The Oxford Playhouse was buzzing with anticipation and packed with children of all ages for the visit of the ‘mastermind behind the criminal mastermind’ Artemis Fowl at 5pm on Friday 15th August. Eoin Colfer didn’t disappoint, appearing in a puff of smoke to great acclaim, and proceeded to entertain the packed theatre with hilarious anecdotes for over an hour. His stated aim was to explain how Artemis Fowl and the other characters in the series came to be, and this he did by way of a gentle, meandering comic journey around his family.
It turns out that Colfer is one of five sons and that most of his characters are based on his brothers. Artemis himself is based on the middle brother ‘Do’, pictured carrying a briefcase at the age of five. Eamonn was the one with the flatulence problem, the model for Mulch Diggums, and Colfer ably demonstrated exactly how he was used as a secret weapon by his brothers to ward off unwanted guests.
An intuitive grasp of how little boys’ minds work combined with a life-time’s experience - as a small boy, a teacher of small boys and a father of same - has clearly left Colfer able to communicate with an infectious humour about all the things that fascinate small boys. However, his true genius is in managing to entertain both children and accompanying grown ups all at the same time. He started by telling the children about the old days – the 1970s - shocking them with the revelation that at that time there were no TV remotes and people actually had to get out of their chairs to press a button – though of course this did not happen in the Colfer family, where they had Niall, the smallest brother, who lay in front of the TV and would have things thrown at his head by his other brothers when they wanted a change of channel. Niall later became a goblin.
As a small boy who liked writing stories about fairies and leprechauns, Colfer suffered at the hands of a school bully, so Butler came about because, unlike other children who have imaginary friends, Colfer had an imaginary bodyguard.
Other characters were based on various of his friends and acquaintances, but with no women in the family, he has had to research Captain Holly Short through close observation of his wife, Jackie.
Stories and jokes were followed by a brief reading from the new book Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox, a scene where the undoubtedly massively intelligent but still 14-year old (and therefore clueless) Artemis decides to entertain his baby brothers by giving them a French vocabulary lesson.
This was a brilliant way to capitalise on a book signing tour, resulting in great publicity for the latest adventures of the 14-year old genius and it surely left everyone happy – the audience, Colfer and presumably Puffin Books, who were doing very swift business at the end of the performance. A hugely enjoyable master stroke!