National Space Centre

 

A quick reminder that I’ll be talking about Railhead/Black Light Express at Leicester’s National Space Centre on Saturday 18th November as part of Leicester University’s Literary Leicester festival. Tickets are free and can be booked here. If you want to make a day of it, author Alastair Reynolds will be giving a talk about Mars in fiction and reality at 3pm. (And there’s the space centre to explore too,of course, though you have to pay as normal for admission to that.)

I’ll also presenting awards to the winners of a short story competition which the National Space Centre are running. The winning stories are being posted online here. There are some very impressive ones, and I’m looking forward to meeting their authors!

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The Ministry of Biscuits

About twenty years ago, while I was still living in Brighton and struggling with my first novel, Mortal Engines, I took some time off to work with my friend Brian Mitchell on a musical called The Ministry of Biscuits. It was a 1984-ish affair, set in a parallel post-war Britain where biscuits are strictly controlled by the eponymous Ministry (sensible biscuits such as the digestive and the Scotch Abernathy are permitted, of course, but dubious exotic confections like the gypsy cream and the jaffa cake are suppressed with the full power of the state). But when Cedric Hobson, a meek junior biscuit designer working on the recipe for a thinner, drier Rich Tea Finger, falls hopelessly in love with his new secretary, he resolves to win her heart by creating the most delicious biscuit ever imagined…

 

Brian is a much better writer than I am (the plays he writes with Joseph Nixon are all little masterpieces) and I learned a lot from working him. He’s also a very good composer, and he filled the show with songs which draw on the British Light Classical tradition, emphasising the wonky 1940s/1950s quality. (I didn’t really have much to do with the songs: I just provided Brian with tea (and biscuits) and watched him pace about my living room inventing lyrics, occasionally chucking in a suggestion when he was stuck for a rhyme.)

I think The Ministry of Biscuits was the moment when I found my feet as a writer. I knew while we were working on it that it was better than anything I’d done before. I suppose I could say that I had finally ‘found my own voice’. In fact, what I’d found was Brian’s voice, and it was such a good voice that I had to up my game considerably to try and match it. He understood things I hadn’t yet grasped, like the importance of a consistent tone, and how a scene can sometimes be funnier if it isn’t stuffed full of  jokes. The lessons I learned from him helped to shape Mortal Engines, and I think there’s a hint of Mortal Engines in The Ministry… too; a kind of broad, retro sci-fi flavour which I brought to the proceedings. (Ideas flowed the other way, too: Chudleigh Pomeroy and the other senior guildsmen in Mortal Engines would feel right at home in MiniBic.) But, like any successful collaboration, now that it’s finished I find it impossible to say for sure which bits were mine and which were Brian’s. It’s simply The Ministry of Biscuits, and I’m very fond of it.

It was staged several times in Brighton in the late 90s/early 2000s, did a small regional tour, and played at the Edinburgh Fringe, but nothing much has been heard of it since. UNTIL NOW… because The Ministry of Biscuits is being revived this winter by the Foundry Group, at the Lantern Theatre in Brighton.

Much has changed since we wrote The Ministry… Back then, the idea of the government trying to control what biscuits people liked was an absurdist fantasy – now Public Health England is probably busy drafting stringent dunking regulations. How will this whimsical bit of lightweight political satire from the liberal late ’90s fare in the age of Brexiteers and Corbynoids?

There’s only one way to find out: The Ministry of Biscuits runs from the 23rd November to the 30th December at the Lantern Theatre, Rock Place, Brighton, and you can book tickets HERE.

UPDATE: If you come along on Friday 24th, I’ll be in the audience, and hanging around afterwards for tea, biscuits, mulled wine and chat.

 

 

Forthcoming Events

The Pug-A-Doodle-Do launch party at The Alligator’s Mouth children’s bookshop last weekend was great – you can read Sarah McIntyre’s full account here. And here’s a list of other events I’ll be doing this autumn. Click on the links below for booking details etc. (I’m still waiting for details of a few, so I’ll update this post when I get them.)

Saturday 7th October: Cheltenham Literature Festival. 

 

 

 

On Tuesday 24th October Sarah McIntyre and I will be at the Winston Churchill Theatre in Ruislip, NW London. It’s the half-term holidays in that part of the world, so if you’re looking for something to do as a family our Pug-A-Doodle-Show is at 2pm, and tickets cost just £2.

 

 

On Saturday 28th October I’m planning to be at Bristolcon, my favourite SF convention – I’m not doing any events there, but lots of lovely and interesting people will be, so it’s well worth a look if you’re in the area. And if you’re desperate to get your copy of one of my books signed or just want to say hello you’ll find me wherever the coffee is.

 

Saturday 18th November: Literary Leicester

I’ll be talking about Railhead, Black Light Express etc at the National Space Centre. (SF writer Alastair Reynolds will be on the bill too, if you want to make a day of it.)

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