Right Royal Reading Challenge

Photo: Clarence House

It was the grand official opening of the new Exeter Library yesterday, and I went along to help Sarah McIntyre, who was doing an event there in her capacity as illustrator for this year's Summer Reading Challenge - young readers borrowing books from UK libraries over the summer holidays will be able to collect the poster and stickers she's drawn. Also visiting the library was HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, on plaque-unveiling duty, and she sat in on Sarah's session for a while.

This made for quite a hectic event - Sarah was having to compete with choirs singing in the neighbouring room, and press photographers talking at the tops of their voices, even interupting her in the middle of her event to ask her where Camilla would be sitting - to them, the audience of kids from St Leonard's Primary School were just props in a Royal Photo Op (you can see why the paparazzi aren't popular).  Anyway, McIntyre pulled it off, as usual, and Camilla very gamely drew a sea monkey (or, as the Daily Express describes it, 'a creature with strange but vaguely familiar large ears'). Here she is with the copy of Oliver and the Seawigs which we gave her (the lady next to her is Ciara Eastell, Devon County Council's Head of Libraries). There's a full report of these Exciting Royal Events on Sarah's blog.

Photo: Sarah Reeve

My First Walk on Dartmoor

Posting that piece about Dartmoor a few weeks ago reminded me of these old slides, which show my first visit here, in the summer of 1967, when I was about 18 months old. I'm not sure which part of the moor these were taken on, but I know my parents were staying in Plymouth, and were getting around by public transport, so I presume it's somewhere over on the south west corner.  I don't remember anything about that holiday, though I remember some of the stuff; my sister inherited the pushchair and the blue quilty anorak, and I think I was still using the grey rucksack when I started college.

For nice images of the moor (and my knees) 47 years on, check out Sarah's instagrams.

Incoming Conventions

Next month, Sarah McIntyre and I will be unleashing our Cakes in Space show in the very appropriate  surroundings of Nine Worlds, a three day SF/Fantasy convention which is taking place near London Heathrow.  Nine Worlds is about 'gaming, film, cosplay, fandom, literature, science, geek culture, meeting people and having a really big party'. We've heard a lot of great things about last year, so we were delighted to be asked to contribute to the children's programme.  It's nice to see a con offering so much for kids. But it offers a lot for everybody else too, as you can see from the packed programme and massive list of guests.

I'm attending Nine Worlds as one half of Reeve & McIntyre, but if anyone wants to talk about Mortal Engines or my other books just get in touch via the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook and we can arrange to meet up.

Then in November I'll be doing a solo appearance at ArmadaCon in Plymouth, where I guess I'll be talking more in my Mortal Engines/Larklight/Goblins/Dr Who capacity. ArmadaCon has been running every year since 1988, and this year's theme is Fantasy. It even has a goblin on its poster, courtesy of cartoonist and illustrator Stuart McGhee...

Much to my annoyance, I don't think I'll be able to make it to BristolCon this year, but that shouldn't stop you going; it's a wonderful, friendly convention, and this year's guests of honour include the very wonderful Emma Newman.

Back on the Moor

After a week spent running around Manchester and London like a blue-lipsticked fly, it was nice to get back to Dartmoor. Sometimes it's easy to forget that the main reason I started illustrating and writing books was so that I could live here...

Back in the early '90s when Sarah and I still lived in Brighton, we only used to get one week per year on the moor. It was usually the third or fourth week in September, and we always used to stay in the same place, at Wooder Manor, just outside Widecombe, where farmers William and Angela Bell have converted some of their outbuildings into cosy holiday lets. (If you ever think of exploring Dartmoor for yourself, Wooder is an excellent base.)

Photo: woodermanor.com
We were staying there when I started writing Mortal Engines, and when I needed a family name for my hero I just looked out of the window, and called him after nearby Natsworthy*, where a line of grand old beech trees comes down to the road.

But eventually we got tired of going home after our holidays, so I started illustrating full-time so that we could move here (I can't drive, so if I was going to live in the country, I had to have a job that I could do from home)**. We've lived on the moor for almost sixteen years now, and for the past seven we've been William and Angela's neighbours, just across the valley from Wooder.

Last night Sam was on a sleepover with some friends, so Sarah and I had the rare chance to go for an evening walk together.  We left the car at Natsworthy and walked up over Hameldown to the ancient settlement at Grimspound. Here are a few pictures which I snapped on my phone...

Someone had pitched a tent in the circle of the old wall at Grimpsound, which must be a wonderful place to camp, but in this picture I've carefully positioned Sarah to block it out.

Hookney Tor catching some low evening sunbeams.

Not a menhir, I think, just an old gatepost in a fallen wall.
...and here's a rather better one which Sarah took with her camera (she's a proper photographer). 

Photo: Sarah Reeve

*Actually, now I know the lie of the land a bit better, I don't think you can see Natsworthy from Wooder Manor - it must have been some other line of trees that I was looking at. But I thought it was Natsworthy.

** Or I could have LEARNED TO DRIVE, I suppose - for some reason I never thought of that.

Borgon the Axeboy

Years ago, when I was a full-time illustrator, some of my favourite jobs were the pictures for the Murderous Maths series, by the stylish and refined Kjartan Poskitt. They have a similar format to Horrible Histories, and they explain mathematical concepts through little stories featuring a recurring cast of characters - including Prof Fiendish, the Evil alien Gollarks, and the Barbarians of the Lost Desert. Here's a link to the subtle and understated Murderous Maths website.

Poskitt: refined and stylish. (Photo: Sarah McIntyre)

After a while, the Barbarians got their own spin-off series, in the form of three books about rough, tough Urgum the Axeman, his seven brutish sons, and his single, sensible little daughter.  And I got to illustrate those, too!

And now Poskitt has returned to the Lost Desert with a new character, Borgon the Axeboy. We're doing a series of books about him for Faber & Faber, and the first one, The Dangerous Breakfast, has just been published (we're working on the second at the moment). It's the story of what happens when junior barbarian hero Borgon sets off, accompanied by his friend Grizelda, to find the most dangerous breakfast the Lost Desert can provide.

Here's the cover (drawn by me, coloured by Faber's Emma Eldridge, which is why it's a bit brighter and cheerier than my usual stuff).

It's great being back in the crazy world of Poskitt, and I'm looking forward to exploring the rest of the Lost Desert with him.  There are a lot of places on the map which we haven't visited yet.  In the meantime, you should be able to get the first Borgon book from your local bookshop, or online.

Oh Crumbs, Here It Comes...

...A batch of Beastly Battenburgs and Bad Bath Buns!

Photo: Sarah McIntyre
Sarah McIntyre and I have been doing some pre-publicity for our killer confectionary space adventure CAKES IN SPACE. As you can see, it's a very serious business, and we have a NEW LOOK.

Photo: Michael Thorn
Cakes in Space isn't out until September, though it can be pre-ordered now (there will be an official launch at Daunt's Bookshop in Marylebone High Street around publication day).  But it was good to have a chance to road-test our glam new spacesuits and try out the Cakes in Space song. Sarah did a brisk tour of newspaper and TV/Radio offices during the day, and I joined her for the last leg in the afternoon; you can see Sarah's blog about 'Operation Cake Drop' here.

Photo: Sarah McIntyre
And, in the evening, our publishers at Oxford University Press laid on a fabulous party at BB Bakery in Covent Garden. By happy coincidence, some finished advance copies of the book had just come in, so we were able to read a bit, and show off Sarah's beautiful illustrations.  There's a whole gallery of pictures by Achuka's Michael Thorn, who is seen here sandwiched between futuristic weirdoes...

And here's our Seawigs/Cakes team: designer Jo Cameron, publisher Liz Cross, and editor Clare Whitston.

Photo: Sarah McIntyre I think...
The costumes were made by Wendy Benstead, from Sarah's drawings. Mine fits me better than anything I've ever owned, so from now on I will always be dressing like this.