Interview: April 2010
Teenreads.com’s Sarah Wood recently spoke with Philip Reeve about his latest work, FEVER CRUMB --- a prequel of sorts to his bestselling Mortal Engines Quartetthat follows a young, orphaned girl as she is called upon to save the city of London and uncover the truth about her mysterious past. In this interview, Reeve explains why he chose to revisit the world he created in his previous series (albeit centuries previous) and discusses the various elements he incorporated into its futuristic, post-apocalyptic society. He also elaborates on the book’s theme of rationality vs. emotion and instinct, reflects on his preference for science over magic in his fantasy novels, and shares details about where this new series is headed over its next two installments.
Philip Reeve: I enjoyed inventing the world of Mortal Engines, which in many ways was the culmination of all the fantasy and sci-fi worlds I'd tried to imagine while I was growing up. After HERE LIES ARTHUR when I decided I wanted to write another fantasy, I considered setting it in a new world, but the Mortal Engines world contains so many of the things I like that I was afraid it would be a bit pale in comparison. And of course FEVER CRUMB is set so many centuries before the other books that it feels like a different world: there are lots of things in it that don't appear in the Mortal Engines books, and vice versa.
PR: I think that if you're creating an imaginary world, it ought to be at least as interesting as the real world, and one of the things that makes the real world interesting is that very few people are wholly good or evil. Having bad people do good things and good people do bad things makes it much more fun to write, and, hopefully, to read.
PR: Well, I went to art college, so for me that applies to all machines. Actually I believe technology can be an enormous force for good; I think it has improved our lives immeasurably, and most of the problems it throws up can probably be solved by the further application of technology. On the other hand, sci-fi stories are generally more interesting if the technology goes a bit mad and eats the cat or something.
PR: I had to get rid of our civilization to make way for all the things I wanted in Mortal Engines --- airships, mobile cities, etc. --- and saying that there had been a big old war seemed the easiest way to do it. When I was growing up in the '70s and '80s we were all basically waiting for the bomb to drop, so the idea of the future as a cratered post-atomic wasteland wasn't much of a stretch of the imagination; almost all the sci-fi I remember from my childhood had to get World War III out of the way before it could start creating its future world --- even Star Trek is post-apocalyptic in that sense. Nowadays, of course, the threat of all-out nuclear war seems to have retreated and eco-catastrophes have become the apocalypse-du-jour....
PR: I basically agree with Fever that it's best to approach the world completely rationally and objectively. But unlike her, I can see that there might be certain problems with such an approach. It's quite interesting finding out how she responds to all the irrational situations she finds herself in. It turns out that trying to be completely rational is actually a very, very irrational thing to do, and part of Fever's continuing story will be about how she learns to compromise a bit and accept her feelings and instincts. I think some people find her a bit infuriating, but I rather like infuriating characters.
PR: I suppose it would be nice if the books were still being read in 50 years or so. (It would be nicer yet if I were still writing them in 50 years, of course!) Very few books last much longer than that. But it's not really something I've given much thought to.
PR: I was always both a writer and an illustrator, it just happened that I was published as an illustrator first. My illustrations to date have been quite cartoony, and wouldn't really suit the books I've written. I have done some small pen-and-ink drawings for my book NO SUCH THING AS DRAGONS, and it's something I'd like to do more of in future.
PR: I'd like to see a movie of Mortal Engines (as long as they don't make Hester pretty), but I have no way of telling whether it will happen or not. I know and trust the producer, Deborah Forte, who is hoping to bring it to the screen, so I think it's in good hands.
PR: I think the important thing that happened to my writing as an adult is that I reached a point where I had so many diverse influences that my stuff started to look quite original. I couldn't possibly list them all. JG Ballard, Geraldine McCaughrean and Patrick O'Brian were all big inspirations at the time I startedMortal Engines, and it's hard to think of three authors with less in common.
PR: I have absolutely no belief in the supernatural, and while I don't mind reading books about magic --- there are many that I love --- I can never seem to suspend my disbelief for long enough to write one. (Though of course most of the “science” I use is so unlikely that it might as well be magic.) I'd actually quite like to try something set in a classic, Middle Earth-style fantasy world next, so I may have to try and find a way round that.
PR: They're just two things that I've always done. Books are a great form of entertainment --- far more visual than movies, and able to immerse you much more deeply in a story. And if you enjoy reading stories, why would you not want to write your own?
PR: Actually Fever Crumb is set so far before Mortal Engines that it’s very unlikely she'll meet any of the characters from the later books --- except one! But she will get to witness the slow transformation of her world into something more like the world described in Mortal Engines. Also, I want to take off and explore places that were never even mentioned in the quartet, where anything might be happening. I'm quite pleased with the second book, FEVER CRUMB: A WEB OF AIR, because it doesn't really feel like a Mortal Engines book at all, despite being set in the same world. So I'm hoping there will eventually be lots and lots of books about Fever, although I do want to try some other things as well.