It’s many a young adult fantasy reader’s dream: authors Eoin Colfer and Jonathan Stroud sitting at a table, trying to decide which character the other would be in one of their own books.
“One of my villains from the W.A.R.P. series, Albert Garrick, is very British, and he’s tall, slim..,” begins Irishman Colfer with a deadpan expression on his face.
“And a mass murderer!” the very British, tall, and slim Stroud interrupts.
“And he’s got these piercing eyes,” Colfer continues, unfazed. “Jon’s very nice, but if I poked him with a needle or something … you know, the tall, slim English gentleman psychopath!”
He looks at Stroud expectantly. “And now, revenge!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t pick a villain for you,” Stroud replies with a grin.
“In the Bartimaeus series, there are lots of supernatural beings with great magical powers and gifts who can also turn up and make all sorts of dodgy jokes and irritate the main character. I think Eoin would be some sort of middle-ranking djinni.”
“Ah yes, you think I’m harmless, but then!” says Colfer.
The entertaining conversation is fitting for two writers who have made a name for themselves not just as fantasy writers, but also for their ability to bring a hilarious wit to the genre.
We are at the Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington DC, and fans both young and not-so-young are already gathered to hear Colfer and Stroud read from their latest books: Colfer’s is the trilogy-closing W.A.R.P. The Forever Man, while Stroud has just released the third in his Lockwood & Co. series, The Hollow Boy.
Both writers, however, are practically synonymous with two other beloved fantasy series: Colfer with the Artemis Fowl books, and Stroud with the Bartimaeus Sequence.
The eight-book Artemis Fowl series made its debut in 2001 and was a runaway success from the beginning thanks to its ingenious pairing of an Irish teenage criminal mastermind (a nod to Colfer’s own Irish roots) and a tough female captain who is part of a secret elite fairy police squad. The last book in the series was published in 2012, and plans for a film adaptation, with Kenneth Branagh tipped to direct, are currently underway.
Stroud’s Bartimaeus books, meanwhile, revolved around the relationship between a sarcastic, opinionated 5,000-year-old djinni and a teenaged magician, set in an alternate version of London where magic is the order of the day. Having first begun in 2003, the series ended in 2010 with the release of a prequel to what was originally a trilogy.
Coincidentally, both W.A.R.P. and Lockwood & Co. are the authors’ first new series respectively since. And while this puts them under no small amount of pressure, Colfer and Stroud are keenly aware that their past successes have also opened a lot of doors for them.
“It’s such an honour and privilege to have any kind of success,” says Stroud. “You’re never going to sit there and curse your luck.
“You’re very grateful to your readers for having given you the opportunity. It also means you can go to your publishers with other, perhaps not so commercial ideas, and they’re going to give it a go.”
Colfer says: “Yeah, it does allow you to say crazy things that you might not be allowed to get away with. Occasionally you do want to say, ‘Oh, I do more than Artemis Fowl, but immediately, you remember that you would not even be where you are without it.”
Having just wrapped up W.A.R.P., Colfer’s latest project was a collaboration with children’s book author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers, a picture book called Imaginary Fred. Also on the cards is an adult graphic novel called ILLEGAL and a recently-announced collaboration with Marvel to write an Iron Man novel, due out next year.
Stroud, meanwhile, is working on the next Lockwood & Co. book, and aims to make it five books in total.
The two authors have something else in common: both enjoy subverting the common elements of their genre.
“I try to bring something to it that’s a little different. If I write a fantasy story, I put in a little comedy, a little crime. There’s so much great literature in all the different genres that you need to experiment, and so I like to stir it up a little, make these ‘rules’ not so strict,” says Colfer.
Stroud chalks up his writing style to playfulness.
“With fantasy, there’s a kind of high seriousness, and after a while, you just want to leaven that with a bit of humour. The great delight for me was to take these conventions about magicians and turn them rather brutally on the head.”
Colfer points out that this is almost a natural process in a genre’s growth.
“It’s happened before, like when Star Wars came out (in the late 1970s) and science fiction was all really noble; and Douglas Adams came along with The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and made it very silly. He was my inspiration in that respect.”
(Colfer was, in fact, asked by Adams’ widow and estate to write the sixth book in the Hitchhiker’s series, And Another Thing….)
“You’re not really getting rid of the seriousness,” says Stroud. “You try to maintain the serious purpose and themes, but the humour is there and is an essential part.”
One thing is for sure: they both think children’s and young adult books are going through very exciting developments at the moment.
“These things move in blocks; at first it was wizards, then zombies, and then dystopia.
“Now, it’s kind of breaking down and there seems to be a bit of everything, which I think is healthy,” says Colfer.
Stroud adds: “I think kids today are very lucky. It doesn’t matter what area you’re interested in, there’ll be something good out there to read.”
“I would like another Bartimaeus book, though!” says Colfer.
“Good answer!” says Stroud.