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Our 2019 iBAM! Literature Award goes to Artemis Fowl Author Eoin Colfer

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The hugely successful author of the Artemis Fowl series, who served as Laureate na nÓg, or Ireland's Children's Laureate, between 2014-2016, will be on hand to accept the iBAM! 2019 Literature Award October 18, 2019 at the iBAM! Gala Awards Dinner, to be held at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago.

Eoin Colfer (pronounced Owen) was born in Wexford on the South-East coast of Ireland in 1965, where he and his four brothers were brought up by his father (an elementary school teacher, historian and artist of note) and mother (a drama teacher). He first developed an interest in writing in primary (elementary) school with gripping Viking stories inspired by history he was learning in school at the time!

After leaving school he got his degree from Dublin university and qualified as a primary school teacher, returning to work in Wexford. He married in 1991 and he and his wife spent about 4 years between 1992 and 1996 working in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Italy. His first book, Benny and Omar, was published in 1998, based on his experiences in Tunisia; it has since been translated into many languages. A sequel followed in 1999, followed by some other books (see below). Then in 2001 the first Artemis Fowl book was published and he was able to resign from teaching and concentrate fully on writing.

He says, “I will keep writing until people stop reading or I run out of ideas. Hopefully neither of these will happen anytime soon. He lives in Ireland with his wife and two children.

Here is a story about Eoin that ran in Irish American News, September 2018 edition.

New Book, Illegal, Released by Artemis Fowl Author, Eoin Colfer
NOËL, A New Musical Written by Colfer

By Ryanne Gallagher Johnson

Eoin Colfer, bestselling author of the blockbuster series Artemis Fowl, has over forty years of writing and creating under his belt.

At the tender age of ten, the juvenile author got his artistic beginnings by selling homemade stories and drawings that he created with his brother, Paul.

“We’d construct our own comic books and staple them together and sell them outside for a few pennies,” he says. “When we analyzed that later, we found out that the materials cost about five pence, so really my dad was covering our losses. But he was an artist himself, so he encouraged any artistic endeavors.”

Perhaps the business end of art wasn’t in the cards for the writer, but storytelling definitely was.

Now most widely known for the Artemis science fantasy series, which follows the adventures of teenage genius anti-hero Artemis Fowl II, his parents’ fostering of creativity has indeed paid off, in droves. That single series alone has spawned eight books, two graphic novel adaptations, a movie in the works, and coming soon, a spin-off series. Not to mention the critical acclaim it’s garnered.

Colfer, whose oft-butchered first name is pronounced “Owen”, put himself through Carysfort College in Blackrock, Dublin, continuing to write in his free time, and eventually became a primary school teacher.

“Like most people then, I had to (take out) a college loan because we didn’t qualify for any grants, so I borrowed the fees myself and said I’ll pay them back, and I did. But to do that, really, I had to live at home. I couldn’t rent a place and pay off (the loan)... as soon as I could, I paid it off. Always, then, I was writing away, and in the background, I was teaching, and writing after school. (I wrote) plays, mostly. I would always write the school Christmas play… that was very satisfying for me, and for years, that was kind of my thing. I didn’t really want to do anything else. But slowly, we realized we wanted our own house, (my wife) Jackie and I. We were engaged at that point, and then we got married, and we decided that we’d go and travel and work overseas.

“There was a great scheme, and there still is, called Career Break. As a primary teacher (in Ireland), you can take five years off, and keep your job, at the school’s discretion. You can be refused, of course, but I had a very understanding principal, and Jackie and I went to Saudi Arabia for a year, Italy for a year, and Tunisia in North Africa for two years. While we were in Tunisia, I think I found my voice as a writer, and I wrote a book called Benny and Omar… it’s set in 1996 when Wexford won the All-Ireland final for the first time in half a century. When (the book) was finished, it coincided with us coming home… and it was picked up right away. The first publisher, I sent it to was O’Brien Press, and they rang me the following week.”

Benny and Omar was Colfer’s breakout piece, inspired by his time spent in North Africa, about a boy who moves from Ireland to Tunisia and befriends a local boy. It was followed by Benny and Babe, which sees Benny take a holiday in Ireland and build a friendship with a local girl.

Despite that first success, and the success of the following three books he collaborated on,  it wasn’t until the Artemis Fowl books were coming out that he started feeling like he’d really made it as an author.

“When I wrote the first Artemis Fowl, which was in 2000, I felt no difference. I thought, it’s the same as the last five books, and it’s the best I can do. The last five books had been in the Irish charts, but that was it. But I gave it to my wife to read, as I always did, and she came back and said, ‘Okay, it’s time to get an agent now. It’s time to stop messing around. This is the book.’ And I was surprised, because Jackie is usually not so forthright in her opinions and stuff, about my work as such. But she was right, and I did.

