For an event based upon dystopian young adult fiction, the Bath Festival of Children’s Festival appearance of Philip Reeve (the Carnegie-winning author of the Mortal Engines quartet, pictured) and Moira Young (Blood Red Road) was surprisingly upbeat.
Chaired with wit by festival co-artistic director John McClay, Reeve and Young discussed how their books tackle the idea of a post-apocalyptic future and how they envisage mankind’s future.
Scrivner’s Moon is the third in Reeve’s new series that precedes the Mortal Engines one – though it still takes place some thousands of years in the future, after the civilisation we know has been swept away. In its place is a pseudo-medieval society in which technology is only just being rediscovered and vast cities are being build that can roam the world on caterpillar tracks. Yet Reeve insists that, rather than being straightforwardly dystopian, his world is like any other: “There are good places and bad places.”
Reeve worked on Mortal Engines for more than a decade before it was published – last evidence for him that he was “not loony”. He had much of the atmosphere in place from early on but “was looking for a big idea to hang it on”. The rapid expansion of his native Brighton, eating into the neighbouring villages and countryside, gave him the idea of cities that literally eat as they move. Driven by a love of “making up worlds” that originated with C.S. Lewis (also an inspiration for Young), Tolkien, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, he fashioned a detailed setting that had to be refined when it became clear that book would just be the first of a series, taking actions such as rationalising new mountain ranges introduced purely for plot purposes in Mortal Engines.
Young’s debut Blood Red Road – she was previously involved in theatre and opera – begins on the shores of a dying lake where teenage Saba lives with her brother and father on the fringes of a society used to scavenging for survival. When the first is abducted and the second killed, Saba is thrown into a quest that Young says was inspired by The Wizard of Oz and which brings her heroine into conflict with the terrifying Wreckers. The story, said Young, is “essentially a Western” that “reflects the inner landscape that I grew up with on the prairie in Canada.”
Aside from the comparable story – a girl is forced to grow up away from home – the Oz comparison is reinforced by the role of an intelligent crow that Young relates to that of Toto in L. Frank Baum’s story; other influences include John Ford’s The Searchers. These influences came together to move the book away from its origins “set in an ice world… a dystopian Romeo and Juliet,” as the character of Saba began speaking to Young internally. She firmly believes that in a good book “the stakes must be high” and the lead character must solve their own problems – or face drastic consequences.
Despite their post-apocalyptic settings, both have faith in human progress. “If I look at my life, I’m tremendously better off than my parents were, and they were better off than their parents,” said Reeve. “The big picture is very hopeful.”
“People will endure,” Young agreed. “They are inventive and resilient.” When McClay asked her what should be wiped out if a cataclysm does strike, she quickly replied “The X Factor,” to laughs from the crowd.
Reeve is now working on a “huge” final book set in the Mortal Engines world that will take this prequel series up to the start of his quartet, before a break from sci-fi. “I have a fantasy novel coming out next year called Goblins,” he said, and is also working on a book about the making of silent films. If/when he does write a new science-fiction series, it will be different, said Reeve – more optimistic: “My tastes and opinions are changing.”
Young, meanwhile, is working away on a sequel that takes place “in a very tight time period”, while both authors may have film adaptations on the way – Young even shared a coffee with Ridley Scott recently. The film of Blood Red Road is being worked on by screenwriter Jack Thorne (Skins, This is England ’86) and is slated to appear in 2014. Reeve’s Mortal Engines, while much-rumoured, is a little less firm – but with several books to come from him, who minds?
Scrivner’s Moon by Philip Reeve is published on 6 October; Blood Red Road by Moira Young is out now. Both are published by Marion Lloyd Books. Philip Reeve photo by Dominic Turner.
For more information on Bath Children's Festival of Literature, see www.bathkidslitfest.org.uk