I’d still love to write a fourth Fever Crumb book some day – I always intended that her adventures would form a quartet to balance the Mortal Engines books. I did scribble a few chapters down back in 2011, as soon as I’d finished Scrivener’s Moon.
My idea then was that ‘Fever 4 ‘would interweave three different plots. One would be about Fever’s ongoing trials and travels in the north (where the Oakwall settlement won’t last another winter, and the motorisation of London has led to all sorts of upheavals among the nomad armoured columns). The second would be about London itself, and the resistible rise of Charley Shallow. The third would be set in South America, and explore the origins of the Air Trade. Presumably these strands would have to join together somehow in the middle part of the book, but I don’t like to plan books too far ahead, and I never wrote that far.
What follows is the rough opening chapter of Fever 4. Whether it will still be the opening chapter if the book is ever completed, I have no idea – I tend to abandon a lot of material as I go along. It might change a lot, or I might decide to lose it all together and convey the same information in a few lines of dialogue instead.
It’s taken straight from the notebook, not properly edited, and proof-read only by me (readers of this blog will have realised by now that I’m a useless proof-reader). But I thought it was worth posting because it does answer one question that I’m asked by people who have read A Web of Air – what became of Arlo Thursday, and will he ever return?
Artwork: David Wyatt
Arlo on the Beach
“Arlo!” Arlo!” called the birds, soaring over the surf. Reflections of their white wings rushed across the mirrors of the beach, the shining low-tide sand. Wing-shadows flicked over Arlo where he lay at the sea’s edge, the fine lacework of the breaking waves washing around him and over him, sand in his hair and his open mouth. Each wave heaped more sand over him, then washed it away, rushing back to deeper water where the bigger breakers played with spars and barrels and the pale shattered planks that had been his cutter, the Jenny Haniver.
“Arlo!” called the white birds. “Arlo!”
Some had landed on the sand, a little further up the beach, where tide-wrack lay strewn in long lines like turned swath. They pecked at the sand, unearthing shells and insects, eating thoughtfully, trying to see if the snacks in this new land tasted as good as the snacks they’d left behind. Arlo was their friend, but they were hungry. If he did not wake soon they would feel no guilt about snacking on him, too.
A few hopped closer, eyeing up Arlo’s eyes. The tide had retreated now. The little worn-out fans of surf which made it far enough up the beach to reach Arlo were no longer powerful enough to stir his limbs and give him the semblance of life. One of the birds perched on his face and pecked at his earlobe, and still he did not stir.
Before it could peck again a noise arose out of the line of dark trees behind the beach. A jabbering and cackling that the birds had never heard before. Panicked, they scrambled back into the sky, the beat of their big wings sounding like scattered applause above the steady thunder of the surf. Arlo opened his eyes to see white feathers falling all around him.
He peeled his head out of the wet sand, raised one hand to finger his pecked ear. For a little while he could not remember anything. Then, in a rush, the memory of the storm returned; the three-day blow he had struggled against while sails ripped and white water foamed across the deck, cursing his own folly at setting out to cross an ocean all alone in his small cutter. When the mast went by the board and that last great wave broke over him he had assumed that he was dead, and had been too tired to care much. But it seemed he had been closer to land by that time than he’d thought. Unless he was a ghost and this the Sunless Country, he had survived – and this was not the Sunless Country, for the sun itself came up at that moment, rising out of the sea that he had crossed. The noise from the treeline swelled to greet it; a chorus of parakeets and monkeys and the Mae Abaixo knew what else. They were all hooting and squawking and jibbering to welcome the new day as it dawned upon the shores of Nuevo Maya.
It was the birds, not Arlo, that drew the beachcombers down past the tideline that morning. They had not seen birds like those before; ungainly birds with raggedy wings and too-big heads, whose cries sounded almost like words as they swooped and circled above that thing upon the sand. Arlo, lying half asleep there, heard the voices drawing closer. He felt their shadows fall across him. The beachcombers spoke a language that he did not know, but that was close enough to the language of his home for him to understand.
“It is driftwood, that’s all.”
