By David Hennessy
Coming to prominence as the author of the best-selling Artemis Fowl series, Eoin Colfer achieved eight figure sales. Described by the author as “Die Hard with fairies”, the children’s series centred around its title character who was a teenage master criminal. Fans were disappointed last year, when he announced The Last Guardian would be the last in the series. His other works include his Benny Shaw books, Legend of… series and his sci-fi adventure, The Supernaturalist. Most of his works to date have become New York Times bestsellers.
Eoin’s latest book, Screwed, the follow-up to his earlier Plugged, takes on a more adult subject. The main character Dan McEvoy is a former Irish army sergeant. Traumatised by his time in Lebanon, his civilian life seems to offer little more peace. Based in Cloisters, New Jersey, Dan is hunted by an unhinged mob boss and unscrupulous crooked cops who all want him dead. He will need to remember all his training and experience to survive.
“I’m very happy (with the book’s response),” the author tells The Irish World. “I think anytime you switch genres, it’s a little bit scary. With Plugged, I was putting a toe in the water to see if my style would work with a noir book. When that got such a good response, I said: ‘I’m going for it now’. And I really enjoyed writing Screwed. For me, it’s a great alternative to the leprechaun books. There’s no magic, no fairies, no explosions, it’s all just a bit of craic and it’s a bit surreal because most of the book is a monologue, the guy’s thoughts, so that was great for me. I did enjoy it and the reviews have been very nice so far so I’m very pleased.”
The story is told from Dan’s point of view. Dan is clearly damaged by the things he has seen and done in his military career but a likeable character coming up with witty one-liners about each attempt on his life. What inspired Eoin to create his protagonist? “Well, I have a friend who was in the peace keepers in the Irish army in Lebanon and he had told me some stories which were amazing stories. I hadn’t realised- I think you think if someone is a peace keeper then they’re not really fighting anybody or they’re in no peril. The opposite is true, they actually have two groups attacking them.”
Repressing memories of his abusive upbringing and army experiences, Dan has more to conquer than those out to get him: “He (my friend) blended in really well afterwards but a lot of people never settle down and I thought that was very interesting: This nomadic character (Dan) had moved from Ireland to Lebanon, back to Ireland, then off to the states and this is the longest he has ever stayed anywhere. I think I picked New Jersey because I had been there a few times and people have this image of New Jersey as Atlantic City, maybe a little bit seedy, Jersey Shore. But in actuality there’s hundreds of these beautiful leafy suburban towns and that’s where I would go because I would go to the bookstores or to the schools.
“I remember I was going with a driver and I said to the guy: ‘These places are amazing, they’re just like you imagine suburban America to be’. And he said: ‘If you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find some kind of jumped up gang boss trying to take over that couple of blocks’. And it’s the same, I think, in Ireland. You would be amazed what little small towns have got drug problems so I liked the idea of setting this big guy who is running from the past in a town that had a hidden underbelly: It made for drama. If you’re a writer and you can come up with a situation which is inherently dramatic, it really helps so an unstable bouncer in a town like this, I thought he would be at odds with both sides of the town. He would be at odds with the underbelly but also, because he’s a big brutish guy, the gentile folk probably wouldn’t like him much either.”
Flashbacks to conflict in the Lebanon are vivid enough to make you think it is written by someone who has seen such horror first hand: “I did a lot of research on Lebanon because of all the parts of the book, I really didn’t want to be disrespectful to that or not represent it properly. Even though there are plenty of jokes and funny things happen, it’s kind of a gallows humour which detectives and soldiers develop when they’re coming up against the possibility every day that this day could be their last. I really read up on that and I tried to get the facts right.”
Screwed should almost come with an age rating that conveys it is nothing like the author’s earlier work. It gets frequently risqué and Eoin enjoyed having the freedom to write about such adult subjects: “I like doing that because I hadn’t been able to do it for so long. I came from drama and my earlier plays, I suppose, were quite risqué so I do have that side to me. I haven’t been able to exercise it much so it was nice to be able to get back to that. I had thought ‘maybe I’ll have to smarten up a little bit for these books’ but actually I found that teenagers are just as demanding as adults. In a way, I was able to relax and write this book because I didn’t have to self-censor at all. I could just fire away and my only rule was if it’s funny, it drives the story and it’s accurate, I’m gonna put it in so that’s what I did’.”
As some of the children who read his Artemis Fowl books are now adults, does Eoin find old and new fans latching onto Screwed? “I do and it’s great that people say to me ‘I started reading Artemis when I was 15 and I’m 27 now, I was delighted to see this book out’. That’s great but sometimes I’m doing a reading of Plugged, if some kids come along with Artemis books, I can’t really find a bit that I can read so I end up just having a chat. With the new book, I can’t remember where it is but there’s two pages that are suitable for kids so I can pick a bit to read if I need to.”
With most of the action taking place in the course of a relentless day for Dan McEvoy, Screwed has the feeling of a Die Hard movie or an episode of 24. Are these things that inspired Dan’s writing? “Yeah, that’s something I’ve always done even with the Artemis Fowl books, the adventures tend to take place over a couple of days. I suppose it’s easier to keep track of it when it happens like that. I just like the idea of the rollercoaster: You’re on the top of it and once you go, hopefully you should be kept there until the end. So many things happen to this guy in two days, if he didn’t have a sense of humour, if it wasn’t a funny book, you might lose your reader because this couldn’t happen. I think once people like the voice of Daniel and the lines he’s coming up with, then you can just about get away with it.”
Has Eoin, like his main character in this book, ever found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time? “That’s a good one. The life of the children’s writer is not so traumatic so I think the worst thing that ever happened to me was that I wasn’t able to find a hotel in Canada or something and I was wandering around the city for hours. Other than that, I’ve never been in a threatening situation. Hanging out with Jim Sheridan is scary sometimes but I’ve made it home so far.”
Written visually, Screwed lends itself very easily to a screen adaptation with many of Dan’s musings just perfect for a voice-over. Could Eoin see a film version of his noir thriller? “We have been approached by a few people and I would like to see it. I think you could do a lovely In Bruges feel movie with it, where it was kind of an indie thing. I would really like to see that or a good TV show, that would be great. I suppose I know now not to get too optimistic about that because I’ve had a lot of stuff that was really close to being filmed. They had actors hired and they had a director hired and then it all fell apart so I don’t get too.. It would be fantastic but I’m not going to invest a lot of time worrying about it.”
Who would Eoin like to see playing the charismatic former soldier with a knack for rubbing dangerous people up the wrong way? “I love Liam Neeson and he’s got the kind of hulking presence that I think would be really good, and also he’s got a good sense of humour so I think he would work. But I think he’s already involved in his own action franchise so he might not be available but there’s a lot of guys who could do it, I think. Colin Farrell’s got that physicality about him. I think Mickey Rourke would do a fantastic job with his craggy face and he’s very good with accents. It’s a great part for a middle aged actor. I think most actors are mid twenties/ early thirties, but this guy is mid forties so someone up to 55 can play it really, or even Liam Neeson I believe is in his sixties but he looks ten years younger. If he was available, I would be very happy.”
For the full interview, see the June 8 print edition of The Irish World.