Don't panic! This month sees not only the 30th anniversary of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, but also an official continuation of that series in the form of a new sequel by Eoin Colfer. Colfer is most famous up until now for his Artemis Fowl books. He's a lifelong Douglas Adams fan, and you can read more from this interview in SFX 189 on sale from Wednesday 21 October. But he was so generous with his time that we have plenty more, and you can read over 3000 further words of it here exclusively on www.sfx.co.uk! This is the first half, a link to the second is below. Share and enjoy!
SFX: You've always enjoyed the humour of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy?
Colfer: I grew up in the generation that were reading Hitchhiker's books. There was a time when this kind of absurdist humour came in: we had Monty Python, and then shortly after there was Fawlty Towers. It was like a humour revolution (that even in Ireland we kind of found it hard to get!) One of my strongest memories is of us going around the schoolyard saying, "Wolf nipple chips! They're lovely! Get 'em while they're hot" – it was like the mating call of the nerds. Then when he you start reading Hitchhiker's you realise it's bloody amazing - the humour and the big ideas, philosophical ideas. I think people forget how just bloody funny it is. It's not just satire. It's very, very funny in its own right. And I just went through it. This book became the new Bible that you had to be able to talk about.
SFX: Were you into all its incarnations - the radio, TV, the film?
Colfer: I've done everything. The radio show is on iTunes now I think, so you can get it. I watched the TV and movie. For me, maybe it's because that's how I first came upon 'em, I like the books. I prefer the books. It works best as a book. I thought it really worked well on the radio. There was a very interesting documentary on how they made the radio series, and it was really seat-of-the-pants. He was literally writing stuff outside the studio and passing the pages into them as they were recording it! I thought the movie was okay. I enjoyed the movie, but it didn't get the book 100 percent. Maybe movies very rarely do and maybe I'm just a snob. I want to be fair to it, I did enjoy parts of it, but it wasn't amazing, and that's what it should have been.
SFX: You've told us in the interview in SFX magazine [ issue 189 on sale now - SFX ] that you're having a bit of fun with the Hitchhiker's universe but you're not writing in Douglas Adams's style.
Colfer: As far as I'm concerned, it's authorized fan fiction. A lot of people won't take it like that! But if it is taken that way and given a read I think it will be fun. I think most people will kind of say, "Yeah, you can see he's a big fan of that. He really loves it, but at the same time he is taking the piss a little bit out of it," which needs to happen. I mean, there's no point in me writing a book that says, you know, "Douglas is wonderful. Douglas is great," which he is , but there's no point in that. I mean, he wouldn't appreciate that! And none of his friends would. They would like fun to be poked! It's kind of referential poking – it's more like a gentle ribbing.
SFX: Are you hoping to bring back Hitchhiker's for a new generation?
Colfer: I know Douglas said he was going to do a sixth book, so he had planned to bring it back. And that's what Jane, Douglas's widow, wants. It's already working! Sales apparently have gone back up already, and they released the radio show out to iTunes now. So Hitchhiker's has already been brought back a little bit by this, and I'm really hoping that when my book comes out people go back and check them all out. And they're re-releasing the first one, I think, in a young adult edition. So we're hoping that my book will bring Artemis Fowl readers into Hitchhiker's, and that would be great.
Some people will think, "Oh, yeah, he's doing this because he's getting paid." Well, obviously, I'm getting paid! But in all honesty, I get paid more for an Artemis Fowl book. So it's not for money. I'm sure it's going to sell. I hope it would sell loads! But there's no movie rights or anything, which is usually a large part of my cheque. So it's not a money thing. If it was a money thing, I would just change the characters and call it an Artemis Fowl book. I'm doing it because I couldn't not do it.
I'm trying to think of a parallel – if you're an unknown actor, it's like, "Do you want to have a go at playing James Bond?" Or for a boxer like Rocky. "You wanna fight Apollo Creed?" That's what it's like for me: I just couldn't say no, and I know there was a storm coming, but hopefully it won't be too bad. But I still had to say, "Well, I gotta do this."
SFX: Do you think the most devoted fans will accept you following in Douglas Adams's footsteps?
Colfer: Just the idea, I think, of someone writing a Douglas Adams sequel is offensive to some people who feel very strongly, and I totally understand this. I get it, and I would probably feel the same myself but, hopefully, I would calm down and then I'd say, "Well, I'll give it a go." And I hope that's what most people do - I think if they read the first page they'll say, "Fair enough," and go from there.
Three people could have taken this task on and got away with it, and that would be Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I think if any of those three had been asked, people would have just said, "Oh, okay." But I'm in a position where I have to prove myself, and it'll just come down to the book. If the story is good, most people will accept it.
I'm trying to avoid any sort of pre-judgment based on nothing, or based on me. You know, "Who's he to write this book? He's short! And.. he's gray. So screw him!" You can't defend yourself against that. You can't really defend yourself against criticism. If someone says, "You're bad," you can't say, "Well, no, I am not bad. How dare you?!" And they say, "Okay – right, you're not." It doesn't work like that! People don't change their minds.
SFX: Have you felt free to invent loads of new characters and places, or to do unusual things with the existing characters?
Colfer: Douglas was notorious for changing stuff and contradicting himself because there are alternate universes. So he could do whatever he wanted. He explained things away fantastically. I think he was very lucky that he had accidentally said that Arthur was in a "plural zone" in the first book. I think that was just a word he threw in and then he went, "Plural zone – okay!" Later, he can use that. Maybe he planned that far ahead; if he did, he was a total genius.
Zaphod, Ford, Arthur Trillian and Random are all in my new book. I had to have a new guy, an Irish guy with the name Hillman Hunter - which is another car joke there, like the name Ford Prefect. He's an Irish land speculator and cult leader. One group survived the end of the world, and Melvin is their leader, and so he's kind of the main new character.
One thing I always liked about the books was that they're so tangential. They just turn on nothing, and suddenly the book has gone in a completely different direction. I really like that, and I tried to kind of follow that kind of narrative. It's been a total challenge to sustain that level of lunacy, because I'm a very well-organized person! Everything about my life is organized, and I just had to kind of forget all of that and go against my training and be an absurdist for six to eight months.
SFX: Was that liberating?
Colfer: It has really kind of liberated me in a way that I see that stuff can work that doesn't necessarily have to rigidly follow a traditional story format. You can just do stupid things and people will buy it if it's funny or clever. They'll go, "Okay, I'm certain it's totally stupid, but it's funny!"
SFX: And was it hard to invent new things in the Adams universe?
Colfer: It's so hard because his big cosmic ideas were so clever. The idea that the computer would come back and say, "Well, 42 - but what was the question?" That's genius. It's simple genius. It's that bolt of lightning again – simple, simple thing, you know, that people like Tom Petty have or Neil Young. The genius of simplicity.
Working on And Another Thing, all the bets were off. In Supernaturalist, I had to make it pretty believable, but in this you can just invent whatever you like, and it's just great! I mean, I still like to make it believable and try and explain how things work. And I don't like books where it just goes, "Oh, and they are invisible." I don't like that. Kids are so hard on you. I mean, they just don't let you get away with anything. They say, "Well, how does that work? So he wiggles his finger and there's…? I don't believe that. So I am not recommending your book to anyone, and I'm going to throw it in the fire." So you have to suspend their disbelief and good books will do that.
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