Eoin Colfer interview about Hitchhiker's PART TWO

Our interview with Eoin Colfer, author of And Another Thing..., continued from page one ...

PART TWO

SFX: The previous titles of Douglas Adams' books have all been quotations from the first one. Is "And Another Thing…" a quotation as well?
Eoin Colfer:
Yeah, yeah: "And Another Thing…". It was something like, "And finally the thunderstorm abated, and the remaining thunder was like an old man grumbling, 'And another thing…' 20 minutes after the argument has been lost." So it was like an echo, and that's what this is. It's just kind of a little echo. Instead of 20 minutes, it's obviously 20 years. But I thought that was quite apt. So it works on a few levels... And I think people who knew Douglas will really like that title because it's Douglas, but it's not Douglas in a way.

SFX: As well as the characters, are you going to be taking us to familiar places as well? The restaurant at the end of the universe?
Colfer:
Some of the same places are mentioned. We go to Asgard. We go back out to the Horsehead Nebula (where Magrathea was) because Zaphod is borrowing a planet from the Magratheans for the survivors of Earth. So they go out there. They start off on the Earth with the Hitchhiker's Mark 2. And they go to Stavro Mueller's Club Beta - which I always presumed was based on the Groucho Club. They don't go to Milliways but they're zooming around through space. No time travel! It all stays fairly structured. The story all happens in about two, three days.

SFX: Were you able to sit down and write the story very quickly? What was practical the experience like for you?
Colfer:
Once I started writing it, it wrote very quickly. Because it's so much fun to write a book like this. You can just stop in the middle of any sequence and give a little aside about an alien that exists on negative energy, or whatever. It's something that's so enjoyable to do!

It's very snappy. Douglas's books are very snappy as well. They kind of rattle along and because they were based on the radio, they're mostly dialogue, and that's what I love. The first book is at least half dialogue, I'd say. And even the tangential bits.

I imagine Stephen Fry reading the voice of the book while I'm working. Actually, the funniest thing I have ever seen on television is when Sir Ian McKellen read Jade Goody's autobiography on one of the quiz shows. He's just such a comic genius. It's a sad thing now because she's gone, but she must've loved that. He totally was this character. "I know this is ridiculous, but you're still gonna believe me because I'm Sir Ian McKellen, so you are still gonna believe me when I tell you this." And he's brilliant. So I did also imagine him reading some of the sections in that kind of knowing comedic voice.

SFX: On a tangential note... do you pick up hitchhikers yourself?
Colfer:
It's illegal in Ireland, hitchhiking! It's not allowed anymore… but I used to be a total hitchhiker. I hitched all around when I was a student. Nowadays, I live near a secondary school and I see they drive themselves to school. But when we were younger, the situation was you had a fiver - and you could either spend it on the bus or you could hitch home and go to a disco and have a drink! So invariably the roads from Dublin to the regional towns on a Friday were just jammed with us, and you had to get in the queue for the spot on the corner. It was like a taxi rank – a hitchhikers rank! And so I hitched everywhere as a kid.

SFX: So what about the number 42 – does that have any significance for you?
Colfer:
I have 42 publishers! I had 42 publishers – maybe 43 now, but when I got involved in this project I had 42. There are some other Douglas connections too. When I was reading through the books again there was a date in the fourth book which was my birthday! I was like, "An omen! That's my birthday! I must do this. I must do it now. I can't not do it."

SFX: The books have had a huge amount of cultural influence. People like Arthur Dent have become these figures we all recognize, like Star Trek characters, or people from the ancient myths...
Colfer:
It's actually like that. I mean, if you say to someone, "Robin Hood," they can tell you all the characters in the Robin Hood stories having never read them. Because Robin Hood is a symbol of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Arthur Dent is the quintessential English guy, but he's more than that now. He's everyman. He's the human race in space, which is fantastic.

