Wiltshire, Bath, Bristol

We took the pretty way to the Bath Festival of Children's Literature this year, making a long loop up into Wiltshire so that we could visit Avebury.  For some reason I've never been there, although it's a place I've always wanted to see.  Famously, the village is built in the middle of a complex double circle of ancient standing stones.  Naturally it's been adopted by the New Age numpty fraternity, who were much in evidence when we were there, hugging stones, flogging crystals and conducting 'druid' ceremonies in one of the circles.  But even for rational people Avebury has a strange and haunting atmosphere.  Despite the sunshine, the hippies and all the other visitors it felt distinctly eerie, and I could see how it had inspired all those spooky books and TV dramas of my childhood like Children of the Stones and The Moon Stallion.  Here, two of the stones are creeping up on an unsuspecting cottage...

After Avebury we stopped off at Silbury Hill, a huge, conical burial mound that forms part of the same sacred landscape, but isn't quite as impressive as its photographs on account of having a busy main road thundering right past it.  We stayed the night at The Old Forge B&B in East Kennett, and over a very nice breakfast got talking to two ladies who were walking the Ridgeway, the long-distance footpath which stretches from nearby Overton Hill for 87 miles across the middle of England to Ivinghoe Beacon, near Tring.  I've never seen myself walking the Pennine Way or Hadrian's Wall, but I've always rather fancied doing the Ridgeway.  We did a tiny bit of it ourselves that morning, parking at the National Trust car-park on White Horse Hill and then tramping along the Ridgeway for a mile or so to the bronze-age barrow known as Wayland's Smithy, which was looking very lovely on a quiet and misty autumn morning.  There are lots of barrows near where we live on Dartmoor, but they're all rather small compared with the Smithy, which you can actually climb inside...

White Horse Hill is so called, of course, because our long-ago ancestors carved the figure of a galloping white horse into it.  Like Avebury and Wayland's Smithy, the Uffington White Horse is something that I've always wanted to see (Rosemary Sutcliff wrote a very fine, short novel about its making, Sun Horse, Moon Horse).  Oddly enough, though, when you get to White Horse Hill you can't actually see the horse itself, only odd, abstract bits of it.  This is part of its head and its eye...

Then off we went to Bath, making very good time until we turned off the motorway and got wedged in the massive tailback of traffic trying squeeze through the bottleneck of picturesque Georgian streets.  I can never work out whether I like Bath or think its a ridiculous heritage industry theme-park, but one thing I can be sure about is that the Bath Festival of Children's Literature is BRILLIANT.  It carries on for two weeks, so it's well worth checking their website - there are loads of great events still to come.  I was on on Sunday morning, in conversation with festival organiser John McClay and the lovely Moira Young, whose first novel, a brutal and dusty YA dystopia called Blood Red Road, is garnering great reviews wherever it goes.  Here we are preparing for our event  - and, as Joseph Nixon pointed out, looking like a duo of eccentric TV crime-fighters, so if the bottom drops out of the YA fiction market we shall know what to fall back on.

But while we wait for some right-thinking producer to cast us in a remake of The Avengers, we do a pretty good YA Dystopias event, if I say so myself, and I hope we will be able to offer a repeat performance at other festivals in the future.  The audience had some interesting questions, and they included several people I know from Twitter or Facebook but hadn't actually met in Real Life before.  They didn't include my old friend Nick Riddle and his daughters Eve and Eloise because they were busy looking after a dog that morning, but they turned up afterwards and we went for lunch together and a hasty catching-up (I don't see nearly enough of Nick, with whom I used to write comedy sketches at college - or, rather, he used to come up with all he ideas while I giggled and wrote them down.  If you've read Starcross, the cheery old music-hall song entitled 'Dearest Margaret You Are Danish And Your Dog's Not Very Well' is one of Nick's.)

Then we were on our travels again, stopping off in Bristol, where I did an event on Monday morning at Colston's School, telling 200 students there the secrets of How To Write Stuff and Drawing Gollarks.  And then home, wishing we could have stayed a bit longer in Bath, and full of admiration for John and Gill McClay and all the festival staff for organising such a great series of events.

(Thanks very much to Scholastic for arranging my trip to Bath, Colston's School for their warm welcome, and to Sarah for all these photos, except the last one, which is by John McClay. )

You Can Launch a Princess

Team Princess: Sarah Mcintyre & Gillian Rogerson (back row, centre)
with their editors and the Scholastic publicists.
It's a been a busy old week (so this is just a quick post) but it started well, with a great party organised by my publishers, Scholastic Children's Books, to celebrate the launch of You Can't Scare a Princess, the new picture book by writer Gillian Rogerson and illustrator Sarah McIntyre.  You Can't Scare a Princess is a sequel to You Can't Eat a Princess, and both books are about the adventures of the pasta-haired Princess Spaghetti: she has a run-in with aliens in the first, and in this new one she encounters a crew of pirates.  That's why there was a pirate-y theme to the goings-on on Monday night, which included a big Pirate Draw-Off - here's my attempt at a Zombie Pirate.

