Some Mortal Engines Art...

A letter arrived recently from Sam Cooke, who's a big Mortal Engines fan (and already a very good writer himself). He included some of his drawings of Mortal Engines characters, and of some lego constructions. I haven't had much cause to think about Mortal Engines recently, but it's great to see that it's still inspiring readers to make and draw things. Thanks, Sam!

Hester, Tom, Valentine ...and a nude Shrike : o

Railhead Updates

It seems like DAYS since I posted the lovely Railhead cover, so here you go:

Railhead: The Sequel

It's still six months until it will be published, but I'm very happy to announce that my next project will be RAILHEAD 2.  I introduce a big new world in the first book, and of course there wasn't really space to explore a lot of the background details, so I'm delighted that OUP are giving me a chance to revisit the Network Empire in a second book, continuing the stories of some of the characters, and introducing new ones.

(The October publication date is for the UK, by the way. I hope to have news of a US date soon.)

Railhead: The Motion Picture

I don't think I've mentioned here that the film rights to RAILHEAD were acquired last year by Warner Brothers. I believe the director currently associated with it is Doug Liman, who made Edge of Tomorrow, one of my favourite SF movies of recent years, so it's in very good hands. As anyone who's been waiting for a Mortal Engines adaptation will know, selling the rights is no guarantee that a movie will actually be made anytime soon, or even at all, but it's still better than not selling the rights, so fingers crossed...

That Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow

Crisis, What Crisis? by Alwyn W. Turner


It turns out that Wagon Wheels, men's shirt collars, and the sales of fondue sets weren't the only things that were bigger when I was growing up in the 1970s. Watching the antics of the unsavoury characters who are trying to persuade us to vote for them in next month's General Election, I can't help noticing that they are minnows compared with the great monsters who dominated British politics in my childhood.

1977 Reeve, blissfully unaware of the economic crisis.

Of course, being a child, I didn't have much idea who Margaret Thatcher, Antony Wedgewood Benn and the rest were, or why they were always on the telly. Their names and mannerisms gradually became familiar via Mike Yarwood's impersonations, their faces from the puzzling but intriguing cartoons in the newspapers, but what they actually stood for, what they were doing, remained a mystery, and not one to which I gave much thought. The first time I began to understand the issues behind a political event was in the 1979 General election, when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. (My parents voted for her, I think. So, more tellingly, did my grandad, who had been a staunch union man and diehard labour supporter since the 1920s.)

Anyway, I've been looking for an accessible history book that would fill in a bit of the background detail of those years, and I found one in Alwyn W Turner's Crisis, What Crisis? It's a well-written, non-partisan overview of the decade, focusing on the politics and big events, but with an engaging way of using pop culture to cast light on their effects. Rising Damp, The Sweeney and Ziggy Stardust are all roped in to illustrate changing attitudes. (Mr Turner has also written a biography of Terry Nation, which maybe explains why Dr Who looms large, and why the Winter of Discontent and the rise of Thatcherism are seen partly through the sci-fi prisms of Quatermass and Blake's Seven. )

So what did I learn? Well, I'm now much clearer on the details behind things which I already vaguely knew, like the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, or why I used to come home from school to candlelight, cold dinners and No Telly in the winter of '74.

The things which struck me most powerfully were just how viciously divided the Labour Party was throughout the decade (I'd assumed their suicidal in-fighting only really got started after their defeat in '79), and how completely the issue of Europe has crossed the political spectrum. Nowadays, Euroscepticism is usually portrayed as the preserve of knuckle headed right-wing dinosaurs, but in the 1970s it was (broadly speaking) Conservatives who wanted closer ties with the Common Market, while the unions and the left wing of the Labour party saw it as a capitalist plot (the referendum in 1975 was one of the things which helped to split the party). The reversal of attitudes didn't really take place until the end of the 1980s (so to find out why it happened you'll need to read the next book in this series, Rejoice, Rejoice) but it helps to lend an odd, through-the-looking-glass feel to the events which Mr Turner describes in this volume - a sense that the Britain of the 70's really was a different country.

