It's Alive!

If you're one of the tasteful individuals who 'likes' the Philip Reeve page on Facebook you might already have seen this, but it's something I should have posted here long ago, so here it is anyway: an impressive mini-movie of everyone's favourite unstoppable killing machine, which also features all-too brief glimpses of Hester and what I take to be the control console of the Jenny Haniver.   It's creator, 'Wraithsmith' writes:

The animatronics, hard costume elements and shrike's prosthetics are my work, (I am also the unfortunate soul who got to play Shrike.)  The rest of shrike's costume was produced by Jenni Munday.  The actress playing the other character, (Hester Shaw,) is Alyssa Burnett, whose Prosthetic and costume were made by Isabelle Riley.  The interior set and cockpit was designed by Louise Hewson with the structure designed by Thomas Antony Lowthian.  This footage was filmed by Oliver Lloyd.

Mr Shrike will be returning for a tiny but hard-hitting cameo in Scrivener's Moon.

Scrivener's Moon

Yes folks, the time has come to talk of Scrivener's Moon, the third Fever Crumb book, which is officially published in the UK in April, but will probably start to appear in bookshops from about the middle of March.  (I think I can avoid giving away too much about the story, but if you haven't yet read Fever Crumb or A Web of Air then what follows may contain ever so slight spoilers...)

Picking up pretty much where A Web of Air left off, Scrivener's Moon covers a longer span of time than any of the previous books set in the world of Mortal Engines (or WoME to its friends) - unless you count the last chapter of A Darkling Plain, of course.  Fever returns to London to find it in the process of being demolished and reconstructed as a Traction City, and for some months, despite her doubts about the whole idea, she does her best to help: then adventure rears its head again, with news from the north about a mysterious black pyramid which Fever's unpredictable mother believes may hold valuable secrets.  So, like the four books in the original quartet, but unlike the previous Fever Crumb titles, this book becomes the story of a journey.

It's also a bit of a war story, since the nomad empires of the north are starting to worry about the new London, and their worries are focused by Cluny Morvish, the daughter of a minor nobleman of the Arkangelsk Empire, who has started to have terrifying dreams about an all-devouring mobile London.  The Arkangelsk technomancer Tharp promotes her as a prophet, and with her help all the disparate, warring empires of the north begin uniting to march on London.

The Arkangelsk are presumably the ancestors of the people who build Arkangel, one of the more fearsome predator cities of the WoME, but in this era they seem quite a jolly bunch.  They are hairy warrior types who live in ramshackle convoys of traction forts. landships and mobile homesteads, following the migrations of their reindeer and mammoth herds.  Their hobbies include crushing their enemies, seeing them driven before them, and hearing the lamentation of their women.  Like their spiritual cousins, Vikings and Klingons, they probably spend a lot of their downtime quaffing flagons of foaming ale and going, "HA HA HA HA!" although I don't think we actually get to see much of that happening in this story; they're too worried about the threat from London to do any serious quaffing or HAing.  Even so,  if you wanted to make a movie of Scrivener's Moon you might want to start by e-mailing Brian Blessed's agent...

Cluny Morvish is probably the most important new character I've introduced in this book: here's a doodle of her that I did on the cover of the manuscript, although I think she's bigger-boned than this.  She's a sort of anti-Fever; a good-natured, friendly, physical, huntin', shootin' and fishin' sort of nomad girl who believes fairly unquestioningly in magic and ancestor worship and all sorts of things that Fever would dismiss as stupid.  It would be nice to think that she'll go on to feature in future volumes, but battle looms in the final chapters, and there's no telling who will survive, for this is also one of my more grim and bloodthirsty visits to the WoME: characters die, there are disasters and betrayals, and it's all quite gloomy really, although there are glimmers of hope too, and while Fever loses a lot, she gains new friends and discovers a bit more about her world, and how it came to be the way it is.

Charley Shallow, the apprentice Scriven-hunter from Fever Crumb, returns in this book, gradually making a name for himself in the new London; it's been quite interesting to see how he develops.  One character who doesn't reappear is Arlo Thursday: there was so much going on with London and the nomads that it proved impossible to flit off to other parts of the world to see how he was getting on.  However, Fever hasn't forgotten him, and nor have I: I woke up the other morning with the first few chapters of a new book in my head, which are about what becomes of Arlo after A Web of Air.

Anyway, that's enough from me: here's what Scholastic have to say about Scrivener's Moon in the blurb on the back cover: they always make it sound so much more exciting:

Cover illustration by David Wyatt.

World Book Day

Hip, Hip, Hoorah; next Thursday, 3rd March, is World Book Day.  (At least, it is in the UK and Ireland; perplexingly, everybody else has a different World Book Day some time in April.)

