Blog Neglect & the Queen in the Snow.

I've been meaning for ages to get back to regular blogging, but what with one thing another - school events, finishing Scrivener's Moon, the new dog arriving - I just haven't found much to write about, or much time to write it in.  Anyway, if you're one of my 93 followers, thank you for your patience; I hope I can get back into the habit of updating this more regularly.

Snow Flurries near Ruddycleave, in a damp sketchbook.
For our first eight or nine years on Dartmoor we barely saw any snow; winter was just a time when it rained even more.  But the last two winters were pretty cold, and this one seems to be shaping up to out-do them; we've never seen snow before Christmas here before, but we woke up to quite a thick dusting of it this morning, with more promised for next week.  This is annoying as I'm supposed to be going up to London on Tuesday, and for once I was planning to take Sarah with me, but even if we can get to the railway station it doesn't look as if it will be the sort of weather in which my parents will want to venture up onto the moor for a spot of Sam-and-Frodo-sitting, so I shall have to go alone as usual, and leave sarah the merry task of taking Frodo out to do his Morning Poo at 7 a.m. in temperatures of about -5 .  (My mum and dad wouldn't mind that sort of thing a bit: they wake up at 5 a.m. anyway, and think warmth is for wimps because they spent their formative years sleeping in Anderson Shelters.)  So boo to winter.

On the other hand, I do quite like snow, especially when I don't have to be out in it but can look at it through the window while I curl up beside the fire with a good book.  And at the moment I have a particularly good book to curl up with, because Geraldine McCaughrean has kindly sent me a copy of her latest, Pull Out All The Stops.  It's a sequel to Stop The Train, her novel about the inhabitants of a town in the old west.  In the new book some of the children join the Bright Lights travelling theatre company as it makes its accident-prone way down the Missouri river aboard a ramshackle, abandoned paddle-steamer called the Sunshine Queen, which they manage to re-float.  It is, as usual, perfectly brilliant, and I'm rationing myself to three chapters a day to make the pleasure last.

It's so good, in fact, that don't even mind the fact that it has sunk not one but two of my own projects; I've been tinkering for ages with some ideas for a story set during the American Civil War, which was going to involve some characters re-floating a ramshackle, abandoned paddle steamer on the Missouri.  And I also had a vague notion that my own troupe of travelling actors, the Persimmon company out of A Web of Air, might stage some sort of elaborate con-trick to fox the villain of a future Fever Crumb adventure...  but I suspect that that's exactly what Geraldine's Bright Lights will be getting up to at the climax of her book.  In a way I feel quite chuffed that I  keep having the same ideas as her; the trouble is, she usually has them first, and does them much better than I could.

Anyway, a proper review of Pull Out All The Stops will appear soon on The Solitary Bee, another blog which seems, in its bee-like way, to have gone into hibernation recently.

Down With This Sort Of Thing

We're all used to the mild but undeniable pain of having Hollywood eat our favourite books and then poo out the half-digested remains all over the screen our local cinema - I'm currently starting to brace myself for the arrival of the CGI-ed up movie version of The Eagle of the Ninth next year (only it seems to have been re-titled simply The Eagle, presumably because the movie-makers don't think we'll understand complicated terms like 'Ninth' and 'of the').  But almost as annoying is Hollywood's habit of eating itself, as demonstrated this week by the announcement of an all-new, re-booted Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie.

I was quite a late convert to Buffy, which at first glance appeared to be a mash-up of two of the genres which interest me least - vampires (zzz) and the American high-school story.  What could there possibly be for me in such a show? I used to wonder when people recommended it to me.  Well, plenty, as it turned out, because although it was built from off-cuts of old horror movie cliches they were stuck together with such charm and wit by its creator Joss Whedon, the one-liners came so thick and fast, and the cast were so likeable that it was completely irresistable.  Now, apparently, it needs to be made-over for a new generation (it's a whole seven years since it ended on telly) and not only will the new movie not feature Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alison Hannigan or That Nice Man Off The Gold Blend Adverts, it's not going to be written or directed by Joss Whedon either.