Not completely different, however.  Again and again, the problems which face the beleaguered British in Crisis, What Crisis? are the problems which still face us today; austerity, terrorism, environmental worries. In some ways it's strangely reassuring. There were our parents and grandparents, worrying about inflation and unemployment and the cost of living and overpopulation and the Cold War, but it all turned out all right, or, at least, the world failed to end, and here we are four decades later worrying about the same things. I hope that, come the 2050s, Alwyn W. Turner will write a book which puts this decade in perspective.  In the meantime, his blog posts about the current election make for interesting reading.

Crisis, What Crisis: Britain in the 1970s is published by Aurum Press. So is Rejoice, Rejoice: Britain in the 1990s, which is equally good. (There is a third volume, A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s, which I haven't read yet.)

The image at the top of this page is the cover of the edition I read; I assume the others are from older editions.

Review: The Broken King, by Philip Womack


Philip Womack is one of the best contemporary writers of children's fantasy, but it's been a while since he published a novel (The Liberators, back in 2010). So it's good to see him return with The Broken King, the first volume in a new trilogy called The Darkening Path.

The Broken King is about Simon and his quest his to find and rescue his younger sister Anna, who has been kidnapped by otherworldly forces. Philip Womack is well-versed in myth and literature, and I know he can trace this idea of the abducted child back to roots deep in the mists of folklore. I'm not nearly so knowledgeable, so, off the top of my head, I can only trace it back as far as Labyrinth. That film, you may recall, showed us that if you are lumbered with looking after your baby brother you have only to call three times upon the goblins and David Bowie will arrive in startling trousers to spirit the rugrat away to his Goblin Kingdom.

When left in charge of his sister, Simon devises a similar plan of outsourcing the job to a supernatural monarch. Since Anna is an older and altogether more annoying child, and probably too much of a handful for mere goblins, he calls instead upon the mysterious Broken King. Anna vanishes instantly, carried off to a nightmarish realm which we see only fleetingly in this volume, although its minions find their way into our world to menace Simon as he sets out, full of remorse, to win his sister back.

He is aided by Flora, who has made a similar deal with the Broken King, and by a strange, disquieting boy named Pike, who seems helpful, but may not be entirely human. There are benign supernatural forces lined up on his side - shining figures who ride on winged stags - but they're just as cryptic and unhelpful as you'd expect. There are also some mercurial beings who pose as a pop trio called Raven and the Flames when travelling in our world.  Driving around London in their-open topped car, Raven and her band seem to have come straight from the 1960s, and so, in many ways, does The Broken King. It reminds me agreeably of the Susan Cooper and Alan Garner books I lapped up as a lad. There are ambushes and adventures, riddles, secret passages, a lost temple to Mithras beneath the streets of London, a grisly secret map, and all manner of sudden twists and reversals. There's a real sense of deepening menace, but enough good and kindly characters are met along the way to stop it feeling too remorseless. I think it will please any young fantasy fan.

The only downside is that it made me eager to know more about the Broken King and his strange otherworld, about which we get only hints and glimpses. But part two, The King's Shadow, is published on the 7th of May, with the final volume to follow in 2016. I look forward to finding out what Philip Womack has in store for us.

The Broken King and The King's Shadow are published by Troika Books

RAILHEAD in Bologna

A big thank you to everyone who Tweeted, blogged, or shared the RAILHEAD cover on Facebook. I know it seems a bit early to be making all this song and dance about it (the book won't be published till October), but it's important to let booksellers and reviewers know it's coming, as well as giving advance warning to readers. The OUP rights team are at the Children's Book fair in Bologna this week, where they'll working their socks off trying to sell the rights to publishers from other countries. Tom Gates author Liz Pichon spotted the big RAILHEAD banner on the OUP stand at the fair...

Also a banner for Pugs of the Frozen North, my latest project with Sarah McIntyre. (Check out Liz's amazing, hand-drawn Tom Gates dress!)

Sarah has written an interesting piece for her blog about foreign publication deals, and some of the tricks she uses as a picture book illustrator to make the books translatable. It's well worth reading.

I'm still waiting for the results of OUP's Twitter competition to select 'RAILHEAD Ambassadors'. McIntyre clearly thinks she's in with a chance, and has designed a special ambassadoring hat for herself (plus Ferrero Rocher pin).