The Caravan At The Edge Of Doom - Jim Beckett, ill. by Olia Muza
In a very clever move, Farshore books sent me the first chapter of this book as a taster a couple of months ago...and what an opening chapter it was! Exploding grandparents in a caravan toilet? What was coming next!?
I knew my grandparents had been ill, but I hadn't expected them to explode. Not all on the same night anyway.
Pops went off first, with a bone-rattling blast that rocked the caravan and echoed across the moonlit moor. He was in the loo at the time - Boom! - right in the middle of a wee.
Gran blew up next, before I had a chance to rub the sleep out of my eyes. She went into the tiny toilet and did such a big BOOM that I fell out of my bunkbed.
Since then, I've been waiting impatiently in anticipation for the rest of the book, and so I am thrilled to be part of the blogtour for it today, and to be able to host a guest post from author Jim Beckett about the inspiration for the book.
The story follows the journey of Harley, a girl from a family of 'Visionaries', who discovers her grandparents were actually gatekeepers to the Land of the Dead, and has to travel there herself to rescue her little brother, Malcolm, who stowed away in one of the granny's wheelie bags after the toilet explosions when she 'passed through'!
The book is hilarious....a funny, slightly scary riot of adventure and action as Harley battles against the clock and a collection of Beast Guardians to complete tasks and save Maccy before they're trapped in the Land of the Dead forever.
The book has humour as well as heart - Harley is a great lead character as she becomes a 'Legendary Hero' and indeed it was the characters in the book that I enjoyed the most...from Harley's bravery and internal monologues as she faced challenges and completed tasks, to Malcolm's baby-talk, a scared fireman not wanting to continue on his journey, and J-Wolf talking about 'pimping her ride'...all were brilliantly crafted and created laugh out loud moments throughout the book.
I loved the chapter headings and timer running down towards 'Eternal Damnation' as the book continued, alongside Olia Muza's great and beautifully detailed illustrations, particularly of the Beasts, and the table of 'Beast Guardian Evaluation' at the close of the book which added another laugh opportunity!
I'm thrilled to say that Jim has contributed to my blog with a guest post about his inspiration for the book:
I’m not entirely sure where The Caravan at the Edge of Doom came from. I remember jotting down a few lines about a lonely caravan on a moonlit moor. The caravan’s toilet was a portal to the Land of the Dead. Someone was going to pass through by mistake and need rescuing from Beyond. The Caravan at the Edge of Doom struck me as a good title.
At the time, I’d been working on several ideas for my next middle grade book, after the first one didn’t get picked up by a publisher. I couldn’t decide which story idea to go with, so I asked my agent (Hannah Sheppard) and she said, ‘This one or this one.’ One of the ‘this ones’ was The Caravan at the Edge of Doom.
Not a very inspiring inspiration story so far, is it? I’ll delve a little deeper.
As a child, did I go on holidays in a caravan? Yes. (Though in motor caravans, not towing caravans. Initially, in the classic orange VW campervan which later became a hippie-chic-retro-vintage-collectors’ vehicle, but at the time was just small.)
A childhood friend asked if the caravan in the book was based on his mum’s caravan, which was old and smelly and never went anywhere. Until he asked this, the connection hadn’t occurred to me. But it seemed pretty feasible, so I said yes. The caravan that Olia Muza has magicked to life so perfectly in her illustrations certainly looks like that one. Anyway, I’ve already promised my friend he could tell his mum it was her caravan.
But what about the Portal of Doom? Did I have an adventure that began in a caravan toilet? Well, no – not as far as I remember. But to be honest, I’ve forgotten quite a lot of stuff from the eighties. Maybe I’ve suppressed the memory? In which case, The Caravan at the Edge of Doom is autobiography, thinly disguised as fiction. My devious subconscious has simply replaced a short boy with a tall girl.
Okay, but why put the caravan on a moor? Probably because of the Brontës. I didn’t grow up frolicking on a moor, but in other respects my childhood was fairly Brontëesque. An aspiring writer, I liked to sit quietly, creating fantasy worlds, playing the piano, drawing, sewing. Actually, not sewing. Threading needles makes me nauseous. (Is that just me?) Later, I became a governess and fell in love with my employer, never suspecting the dark secret in his attic. Ah, the nineties! What progress we’ve made.
Death is one of the greatest taboos. Toilets are another taboo, and a staple of much children’s humour. Does the combination of death and toilet reduce or intensify the social squeamishness of the situation? Grief and loss are enormous. As with physical pain, we can’t prepare ourselves ahead of time; it’s next to impossible to build up a store of resilience against the terrifying inevitability of it all. We can’t be ready. But we can certainly be extra unready by not thinking about it, talking about it, or making up stories about what might happen.
Inspiration, on the other hand, we can be ready for. We don’t know when it’s coming or where it’ll come from – but when it strikes, grab it, and run with it! (And remember to set aside a few years for the run-with-it part.)
You can follow author, Jim Beckett as @aJimBeckett on Twitter, and illustrator Olia Muza as @oliamuza.
Watch Jim reading from the book for the brilliant Moon Lane TV here (make sure you subscribe to their YouTube channel!):
Publisher Farshore Books are on Twitter as @FarshoreBooks and their website is www.farshore.co.uk
Thank you to Antonia for asking me to be on the blogtour today.
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) June 2021