Hurstpierpoint, the Kids' Lit Quiz and the paintings of Ramsay Gibb

The trouble with travelling around the country doing school visits and book events is that, while it gives me much more interesting material to blog about that just sitting at home would, it doesn't leave me much time to actually do so...

On the train again...

Last week I went to Hurstpierpoint in East Sussex to talk to some of the pupils of Hurstpierpoint College Prep School.  The year seven pupils there study Mortal Engines in English classes,  and while the present year 7s don't get to encounter my deathless prose until next term they had some interesting questions to ask about the book and how I cam to write it.  Their teacher, Mrs Gordon-Stewart, showed me some of the work that previous years have done, which included writing short diaries from the point of view of Mortal Engines characters.  Here's one by 'Hester Shaw', with some interesting notes-to-self on the front cover ('Kill Valentine') etc.

On my way to Hurstpierpoint I stopped off in London to buy a copy of the new comics anthology Nelson (highly recommended!) and to see the latest exhibition by the Scottish landscape painter Ramsay Gibb at the Francis Kyle gallery in Maddox Street.  I used to know Ramsay when I lived in Brighton.  He had been through art college there with some friends of mine, and was an excellent illustrator.  It's been a huge pleasure to watch his work evolve, and he goes from strength to strength.  The current show, A First Avowed Intent, focuses on the old pilgrimage sites and paths of the British Isles, and is on for another week.  Catch it if you can.

Moonlight, Iona beach, by Ramsay Gibb

My second adventure last week was in Wadebridge, Cornwall for the South West regional heat of the excellent Kids' Lit Quiz.  Teams from schools all over the region were competing for a chance to go forward to the national finals, and then, hopefully, to the world finals in New Zealand.  It was great to meet founder and quizmaster Wayne Mills, and to see so many keen readers.  The final result was extremely close, but team one from Penrice School were victorious, and will be heading to the UK final in Warwick on 2nd December.  Go, Penrice!

Wayne Mills in Quizzing Hat, lower right.

Me signing books and autographs after the Quiz.

An Echo from Gloucestershire

I've just been sent this nice piece from the Gloucestershire Echo about the students from Winchcome School who attended my event at the Cheltenham Festival back in October.  Unfortunately they had to dash off to their waiting bus straight afterwards, so there was no chance to talk to them individually.  It's nice to know that they enjoyed it!  Thanks to Bethany Allison and Jamie Worman for this write-up.

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!

A week of Sci Fi

(Or Science Fiction, if you prefer.  When I was a teenager, Science Fiction fans were as curmudgeonly as jazz buffs and used to think the term 'Sci Fi' a terrible insult, but I've always rather liked it; it captures the slightly hand-made, fun aspect of the genre which is what I always liked best about it. )

Anyway, this week I'm off to talk about my Life and Works to both Nottingham University Science Fiction and Fantasy Society (on Tuesday night) and the Oxford University Speculative Fiction Group (on Wednesday).  And to get myself in the mood I've been reading and reviewing Gareth L Powell's novel The Recollection over on The Solitary Bee.

I've also been putting together a Powerpoint with some images of the things that inspired me, in the course of which I came across this nice still from Terry Gilliam's masterpiece, Brazil.

I saw this film for the first time when it came out in 1985 and I suspect the seeds for Mortal Engines were sown there and then.  In fact it had such a profound influence on me that I'm still wearing the suit and hat, and if I could drive I'd be whizzing up to Nottingham in one of those Messerschmidt bubble cars on Tuesday.  As it is, I'll have to take the train.