Ireland's best-selling children's writer Eoin Colfer has taken a dramatically different direction in his new book due to be published in January.
His 'Artemis Fowl' series of fantasy novels has made the former Wexford schoolteacher a millionaire and turned him into an international star of the children's book world.
The 'Artemis' books, which began in 2000, have sold over eight million copies in 40 countries and have been described as "Die Hard with fairies."
The series has been a huge success and is tipped to take over even more now that Harry Potter has left off. But in spite of this, Colfer has parked 'Artemis' for the time being and produced a very different kind of story in his new book. Titled 'Airman', the 455-page novel for young teenagers is a swashbuckling adventure, full of excitement, betrayal and romance. And there isn't a fairy in sight.
It has a dashing young hero, a dastardly villain, swords fights, castles, explosions, diamonds and a princess. It has been likened to a younger version of Alexandre Dumas' classic, 'The Count of Monte Cristo'. But this story of a young hero battling to right a great wrong is set in Ireland.
The time frame is early in the last century. And the setting has been heavily influenced by Colfer's childhood in Wexford.
In the story, Conor Broekhart is a boy who was born to fly. In an age of invention many had dreamed of flying, but for Conor flight was more than just a dream, it was his destiny.
In one dark night on the island of Great Saltee, a cruel betrayal destroyed his life and stole his future. Now Conor must win the race for flight, to save his family and right a terrible wrong.
Colfer says that the new book "is a bit of a departure for me. There are no leprechauns, no magical underground cities and no flatulent dwarves".
But he says he always loved high-adventure stories and when he was a child they were his favourite books. So he decided the time was right to indulge himself. "I loved the impossible tasks set for the hero and the appalling badness of the villain. Airman is high adventure to the hilt of its various swords."
Colfer says that he has always had an interest in history (his father is a historian) and when he was a child the family spent every summer on Hook Head.
"Our caravan was situated between a medieval castle and the oldest working lighthouse in Europe. I loved climbing the nearby castle and imagining the grand romantic adventures that could have taken place.
"Standing on top of the parapet of Slade Castle, it was very easy to pretend that you were part of some perilous undertaking, and I remember thinking that if the king's guards were closing in on me, the only way to escape would be to fly."
One of the trips his father took him on was to the Great Saltee Island, off the coast from Kilmore Quay. "I was fascinated by the idea that a certain Michael Neale had bought the Saltee Islands in the 1940s and had assumed the title Prince of the Saltees," Colfer said.
"Over the decades I thought about the Saltees often. What if there were a real monarchy there? Why would the Irish and English governments leave it alone? What made it important? Was there a beautiful princess?"
Colfer also wondered how someone on the islands might escape. "I reached the same conclusion as I had on the top of Slade Castle. The only way off would be to fly. But what if an aeroplane had not been invented? Then, obviously, you would have to invent one."
He started writing the book, "set on an island that I had been watching on the evening horizon for my entire life."
l 'Airman' will be published by Puffin Books on January 3. A new 'Artemis' book also is due at the end of 2008.