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 26, 2017

The Reevening II: Phillip Reeve Q&A Round 2 on the Mortal Engines Discord

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Mortal Engines author Phillip Reeve had such a good time on during his last Q&A (The Reevening) with the the great fans that lurk on the Mortal Engines Discord Server that he readily agreed to go another round of questions and answers.

As before, this is a selection of ME related discussion, there's plenty more Railhead and the like on the Discord.

Phillip Reeve sure is a good bloke! Questions in bold...

Crow-Caller kicked the Reevening 2 off with:

From Mortal engines to Larklight to Railhead, your worldbuilding has always been an inspiration to me. Is there any particular approach you take when writing? Beyond an initial idea, how much planning do you do? What is your process like, if you have one, for world making?


Good question...

I tend to start off with an image and mood I'm after. Then I just start writing with very little planning, going as fast as I can, writing all sorts of scenes which probably never get used, and slowly the world starts to come into focus. I like to keep them very expandable, so that things I notice in real life can find their way in: I don't start out with a firm set of rules or a map, I prefer to let the story help to create the world as it goes along.

So in Mortal Engines, for instance, Mr Shrike suddenly turned up, and I had to work out what he was, were there any others like him, if not what had happened to them, etc. And a bit of the world's history took shape around him.

In Railhead I had this whole galactic empire set-up sorted out, and some of the planets, and then the idea of the trains which link the different worlds came quite late, and the whole thing had to be rewritten around them - but the feel of the world was already set.

Actually, the mobile cities came quite late in Mortal Engines, too...

I basically faff around for about a year, and then the big central image arrives which makes sense of it all!

Epiphany Continumm chipped in a comment in reference to the cities::

wow, really? they're there in the original Urbivore short, which i assumed was a very early iteration

No, it started out as a sort of post-apocalyptic thing; the airships were there, and a sort of proto-Hester. When I thought of the cities it seem,ed such an obvious idea that I was afraid someone would beat me to it before I could write the novel, so I banged out a short story as a way of staking my claim. (I'm mortified that it's still available in some form, but that's the internet, I guess - nothing's ever gone!

Of course, you could argue that the early versions without moving cities were actually a different book, and I just used bits of it in M.E. But to me it felt like the same project.

A discussion on UFOs sighted in Reeve's Dartmoor led to this comment:

I've vaguely thought about doing a UFO book - kids in the 70s faking a close encounter for some reason. It would be a historical novel, based on history I lived through!

Hello!! Your books are full of brilliant, distinctive character names that seem to get stuck in my head e.g. Threnody Noon, Arlo Thursday, Pewsey & Gench. How do you go about choosing names for particular characters? And which of your characters do you think has the best one?

Prof Pennyroyal has an old flame called Minty Bapsnack which is a name I'm rather pleased with.

It's usually about finding the right sound, and the right rhythm. Some names just come instantly, others you have grope around for and they change many times. Some are real names - Pewsey and Gench both came off of gravestones in Brighton Cemetery. Others are places - Natsworthy is just up the road from me here on Dartmoor, Hester was originally Hester Shaugh, after Shaugh Prior, another Dartmoor village, but it's best to have names people can pronounce, so she became Hester Shaw.

I'm always noticing names, or colliding two words and finding they make a name. It's the most enjoyable bit of the job!

Oh, and airship names I usually take as an excuse to insert a 'found' name - a line of poetry, the title of a song or book - its the same with trains in Railhead. I don't expect people to get them all as references - and if you do recognise them, I don't think it adds anything - it's more a way to give some texture to the world. Our own world is full of references (street names, pub names etc) so it's a way of replicating that process in my made-up world.

I think it was the ugliness and curtness of Shaugh which made it appeal. And I used to think Hester was a kind of hissy, unattractive name, but after writing about her for all those years I've come to like it.

Re. airship names, there's a SF novel by M John Harrison called The Centauri Device which I read when I was a student, and it has great spaceship names - The Strange Great Sins, the Atalanta in Calydon - such a change from the usual Enterprise, Liberator, whatever. So I always tried to emulate those. And I guess Iain M Banks read it too...

[ed note - we love the reference to the Liberator from Blake's 7!]

Did you originally write ME etc. by hand? I've seen you write "putting pen to paper" a few times and it made me wonder...

Yes, the early drafts were in notebooks - usually pencil rather than pen. I didn't own a computer then! The final drafts were mostly typed, but I still sometimes write longhand.

We’ve heard “Mortal Engines Quartet” “Predator Cities” and “The Hungry Cities Chronicles” to refer to the series as a whole. Which do you prefer? Also, which book cover designs are your favorite for the series?

Aaaargh, the proliferation of series titles has been incredibly annoying! I've always called it the Mortal Engines Quartet, I think the other names are rubbish. My first US publisher wanted to call the 1st book 'Hungry City' and when I refused they consoled themselves by using that as a series title. 'Predator Cities' was an a later attempt to link the books together. The result is that nobody knows what the series is called, including me.

