Visits to Guildford and Portsmouth

Be a writer, see the world: sunrise from the windows of the
 Travelodge, Guildford.

I’ve had a busy week, with two school visits, plus a stop in London.  And the whole lot seemed to be in jeopardy last Sunday night, when Dartmoor suddenly suffered its first serious snowfall of the winter.  Luckily it had mostly melted again by Monday morning, so I was able to get off the moor and catch a train to London, where I stayed over with Sarah McIntyre and her husband Stuart.  Sarah and I have been working on a four-page comic strip, Jinks and O’Hare, Funfair Repair for the new Phoenix comic.  It’s Sarah’s story, but I’ve done the drawings, and we spent Tuesday morning scanning them into her computer and tidying them up a bit ready for her to colour.  Here’s a coloured rough which appeared on the Phoenix website a few weeks ago.  (Read more here.)

If you haven’t seen the Phoenix yet, track down a copy: it’s great.  You can subscribe via the website or pick up individual copies from Waitrose supermarkets.  My son Sam, who’s never been a keen reader, loves it: it’s always an exciting moment when the new edition arrives, and Sam’s been inspired to write and draw his own comics.  I’m not sure quite when Jinks and O’Hare… will be appearing, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.

After that, I headed down to Guildford, where Mrs Odell, the lovely librarian at Lanesborough School, has been trying to get me to a visit for four years, apparently. (I’m not really that hard to get, it’s just that none of her requests had actually reached me until late last year.)  In fact, Mrs Odell has been waiting so long that she’s retired and handed over to a new lovely librarian, Mrs Loveridge, but they were both there to look after me on Wednesday.

My PowerPoint slideshow features Sam’s bedroom floor farm
as an example of world-building…

This was my first school visit of 2012, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable one; four sessions in which I did my best to explain how I turned into a writer and how the worlds of Mortal Engines and Larklight came about, drew a Gollark or two, and answered the boys’ questions, which were plentiful and intelligent.

One of the Lanesborough pupils, Tom, did this great drawing
of a Hoverhog from Larklight.

At the end of the day I hopped aboard a south-bound train, and hopped off it again in Portsmouth, where  the station is right next door to the historic dockyard.  I emerged to see a lovely sunset behind the masts of HMS Warrior, Britain’s first iron-hulled warship.

 Smokestacks as well as masts – Jack Aubrey would not approve.

It was icy cold, so I didn’t hang around for too long at the harbourside but scurried as fast as I could to The Retreat , a great B&B in Southsea.  Thursday started with a very good cooked breakfast courtesy of Sian and Mark, the Retreat’s owners, and then they pointed me in the general direction of Portsmouth Grammar School.  Pupils there have been doing a week-long project on Myths and Legends, and Colin Telford from Hayling Island Bookshop, who was helping to organise it, had suggested that I might like to come in and talk about my King Arthur novel, Here Lies Arthur.

The banner that greeted me at PGS. Airship images at the bottom
are by Ian McQue, I believe.

Then I watched the pupils present some myths and legends which they had created themselves.  Mrs Bell and her colleagues in the English department had asked them to come up with a creation myth for Portsmouth, and they’d risen to the challenge with a lot of hard work and some excellent ideas.  In one version the whole of Portsmouth had been created as a gigantic prison by the ‘God of Punishment’; in another it had been built underwater as a castle for Poseidon (resplendent in beach shorts and flip-flops) and raised to the surface later; others had it being built by stone men, fought over by rival gods, and haunted by the souls of dead sailors in the forms of seagulls.

Portsmouth Grammar School featured in several of these new-minted myths – in one it was a dreadful labour camp, in another it had been built as a palace for a goddess.  In fact it’s a rather impressive complex of buildings, some of which date back to the Napoleonic wars.  One of its more famous old boys was Percy F Westerman, the author of hundreds of adventure stories, who enjoyed huge popularity with schoolboys from 1901 until well into the 1950s.  The school’s Memorial Library has a couple of big, glass-fronted book-cases full of Percy F Westerman novels; handsome hardbacks with titles like Standish Gets His Man, To The Fore With The Tanks, A Dreadnought of the Air and A Lad of Grit.  I was particularly taken with The Flying Submarine, which looks like an idea worth pinching…

Many thanks to Mrs Bell and her colleagues for showing me around, and letting me take these photos.

Now I’m home, and guess what – it’s snowing.  It may be quite a while before I can get off the moor, so I shall have to while away the time by doing some writing…

Another morning on the road, this time the breakfast room at
The Retreat.

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