Anyway, pupils at participating schools will be given free £1 book tokens, and a number of £1 books are being published specially for the occasion.  All of them feature the work of two different authors.  Here's mine, Traction City...

...and if you turn it over it also contains Teacher's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley.  Value for money, see?

Chris and I were supposed to be doing an event together on WBD itself, but unfortunately he's been seriously ill recently.  While I was in hospital moaning on about my silly little kidney stones he was busy having a stroke.  Thankfully he seems to be recovering well, and has been writing about the experience on his blog, but apparently if there's one thing that recuperating stroke sufferers need to steer clear of it's mingling with Reeves at WBD events, so I shall be on my own, unless another top-notch author can be persuaded to join me.  More on this soon.

Anyway, Traction City is a bit of a departure for me, in that I hardly ever write short fiction, and this is the first time I've written anything to order.  The brief was fairly tight: I was asked to do a 10,000 word story set in the London of Mortal Engines, with boy and girl protagonists.  That sounds simple enough at first, but when I thought about I realised it was going to be quite tricky, since whatever happened in the story would have to be interesting enough to make people want to read 10,000 words about it, but not so interesting that the characters in Mortal Engines would have mentioned it.

In the end, I settled on a story which takes place twenty five or thirty years before Mortal Engines opens.  It's set on London's lower tiers, where Mortal Engines barely ventures, and tells of how the sleepy routine of Airdock Green police station is disrupted, first by the arrival of a young aviatrix who may or may not be an Anti-Tractionist saboteur, and then by the news of something nasty lurking in the abandoned district called The Wombs.

If you haven't read any of the Mortal Engines books this should serve as a sort of introduction to that world, and will hopefully make you want to read on.  If you have, you won't find any startling new revelations in Traction City, although I enjoyed retro-fitting London with a few names from the prequels (there is a Crumb Street, and a statue of Charlie Shallow), and fans of Anna Fang may be pleased to hear that she is the young aviatrix in question, aged about sixteen and choc full o' Anti-Tractionist rage, having only recently escaped from the slave-holds of Arkangel.

I've also had a go at a few illustrations: here are two of them.

There is also going to be an e-book version of the story, which will hopefully be released on World Book Day and should retail at around 60p. I'll add some details about that, and a link to where you can get it, as soon as it's ready.  It will be the first bit of the Mortal Engines saga to be available for download, and I think it will be Scholastic UK's first e-book: to be followed later in the year by the rest of the series.

All This And World War Two...

I was back in hospital last weekend for more kidney-stone related merriment.  I shall spare you the details, since it was all most unsavoury, my deres, but the doctors and nurses were all wonderful, as before, and again  I found myself enjoying the odd camaraderie of the urology ward.  Mr W-, the gentleman in the bed next to mine, was 97 years old; a former milkman from Birmingham who had moved down to Devon to start a new life as a market gardener in 1966, the year I was born.

He was a bit hard of hearing, so conversation was difficult, but I was happy to listen while he talked.  He told me how, in his twenties, he'd driven trucks full of tank fuel around the Western Desert for (I think) 22 Armoured Division, until he was captured by the Germans at the fall of Tobruk.  From there he'd been sent to a prison camp in Italy, and then moved on overcrowded cattle trucks through Austria to another camp not far from Berlin.  As the war ended his guards, who had fought against the Russians on the Eastern Front and presumably didn't fancy meeting them again, marched him and his fellow inmates west to meet the advancing Americans.

I don't think I've ever actually heard an account like this first hand before.  My own grandfathers were too old for active duty during the war, and my parents were only children at the time, so their memories are all of life on the home front.  It felt very strange to be lying there in bed in Torbay Hospital and seeing through Mr W's words the battles in North Africa and the fall of Germany nearly seventy years ago.  He told me how he had eked out his POW rations by trading the contents of his Red Cross parcels on the black market (one bar of chocolate = five loaves of bread); how, on the march to meet the Americans, his column had been shepherded along by Allied aircraft which returned each day, waggling their wings to encourage the POWS, before zooming off to attack German military convoys further up the road.  He described what it was like to drive trucks across the desert, and how an 88mm shell sounds when it passes just over your head.

He seemed at first glance like a tiny little old fellow, and was very funny and good natured (the hospital staff all made a great fuss of him) but as he talked, I started to see that he had actually been a very big man, tall, broad shouldered, and presumably very tough mentally as well as physically.  He had a big family living locally, and several little great-grandchildren came in to visit him while I was there.  I hope they get to hear his stories too when they are old enough to understand them, and pass his memories on.

