It’s touring time again. This week I went to Henley Literary Festival, where pupils from some of the local schools came to the beautiful Kenton Theatre to hear me talk about Railhead and Black Light Express. I’d planned a simple talk, but when I saw the Kenton’s facilities I realised it would be a pity not to show some of the videos I made last year to accompany Railhead readings, and the excellent festival technician Matt was able to link my laptop to a projector and get it going with amazing speed and efficiency. (One of the signs of a well-run festival is technicians who a) know what they’re doing, and b) don’t mind doing it.) Thank you for having me, Henley Lit Fest!
Then I was straight off to London, where I did an evening event at Waterstones Picadilly with the author L.A. Weatherley. We were both launching sequels, me with Railhead and L.A with Darkness Follows, the first sequel to her novel Broken Sky, in which a neo-1940s future world settles its differences not with war but through aerial duels between young aviators in Spitfire-like fighter planes. The idea was that we would be discussing genre: I’m not sure whether we cast much light on that subject, but it was a good talk, and a nice chance to meet a lot of people who I mainly know from Twitter. Oh, and Sarah McIntyre wore horns…
More McIntyre to end the week in Marlborough, where we did our first Jinks and O’Hare Funfair Repair show as guests of the Marlborough Lit Fest . Our event was on Saturday afternoon but, since trains were few and far between, we had to go up on Friday evening. I’m glad we did, since we were able to attend the opening party, and sit in on a talk by the fiercely funny and intelligent Lionel Shriver, and met the historian Tom Holland, who is equally funny and intelligent (but didn’t seem fierce). I’ve just been reading Tom’s book on King Athelstan, and I enjoyed the talk he gave about it on Saturday morning. He speaks and writes with great passion and affection about Athelstan as the first true King of England, and about Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, whom he convincingly hails as the most significant woman in English history. However, Sarah McIntyre has a better hat.
Meanwhile, McIntyre was doing a solo event about her work at a lovely little gallery space behind the White Horse Bookshop on the high street. And when that was over we headed back to the Town Hall to get ready for our joint event. This was the first time we’ve done a show based on Jinks and O’Hare, but I think it worked out all right, assisted by a great audience who were happy to help us hook the Ducks of Knowledge and come up with ideas for the giant funfair race game. The new outfits seemed to go down well, too! Once again, huge thanks to the tireless festival organisers and excellent technical crew.
In between Henley and Marlborough I nipped into Nicolette Jones’s book-cave to record an interview for a series of videos she’s hosting for the Sunday Times. Nicolette is one of the most respected children’s book reviewers in the country, and in times like these, when kids’ books are struggling to get any review space in the media, it’s great that she’s doing this.
Strange sights in London last week, as Reeve and McIntyre unveiled our latest look. People always assume we’re dressing up as characters from our latest book, but we don’t go there: we just aim to be eye-catching in some way which vaguely matches the theme and colour-scheme of Jinks and O’Hare Funfair Repair. Sarah painted the Jinks and O’Hare logo on the back of my new jacket (above – I think this is her photo, too.) And she couldn’t decide which hat to wear at first, so I borrowed one…
The original plan was for a photo-shoot at the carousel on London’s South Bank. Unfortunately, on the morning agreed, the heavens opened, there was thunder, lightning, torrential rain, and a falcon, tow’ring in her pride of place, was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed. The South Bank was flooded, and closed for the day, so Harriet Bayley from Oxford University Press rang round and found kind Londoners who let us take photos in their sweet shops and theatres. Then we went to the bit of the South Bank which was still above the waves and did more photos outside Foyles, where we were also presented with our Independent Bookshop Week awards for Pugs of the Frozen North.
Like most Reeve and McIntyre books, Jinks & O’Hare Funfair Repair began as one of Sarah McIntyre’s Brilliant Ideas. Actually, it was more of an insight, and it went like this. Children think funfairs are places of wonder and magic. But stories about funfairs always make them sinister places, full of ghostly clowns, dangerous rides, and scary fortune-tellers. Wouldn’t it be nice, just for a change, to do a story about a funfair which really is a fun place to be, and not haunted or built on a Gateway to Hell or anything?
So we did! We created two characters named Jinks and O’Hare, and let them loose on a fairground world called Funfair Moon.
Their first adventure was a four page strip which appeared in the Phoenix Comic. Sarah wrote it, I drew it, and she coloured it in. We always knew that there must be more stories to tell about Funfair Moon, but we had other books we were keen to make, and we had to deal with seawigs, cakes and pugs before we came back to Jinks and O’Hare.
When we did, we found that they’d been joined by a new character. Emily is a small alien girl who hatched out of an egg which someone carelessly left behind on one of the funfair’s giant roller coasters. She live-in the Lost Property Office, and her dearest wish is that she will one day get to work with Jinks and O’Hare, the tireless repair men (well, repair things) who keep all the rides on Funfair Moon running smoothly.
But on the day our story starts, nothing is running smoothly. One by one, the rides are going wrong. The helter skelter is going backwards, ghosts go missing from the Ghost Train, a massive Fudgesplosion scatters tasty shrapnel across a wide area, and in the candy floss vats something pink and dangerous is stirring. And worse still, this is the very day that a Funfair Inspector is on the prowl, looking for a reason to shut the whole place down…
You know those old variety performers who used to put plates on the top of poles and run around keeping them all spinning? That’s how we approached this story, adding in more and more disasters for Emily and co. to cope with until… well, you’ll have to read the book to find out where it all ends up. As usual it’s beautifully illustrated by Sarah, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on it with the team at OUP – editors Liz Cross and Clare Whitston and designer Jo Cameron. Clare is off on maternity leave at the moment, but we met up with Liz and Jo yesterday to discuss where Reeve & McIntyre will be going next. We have all sorts of plans which I look forward to sharing with you soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your visit to Funfair Moon!