David Wyatt did some fabulous covers, but they were used with a strange outer cover with a hole in, so they were hard to read and kept getting damaged. His covers for the Fever Crumb books are great, too; they've just been used on new UK paperback editions. I think DW's ones are closer to my vision, but the D Frankland covers are lovely, and by far the most popular.

What are some of the most memorable fan interactions you've experienced?

It's mostly pretty much like this, to be honest - nice people wanting to talk about the books. It's very civilised!

The first time I met people who'd dressed up as characters was good - I've met a few Hester's and Shrikes now. And sometimes there's someone whom something in the books has really touched , something they've found very personally helpful or moving - that's lovely, but I'm never sure what to say - people bring their own stuff to the books often.

Thing is, if you've read the books a couple of times in the last few years, you probably know them much better than I do! I've been off writing new things, I haven't exactly forgotten M.E., but the details are starting to get hazy, the way you start to forget a house you once lived in - some things are very vivid, others just kind of go...

A very simple question: Shrike VS Grike: Do you know what happened? Why the Americans decided his name simply had to be changed?

Yes! Apparently there's a character called The Shrike in some SF books by Dan Simmons. (Oh, thank you, Jenny Haniver!). I'd never heard of them - I got it from the bird - and there's no copyright in names - it's like The Master in Dr who and The Master in Buffy I guess - but the US publisher was worried about it and asked me to change it, and since time was very short and I was busy with serious real- stuff at the time I just went 'Brike? Crike? Drike? Frike? GRIKE, that'll do.' I always wished afterwards I'd put up more of a fight because it's led to endless confusion, but hey ho.

(He was called Shreck originally, I guess that would have been worse.) I think I heard something about the Shrek film coming out and changed it for that reason - I can't remember.

(He was named after Max Shreck, the actor who played Nosferatu in the Murnau film.) oh, Murnau, that came in useful, too...

Note: I will update this article on the Shrike / Grike discussion with this FAB intel

The scene in Infernal Devices when Oenone goes to the chapel where the lines from Eliot's Little Gidding are carved into the wall has always been a favorite of mine; it has remained vividly in my mind ever since I first read it. What made you choose those particular lines from that particular poem for the scene and for Oenone's code words?

I was in Canterbury for some event around the time PG came old, and I wandered into the cathedral, and those lines were on a little etched glass panel on the wall. I didn't know where they were from, but I found them incredibly moving (and still do).

My son had not long been born at that time, and I'd just come through quite a serious illness, so life and death etc were much on my mind, in a more serious way than they had been when I wrote the earlier books. 

So I wanted to use them, but they were too long for an airship name, so they became the code that reprogrammed Shrike - I thought they were quite unlikely lines to quote in the middle of a huge sci-fi action sequence, which of course made them appeal even more!

Is there any music (specific songs, artists, or albums) that inspired, or you associate with, the Mortal Engines books?

Well, there are loads of song titles which become airship names, but I don't think they were running round my head while I was writing - if I had any music in mind it was more likely something orchestral - Wagner, Beethoven, something huge and German.

With other books the association has been much stronger. Here Lies Arthur has this kind of scuffed, stripped-down language that was partly inspired by Tom Waits.

And when I was starting Fever Crumb and trying to decide what made my Elizabethan-level post apocalyptic London different from just plain Elizabethan London I thought of the weird electronic howl which opens David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, and he became the presiding god of that city (hence the pub names)

Who would you say influenced your drawing style? Are there any particular artists you enjoy and have tried to emulate?

When I was about 13 I discovered Brian Froud (who went on to design Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal) and also Alan Lee (who designed LOTR) and they were my heroes for the next few years, I loved Froud's stuff particularly. But I quickly found lots of other illustrators - there was a bit of a fad then for large paperback books collecting the works of SF and fantasy illustrators, I had quite a library of them. 

And, as with writing, you nick bits from one and bits from another, and slowly your own style emerges - later on I discovered 'real' artists, too - the Pre-Raphaelites, the Symbolists, Picasso - But most of my published illustration work is humorous stuff and cartoons, I doubt you can see much of any of them in it!

Is pineapple on pizza good, or bad? Is blue cheese good, or bad?

Pineapple on pizza is OK, though not my favourite. And blue cheese too - a bit of Stilton goes down all right. Pineapple is best cold and pizza is best hot, so it's an uneasy alliance. Flavourwise it works, it's the temperature thing that's a problem.

Do you think any other cities survived the 60 min war in the USE. Like raft cities on the west coats?

Hmmmm...

Yes!

I think it's actually highly unlikely that the US is a 'dead continent' - however badly knocked about it was, it would have been re-seeded with plants and animals by the time of Mortal Engines. So I expect Valentine and other explorers have missed a lot of thriving low-intensity settlements and secret airbases.

I was thinking of secret airbases full of pirate airships etc, but who knows - maybe there are whole underground societies which went into deep bunkers when the bombs started falling and are still waiting for the all clear.

I think I just invented the 'Dead Continent' idea because I didn't want to have to deal with Traction Chicago, Traction New York etc - it would have made the book too big. But as the series progressed, yes, it's not an idea that makes much sense - it's clearly a Traction Era myth, ripe for overturning.

It's been a pleasure! Thanks for having me.

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