I tried to do a drawing of Mr W, but it made him look rather cadaverous and miserable and helpless, none of which was true.  So I'll just leave this here un-illustrated, as a record of a meeting with a remarkable man.


Nero (Actual Size)
This is Nero, the dog we had when I was growing up.  My parents bought him when I was about 10.  They chose a chihuahua because they didn't want anything that would interfere with their camping, boating or hill-walking holidays, and he was small enough to fit easily into a dinghy or a VW camper van.  And they chose a long-haired chihuahua because, let's face it, short-haired chihuahuas are just weird.

Nero was rather anti-social, and had a deep mistrust of anyone outside our immediate family unit.  (Who could he have picked that up from?)  He eventually came to accept my grandparents, my best friend Justin, and maybe one or two of my sister's friends, but everybody else was viewed with deep suspicion.  This was a pity, since he was a very pretty dog, and people used to come up and try to stroke him, only to retreat hastily when he started snarling and barking at them.  All other dogs were his enemies.  When he wasn't on holiday he liked to sit in the sun in the porch of our house (14 Tower Road, Brighton) and growl at them as they went past on their way to Queen's Park.

I think the original idea was that when Mum and Dad were out on some twenty mile hike and his little legs got tired he could be popped into a back-carrier, hastily converted by Dad from an old baby carrier which must have been lying about in the loft since my sister was small.  But Nero's little legs never did get tired: he loved walking, and he loved the hills, and most of the mountains which I reached the top of as a boy had Nero standing proudly on the summit cairn like the Monarch of the Glen.  Other hikers we met would almost always say; "I bet his legs were longer when he started out!"  It was quite funny the first few times.

My sister, my mum, Nero, and me, half way up Ben Mor on Mull in 1977.  I appear to have sat on a thistle.

He used to get very excited when he sensed a holiday was about to happen, and sit patiently in his little carrying-box all the way up the motorway.  (It was a long way from Brighton to the Lake District or Scotland, especially in a camper van, and especially in a camper van towing a dinghy, which I seem to recall meant we couldn't go over 50 miles per hour).   He never seemed to mind the journey: I suppose he knew that we were going to end up somewhere like this...

Summer of '77.  The Reeve encampment on Mull in 'Not Raining' Shock.
He was a good dog.

Hot off the Press...

Coo-er!  The first copy of Scrivener's Moon arrived in yesterday's post.  This is an advance copy; it's not actually published until April, although it will probably be in the shops from around the middle of March.  Anyway, David Wyatt's cover artwork looks fantastic on this hardback, and Sarah has started reading it, so we'll see what she thinks.

There will also be a large format paperback published at the same time, which will have one of these funky modern covers that I don't understand.  This one has quite a jolly red and yellow colour scheme, though, and features a mysterious blue bird*.

More on what lurks within these pretty covers soon...

*Actual book may not contain blue birds.

Oxford Literary Festival.

I haven't had much luck on my last two visits to the Oxford Literary Festival.  It always falls at that just that time of year when I go, "Oho, clever me, I've made it all the way through the winter without catching the 'flu, thanks to taking all that echinacea and avoiding even the most basic forms of social interaction."  I then promptly catch the 'flu, and end up wandering about among the dreaming spires feeling like death warmed up.  It's also that period of springtime which I think of as the Tweed/Linen Gap, when the clothes which it seems sensible to wear when I leave Dartmoor turn out to have become suddenly unseasonal by the time I arrive at Oxford. 

Anyway, I'm going to give it a go again this year, so if you're in the Oxford area on Sunday, 3rd April you might like to pop along and see whether I'm stewing in wool serge or shivering in cotton twill, and what interesting upper respiratory tract infections I've brought along to share with my fans.  

Excitingly, it's a Blue Peter event, so proper authors like Lauren St John and Candy Gourlay will also be present, and the master of ceremonies will be Blue Peter Presenter Barney Harwood, which means I've finally managed to impress Sam ("What, you'll actually be meeting Barney!?"). 

Further details, and tickets, are available at the Festival Website.

One I Made Earlier: Blue Peter Favourite Stories
Location: Christ Church: Hall

The three shortlisted authors for the Blue Peter Book Award Favourite Stories category are gathered in the very hall that was filmed as Hogwarts Great Hall to tell you about their fabulous chosen books: Candy Gourlay, with Tall Story, the tale of a basketball-mad London girl and her giant brother from the Philippines, Philip Reeve with his futuristic/historical fantasy about unlocking the secrets of flight, A Web of Air, and Lauren St John with her mystery adventure, Dead Man's Cove. The event will be chaired by Blue Peter presenter Barney Harwood. Four special treats for the price of one. Free to Blue Peter badge holders accompanied by a paying adult.