“It’s not! It’s a man!”
“It’s a dead man!’
Arlo turned his head and opened his eyes. “Ai!” cried the beachcombers, skittering backwards, semaphoring complex signs to ward off evil. They were mostly children; half naked, copper coloured. There was one older than the rest; a short, stocky young woman, who seemed to be in charge. Arlo did his best to smile at her, salt and sand flaking from the creases of his face. He did his best to rise, but he was too weak; too battered; he could barely move.
The young woman was called Ixchel, and she was as frightened as the children, although for their sake she was determined not to let it show. The birds unnerved her, swooping and circling with their strange, half-human cries. The low sun made rainbows on the spray that was blowing across the beach, and Ixchel remembered how, in the stories, there was a paradise in the eastern sea where the sun god Kinich Ahua lived as a beautiful young man, with magical birds as his messengers. For a trembly moment she imagined that this was Him, cast ashore by last night’s storm. Then she shook herself, and told herself not to be so foolish; Kinich Ahua would not let himself get shipwrecked; he could just ask the storm-god Hu’raqun to calm the winds and waves. Anyway, Ixchel lived among boatbuilders, and she knew that the wreckage strewn along the beach that morning had been some old ship, not the sun god’s magical canoe.
“He is not driftwood, and he is not dead,” she said, speaking to the children behind her without taking her eyes from the young castaway’s. “He is nothing to be afraid of. We must help him.”
The children made a game of it. They scrambled up the beach to fetch big branches from the tideline, tough green leaves the size of coffin lids from the trees beyond. They laughed and chattered as they worked, making a sort of stretcher, and when it was finished they argued about who was to have the honour of carrying the driftwood man.
In the end they all did, rolling him onto the stretcher and lifting him onto their small shoulders, up the beach and along paths which snaked between the enormous, brooding trees. Arlo’s home island had no forests, so he was not sure what to make of this one. With its green light and towering trunks it reminded him of nothing so much as the Temple of the Mae Abaixo back in Mayda. Slipping into uneasy sleeps, he half imagined that he was under the sea: he had drowned after all, and this was the Garden of the Mother Below. But the girl Ixchel was too plain and sturdy to be a sea-nymph, and she kept waking him, holding his hand and talking loudly to him, sometimes in the language he half-understood which sounded so much like Old Maydan, and sometimes in another that he did not know, all hard cracking ‘k’s and strange shushing noises; dry twigs in a stream.
They climbed a hill, and came out of the tree-shadow into hot morning sun. Fields of maize, summer gold against the brooding darkness of the forests. Houses perched on stilts, painted in gaudy colours: red, pink, blue, gold. Pigs were grubbing in wattle pens. Parrots perched on the roof-beams. Wayside shrines were carved with the fearsome faces of strange gods and spirits. The gods had long noses and big mouths and almond eyes, the same features as Ixchel and the children and the people who left off their work in the fields and came hurrying to stare at him as he was carried past; to stare, and then to ask questions and offer advice, a rising babble of voices, with Ixchel’s in the midst of it repeating, “Maa! Maa!”
Ahead, above the painted houses, white against the trees , a pyramid rose in three high steps, with a stairway leading up it, and on its summit stains and streaks of something rusty, and the squabbling of carrion birds. Arlo thought, I am in the empire of the Nuevo Maya, and they are going to cut out my heart and gift it to their gods. And he did not feel afraid, but disappointed, because it seemed an awfully long to have come just for that.
The Nuevo Maya had arisen many centuries before, when the world lay wrapped in night and winter after the dreadful happenings which people in Europa called The Downsizing and people on this continent thought of as The Day The Sky Collapsed. Realising that the ways of the Ancients, with their cars and flying machines, had called down the anger of the gods upon poor humankind, the ancestors of the Nuevo Maya had looked back deeper into their past, to the old empires of the Aztec and the Inca, the Toltecs, Mixtecs and Maya. Many of the lands which those empires had ruled were gone – the isthmus which had once joined North and South America had been obliterated when the sky fell – but, from the fragments of history and memory which survived, the Nuevo Maya were able to cobble together a new civilization, powerful enough that, by Arlo’s time, it had spread from the shores of the Caribbean all the way to the snows of Paraguay. The old gods they worshipped had been good to them, which seemed like clear proof that they’d been right to resurrect them. At first, it was true, the gods had demanded human sacrifice. Thousands of captives from the wars which broke out along the empire’s ever-lengthening borders had been brought in chains to Nuevo Teoticuahuan to have their beating hearts cut out by priests with blast glass knives.