At a time when book sales are slumping it was great to hear how well the two Princess Spaghettis are doing.  They're beautiful books, and despite being about a pink, roller-skating princess they should appeal to little boys as much as little girls (Pirates!  Aliens!).  It was great to meet Gillian, too, along with all sorts of people from the illustration and comics world.  There are many more pictures and details over on Sarah's blog.

New Goodness from McQue and Poskitt

Concept artist Ian McQue is one of my favourite Science Fiction illustrators, and his excellent blog has just been updated with a spectacular new digital painting "Arrival at Sky Harbour'.  Ian's a Mortal Engines fan (that's his take on London, above) and this latest image reminds me of the feeling I was after when I wrote about the flying town of Airhaven - although Ian's trademark sky-ships don't need creaky old gasbags to hold them up.

Unfortunately I can't upload images from Ian's blog, but do click on the link above and have a look (if you click on the image itself you'll see a larger version).  I also noticed that there will soon be a 35mm kit of one of the Skyships, the Remora - which is definitely something I want to see dangling from my study ceiling on fishing-line before too long.

In other news, Murderous Maths magnate and WoME-ish god of something-or-other Kjartan Poskitt has a new book out: read my thoughts on Agatha Parrot and the Floating Head here.

Bath Time

Less than a fortnight to go until the 2011 Bath Festival of Children's Literature begins, and if you're within travelling distance of it you should definitely have a look at the programme, which features a surprising number of my favourite children's authors and illustrators.  It also features me.  I'll be appearing at midday on Saturday 25th to talk with Moira Young, author of the hugely acclaimed Blood Red Road: details here.

Justin Hill - His Part in my Rise to Fame!*

(* All right, not really fame, but slightly less obscure obscurity.)

When I started this blog (nearly two years ago) one of the things I planned to use it for was to write about some of the artists and authors who had influenced me.  But of course the people who influence us most are our families and friends, and often meeting new friends can open our eyes and ears and minds to things which we had never noticed before.  So it's high time I did a blog post about my friend Justin Hill.  I met Justin when we started together at St Luke's Primary School back in 1971, and he probably had as much of an influence as anyone on the World of Reeve.

Justin only lived a few streets away from me, but I don't recall us being particularly friendly until we were both nine or ten.  I can't even remember what it was that first drew us together, although it may well have been drawing; we were both keen would-be cartoonists, and I can remember poring over Asterix books with him as well as playing with Action Men and riding around Queen's park on our bikes (Justin had a Raleigh Chopper, the quintessential 1970s bike, stylish but unstable...).  When we were twelve Justin's mum and dad moved to Ovingdean, a village on the outskirts of Brighton, and we ended up going to different secondary schools; Justin to Longhill, me to Stanley Deason. (Stanley Deason has since closed down: Googling it just now, I noticed that the picture book author & illustrator Emily Gravett also went there, a few years after me.  You can imagine how delighted I was to learn that I'm not even the most successful author to come out of Stanley Deason.)

Anyway, that's the point when I suppose Justin and I might have lost touch, because I've always been wretchedly bad at keeping up with absent friends.  Luckily Justin wasn't, and we stayed in contact right through our secondary school years.  I didn't see much of him in term time, but in the school holidays he would often to come to stay at my house for a few days, or I'd go to his place in Ovingdean, from where we could take long rambly walks up over the Downs to Rottingdean and the sea.  I was making little low-budget movies by then, and Justin was a reliable and daring stunt-man (all those years spent tumbling off the back of a Chopper having inured him to physical pain). We were quite different types, because Justin's image was developing along these sorts of lines...

...while mine was always more like this...

(only not so sporty).  Somehow, however, we got along very well, and I remember staying up long into the night doing drawings and paintings, and trying to imitate the work of illustrators and comic book artists we admired.  Justin's musical tastes were always way ahead of mine (he went on to become a musician, playing guitar and keyboards in various different bands over the years) and he introduced me to a lot of music.  Typically, I'd go to his house and he'd say, "You have to hear to this!" and put on something that I'd think sounded like a dreadful racket... but after a couple of listens I'd secretly start to quite like it, and within a few weeks I'd be off to buy my own copy from the second-hand record shop in Sydney Street. This happened with Blondie, and then a little later with David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (And I still remember watching the video for Ashes to Ashes for the first time on the big TV in Justin's living room: it felt like seeing the future arrive).

