Author Takeover: R is for Railways

With Platform 9 ¾ and Kings Cross our portal between the Muggle and Magical world, Potter fans know all about the sense of excitement and mystery of boarding a train, hurtling spellbound towards the place of our dreams aboard the Hogwarts Express. Author Philip Reeve joins us for an author takeover to describe how he fell in love with the wonder of the railroad and how it inspired his new Young Adult sci-fi fantasy, Railhead.

Philip is best known for his multi award-winning Mortal Engines quartet, which won the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize, the Blue Peter Book Award, and the Guardian Children’s Book Award. Dartmoor, where Philip lives, with its huge expansive skies and changing landscape has been an inspiration for his work. Philip travels up and down the country and internationally, holding events and attending festivals. Many of these events are with his co-author Sarah McIntyre for the Reeve & McIntyre Production books including Oliver and the Seawigs, Cakes in Space and Pugs of the Frozen North. Railhead is stellar writing from a hugely successful award-winning author, whose rich and layered writing brings complex characters and epic story. Film rights have already sold to Warner Brothers, so pick up a copy now!

You can find out more about Philip at his website:, or follow him on Facebook or Twitter @Philipreeve1

“Come with me, Zen Starling”, she had said. The girl in the red coat. But how did she know his name? The Great Network is a place of drones and androids, maintenance spiders and Station Angels. The place of the thousand gates, where sentient trains criss-cross the galaxy in a heartbeat. Zen Starling is a petty thief, a street urchin from Thunder City. So when mysterious stranger Raven sends Zen and his new friend Nova on a mission to infiltrate the Emperor’s train, he jumps at the chance to traverse the Great Network, to cross the galaxy in a heartbeat, to meet interesting people – and to steal their stuff. But the Great Network is a dangerous place, and Zen has no idea where his journey will take him…

R is for Railways

Visiting some relative in Brighton when I was very small, I remember putting my ear against the floor and hearing a strange, deep, spooky rumbling sound come up through the linoleum. ‘That’s a train’, they told me, and I thought about it rushing through the dark down there, far beneath the house.

I’m not sure where that can have been, as the bit of Brighton I grew up in wasn’t near the railway – but the memory may be old enough that I was hearing a freight train on its way through the tunnel to Kemptown station, which was closed in 1971. Probably, brainwashed by children’s books and toys, I imagined it was a steam train I was hearing, and wondered where all the smoke would go. Anyway, the railway was already part of my world. We didn’t use trains very often, but on winter nights the flashes from their wheels would jump up the sky above the town like sheet lightning, and sometimes, on special occasions, we’d go to the station, board one of the carriages with their heavy doors and scratchy upholstery, and go speeding off to London for a day at the museums or the zoo.

I was never really train-struck as a child. I had toy trains, and later a Hornby electric set, occupying a beautiful layout which my dad constructed around the edges of my bedroom, with papier-maché hills, and bushes made from bits of old bath sponge dipped in green paint. I remember Terence Cuneo’s railway paintings, too, each with his trademark mouse hidden among the trackside foliage, waiting to be found. But the machinery of it all never quite grabbed my imagination – I never felt any desire to be a train driver. I was happy just being a passenger, carried along past an ever-changing view.

There is something very strange about trains, and it’s stranger for being so familiar and everyday: we sit down in a long, narrow room full of strangers and it rushes away with us, carrying us through the odd between-time of travel to wherever we are going. I think that’s a feeling that I had very early on – certainly that I was aware of by the time I was a teenager, making my first solo train journeys – and that’s the kernel of real experience which is at the heart of all the fantastical goings-on in Railhead.

Here’s a link to a collection of Terence Cuneo’s railway art which captures the era Philip remembers: