Blog Tour: The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martain Howard.
About The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and Chris Mould.
Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime?
Alfie Fleet is fed up of being poor. He wants some money to buy his Mum a foot spa for her birthday, and he wants it fast. His determination to make some cash brings him into the path of Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont, who wants to update his Cosmic Atlas. Think Bradshaws for the entire universe.
Alfie and The Professor set off in Betsy (one special moped) for the adventure of a lifetime. They pass through Brains In Jars world, Outlandish and a run in with a dragon on their way through the universe.
Is the humour too bonkers? Not in the slightest. It is wacky and wonderful, but it is so perfectly balanced with the story that we are invested in the plot and rooting for Alfie all the way. It must take real skill to inject this kind of humour and not overdo it. Funny books deserve more admiration and this one is top of my list to shout about.
As I reviewed a proof copy, I have not seen all of Chris Mould’s illustrations, but my experience of his work tells me readers are in for a treat. He brings scenes to life as if he was a casual observer, and his people are full of character.
I was delighted to be offered the chance to put some questions to author Martin Howard and to share them here on my blog. Thank you Martin for your time.
Q&A with author Martin Howard.
Alfie and the Professor travel to all kinds of other places. What inspired the different worlds? Do you have any favourite fictional worlds?
Big question! HUUUUGE question. My favourite worlds have always been fantasy worlds – places like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and many, many more. I am a massive fantasy geek. When I started writing The Cosmic Atlas I made a very conscious decision to mix and match sci-fi with fantasy. Because it involves travelling through space it’s really a sci-fi book, but I wanted to break with the idea that sci-fi worlds should be hi-tech worlds. As Alfie and the Professor use stone circles – a very old technology – to travel there’s no need for space ships (which are a very slow and dull way to get around) or robots or computers so my worlds could be much more rustic and magical. They’re inspired by all sorts of things: worlds I enjoyed as a child, artwork (I love Olivia Kemp’s drawings), places that exist in the real world or in history, space articles I’ve read and stuff plucked from my imagination. Obviously, they have to be funny but I hope they’re full of wonder, too – places readers would like to visit.
The Professor says technology has killed general interest in cartography. How do you think technology has changed our relationship with maps?
I spent ages as a cub earning my map-reading badge by poring over Ordnance Survey maps. It really felt like I was exploring the landscape and there were always interesting landmarks to discover that you’d miss with a GPS tracker. Obviously, hi-tech gizmos are very handy but there’s something beautiful about real maps, and I especially love ancient charts where navigators would include mythical lands and creatures. Some great artists – like Leonardo da Vinci – produced maps and many are superb works of art in their own right. I love that that tradition lives on in books though. Most fantasy books include maps of their worlds, and – as with old maps of the real world – they are often drawn by truly great artists. I’m very lucky to have Chris Mould bringing my imaginary worlds to life.
Do you have any advice about writing humour in middle-grade fiction?
Oh wow, that’s a tricksy question. There are so many different kinds of humour in MG books at the moment, it’s like we’re in the middle of a Golden Age. There are amazing authors out there using comedy in different ways and I can only tell you what works for me: having confidence in my own instincts and writing what I find funny. The Cosmic Atlas is a Middle-Grade book, but even though I’m a saggy old man of 49 I made myself laugh all the time while writing it. After reading it hundreds of times it still makes me giggle. Beyond that there are some things that will always make kids laugh – bums and fart gags – but you don’t have to use them. If you do, you can’t rely on them to carry a book, unless you’re writing the Big Book of Bums and Fart Gags. There has to be more than that and, personally, I try not to miss an opportunity to add more humour, whatever way I can – through odd characters, box texts, surprise visits from the narrator, unexpected twists or quirky use of language. There are moments when the humour has to take a back seat to developing the plot but even then there are opportunities to keep the comedy going. PG Wodehouse was amazing at that, even when he’s not being funny he’s being funny. I think not trying too hard is important too. Humour should flow and feel natural, not forced. I say all this as someone who is constantly striving to improve. It all comes down to developing your own voice and style of humour and that’s a never-ending journey. I have huge amounts of respect for anyone who can make readers laugh out loud though and I find it ma-hooosively annoying when people dismiss funny books as “unimportant”.
When writing about the strange and wonderful things in Outlandish, how did you ensure the story remained believable?
You ask hard questions! Can I have one about biscuits instead? No? Okaaaay then. In any sci-fi or fantasy book that’s stretching the imagination and creating weird worlds it’s important that readers don’t feel lost. That means characters they can identify with who have goals they can believe in. In The Cosmic Atlas, Alfie and Derek – the younger characters – are both much less bonkers than the adult characters (though they both have a sense of humour) and Alfie in particular has a very believable primary goal: to get home to his mum. So long as the reader can understand their main protagonist’s motivation I think writers are pretty free to be as creative as they like with everything else. Pheww, I totally deserve a biscuit-based question now.
What should be included in a good travel guide? If you were setting off on an adventure to another world, what would you want to know?
I am very fond of a good travel guide. I have a collection of DK Eyewitness guides on my bookshelf and they’re brilliant, endlessly enjoyable books. Flicking through them and deciding what to see is like having a mini holiday in your head. I also love reading travel books – Bill Bryson’s spring to mind – and watching travel TV shows. A good guide gives you a real feel for a place: it’s history, culture, people and – of course – the best places to have a good time. That’s something I’ve tried to bring to The Cosmic Atlas. I love good food so my perfect guide to other worlds would probably be heavily restaurant-based, but as I also enjoy lazing around on sun-loungers, reading (preferably while getting a massage) that’s the sort of information I’d be looking for, too. There’s a world called Blyssss in The Cosmic Atlas which is my perfect holiday destination. Sun, beaches, spa treatments, fresh baskets of puppies and kittens delivered to your room daily, and a butler who will win the lottery for you while you have a pedicure …
And I’ve run out of questions. Since Louise failed to ask, I would like to add that I am very fond of a custard cream and also thank her hugely for having me. This is my first blog tour and I am hugely grateful for the support. I hope it turns into a long and happy friendship.
Huge thanks again for your wonderful answers, and for giving us a great insight into your work.
The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet is available in paperback (Oxford University Press, £6.99).
Find out more at Oxford University Press.