 There must have been loads more: Kate Bush, OMD, Adam and the Ants, Mozart  - Justin was nothing if not eclectic, although I never managed to follow him very far down the heavy metal/prog rock road: I'm afraid the Ian Gillan Band and Marillion still sound like a dreadful racket to me, although thanks to Justin's patient explanations I do know how clever all the big guitar solos are.  (Years later I swiped the name of one of Gillan's albums - Clear Air Turbulence, with the big stripey Chris Foss spaceship on the front - for an airship in Predator's Gold).

In return for all this musical education I guess I led Justin to a few things, too: naturally I dragged him off to see Excalibur (on the day of Charles and Diana's wedding, I remember), and when I got an invitation to go and meet my illustration hero Brian Froud at the flat in Hampstead where he was living while he designed Labyrinth, it was Justin I took with me to offer moral support and prevent a complete fan-boy meltdown.  I think I was also the first of us to discover the Pre-Raphaelites, although it was Justin who noticed that Rottingdean Church had stained glass windows by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.  I remember us making a sort of pilgrimage there together to look at them one beautiful October evening in autumn half term.  Justin went back recently and took some photos...

I was also was a big fan of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy back when it was still just a radio programme, and when the records eventually came out (available only at the scary, cave-like Virgin shop on Queen's Road) we spent hours listening to them.  Here's Justin rocking the Zaphod Beeblebrox look in my back garden, circa 1980...

...and here we are doing some sort of hilarious Monty Python tribute on Combestone Tor, the year I came on holiday to Devon with Justin and his parents. (It's one of the very few pictures that exists of me as a teenager - I was acne-ridden and camera-shy).

That was in 1982, and that autumn we ended up together again for a bit at Varndean Sixth Form College.  After that we went to different art colleges, and saw each other less and less (my fault - I'm bad at keeping at touch, remember?) although at some stage a couple of my drawings were used as posters for Justin's band, and a few years later I prevailed on Justin and his friend Jon Van Doorn to do the score for a movie I'd made, Tupilek (which I must see about digitising and putting on YouTube one day).

After that we drifted right apart for a while, until he e-mailed me a few years ago to say that he was living in Thailand, where he's married to the lovely Bim, taking spectacular photographs, and still drawing cartoons - both drawings and photos pop up on mugs, T-Shirts and greeting cards at his Zazzle stores.  Some of them, I'm pleased to see, still feature Wilf, a big-nosed character who Justin first started drawing when we were still at school together. ..

The autumn before last Justin was in Devon again with his parents, and they came to visit us here at Bonehill: it was quite touching to see him teaching Sam to draw Wilfs of his own. Here we all are outside the back door on the day they left...

...and here I am with Justin in Brighton, a couple of weeks ago.

 I hope we'll stay in touch for at least another forty years.

NB: The guitar god photo I've used above isn't actually of Justin: it's an image by Catch 2232 from Wikipedia.   Fotherington-Thomas (He sa, Hello Flowers! Hello Trees! he is uterly wet & a wede) is one of the great Ronald Searle's illustrations from the Molesworth books.


"A face in the mirror...  Howling in the night... A Black Dog at your door... Cold hands dragging you down..."

I've never published a short story before, and I don't believe in ghosts, but when those nice people at Andersen Press asked if I'd like to contribute a story to their new anthology HAUNTED I thought I ought to give it a go.  I came up with a tale called The Ghost Wood, about a boy on holiday in a place very like Dartmoor, who brings home a stone from a wood very like Wistman's Wood; a place which is supposed to be haunted by the spectre of a dreadful black hound...   It's not meant to be too scary (as I hated being scared when I was a child and don't really want to terrify today's children) but I hope spooky, and full of the feel of woods and autumn.  It's the first time I've used the out-and-out supernatural in a serious story, but it won't be the last.  It's also the first time I've used present-day Dartmoor in any of my fiction (although bits of Here Lies Arthur were set on the Moor, at least in my mind's eye).

There are lots of other stories in haunted too, by some great writers:  Susan Cooper, Joseph Delaney, Berlie Doherty, Jamila Gavin, Matt Haig, Robin Jarvis, Derek Landy, Sam Llewellyn, Mal Peet and Eleanor Updale (and I expect some of them just love terrifying today's children).  For a good spine-chilling read now that the nights are drawing in and Hallowe'en is approaching, look no further!

Haunted is available from all good bookshops, and on the Andersen Press Website.