Making the Mortal Engines Movie

News, views, quotes and trivia about Philip Reeve's 'Mortal Engines' books and the Peter Jackson movie production.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Philip Reeve's Q&A with the Mortal Engines Discord Server Crew


The Mortal Engines Discord is a group of keen Mortal Engines and Railhead book fans who gather together to share their love of the worlds that Reeve has created.

One bright spark had the idea to invite Reeve over for a Q&A interview which he graciously accepted. Here's some of the best bits that related directly to the Mortal Engines series.

Crow-caller and the crew did an excellent job of making sure they had awesome questions pre-planned and keeping the moderation flow in check.

Some of the replies may seem slightly disjointed as there may have been some discussion from other Discord members that shaped the response but were not part of the original question.

Which was your favourite book in the mortal engines quartet to write? Which one do you think is ‘best’? Is there any particular scene/part/character you enjoyed writing best?


I think my favourite to write was A Darkling Plain, because I sort of knew I could do it by then, and for once I had a pretty good idea what would happen at the end. But I think the best is Predator's Gold - I didn't think so while I was working on it, because it kept going wrong and multiple versions were binned, but I think the struggle kind of paid off. (I should add that that I haven't read any of the books since they went to print, so I'm going on my memories of them.)

I heard that Hester was intended to be a kind person with a gruff exterior in ME, but later became the person she is in the later books. What inspired this decision, and would you change anything about ME to reflect it?

I think when I was writing ME I was working on the assumption that Hester was basically a good person who just happened to look awful, and once Tom saw past that all would be well. Which is fine as far as the first book goes, I don't think I'd change that. But as the story expanded into the second book I thought more about her and realised she'd be damaged in ways which couldn't really be fixed.

And I quite enjoyed seeing how bad I could make her, while hopefully retaining our sympathy. She's my favourite character, I couldn't have written the three sequels without her.

Many books and movies end with typical happily ever after moments, however, each part of the Predator Cities quartet ends in loss. Mortal Engines ends by having an entire city going supernova, killing almost all the characters except Tom & Hester. Predator’s Gold ends by having Tom getting shot. Infernal Devices ends with Hester leaving Tom. A Darkling Plain ends with the death of Tom & Hester. Why didn’t you have typical happy endings for these books?

I didn't deliberately set out to have a down ending on all the books, and I hadn't realised I had till you mentioned it! (PG is quite 'up' I think - they arrive safely in the new world...) I generally try to balance any darkness and despair with some hope - these are kids books, after all, I didn't want to be too depressing. But I guess I didn't want endings where all problems were sorted and everyone lived happily ever after.

Well, clean cut endings can work! But the important thing is that the ending has to be right for the story, and the M.E. stories were too murky to have happy-ever-after endings. I do find that, as I get older, I prefer happier endings, though - I don't think I'd write those books in the same way now.

Something I’ve always appreciated about Mortal Engines, Fever Crumb (and Railhead) is the diversity present in the characters- LGBT relationships in Fever crumb and Railhead, as well as international/racially diverse casts. Time wise it seems you’ve had more diversity as you’ve gone on. Is there any particular ‘reason’ for this?

Re. the diversity question, that's not something I really think about consciously. I guess London in the first book is very white, at least on the upper tiers where Tom starts out, and part of the story is about him venturing out and meeting all sorts of other people & learning that they're not the barbarians he's been led to believe... And that process continues in the later books, as we travel to other parts of the world.

Re. Railhead, conscious in the sense that I was trying to imagine a 'good' future (no 60 minutes war here, just expansion across the galaxy, all watched over by machines of loving grace). So obviously racism & sexism & homophobia wouldn't be a thing any more, and I assume that demographically if you fast-forwarded the human race by a few thousand years you'd end up with mostly brown people, so I made that the default setting whenever I brought in a new character. I'm very glad it worked for you, Jack!

Fever's bisexuality simply came from me wanting to write about having a crush on someone - which was as close as I ever got to romance when I was a teenager- only Fever was too ratyional to nurse a hopeless crush on some young man, she'd just tell him. So I had her fall for Cluny, which was against her own 'rational' upbringing and the rules of Cluny's rather retro society. And that seemed to work.

Was there anything specific that inspired your idea for the traction cities/particular characters/the ME world in general? Like anything in your life or perhaps a character/world in other works that inspired you?

Yes, inspiration arrived from all sorts of places, but usually kind of indirectly. And usually once I'd rewritten it a few dozen times, it was changed beyond recognition anyway. So Valentine started out as the sort of boo, hiss villain Alan Rickman used to play in 80s movies, but gradually he developed a conscience and became a very different character.

Reeve's then posted this picture that inspired London:


Reeves then shared some more thoughts on Hester's origins and the inspirations for Anna Fang's character:

Thinking back 25 years... Hester started out as a character in a low budget movie I made - Deadly Ernest, mentioned way back up this thread - I had a friend who'd done one little movie for me and had a very beautiful face, and I thought what shall we do with her next - I know, we'll make her Lee Van Cleef.

So she became an enigmatic female gatling gun slinger in what I now realise was a sort of proto-steampunk story. And that character kind of bumbled on into the next thing I wrote, which was the 1st draft of Mortal Engines.

But I started thinking OK, she's living by wits in the badlands, she probably won't be all that beautiful - and the hero falling out of his city and into love with a BEAUTIFUL GURL isn't all that interesting - so maybe she should be ugly. And Hester kind of came from there. Anna Fang is basically Han Solo, but she's also Strider from LOTR, of course!

In your interview with The Sheehab (which I really enjoyed reading!) you mentioned that when you write, you know what world you want to explore and you just jump in from there, generating scenes and characters that you don't always end up using. Can you tell us about any of those unused scenes and characters?"

I guess in the course of all four Mortal Engines books anything that was any good got used. Usually when I cut a scene its because it slows things down or doesn't advance the story, or takes it in the wrong direction, so I try and fillet out any useful images or scraps of dialogue and use them elsewhere.

There was a whole abandoned novel after Mortal Engines, about a raft city (Brighton) escaping across the Atlantic from the Green Storm. I binned that, but the basic idea became Predator's Gold, and Brighton reappeared in ID, so it wasn't completely wasted. There are a bunch of Anna Fang back story bits which got bumped from book to book and never quite fitted in anywhere, but other than that I don't think there's anything readable lying around.

I'm sure you've heard this a lot, but what is the status of fever crumb four? do you think with the interest from the movie we might finally see it in print?'

No, I think FC4 is past resurrecting now. In so far as I had a plan, I was planning to end it with London getting on the move, and when I sensed that Id have trouble getting it published I made that happen in bk 3 instead, so 4 would have been an odd book even if I had written it... And I decided not to: I started doing my books with Sarah McIntyre instead, and then Railhead, both of which I've really enjoyed, so I think I want to keep moving forward. Plus, I think there's something quite nice about the Fever quartet being unfinished...

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How is is Philip Reeve for joining in and giving such awesome responses to some keen questions from what are truly genuine fans!

Shrike Concept art by the very talented Peter Yea.

1 comment:

  1. What great questions and insightful information from the author of Mortal Engines stories. Epic in my opinion 8^)

    ReplyDelete