SFX: Were you always gonna be a writer eventually?
Colfer:
Well, I've been writing for years. I taught for 15 years, but even as I was teaching, I was writing. I started off doing school plays. I had good fun with those. There aren't really any expectations, but then when people came and enjoyed not only seeing their kids but actually laughed at the dialogue for its own sake – that was very surprising to some people. And it was surprising to me, but I always thought, "Well, you know, it's a school play."

Then I wrote my first book, which was kind of a fantasy sword and sorcerers thing, which was total shite. And it didn't get published. Thank God! After that I was really knocked back for a while because like a lot of young people, you think, "Well, actually, I am a genius, and the sooner people realize that the world would be a better place. Just give me the money." So I went off then for about ten years and wrote plays for my friends who are all amateur actors, and they did okay. One of them got professional run and won a few awards and stuff, so it was okay. But I still didn't feel I was doing what I wanted to do. So then my wife and I moved to Saudi Arabia for a year to earn money for a mortgage. And obviously you're not gonna be putting on any plays there because there's no theatres. So I started doing stories. After that we moved to Tunisia for two years, and while I was there I wrote Benny And Omar, which was my first published book. So there was a real progression, but it all started off in teaching and being at the front of the class acting. That's where it started. And you'll find a lot of writers were teachers.

SFX: I know you met Simon Jones and the Hitchhiker's crew at Hitchcon '09 , but did you have an opportunity to meet any other people associated with Hitchhiker's before you published the new novel? Is there anybody you'd like to meet as a result of this project?
Colfer:
Simon Jones was very good - he did the radio announcement about all this. We're all having a dinner this week, actually. Jane Belson will be there and I think Stephen Fry is coming. He was Douglas's mate. He was also the voice of the book in the film, so I'm looking forward to meeting him – another amazingly tall person! So all I see of these people is just up nostrils. I'm a big fan of his, as is everybody in the English-speaking world. And I like his books a lot, so that will be very interesting.

There's a lot of people who were involved along the way - Martin Freeman, for instance, who I really liked in the movie. I thought he was great. He totally has an everyman quality, but there's a little edge to him. Sometimes it breaks out in these little quick moments – you can see that under the right circumstances he could be a little bit dangerous. So I'd love to meet him.

SFX: Have you met Neil Gaiman, he's a big celebrity fan of Douglas Adams?
Colfer:
I met him once. I introduced him at Book Expo America last year; there's this famous thing called the Authors Breakfast. It's a thousand people. Everybody who's anybody in the book world in America. Loads of big people, including Jon Chester. Judy Bloom, Neil Gaiman… and I was the host. I said, "Oh, shit! This is going to be very, very stiff! I'd better behave myself!" I know Jonny Chester quite well, so he got up and was introducing me - and he said the word "ass-crack" in his first sentence. He said, "Welcome to the ass-crack of the morning." I said, "All right!" Everybody was swearing like sailors. Judy Bloom said the F-word. Nobody could believe it! I have succeeded in bringing the literary world down to my level very quickly.

But Neil Gaiman was and is just a genius and a gentleman. I totally loved him. He commented on this Hitchhiker's thing - he said he wouldn't do it himself, it's not something he would do, but he wasn't gonna slag me off. I'm a huge fan of his, so it would mean a lot to me if he liked this, so I hope he does. I think his Coraline and The Graveyard Book are two of the greatest kids' books ever, bar none. I mean, I think The Graveyard Book is up there with Treasure Island, it's that good! I gave him a nice introduction, I think. Slagged him off a bit! And he sent me a lovely signed advanced copy of The Graveyard Book, which is one of my treasured possessions. That's one of the real advantages of this kind of thing: you get to meet people like Neil Gaiman and Brian Jacques.

SFX: Thanks Eoin!

You can read the rest of this interview in a big feature about And Another Thing... in issue 189 of SFX, on the news-stands now. Find out more about Eoin Colfer at his official page . The book was launched at Hitchcon '09 where Colfer also performed on stage - you can read our report from the event online.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

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