“I was going over to London to do my first (book) launch, and as I was going to the airport, I saw that English Garden newspaper, I think… there was a big splashy cover, and on the top, there was David Beckham, me, and one of the Royals, and I thought, ‘Oh, something’s going on now,’ because the book hadn’t even come out, and I was on the front page of the Garden. I’m very Irish and I didn’t want to get too happy and jinx it, but I was quietly hopeful that something was gonna come out of this book. And it did. And very quickly, the movie rights sold, and when that happened, even though it’s taken nearly twenty years to do it, but at that point, I kind of knew.”

For the graphic novel adaptations of Artemis, Colfer teamed up with co-writer Andrew Donkin, and illustrator Giovanni Rigano. The books, which bring Artemis et al. to life in drawings for readers, have also become bestsellers.

Switching lanes for his most recent project, Colfer is using his considerable fame as an author for a great purpose. Teaming up once again with those same graphic novel cohorts, they’ve created a story that puts a human face on the current issue of undocumented immigrants in Europe (while also ringing relevant for Americans).

“We’ve written about something that we’re all concerned about, which is the mass migration from Africa across the Mediterranean into Europe. And it’s not a political book in that it’s not saying ‘this should be happening or it shouldn’t be happening’, it’s saying ‘this is happening, this is exactly what’s happening’,” explains Colfer.

The moving story, Illegal, sees two brothers on their journey from Africa to Europe in search of a better life, and the sister who traveled ahead of them.

“Andrew said, ‘Between the three of us, we have several million readers, and if even one-tenth of them follows into this genre, it could be a couple hundred thousand kids who might think differently about the situation.' Sometimes we take for granted that children understand completely what’s going on, because they are very sophisticated, but they need to see it from their own point of view, so that’s what we tried to do with this.”

While the timely release of the novel might seem entirely deliberate, its actually been four years in the making, and has only lined up with the current climate in the U.S. by coincidence.

“The release date has coincided closely with the troubles that you guys are having at the borders here, where families are being separated. And when that started, somebody took a (frame from the book), and in it, someone holds a baby up to give back to his mother and says that they should be together, because they’re family, and someone took that and put it up, and it became a bit of an emblem, I suppose. It’s terrible that these books have to be written. There are a lot of fantastic novels, but I think this is the only graphic novel of its standard.”

A far cry from the lighthearted fun of Artemis Fowl, the undertaking of Illegal has included a more serious atmosphere when Colfer tours with it, something he appreciates and hopes will communicate the importance of this issue.

Speaking of his most recent experience at BookExpo America in New York in May, he explains, “(Illegal) is a graphic novel. They’re not generally as popular as novels, so I didn’t expect much of a turnout. But the queue… we completely ran out of books… It was very emotional for people. Even though it’s not the story of Mexico or South America, it’s a similar situation.

“It’s kind of promoting itself in that the librarians, who are such a powerful force in America… I love American librarians because they really have a say, and they really promote work that they believe in. It’s not a political thing because they don’t show favoritism. They’re about the books. So a lot of librarians have picked this up and put it on the summer reading lists, which are a huge thing… We’d hoped it would reach an audience, but we had no idea it would be this big.”

It’s Colfer’s hope that Illegal will help bring more understanding, empathy, and compassion to immigrants, who are only looking for a better life for themselves and their children.

“I’d like to say to the Chicago people, and especially the Irish people of Chicago… They’ve been so welcoming over the years, the last twenty years now for me, and people keep turning up year after year to my readings, and sometimes you might think I don’t appreciate that, but we all do. We really do. Often, you’re hustled out at the end. But if it wasn’t for the people of Chicago, and New York, and all the other places, we wouldn’t have careers.

“But now is the time to maybe look at something serious… It’s very hard for a child to be turned against someone they like. And if they read this book, and they realize ‘oh, I’ve got a guy in our class who just came from Somalia. He probably had a similar journey’. It’s very hard, then, for those kids to be turned against each other. And I would love to hear stories about that, about parents who read that book with their kids, and the kids maybe changed their minds a little bit. It’s very difficult to change someone’s mind, but hopefully it might change a few.”

NOËL The Musical
In the upcoming months, you can see more of Eoin Colfer’s handiwork in NOËL, The Musical, which was written by Colfer and composed by Irish film composer Liam Bates, and produced by Michael Londra.

Set in modern day London, NOËL tells the tale of a little girl (Noël), who is preparing for her starring role in a Christmas play when her mother suddenly disappears. She keeps the disappearance a secret and sets out on her own to find her. Along the way, she befriends a diverse group of characters that have lost their way in life, including Nick, who believes the world has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.

The show was met with critical acclaim overseas, and is now on a North American tour,  is set to perform in Joliet on December 4th, and Bloomington December 6th.

For information on  NOËL, including tour dates and tickets, you can visit noelthemusical.com

For more information on Eoin Colfer, including a full list of his books, you can visit his website at eoincolfer.com

All books and graphic novels for Eoin Colfer are available at Amazon

Calligrapher Denis Brown

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