Ann Marie Hall gets to the children’s author re-inventing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before his Manchester signing session

Published on October 13th 2009.

The Big Interview: Eoin Colfer

Manchester Confidential was the last of a whole raft of interviews in a day of press for children’s author turned Hitchhiker writer Eoin Colfer.

Colfer was determined not to use them instead shutting himself away to write it on his own. “I just felt that if I did that people would be confused about who wrote it and I just wanted this to be my book. If you like it it’s me and also, if you don’t like it, it’s also me.”

We began by offering our apologies for him not being able to go off for a cup of tea.

“It’s ok, I have bigger problems in my life at the moment,” laughs Colfer. “We’ve been in here since half seven and we’ve talked to a few people. But everyone’s really interested and interesting.”

It’s true that given the cult popularity the Hitchhiker series has achieved, there’s probably a Hitchhiker eek on every newspaper and online news site across the land. “Everyone seems to be. As it comes in through the office someone says I’ll do that. So everyone is very well versed in the role of the Hiker, which is great.”

Colfer is used to the attention as he’s already the highly successful author of the Artemis Fowl series of children’s books, but the interest in his latest work is unprecedented as it’s the sixth in the ‘increasingly inaccurate’ (as the press releases have been spouting for the last three books) humorous sci-fi trilogy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books by the late Douglas Adams. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the publication of the first book Adams’ agent Ed Victor approached his widow Jane to propose commissioning another novel, already having Colfer in mind. “They said listen we’ve got this guy Eoin Colfer, this Irish guy and she said well as a matter of fact Polly my daughter reads his books and we both love him and in that case we’d love him to go ahead.”

Needless to say Colfer was suitably charmed to be asked, “It’s one of those things when you don’t really get what’s being said to you down the phone. And even now that I’ve written the book I’m still a little bit shocked.”

His reticence is unsurprising. Though he’s now an experienced author, Colfer was as much a fan as any of his contemporaries when late in the 1970s Hitchhiker’s hit the radio, then the book stands then the TV. “As teenagers half of our lexicon was quotes from (Hitchhikers). Every time we went drinking it was, ‘what’s so bad about being drunk? You just ask a glass of water.’ Ha, ha, ha. Adams kind of hijacked the English language to some extent. If you say the number 42 people who don’t even know anything about Douglas Adams know that 42 is the meaning of life. It’s entered the national consciousness, it’s that kind of penetration that ad men could only dream of.”

He may have been reluctant to take up such a sacred cow of a series but given how Adams had left the fifth book Mostly Harmless, with all the major players dead when the Earth is blown up by the Vogons again, anything Colfer did couldn’t be any bleaker (whether he resurrects them or not… well you’ll just have to read it won’t you?).

Adams had been determined at the time that it would be the last Hitchhiker book but had since relented and considered writing another; an idea brought to an abrupt halt by his untimely death of a heart attack aged 49. “It was very bleak,” comments Colfer of the fifth novel, “and it was done really well. It was very unexpected because you’re reading this great chase book and I remember thinking I’ve only got six pages left this better kind of wind up and then suddenly, they’re all dead.”

Despite the fact that there had been notes written by Adams exploring the possibility of a further novel, Colfer was determined not to use them instead shutting himself away to write it on his own.

“I just felt that if I did that people would be confused about who wrote it and I just wanted this to be my book. If you like it it’s me and also, if you don’t like it, it’s also me. And maybe it’s a bit of vanity I suppose that you just want to write your own story, I didn’t really like the idea of working from someone’s notes because you could misinterpret them. I was imagining someone working from my notes…”

But now, as the publicity machine fires up, the week prior to the book’s release has been the first time that Colfer’s been faced with anyone else’s opinion on it.

“My defence mechanism up to now is I just haven’t been thinking about it. I’m just writing a book and it has no legacy, here is the book. But now it is kind of creeping in and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

The feedback however, so far, from those selected fans in the press at least, has been positive, boding well for the new book. “It has been phenomenal. So far the previews have been just great. There’s such huge affection for this, people want it to be good, they don’t want to see the Hitchhiker trammelled so they’re really happy. Hopefully it will bring everybody back to the original books which is the whole point in the first place.”

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