Well, I have a large family: four brothers, and I have two sons, so I find most of my ideas – if you dig under the leprechauns and fairy rings – from people around me. When you’re trying to find out how to write people, I’d say you do really need to read and write a lot, but you also need to watch a lot. I’m always watching everything around me which, sometimes, can be disconcerting for the person being watched!
And are there any characters who are really strongly based on people you know?
Yeah, the character Artemis Fowl himself is pretty much straight from one of my brothers, who was, uh, kind of a criminal genius in his own way but not on such a grand scale, as far as I know! I remember seeing a picture of him in a suit, when he was about nine and it came to me that he looked like a little James Bond villain and wouldn’t that be funny? To write a young James Bond. He had a T-shirt at one point, saying “I am Artemis Fowl”, so he doesn’t mind. He’s quite happy about that.
Are there any books that you wish you could have written, or been involved with?
Yes! Peter Pan is one of my favourite books, I would have loved to do a sequel to that, maybe. Also, the James Bond books, I could have had a crack at one of those. But now I’ve kind of done two things, I’ve done Doctor Who, a little bit, and I did Hitchhiker’s, so I think I’m retired from that, except if they came to me with the James Bond books, then I might do that! But it’s kind of fraught with tension, that kind of thing.
How much thought do you put into making the technologies in your books – the “magic”, in the case of Artemis Fowl – feasible?
I do put a lot of thought into that! I know from teaching kids that if it doesn’t seem feasible, they just lose interest. When I was young if I read a book that had some stupid magic pen and then everything was okay – there was no sense of danger; no sense of drama. I never liked that. You have to be able to explain how this works, why it works, and, more importantly, what are its limits? If there are no limits, then there’s no adventure. You can never lose, you can never be hurt, and you can never die. And that’s why in my books the magic is limited, and it runs out. In most of my stories, they run out of magic, and that’s the trouble.
The funny thing is, one of the things I had very early on, the “C Cube”, which was a tiny computer, has now been passed by the phone. Within years, the iPhone had totally passed it. Science is moving faster than my brain, basically.
Do you have any kind of scientific background?
Not really, no. My brother’s an electronic engineer, so sometimes I ask him. I remember ringing him once and saying, “I have to get a demon away from a parallel plane using the power of the sun,” well, first of all he told me to shut up and go away, but then he rang back and said “well, actually if there was a catastrophic loss of energy then it is possible to…” and I’d write all this stuff down, and he makes it work for me.
Who’s your favourite character from your own books?
I like Holly a lot. I wanted to write a girl who had more than two dimensions and that meant, you know, pretty but also “ninja”. There is a tendency for male authors of young adult novels, who write girls, to either write them “feisty” or… pretty. And I wanted her to have a lot of different things! She is feisty, and she is pretty, but she’s also facing a glass ceiling at work, and she has other things. She’s a real girl. It’s great when girls like her or identify with her. I really like that because I found it difficult enough not to slip into that one-layer type character.
Do you have any advice for writers?
Look around you, every day. You need to write as much as you can, and read as much as you can. I don’t want to say keep a diary, because if you say diary it’s like homework, but if you have a notebook of just interesting stuff…
Do you have a notebook?
I do! Well, it’s on my phone, I put notes on the phone. You’d be amazed: one line, somewhere, when you see a bird sitting on a tree [waves out of the window at a bird on a tree] – it’s amazing how your mind puts the jigsaw together. So you might have twenty lines, you’d have no idea that day had any connection to a book; then your brain starts organising it into a story…
Like a melting pot?
It is! Exactly like that. It’s a good idea just to have something. I wish I’d done that when I was younger, because I think I’ve lost a lot of stories…