Illegal: Charlton author’s graphic novel scoops top award

Andrew Donkin, Eoin Colfer and Giovanni Rigano
Prize guys: Andrew Donkin, Eoin Colfer and Giovanni Rigano

A graphic novel about a boy’s epic journey to Europe co-written by a Charlton author has won a prestigious book award in Ireland.

Illegal, written by Eoin Colfer and SE7-based Andrew Donkin, and with illustrations by Giovanni Rigano, scooped the Judges’ Special Award at the Children’s Books Ireland Awards in Dublin yesterday.

Judges said: “This timely and powerful graphic novel charts a young boy’s journey across the Sahara Desert on the long, dangerous trek towards Italy and the potential for a new life there and reunion with his sister.

“This affecting book weaves together real stories of migration with immersive, naturalistic illustrations and carefully paced, minimalistic text. Combining intensity with accessibility, this is an important book that will stimulate important conversations and reflection about human rights, inclusion, solidarity, and prejudice.”

The trio, who have previously worked on adaptating Colfer’s sci-fi fantasy series Artemis Fowl as graphic novels, have picked up a string of plaudits for Illegal, which was published last year.

Colfer collected the prize at the Irish capital’s Smock Alley Theatre.

The Guardian called the book “a deeply affecting and thought-provoking account of the 21st-century refugee experience”.

Donkin said the inspiration for the book came from seeing a small news report of a migrants’ boat sinking in the Mediterranean, killing scores of people: “It seemed extraordinary that thousands of people were dying on Europe’s doorstep and there was hardly a mention in mainstream media at the time.

“When a sinking was mentioned it was just in terms of numbers – no individuals, no personalities, no names. Eoin, Giovanni and I decided that we wanted to take one of those numbers and tell their story.

“What we wanted to do was to ask our readers to see each of those numbers as a human being with a favourite colour and a favourite football team just like them.”

A pane from Illegal

He added: “We knew straight away that we wanted to tell the story of Illegal as a graphic novel. Graphic novel just means a posh comic and it brings a wry smile to the faces of life-long comic readers who remember buying comics on grubby newsprint for five pence when they were a kid. We wanted to reach an audience that wouldn’t pick up a broadsheet newspaper.

“Eoin and I did more research for the writing of Illegal than for any other book. We read everything that we could find, attended conferences, and conducted interviews with people who had made the journey as well as aid workers.

“We were determined to get every detail as accurate as we possibly could. We worked closely with two fantastic charities: Women For Refugee Women and Migrant Voice. Hearing the stories of the people that they help was incredibly humbling and also a great motivator for the three of us.”

The book has already been translated into 10 different languages – and has also been a hit in France – and is due to be published in the US in August.

Illegal cover

The book is available from Ottie and the Bea on Old Dover Road, Blackheath, and online via hive.co.uk and Amazon.co.uk. You can read more about Andrew Donkin’s work at andrewdonkin.co.uk (or @AndrewDonkin on Twitter).

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