Background on Philip Reeve
Winner of the 2008 CILIP Carnegie Medal for 'Here Lies Arthur'
Reeve always thought it would be nice to be a writer but from the age of 12 his attention turned to illustration and film-maker. When he was 15 he saw John Boorman's film, 'Excalibur', which not only strengthened his film-making ambitions, but also sparked a fascination with the story of King Arthur. As a teenager he read everything he could lay his hands on about the man and the myth which in effect turned out to be the initial research for writing a CILIP Carnegie winning book.
Although he had quit art school, he was a good cartoonist and subsidised his wages providing cartoons for women's magazines. Around this time his talent for drawing was spotted and he was commissioned to illustrate the popular children's series: 'Horrible Histories', 'Murderous Maths' and 'Dead Famous'.
It was around 1993 that he began writing what became 'Mortal Engines'. In 2001 Scholastic published it to instant acclaim. It won the Nestle Smarties Gold Award 2002 and the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award 2003. 'Mortal Engines' was the first of the 'Mortal Engines Quartet' - an adventure series set many thousands years in the future, an electric mix of action and fantasy sustained with wit and humour. A Sixty Minute War has destroyed civilisation and humans are rebuilding society based on an ideology of Municipal Darwinism. People live in vast moveable cities that roam the planet, attacking and looting smaller, weaker cities; it's a world where only the fittest survive. This is superb storytelling for adults or children, and Reeve's frivolity masks his underlying seriousness. And, fittingly, the fourth and final book, 'A Darkling Plain' won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 2006.
Here Lies Arthur
But why pick such a well-known story? Reeve has had a lifelong fascination with the Arthurian legends, and this is the novel he had always wanted to write. However, due to the story's mythical status it had taken him years to decide how to tackle it.
Reeve returns the story to its Welsh Celtic roots; his choice of the young orphan girl Gwyna as the narrator gives a fresh perspective on Arthur's world and time; we get to see just how tough it was to survive in the Dark Ages; a violent time dominated by men and the brutality of war. The character Myrddin (Merlin) is no magician, but relies on trickery to set Arthur up as a powerful and credible leader against the Saxon invaders when in reality he is merely a self-interested thug.
Myrddin comes to rely on his young assistant Gwyna, dressing her as a boy to protect her identity when needed. It is a fast-paced adventure story, full of atmosphere; a tangible sense of fear pervades every page as the Celts await the Saxons.
What about Myrddin as spin-doctor rather than magician? All Reeve's characters, including Myrddin are complex, ambiguous and totally credible and he's described Myrddin as a metaphor for what's happened to the Arthur story over the centuries. Many a knowing reader has described the book as political satire and he acknowledges the parallels with our current political situation and image makers and he's clearly delighted to hear that many children 'get' the pun of the title.
Reeve's primary motivation for writing is to tell a story. With 'Here Lies Arthur' what he set out to do was to write a really good adventure story for young readers, and to pay tribute to the power and beauty of the stories that surround Arthurian legend. He's succeeded on both counts and also won the most sought after of children's book awards, the CILIP Carnegie Medal.
What else & what next?
26 June 2008