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 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.
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).
I’ve been writing a lot this year (finishing Railhead, writing Reeve & McIntyre 4, and starting Railhead 2, among other things). That sometimes means I can’t find much time to read. It definitely makes it harder to read novels – I find I’ve skimmed a whole chapter and taken nothing in because my mind has drifted away to whatever story I’m working on. But here are some of the books I have read and enjoyed this year.
I am still reading to Sam of an evening, and it’s still the best bit of the day. I think my favourite read-aloud book this year was Richard Adams’s Watership Down. I remember reading it when I was Sam’s age (in 1979, when the animated film came out) but I didn’t recall very much about it, beyond enjoying it. If you don’t know it, you could be forgiven for assuming it’s a twee children’s book about anthropomorphised rabbits, but it’s so much more than that. The rabbits are very human, but they don’t have clothes or human houses or anything, like Beatrix Potter characters; they live as rabbits live. But this isn’t a Tarka the Otter-ish attempt to get inside the minds and lives of real animals, either – these rabbits have their own language, societies and myths. The central characters, escaping from a doomed burrow, make a great cross-country oddyssey to establish a new burrow of their own. Once there, they come in conflict with a terrifying, totalitarian burrow run by the tyrant General Woundwort. Stalinist bunnies sound silly, I know, but they aren’t when you read the book, which is a) an edge-of-seat adventure story, and b) a kind of exploration of different social structures. It’s unease about eco-doom and authoritarianism is very 1970s, and its plucky, pragmatic, decent heroes are very British. It really deserves to be shelved alongside Tolkien as one of the great English fantasy novels of the 20th Century.
Favourite children’s books published this year include V. Peyton’s endlessly inventive and engaging post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story Silo the Seer, which I reviewed here, and Philip Womack’s compelling fantasy The Broken King, (technically from last year, but part of an ongoing trilogy).
I also enjoyed Matt Ralphs’s debut Fire Girl, a witch vs witch-finders adventure set in a parallel 17th Century England where the Civil War involved all sorts of magical goings-on. I’m a bit wary of this type of historical fantasy now, mainly because there seems to be so much of it that I wonder if it’s helping to edge actual historical novels out of the children’s market (the Civil War and the Protectorate are great settings for a story, but the only recent books I’ve seen which use them add magic to the mix). But it’s very unfair to criticise a book for not being a different book, and Fire Girl is as full of hissable villains, hair’s breadth escapes and awful monsters as young readers could hope.
A late entry is Matt Haig’sA Boy Called Christmas, which is hard to avoid at the moment as it’s in all bookshop windows and plastered in poster form all over the London underground. But happily the hype is justified. It’s a very charming and rather beautiful Father Christmas origin story, with superb black and white illustrations by Chris Mould. It’s quite dark in places, especially in the early chapters – as an adult I found much black humour to enjoy in young Nicolas’s dreadful childhood, but if you’re reading this as a bedtime story, and you have the sort of child who won’t let you knock off until you reach a happy or at least a hopeful bit, you’d better be prepared to make the first instalment quite a long one. Eventually good prevails, of course, and it ends up being very merry and very Christmassy indeed.
Finally, when Sarah McIntyre isn’t busy mucking about on stage with me or illustrating our books, she writes and draws her own picture books. This year she published Dinosaur Police, which is big, silly, fun and full of lovely little McIntyre touches (and pizzas which look good enough to eat). If you like dinosaurs, or, indeed, police, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?