Rain, Rain, Rain, and an OUP Classics Competition

Inspired by all the RAIN, I've written a short guest post about some favourite flood stories on Girls Heart Books (which you should be reading if you Heart Books, even if, like me, you're not a Girl).

Me in a puddle, with a poodle.

Oh, and Oxford University Press (who publish Oliver and the Seawigs) are running a competition for young book reviewers at the moment.

All you need to do (if you're aged 9-13) is write a short, enthusiastic review of one of the books below, which are the first ten titles in the re-launched Oxford Children's Classics. The winners will get:

-          Their review printed in the front of the book

-          A load of copies of the book to give away to their friends

-          A complete set of the new Oxford Children’s Classics for themselves

-          £100 worth of OUP books for their school

Reviews should be 250 - 350 words long, and need to be e-mailed to oxfordchildrensclassics@oup.com by 21st March.

Wargaming the Traction Era

A few weeks ago, while I was looking for some images of Mortal Engines online to illustrate an upcoming event, I happened across this blog by Xander Warren, in which he muses about how the Mortal Engines and Fever Crumb books could be used as a scenario for wargames. I've mentioned elsewhere that some of the first stories I ever wrote were wargames scenarios, and the big set-piece battle in Scrivener's Moon certainly owes something to fond memories of laying out Napoleonic armies all over my bedroom floor, so it's nice to see it all coming full circle! Apparently Xander's project never got off the ground, but is still on his 'to do' list. I hope to be able to post more links and photos here if it ever gets up and running. In the meantime, there is plenty of reading (and some nicely painted figures) here.

And while we're on the subject, over at the Lead Adventure Forum, someone called MuddyPaw has been painting 28mm figures based on Hester Shaw and Anna Fang...

The same trawl of Google Images also threw up a Fever Crumb illustration which I've never seen before, by an artist called Erysium. It's a picture of my favourite part of Scrivener's Moon; the journey that Fever, Cluny and Marten make by mammoth down the Longshore. I love the golden light in this, and the strange, feather-like plants. (And the mammoths, of course!)

Lego Cities on the Move

Here's a blog I've been meaning to write for ages, but haven't found the time.  Three completely separate Mortal Engines inspired Lego designs.  Here's one by Thomas Knight. It's 'Grimy and nasty to live on for the people working at the bottom, but decadent for the literal upper class. They even have a full ballroom.' Which sounds about right. Further details here.

Thomas Knight

And here's a detailed design for an entire Traction London by 'KDRCG'  (who did get in touch via Twitter to tell me about it, but I'm afraid I can't find their message - sorry KDRCG: if you'd like to be credited by another name here, leave a comment below and I'll change this). Many more pictures and a full explanation at the link.


And finally, Kirstine Roberts also Tweeted me with this array of Lego cities (and an entire, bijou Lego 'America or Canida'!) I'm not sure who the builder is, but the World of Mortal Engines salutes you!


John Wyndham


I've decided to re-post a few blogs I wrote for The Solitary Bee on this blog, just because they seem to belong here. Apologies if you've already read them! First up: some thoughts on John Wyndham.

Of Krakens and Chrysalids

The first grown-up science fiction writer I read was H G Wells; the second was John Wyndham.  The reason for that was simple; like Wells, Wyndham was respectable. There were no lurid paintings of bug-eyed monsters or space-princesses in boilerplate bikinis on the jackets of his novels; they were sober, orange-and-white Penguins, which sat comfortably on my parents' bookshelves alongside the works of writers like Eric Ambler, Neville Shute, and Hammond Innes.

Brian Aldiss, writing at the height of 'New Wave' sci-fi in the '60s, referred to novels like The Day of the Triffids and The Kraken Wakes as 'cosy catastrophes', and  there is something oddly reassuring about  the way Wyndham's heroes navigate the collapse of civilization with stiff upper lips, old fashioned British pluck, and a Brave Girl at their sides.  But 'cosy' is a hardly a word that I would apply to his coolly atheistic books, which explore how precarious humanity's perch at the pinnacle of evolution is, and how easily we might be displaced by new forms of life.  The double-disaster format of Triffids always seemed slightly contrived to me (the man-eating plants of the title can only be a serious threat if everybody suddenly goes blind...) but that didn't stop me turning the pages.  As for The Kraken Wakes, in which the menace is not so much the alien invasion as society's complete unwillingness to come to terms with it, it seems just as relevant to the age of global warming as it must have done in the Cold War.  (I still remember that passage where the 'sea-tanks' make their first appearance as one of the great spine-chilling moments of my childhood reading.)  And there is surely nothing remotely cosy about The Midwich Cuckoos, Wyndham's eerie story of an English village in thrall to a batch of mutant children who may be the spearhead of an extraterrestrial take-over.  

A similarly chilly vision underlies The Chrysalids, which I think may be my favourite John Wyndham book.  It is unusual among Wyndham's major works in that it takes place not in the England of the 1950s but in a far future Novia Scotia, in a superstitious farming community which resembles the New England of the 17th Century, complete with witch hunters.  For although the characters in the book have only a vague understanding of the 'Tribulation' which destroyed our civilization, it is clear to the reader that this a world recovering from Atomic war; large parts of it are still uninhabitable, glowing wastelands, and genetic mutations are frequent, to be ruthlessly stamped out whether they occur in plants, animals or human beings.  The hero is a boy who gradually comes to understand that he is himself a mutant; although he seems outwardly normal he is capable of telepathic communication with a small group of neighbouring children.  A few sympathetic adults try to help and shelter them, but as they grow up, and their otherness becomes harder to conceal, they are forced to flee for their lives from their own family and friends.  In some ways the story is an alternative Midwich Cuckoos, this time told from the point of view of the children.  Its ending is actually every bit as unsettling.

I think I first read The Chrysalids when I was about eleven, and all that I remembered of it was the heroine's russet dress*.  At least, that's all I consciously remembered, but when I re-read the book this year I realised that the world of Mortal Engines owes much to John Wyndham's descriptions of a low-tech future in which own own society is just a dim and confused memory.  There must be any number of books which take a similar approach, but I suspect that this was one of the first, and is still one of the finest.  It was certainly the first that I encountered.

Reading it for a second time, I was impressed by Wyndham's lean prose and the swift pace at which the story moves.  It's not a big book, but it deals with big ideas.  The young protagonists are sympathetic,  but the fears of their persecutors are understandable.  The children's fate is in the balance right to the end.  It's not a YA novel - there was no such animal in 1955, when The Chrysalids was published - but it's just the sort of adult book which can be enjoyed by reasonably confident younger readers too.  I wish I had rediscovered it sooner.  I certainly won't let another 33 years go by before I read it again.

* I was a romantic child, and I hoped that a tall girl in a russet dress would play a part in my own teenage years.  (She never did show up.)