But times change, and religions mellow. Now only the Maize King went to meet the gods up the long stairway of the great ziggurat in Neo-Teo; a symbolic victim whose blood would keep the fields and mothers of the Nuevo Maya fertile for another year. The people of Chiqana del Mar, the little harbour where Arlo Thursday had been cast ashore, did not welcome him into their town to become a sacrifice. They welcomed him because they were sailors and fisherfolk, and sailors and fisherfolk the world over look kindly on castaways.
After all, they might become castaways themselves one day.
Moretonhampstead is a little town on the eastern edge of Dartmoor. It’s not far from where I live, but we seldom have a reason to go there, so yesterday was the first time I’d visited Green Hill Arts, a former primary school which has been turned into artists’ studios and a very nice exhibition space. What drew me there was their new exhibition ‘Widdershins’, featuring paintings, drawings and sculptures on mythic and mystical themes by some of the artists based in or around the nearby town of Chagford, whose most famous members are Brian Froud and Alan Lee.
How I would have loved this exhibition when I was fourteen! Back then, Froud and Lee were my heroes, but I never got a chance to see any of their original artwork – I just had to pore over their illustrations in books like Faeries, which they illustrated together in 1979.
Nowadays I would usually run a mile to avoid the sort of people who insist on spelling ‘fairy’ with an ‘e’, and Froud seems to have abandoned forever the quirky and beautifully observed landscape backgrounds and strange, foreshortened spaces which were what I always liked best about his work. But it’s still good to see some of his pictures up close, including this ‘Green Man’, (above) which is also used as the exhibition poster.
Wendy Froud, his wife, makes what are basically dolls: troll dolls, faery dolls (definitely faeries with an ‘e’). She makes them wonderfully well, but unfortunately I feel about dolls the same way that many people feel about clowns – Eugh, they’re so creepy, with their little beady eyes and their winsome, waxy faces! RUN AWAY! Still, she has one piece in this show that I did like very much – a ‘wood troll’ with gnarled stick-like hands and a bunch of actual sticks sprouting from its back. It could have stepped out of one of her husband’s paintings from the ’70s, and it’s clearly a relative of the mystics in the film The Dark Crystal, which Brian Froud designed and Wendy Froud worked on.
Alan Lee is in New Zealand at present, busy with the Hobbit films, but he’s well represented here, with a couple of pencil drawings and the painting of the sleeping Smaug from the illustrated edition of The Hobbit , as well as one of Fangorn Forest from The Lord of the Rings. There’s also a piece of his concept art from the LOTR movies – a loose pencil sketch of Eowyn vs the Nazgul, the battlefield suggested with old-masterish skill and economy by wiry, wandering pencil lines. And there’s one of his pictures from Faeries too, done in his older, tighter style, and a cover illustration for an anthology called Hist Whist which I think I can remember being fascinated by (and trying to copy) before I even knew who he was.
His daughter, Virginia Lee, seems to have inherited some of his talent: there’s a rather beautiful little relief plaque here of a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring (below, though a photo doesn’t really do it justice). My favourites were two of her pastel drawings; imaginary landscapes in which stone angels’ wings and carvings of the Tinners’ Hares take the place of the stone circles which crown some Dartmoor hilltops.
And it was particularly nice to see some pictures by David Wyatt (with whom I was lucky enough to work on the Larklight trilogy) hanging here among the Frouds and Lees. His pictures have similar qualities to theirs, while being entirely his own: beautifully drawn, full of invention and visual humour, and steeped in the landscape and atmosphere of Dartmoor. I’ve pinched the image below from his excellent blog.
