What with one thing and another I’ve been too busy to publish any new fiction this year – although I have been hard at work on Railhead 3, which will be coming out next spring. (I’ll be announcing the title and sharing the cover artwork soon.)
But although Sarah McIntyre and I won’t be releasing a new story until next autumn we are publishing one book together this year, and here it is – PUG-A-DOODLE-DO, the Reeve & McIntyre Bumper Book of Fun:
When those nice people at Oxford University Press asked us to come up with an book of doodling and colouring activities based on characters and illustrations from our four books with them (Oliver and the Seawigs, Cakes in Space, Pugs of the Frozen North, and Jinks and O’Hare, Funfair Repair) we had to have a good hard think…
And some full and frank discussions…
We decided that we didn’t want to just re-use pictures from the other books, so we ended up writing and drawing quite a lot of new material too, including some surprisingly pointless quizzes, the autobiography of Colin the superstar crab, a day in the life of put-upon space tyrant Lord Krull, Iris the Mermaid’s Beauty Tips and super villain Stacey de Lacey’s frankly disturbing debut as an agony aunt. There are, inevitably, Quite A Lot Of Pugs. It was also a chance to publish print versions of a few things which have hitherto existed only online, like the excellent character drawing guides which Sarah produces to go with all our books, and the touching tale of Kevin, the Dartmoor Pegasus.
That lot filled about half the book. For the rest, I went to Sarah’s studio in London’s exotic Deptford, where we sat up late into the night dreaming up jokes and activities to fill the remaining pages. This resulted in some lovely spreads…
…and some rather odd ones…
…and towards the end it all started to get a bit Conceptual…
Anyway, PUG_A_DOODLE_DO is available now from all UK booksellers, price £10, and I think it’s turned out rather well. When I was a kid I always looked forward to the Bumper Summer Specials which comics like the Dandy and Whizzer and Chips used to publish in the summer holidays – extra thick editions crammed with stories, jokes and puzzles – and I hope our Bumper Book of Fun has something of that quality. It made us laugh like drains while we were thinking it up, so hopefully it will amuse somebody else too. Here’s my 8-year-old cousin Aretha test-driving a copy, and she seems to approve!
If you’re able to get to Tales On Moon Lane bookshop in London’s exotic Herne Hill this coming Saturday (8th September) Sarah and I will be launching the new book with a special doodling event, featuring guest pugs (including pug superstar Benny Bean).
Off to the cinema last night to watch Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I wasn’t expecting much, as the reviews I’ve seen so far have mostly been so-so. But they are WRONG. Valerian is a better comic book movie than any Marvel film I’ve seen, and a better space opera than Star Wars (though less kid-friendly). There may be a movie which better catches the goofy, optimistic spirit of a certain type of grand manner retro-sci fi, but I can’t think of one. It captures the notion of humanity-taking-its-place-in-a-wider-galactic-civilisation more engagingly than fifty years of Star Trek, and it does so in a two-minute pre-credits montage (in which astronauts of all nations and then increasingly weird and wonderful aliens are welcomed aboard the ever-expanding International Space Station). Then it whizzes a further 400 years into the future to casually blow Avatar out of the water with a sequence set on a beautiful beach planet where pearly-skinned noble savages live in giant seashells, before rushing us on to a world of white deserts and multi-coloured clouds where tourists amble about wearing clunky headsets, visiting an enormous, bustling market which exists only in a virtual dimension.
As all stories must it settles down a bit eventually, delivering its futuristic agents Valerian and Laureline to Alpha (the former ISS, still growing, crammed with aliens, and en-route for the Magellanic Clouds) to investigate a mystery there. But there are still elaborate detours to take in underwater monsters, man-eating alien fly-fishers, a colossal hat, and Rihanna.
It has its flaws, of course, but I was happy to ignore them. If you buy into it, the ramshackle, episodic structure is a feature, not a bug. The dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle with wit, but the visuals constantly do, (the aliens are funny, the costumes are funny, even some of the fabrics are funny). The only major problem was the central relationship: the bickery romantic attraction between Valerian and Laureline is lifeless, and would be a cliché even if there was enough of a spark between the actors to make it work. (From the few Valerian comics I’ve read I had the impression that the duo were more like Steed and Mrs Peel – they have great trust and affection for each other, but you can’t really tell if they’re a long-established happy couple or just good friends, it’s never mentioned.)
Anyway, if you want witty repartee and nuanced performances this probably isn’t the film for you, but if you want to be dazzled and entertained by crackpot day-glo visions of the distant future for a couple of hours it definitely is.
I’m very pleased to learn that Railhead has made it onto the shortlist for this year’s Carnegie Medal!
The Carnegie is one of the most prestigious UK prizes for children’s books, awarded by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals). It’s a great honour, and a very strong shortlist. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on xx June, but whatever happens it’s lovely to be on the shortlist again, (I was previously shortlisted for Fever Crumb, and foe Here Lies Arthur, which went on to win). Congratulations to all the other shortlists! I’m very grateful to all the librarians who have supported Railhead.
Meanwhile, the UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) has also shortlisted Railhead for its 2017 award – and Pugs of the Frozen North, the third of my collaborations with Sarah McIntyre, is also shortlisted in the younger category!
As with the Carnegie, the UKLA shortlist is very strong (it’s been a good year for children’s books) and you can see it here.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Science Fiction Writers of America have been drawing up the shortlists for their famous Nebula Awards, and they’ve nominated Railhead for an André Norton Award (a prize for books aimed at children or young adults, and named after an author whose space stories I used to read when I was at school – very good they were too). The shortlist also includes Frances Hardinge’s superb The Lie Tree, and you can find it here.
Needless to say, I don’t hold out high hopes of winning all (or any) of these awards in the face of such stiff competition, but fingers crossed. And it’s nice to know that Railhead is good enough to get on shortlists. I hope this will draw it to the attention of some new readers, and that some of them will go on to read the sequel, Black Light Express.