So what would be the point of that. we wonder?  Presumably just that it's got vampires in, so it might squeeze a few extra dollars from the Twilight craze.  It shouldn't really come as a surprise: we all know that the movie and TV business, like publishing, is an uneasy marriage between the creators and the hard-nosed businessmen who fund them, and when push comes to shove the interests of the money-men always win.  It's just depressing to reflect that the money spent on this cynical re-boot could probably have paid for Mr Whedon to do something new.  Anyway, I was pleased to see that he has made his own feelings about all this known, in the form of an audible sigh.

Anti-Poodle Prejudice

A Mr POSKITT writes to say that he could only imagine me owning a labrador or a dalmatian and what's with the miniature poodle - was it a raffle prize?  He's not the first to cast aspersions on our choice of dog (yes, I'm looking at you, McIntyre).  However, as this frankly terrifying photo proves, Frodo is a rough, tough country poodle, and you insult him at your peril...

Traction Fortress

I was making some final adjustments to Scrivener's Moon last week, and now that it's off to the proof reader and then the printers I decided to relax by drawing Traction Fortresses.  The one above is inspired by photographs I've seen of fantastic wooden churches in Norway; precarious-looking stacks of towers and turrets covered in shingles like dragon's scales.  I guess this weaponised version could use a ram or some anti-boarding spikes at the front, but the perspective defeated me, and otherwise I think it comes close to what I had in mind while I was writing the new book.  This is a Traction Fortress of the Arkangelsk nomads; more primitive than the kit London's new masters use, but there are an awful lot more of the Arkangelsk.  I've used water colour and coloured pencils (neither of them very well, it must be said).

Mo-Bots in Widecombe

It turns out that while I was visiting Blackawton School last Wednesday comics artist Neill Cameron was visiting Sam's school here in Widecombe.  He was there as part of a new children's literature festival based in Exeter and called - only slightly wince-inducingly - the EXEtreme Imagination Festival (see what they did there?).  It's a pity the two events clashed, as I'd have liked to gatecrash Neill's talk, but I've heard nothing but good reports of it from teachers and pupils, and there are some photos on Neill's blog.   Sam came home with a copy of Neill's DFC book Mo-Bot High, which he has been reading avidly ever since.

Meanwhile, my attempts at landscape drawing have continued, slightly hampered by rain, fog and puppy- minding, but much encouraged by Sam's comics heroine and all-round pointy-spectacled fountain of wonderfulness, Sarah McIntyre.  While I draw trees on Dartmoor she draws other trees in London's Greenwich Park, and it's always a pleasure to see a new picture go up on her blog.


Traction City Sighted in Blackawton!

Oh, I hate having my picture taken, and it always shows, but I had to include this one to give you a sense of the scale of this vast model of London from Mortal Engines, built by pupils at Blackawton Primary School.  It comes complete with caterpillar tracks, chimney smoke, a working elevator, flocks of airships and balloons, and a smaller model of Salthook constructed around the school's wheelchair lift so that it can be reeled in by London's 'jaws'.

Tom Pether, one of the teachers at the school, made contact in the summer to tell me that he was planning a whole term of topic work based around the book: "...investigating character development, settings and narrative... using the character of Hester as a stimulus to look further at ideas of gender - perceptions and assumptions, the history of female emancipation etc...  (And) looking at how technological change affects people..."  I never knew there was so much in it!

I've always felt a bit ambivalent about my books being used in schools in this way - I didn't really intend them to be Set Texts, more the sort of thing you read under the bedcovers with a torch, and your parents say, "What are you reading that rubbish for?".  But when I visited the school yesterday the children all seemed to be enjoying the book and had done lots of great drawings, as well as coming up with some interesting ideas of their own for extra characters who might inhabit London.  One group had invented an alternate version of MEDUSA which fired swarms of metal bees to strip rival cities bare!  They all had lots of good questions to ask, and I ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable morning with them while Sarah did the shopping in nearby Totnes. 

Sir Dogford of Poo.
I wish I could have stayed longer, but it was the first time we'd left Frodo at home on his own, so we had to hurry back at lunch time, expecting to find the kitchen a sea of wee and worse.  But happily he seems to be getting the hang of things, so there weren't too many puddles.