Widdershins continues at Green Hill Arts until 10th August. In addition to the artists I’ve mentioned there is also work by Terri Windling, Rima Staines, Hazel Brown (whose little boxes of miniature objects have something of the genuine weirdness of 19th Century fairy art), Neil Wilkinson Cave, and Paul Kidby. And Green Hill are running a tie-in programme of events and workshops, too. If you are in Devon, or planning to visit during the summer, this is well worth a look.
Like many other people (but not enough yet) I’ve made a donation on their Indiegogo page. But while the rewards they’re offering contributors all look highly desirable to a dyed-in-the-wool fan like me, I thought it might be worth adding some of my own. So if a signed photo of Clive Swift isn’t enough to get you hitting the ‘Contribute Now’ button, you can claim signed editions of my books or a piece of my original artwork as well.
All you need to do is make a contribution via the aforementioned Indiegogo page, then forward a copy of your receipt to me at email@example.com. I’ll then get the item to you as quickly as possible by standard post (air mail if you’re outside the UK).
I do realise that this a bad time of year to be running this – I can’t guarantee posting anything in time for Christmas now, and if you’re anything like me your credit card has just melted from prezzie-buying – but the Indiegogo campaign runs till the 15th January, so hopefully there will be some takers.
I have four items on offer, and they’ll be dished out on a strictly first-come, first-served basis.
UPDATE: All these items have now been sold. Thanks very much to all the generous people who donated to Mossy Hare. I’ll be doodling, signing and mailing the books early in the New Year.
1. Sorry: SOLD! Goblins and Goblins vs Dwarves, signed and doodled in.
You may have to wait a while for delivery, because my new book Goblins vs Dwarves is so new that it isn’t actually out until next spring (I’d hope to have copies by March). I’ll sign them, dedicate them if you like, and draw an original Reeve goblin (or dwarf) on the title pages.
It’s yours for a donation of $25 or more.
2. Sorry – SOLD!
The Mortal Engines Quartet (AKA Predator Cities), US editions, signed and doodled in.
Unfortunately the only spare copies I have of the UK edition are the new ones with the sub-X-Box covers which nobody likes. But the US paperbacks are lovely (though UK readers should be warned that the spellings have been Americanised, and they call Shrike ‘Grike’).
These four are the only signed copies currently in existence, and if you like I’ll do a quick doodle of a character of your choice in each book.
Minimum donation of $50
3. Sorry – SOLD! Fever Crumb 1st Edition hardback, signed and doodled in.
As with the books above, I’ll draw a character of your choice on the title page. Unlike the ones above it’s a hardback, with a fantastic David Wyatt cover complete with peek-a-boo hole which opens to reveal a huge landscape on the endpapers. It’s also a first edition. It’s therefore quite collectable, and a bit more expensive.
Minimum donation $100
4. Sorry – SOLD! A pen-and-ink drawing of London
Last year Scholastic asked myself and Jeremy Levett to write a short guide to the world of Mortal Engines, which we called The Traction Codex. I think you can find it attached as a sort of appendix to the ends of the current UK e-book editions, and I’m assured that it will eventually be available as a separate e-book (although it seems to be taking a bizarrely long time and there is still no firm publication date as yet).
Anyway, I did some illustrations for this project, and this is one of them: the only time I’ve managed to draw the Traction City of London and make it look even remotely like the thing that was in my mind’s eye when I wrote the book. It measures approximately 24.5 x 18.5 cm, and it took flippin’ ages, so I don’t part with it lightly. I had planned to have it on my office wall, but I’d rather see Behind the Sword in the Stone finished, so I’ll exchange it for a whoppingly generous donation of $800 (about 500 of your British Pounds).
LATE EXTRA: Sorry: SOLD
For $75 you can have Four Rusty Knights, a very old picture by me. Details here.
Please don’t approach the Mossy Hare people with queries about these – this is my own initiative, and I’m sure they have enough on their minds already! All queries should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. I try to check messages there at least once a day, and will reply as soon as possible.