Sci-Fi Societies, London in Cake Form and the Phoenix Rising

I snapped this blurred, wintry sunset from a train window as I whizzed around the country this week, visiting the Nottingham University Science Fiction & Fantasy Society and the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group to talk about my Life and Works.  That basically ended up being about how I came to write Mortal Engines, and how the world of the book has developed and expanded through its various sequels and prequels.

Both societies gave me a warm welcome, and were great audiences.  It reminded me that a) SF and fantasy fans are my kind of people and b) I'm getting very, very old - when I talked about the writers who'd inspired me as a student I found that barely any of my listeners had even heard of them, let alone read them.  (Which is hardly surprising, since these were books and stories which were probably thirty years old when I discovered them, and that was thirty years ago.  I really must start reading some more contemporary SF. )

Anyway, it was good to meet so many people who'd read Mortal Engines.  The Oxford group even recreated Traction London in cake form last year, when it made it into the top ten in their list of Books They'd Want To Take With Them If They Were Cast Away On A Desert Planet.  The tracks look particularly tasty...

Lyndsey Pickup was Chief Architect of the cake, and also took some photos of my Oxford event, which reminded me of something else: I really wave my hands about a lot when I talk.

The image behind me there is one of David Wyatt's covers for the old UK editions of the Mortal Engines quartet.  They're still my favourite covers, and looking at them again on these Powerpoint slides I realised that there are chunks of them which have never been used: some seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time marketing decision led to them being printed on the inside of die-cut outer covers with holes in, which meant that much of the left hand side of each image was lost, like the very Germanic little city rolling ahead of Manchester in this picture for A Darkling Plain.

Then, in a seemed-like-a-terrible-idea-at-the-time-AND-STILL-DOES decision, pictorial covers were abandoned completely in favour of a more 'graphic' or 'boring' approach.  My website will be getting an overhaul in the New Year and I'll try to include David's full images as downloadable wallpapers, but if you don't want to wait till then you can find them here.

One of the nice things about talking to OUSFG is that they put you up overnight in one of the university's colleges.  Here's the view from my guest room in Merton.

My host Matthew Lloyd and his brother John gave me a tour of the college, which is almost ridiculously beautiful.  There's a stone table in the grounds which allegedly inspired the one on which Aslan is sacrificed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and a view through trees and rooftops to two college spires which is supposed to have inspired The Two Towers.  (Both stories need to be taken with a sizeable pinch of salt, I think, but it was a nice reminder that I was on the territory of CS Lewis and Tolkien.  And nowadays, of course, it's the stamping ground of Philip Pullman and the location of Harry Potter movies.  Oxford was the Royalist capital during the Civil war, and in a way it's still the capital of English fantasy.)

On Thursday I went with lovely Sarah McIntyre to lunch at the offices of The Phoenix, a new comic which is being launched by the team behind the late lamented DFC.  We got to see the hot-off-the-press Issue Zero, which isn't for sale, but is being away free at Waitrose supermarkets.

The Phoenix begins publication on January 7th, and if you haven't subscribed already, you can do so here.  It's going to be great, and will feature all sorts of fine comics artists.  (Sarah and I are also working on something for it, but more on that anon.)

Phoenix editor Ben Sharpe persuades Sarah McIntyre to subscribe in
exchange for CAKE.
And then we popped next door to David Fickling Books, one of Sarah's publishers.  David Fickling was in charge at Scholastic when I first started working for them as an illustrator.  He's a true champion of children's publishing, and it's always a pleasure to catch up with him, and hear about his exciting plans.  Here he is with Sarah, who's holding a copy of a beautiful new chapter book by Dave Shelton, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat.  It isn't published till next year, and I'll be shouting loudly about it then.  The UK edition has one of the simplest and most striking covers I've ever seen.

Thanks very much to everybody at Nottingham SF&F Society and OUSFG, the Phoenix and DFB for making it such an enjoyable week!