fangirl: reviewing ‘pull out all the stops!’ with philip reeve

I recently read two books by the marvelous writer Geraldine McCaughrean, Stop the Train and its brand-new sequel, Pull Out All the Stops! Geraldine is one of the best wordsmiths on the planet, and reading her books is like getting into a big steaming bubble bath, with chocolate and a glass of champagne. True luxury.

The writer and illustrator Philip Reeve is a big-time fanboy of Geraldine, and when he heard I’d nabbed a proof copy (at that odd librarian speed dating event in Birmingham), he asked me if I’d write a review for his website The Solitary Bee. I thought, oh gosh, Philip is going to think I’m a terrible writer. So I fudged the assignment and sent him some crazy letters instead…

Click over to The Solitary Bee to read my ‘review’ of Pull Out All the Stops!

These two ripping yarns start in a tiny turn-of-the-century pioneer settlement next to a railway. But in the first book, Stop the Train, the train driver get annoyed at the settlers and dooms their town by refusing to make it a stop on his line. The townsfolk, a brave but nutty group of people, make it their mission to get the train to stop, and madcap ruckus ensues.

In Pull Out All the Stops!, two of the town’s children (Cissy Sissney & Kookie Warboys) are sent away to escape an epidemic of diptheria, escorted by a very prudish schoolmarm to stay on a washed-up showboat theatre with their mostly-illiterate former spitfire of a teacher, Miss Loucien (who, as she hints in a letter, is in ‘a interestin condishun’). The humour reminded me of one of my favourite films, Fargo by the Coen Brothers, starring a police chief named Marge Gunderson (who is also in an interestin condishun). The daft adventures of Geraldine’s pioneers had me laughing out loud.

Here’s a picture I took of Geraldine at this year’s Oxford University Press summer party:

Geraldine McCaughrean and Ian Beck

I first came to Geraldine’s work a couple years ago through her novel The White Darkness, about a girl who’s in love with dead explorer Titus Oates (best known for his final words, I am just going outside and may be some time) and journeys with her uncle to Antarctica in very strange and sinister circumstances. The story and its main character deeply resonated with me, and I went to the National Theatre clutching my book and a ticket to hear Geraldine give a talk about it. Since then, I’ve read The White Darkness four times and bought about ten copies because I keep giving it away to people as gifts. She also wrote a tribute to my favourite story, Cyrano de Bergerac, (in her retelling, Cyrano) which made me like her that much more. (Read my Cyrano fan comic here.)

Now Philip Reeve, I only met him for the first time this autumn in Edinburgh, but he is already one of my all-time favourite writers… and coincidentally, he also writes some of the most marvelous books I have read in years! After I met him, I got completely caught up in his world of Mortal Engines, whipping through Fever Crumb, A Web of Air, Mortal Engines, Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices and A Darkling Plain. (And if you’ve been reading my blog, you know there’s been a lot going on in the past two months, so that’s saying a lot.) Philip wrote the first two books recently, as prequels, but started with the Mortal Engines quartet (renamed The Hungry City Chronicles by editors in the USA). He’s currently working on edits to the follow-up to A Web of Air, titled Scrivener’s Moon, and I can hardly wait.

On Tuesday, I was thrilled to find out Philip was coming from his home on Dartmoor to London to do some audio book recording sessions, and Stuart and I met up with him for a lovely French dinner on Charlotte Street. Philip really is one of my favourite people. **Dear Santa… and any event coordinators, if you’re reading this, please line me up for lots of events with Philip, or at least back-to-back events, so I can go hear him talk. And you’ll make both us extremely happy if you can also line us up with Geraldine. Thank you!** I’m deliberately not going to take on a lot of events this year, to catch up with my book work, but if it’s something where I’ll get to hang out with Philip (and Geraldine), I will make a big whopping exception.

Here we are, geeking out over Geraldine’s books. Best evening ever!

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre with Pull Out All the Stops! and Stop the Train; photo by Stuart Pyle

I had a nosy rummage through Philip’s sketchbook, and found this drawing he made on the train after his last trip to London. It’s me with the Post Office Tower! Here’s Philip’s take on the evening; it made me go all blushy.

Sketch by Philip Reeve

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