Blog Problems

Hello! If you're reading this, I guess you're doing so on a mobile device, because on my computer this blog is taking ages to load even partially, and the website won't open at all (it all shows up perfectly well on my 'phone, though).  Apologies if you've had trouble with it.  There's obviously no point in me posting anything at the moment.  I shall try to get the problems sorted out as soon as possible.

Roald Dahl Funny Prize Shortlist: Goblins Not Amused


It haz come to our attenshens wot ther is a fing coRled the Rooald Dahl Funy Priz and GOBLINS has got put on the shortList for itt.

We, the Goblinz of CLovenstone, iz not hapy about this.  Goblinz is NOT FUNY. Goblinz is TUOUGH and RUGgID and DANGERERUS


 GoBLINS is nott ment to be a FUNY story. It iz GRITY SOCIAL REALISM an deeply MOOVING

Jus becoz this Mr so-called ROOLAD DAHL is a famurse soFtling riter and his mume and dadd couldn't spell Ronald duz not give him the rihgt to go about pokking fune at GOBLINS an making us a laughuing stokk.

Ower messidge to the JUDGIZ of the Hal Roulade Funy Prize iz thiss: DONT YOU DARE GIVE IT TO GOBLINS! Givev it to oNe of them soFTtling ritErs like Mr Frank Cockerel Boyce wot wrote thatt nice Exorcist tribute at the start of the Oplympics or thatt other wun you kno the one off the telly wot is a cross-chanel swimbler or the book about the SOCKS or the wun about the Draggon-siter OR the wun about the Tenage DaRk Lord cos Dark Lords is RUBISH

We knows whoo you is cos we has seen yore names on the BOOKTRUSS wesbite.  Ifs you gives the prize to ower book you is in bigg TRUBBLE we iz not saying WOT exacktly but we haz got a BRATAPULT and we iz not afrade to use itt.

So juss wotch itt OK?



Weirdness in Wiltshire, Science Fiction in Somerset*


The Trowbdridge Arts Festival will be kicking off this weekend with a Science Fiction and Fantasy day on Saturday (15th September), which will include readings and talks by what can only be described as a glittering galaxy of stars, including  Jonathan L Howard and Moira Young.  Further details on the festival website.

Sadly I can't get to Trowbridge, but I'll definitely be in Bristol on October 20th for BristolCon - where I'm looking forward to meeting all these lovely people.  Membership is £20 in advance, or £25 on the door. I'll definitely be going (I had a great time last year) and I'll write a longer post about it when I know what I'll be doing there.

*I probably mean 'Science Fiction in the Bristol Unitary Authority', but that doesn't alliterate.

Mountains to Sea

The last time I was in Dún Laoghaire was when I dashed down to the ferry terminal to arrange our escape from Ireland during the Great Icelandic Volcano Sneeze of 2010, so it was a great pleasure to go back in happier circumstances, as the guest of the fantastic Mountains to Sea Festival.

The Irish summer seems to have been just as big a washout as the English one, but the sun came out for the festival, and it felt more like Italy than Ireland.  Here's Sarah McIntyre posing beside a giant sea-urchin sculpture on the prom...

I confess I did a spot of photoshopping on this pic: pop over to McIntyre's blog & see if you can Spot The Difference.

On Friday morning Sarah and I did a big Goblins and Monsters event for a theatre-full of schoolchildren. The Bratapult saw some action again: in this picture you can just see its goblin payload hurtling into the audience - but what on earth is McIntyre up to?

Photo: Emily Greene

It's considered a terrible no-no these days to photograph children without written permission from their parent or guardian (the logical extension of this looniness would be to make kids wear a niqab or burqa whenever they leave the house).  So we had our audience draw Goblin portraits and then hold them up like masks, creating a truly terrifying TRIBE OF GOBLINS...

After the show we we recorded an interview for the RTE children's TV programme Elev-8 with Orla Morris-Toolen  Here we are with her (right), cameraman Julian Hills and sound-recordist Elaine Buckley. (I can't remember why we're all bending at the knees like that.)

Photo: Orla's mum!

Over lunch afterwards I discussed something deep and meaningful with tireless festival organiser Tom Donegan...

...and we also got to meet a friend from twitter, Irish film-maker Frank Kelly.  Frank's busy finishing his latest film, Derelict, which will be having its world premiere at the Underground Cinema Film Festival in Dún Laoghaire next week.

On Saturday I helped Sarah do one of her famous Comics Jams with a group of about twenty young comics artists - there's a full account of this on Sarah's blog, so I won't repeat it. Then came the Monster Book Lunch, at which the visiting authors were asked to describe what super-powers they'd like to have. I can never think of anything like that, so I suggested that the ability to call chocolate to me might be a good one (I always forget to take any with me on my trips, and then suddenly get the chocolate-munchies when I'm back in my hotel room at the end of the day and it's too late to buy any).  Sophie O'Loughlin did this illustration of me as a chocolate magnet...

Then it was time for my final event, organised by the festival's teen curators, Sheena, Chole and Erin, who chaired a conversation with me and Michelle Harrison, author of Unrest and 13 Treasures.  Like me, Michelle started out as an illustrator before becoming a writer, and it turns out that we were both inspired by Brian Fround, the legendary Dartmoor-based faerie-and-fantasy illustrator and designer of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.

Festivals are a great place for writers to meet readers, but they're also a great place to meet other writers. It was lovely to run into old friends like Marcus Sedgwick (check out the reviews of his latest novel, Midwinterblood) and to be introduced to Robert Muchamore, Judi Curtin, Jeremy Strong, and illustrators David Mackintosh and Chris Judge. (I bought a copy of Chris Judge's picture book The Lonely Beast for Sam: he's a bit old for picture books, but I think it qualifies as a comic too, and he seems to agree.)

I also caught up all too briefly with the magisterial children's book reviewer Robert Dunbar, who interviewed me on my previous visit...

The Children's Books Ireland team are lovely too; here are some of them on Friday night: Mags walsh, Jenny Murray, Adrian White and Tom Donegan, with Kim Harte in the middle proudly displaying 'a pint bigger than her head'.  David Maybury was there too, but somehow managed to end up not being pictured...

Booksales for the festival were being handled by The Gutter Bookshop in Dublin (recently voted Ireland's best bookshop, or best independent bookshop, or possibly the best bookshop In The Whole World, I forget). I visited the shop last time I was in Dublin, and purchased Milo, who achieved a brief notoriety on Twitter last week when he started posting sock-puppet reviews of Mortal Engines...

And who's this with me and Sarah Webb? 'Tis our lovely agent, Philippa Milnes-Smith, who was doing a panel on Sunday afternoon called 'Paths to Publication'.

McIntyre was still busy on Sunday too, with a 'picture-book picnic' in the People's Park and a picture book panel too, but by then I was on the 'plane back to Exeter,  with a head full of happy memories. What an excellent festival Mountains to Sea is: tremendously well organised, but feeling very friendly and informal.  Huge thank yous to all the organisers and booksellers and technical staff and volunteers, to Carrie and David and Jenny, and especially to those I saw most of, Marion Keyes, Tom Donegan and Sarah Webb...

Unless otherwise credited, all the photos are by Sarah McIntyre or me.

Diego's Engineerium


When writing a book like Mortal Engines, set in made up places full of strange stuff, there are some things that you imagine in great detail - I know exactly what the inside of the airship Jenny Haniver looks like, for instance - and others that remain a bit of a blur. The building called the Engineerium is one such blurry place for me: it's where London's ruling caste of Engineers hang out, but I didn't want to bog the story down in complex detail of its floorplan, so I while I was writing I saw it in a more dreamlike way; I know there are many different levels, and balconies, and a big open central space with a monorail spiralling up through it, but exactly how it all fits together I never needed to know.

So pity the poor production or set design student who has to visualise it all in 3D and can't just say, 'They turned down another corridor' and rely on his audience to supply the details.  Diego Miguel Pérez de la Guardia was set the task of designing a building or structure for an imaginary Mortal Engines movie as part of a college project, and took his inspiration from the scenes in the book where Bevis and Katherine break into the Engineerium.  He says:

"The claw shape of the building gave me a bit of a headache as I did not like any of the fancy shapes that I ended up designing. So, in the end I took a portion of Battersea power station in the actual London and built around it a massive steel and black glass structure supported on four legs similar to a bicycle suspension. This made the building look like a claw and also by the use of springs it would keep the whole building held to resist the movements of London.  Inside I made a different kind of structure formed by pillars and bridges. On some of these platforms I also placed small labs made from prefab units (as it is all about recycling…) Through all this I managed to design a monorail inspired by cable cars that you find at ski stations. It is a closed cycle formed by two spirals: the interior spiral that takes the cars up and then on the top level it opens up, making the exterior spiral to take the cars down. 

"I also designed all those cogs which are supposed to produce the energy to move the monorail and columns that have springs inside to once again support the movements. I wanted to have a double high laboratory where the engineers are sort of designing a new planet or world order. There are a couple of more things but basically I wanted to provide gateways, bridges, balconies, stairs and different spaces where the two kids could run and get confused between the engineers."

The results is this extraordinary model, which somehow looks all the more eerie and Engineerish for being deserted and uncoloured. Many thanks to Diego for these photographs. Sadly I don't have one of the claw-like Battersea Power Station exterior, but I'd love to see it.  As with a lot of the Mortal Engines artwork which people send me, I wish I'd had these to refer to back when I was writing the book!