Philip Reeve in Exeter: Travelling faster than light

 Event report by Lesley Moss

Railhead by Philip Reeve

It was a bright, breezy day in spring, and the city of Exeter was ready to devour the wise words of one of the UK’s top authors... Prepare to weave through the creative brain of Philip Reeve... 

Balanced stone at Bellever Tor 
by Philip Reeve

Once upon a time, Philip Reeve was a hard working illustrator who always met his deadlines, and who loved reading pulp science fiction, mainly for its extraordinary ideas. 

I could do that, he thought, as he travelled to London on the milk train to deliver yet another illustration assignment, reading pulp sci-fi to pass the time. I’m not very good, but perhaps I could write better than this... And so the award winning world of the Predator Cities was created. 

Mortal Engines, ten years in the making, was the first of the series of four highly acclaimed and successful books. And it definitely isn’t pulp fiction! Philip has since published many more books throughout a long and distinguished career, several co-authored with Sarah McIntyre: travel in time to visit the real King Arthur - and his spin doctor, zap past an alternative view of Goblins (more poo than LOTR), inhabit the watery world of the Seawigs, and flee those killer Cakes In Space! Philip Reeve has phenomenal imagination and skill. 

What’s his secret?

There isn’t one.

He just writes the book!

He doesn’t write to a formula, market, plan or word count: he may have a landscape in mind, and he connects it with a story that fits, that makes sense – sees it like a trailer in his head - then he starts writing.

“If the writing’s going well, there isn’t any actual thinking. The thinking is how you kill time when it isn’t working!” 

Sometimes he writes twenty drafts and the final draft barely resembles the first... 

He wasn’t happy with the final draft of book two of Predator Cities. There was just one sentence he liked "...when she stepped outside, the wind hit her like a well-aimed mattress ...”, and this sentence was the inspiration for the complete rewrite, Predator’s Gold. We all gasped at the idea of throwing out the final draft, due on the publisher’s desk ... 

He put it into perspective for us with a Tom Waits quote: “Some songs are only good to cut up as bait and use ‘em to catch other songs”. 

What is Philip’s inspiration - is he inspired by his childhood? Should we all be? He thought drawing on childhood experience wasn’t, shouldn’t be, a deliberate act, but it was an influence, that what you latch on to in the years between eight and eighteen probably has the most visceral impact, and affects you much more intensely than at any other time. 

And people who become writers tend to be geeky – the broken biscuits of life. 

Reeve & McIntyre
Spinning forward through time, Philip’s latest and greatest inspiration has been a meeting of minds with the illustrator Sarah McIntyre, which has led to a brilliant creative partnership. Like a wormhole in outer space, this has taken him faster than the speed of light to a galaxy far away, as they co-author illustrated books and perform with theatrical aplomb at festivals and book launches. Catch them if you can! 

At the end of our Q&A, Philip read a compelling extract from his new book, which is a return to sci-fi – RAILHEAD - coming out in October 2015 with OUP


And so are the writers, broken biscuits, and Reeve fans in the city of Exeter...

Photo by Lesley Moss

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Philip Reeve’s latest novel, Railhead, will be published in October 2015. His most recent publications include the Goblins series, and with co-author Sarah McIntyre include Oliver And The Seawigs, and Cakes In Space. Here Lies Arthur won the Carnegie Medal in 2008, and he won the Smarties Gold Award, the Blue Peter Book Of The Year Award and The Blue Peter ‘Book I Couldn’t Put Down’ Award for Mortal Engines, A Darkling Plain winning the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Award. You can read all about him at 

Lesley Moss writes middle grade novels, comic and fantasy, plus picture book texts, and is a member of The Funeverse. She has volunteered for SCBWI for several years as a South West Network organiser and was an e-crit moderator.


  1. Fantastic write up of a fantastic event, Lesley. Brings it all back!

  2. Great write up Lesley! So interesting to read about different approaches to writing, here we have another pantser! (Makes me feel better about my lack of planning). I love the idea that nothing cut is lost, but used to catch new ideas. Lovely. Thanks Philip and Lesley!

  3. Great stuff - really captures the spirit of the event!

  4. Predator's Gold is my favourite book of the Mortal Engines cycle, so it sounds like Philip's brave decision was a good one!

  5. Many thanks, Lesley - sums it up beautifully - though the mattress point is making me very very nervous...

  6. I am SO excited about Railhead. This is a great write up and I'm very grateful because I was jealous when I heard that the talk was going to happen!

  7. On the off chance that going with a baby, then ensure that your little one is agreeable to guarantee a quiet flight. great post to read


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