Fantasy realised by Irish teacher

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
BESTSELLING dreams of teachers who want to be writers run like this: in between marking, spin a seven-book series starring a boy wizard; sell the film rights; give up the day job and make lots of money.

For most children's writers, the serious money stays in fantasy-land, but Eoin Colfer, a primary teacher from Wexford in the Republic of Ireland, has just netted pound;500,000 from Puffin.

Artemis Fowl, a comic fantasy adventure tale that the publisher describes as "Die Hard with fairies", is intended to woo child and adult Harry Potter fans.

JK Rowling's success with the young Potter has created a new market for fantasy - and raised the stakes as publishers compete to find the Next Big Thing.

Eoin's previous books have been a hit in Ireland but he is unknown in the UK: his advance far outstrips the pound;2,700 Rowling received five years ago. Film options have been sold for pound;350,000.

So he is taking a break from teaching after Christmas, but only for two or three years. "Teaching is my first love and my first career choice," said the 35-year-old resources and learning support teacher at Coolcotts school in Wexford Town.

"It gives me ideas and keeps me in touch with what children find funny. But it's great to have a chance to write full-time."

He is used to short bursts of half an hour or less at either end of the school day.

"I keep a laptop with e and when I have a free moment I open it. If you wait for big chunks of time there won't be any."

His first book, Benny and Omar, was published in 1998 after he had submitted the first 50 pages on spec to the Irish publisher O'Brien Press. This and the sequel, Benny and Babe, have a devoted following among older primary children.

Eoin's new book, due out in May 2001, has a 12-year-old anti-hero called Artemis Fowl the Fourth of Foul Manor, the descendant of a dynasty of criminal minds in the mould of Conan Doyle's Moriarty.

Some aspects of the tale are not a million miles from Potterland: for Muggles and wizards read Mud-People (humans) and hi-tech leprechauns. But more obvious influences are the author's passion for graphic novels and The Simpsons. "I've always collected comics and enjoyed the dynamic characters. I think children can cope with sophisticated humour ."

After training at Carysfort College in Dublin, he returned to his home town to teach and has been at Coolcotts for 15 years. His wife Jackie is a former teacher; they have a son, Finn. Both his parents were teachers; he was taught by his father Billy at Wexford's Christian Brothers primary, and inspired to follow suit. "He was witty, made school fun, and was known as 'funny Colfer'," Eoin recalled. "I thought teaching wouldn't be so bad."

Book of the week, Friday magazine, 23

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