Children's Books

Philip Reeve: Father and children’s author

Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Philip Reeve, parent to Sam and author of Oliver and the Seawigs, talks to FQ about what inspired him to be a children’s author.

Did you write when you were a child? If so, do you remember what you wrote and what inspired you?
I remember writing a science fiction story when I was five. It was called Spike and Spook Go To The Moon and it was about half a page long. Spike was a spaceman, and spook was his dog. I’ve been thinking about it recently because I’m working on the follow up to Oliver and the Seawigs with Sarah McIntyre, and that’s going to be a space story, so I’ve come full circle!  Later on in my childhood, I was always writing a book, and illustrating it. My sister and I played elaborate games involving my toy soldiers and the dolls from her dolls house, and I wrote stories based on those.  And I was very much influenced by C.S Lewis, Tolkien, and Alan Garner. Oh, and I did elaborate comic strips too, mostly inspired by Asterix and Tintin.

When did you decide to start writing children’s books?
When I wrote my first novel, Mortal Engines, I was thinking of it as a science fantasy novel, but I had no idea how to get an adult publisher to look at it, and children’s publishing seemed much more friendly and accessible. So I rewrote it shorter and faster, with younger characters, and in the process I found that I prefer writing for children anyway.

Do you get inspiration from your own family?
Not really. There’s an odd sense in which Oliver and the Seawigs is autobiographical, both for me and Sarah McIntyre – as children, she used to daydream about being a mermaid, while I was dragged all over the wilder bits of Britain in a camper van by my parents, which is maybe why Oliver in the book is the son of mad explorers. But that’s just a starting point, and quickly buried by all the other ideas which we piled in on top of it.

Does your son read your stories and if he does, is he your best critic?
My son doesn’t much like reading. He’s never read any of my stuff, which I think is probably quite healthy! But I did read Goblins and Goblins vs Dwarves to him as bedtime stories while I was writing them, and he made some useful suggestions. And it’s been interesting reading other books to him, seeing the things which work and those which don’t.

Do you think it is important to encourage young people to write when they are young? Any top tips for parents?
I think it’s important to encourage young people to try every possible way to express their imagination, be it writing, drawing, music, acting, making movies, or simply playing. My son used to spend hours making elaborate farm layouts all over the floor with his toy tractors, and I think he was basically doing the same thing I do – inventing worlds and stories.  Also, comics are a very good way to get children reading and writing. I can’t imagine him writing a long story for fun, like I used to when I was his age, but he loves writing and drawing his own comics, and I think most children do.