The Highland Falcon Thief - MG Leonard & Sam Sedgman, ill. by Elisa Paganelli
FCBG Children's Book Award blog tour
I absolutely LOVE this series, and so I'm very pleased to be able to share this exclusive blogpost with you here at whatiread.co.uk to celebrate The Highland Falcon Thief's shortlisting for the FCBG (Federation of Children's Book Groups) Children's Book Award.
Harrison Beck is reluctantly joining his travel-writer Uncle Nat for the last journey of the royal train, The Highland Falcon. But as the train makes its way to Scotland, a priceless brooch goes missing, and things are suddenly a lot more interesting. As suspicions and accusations run high among the passengers, Harrison begins to investigate and uncovers a few surprises along the way. Can he solve the mystery of the jewel thief and catch the culprit before they reach the end of the line?
This brilliant adventure in the Scottish Highlands starts the series, and I'm thrilled to be able to share this content from author, Sam Sedgman, talking about the love of trains that helped inspire the continuing adventures and locations in this and the books that follow:
I’ve been nuts about trains ever since I was little. I grew up with a railway line at the bottom of my garden, and whenever I heard a train rattling along the tracks, I would sprint down to the compost heap, and wave over the fence as it went past.
Trains are magical. As a child I loved them because they were big machines that were loud and fast and right there beside my house. But as grown-up, my affection for them has deepened. Railways snake through some of the most incredible parts of our planet – iron threads weaving our world together. They shake cherry blossom from trees beside ancient temples, and heave gold from deep mines in scorching deserts. They plunge into tunnels beneath mountains and sour on bridges above the sea. They take us to school, to work, to see family and friends. They bring us adventure. They bring us home.
A lifetime in love with railways inspired the research behind The Highland Falcon Thief. Here are five of my favourite railway journeys from around the world.
The California Zephyr
This mammoth three-day adventure sets out from Chicago and crosses 3,900km and 7 states on its journey to San Francisco. The snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the frothing white water of the Colorado river, the baking sand of the desert in Utah, the thick forests of the Sierra Nevada… all this and plenty more is yours to gaze at from the panoramic windows in the observation car as the Zephyr trundles its way leisurely through the heart of the United States. It was so irresistible that it inspired our second Adventures on Trains novel, Kidnap on the California Comet.
A great cheer went up when the last golden spike was hammered into place on this iron belt traversing the continent. The inspiration for ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, the tracks the Zephyr crosses were once part of the first transcontinental railroad, which cut the travel time across America from weeks to hours. The railway brought floods of settlers to the West of the continent and allowing the disparate patchwork of young states to begin to feel meaningfully “united” for the first time. This railway, in short, is what gave birth to modern America.
The Tokaido Shinkansen
In 1964, the first high speed railway opened in Japan, changing rail travel forever. In the midst of the jet age, when air travel seemed to be the height of glamour and convenience, few could understand Japan’s interest in trains, widely seen as outdated and unfashionable. But the so-called ‘bullet train’ proved them wrong. Gleaming white, lightning fast and scrupulously punctual, the shinkansen linked the centres of Japan’s major cities in a matter of hours, making rail travel simple, fast and affordable.
The first, the Tokaido Shinkansen, follows the Tokaido trail, an ancient walking route linking Tokyo and Osaka, which had been followed by merchants, artists and travellers for centuries. Today it is the busiest transport corridor in the world, with 370 trains every day, and has become the model for countries around the world investing heavily in high speed rail networks of their own.
It is usually considered terribly rude to eat on trains in Japan, and yet food is an important part of the railway network. Many stations serve ekiben, boxes of food designed to be eaten by travellers. Many stations serve unique ekiben, and take great pride in showcasing their local delicacies, often served in collectible boxes shaped like trains, or which light up or play music. Some railway enthusiasts travel the network just to sample the different ekiben on offer at different stations.
The Andean Explorer
Despite once having a promising rail infrastructure, modern South America is starved for great railway journeys. Perhaps its most famous trains are its abandoned ones, at the locomotive graveyard in Uyuni, on the Bolivian salt flats. The town was once destined to be the nexus of a grand transcontinental network linking Bolivia to Peru, Chile, Brazil and Argentina, but when the scheme collapsed, hundreds of steam engines built to run the network were abandoned and left to rust in haunting rows, some never even used.
Thankfully there are some working lines to cherish, not least the recently rejuvenated Andean Explorer, which offers a luxury trip from Cusco to Puno, operated by Belmond, the company behind the revived Orient Express. Once the capital of the Incan empire, and close by to the abandoned mountaintop city of Machu Pichu, Cusco is a grand starting point to a journey through beautiful cloud forests and epic mountain passes. The route is breath-taking: literally – oxygen is provided on board to fight altitude sickness, as the train reaches over 4,300m above sea level at the La Raya Pass.
The Trans-Siberian Express
It is scarcely possible to comprehend the engineering might that went into building the Trans-Siberian railway, the longest railway in the world, which links the nose and tail of Russia like a steel artery. It spans two continents, 30 cities, 9,000km and today takes 7 days to traverse in full.
It was the dream of Tsar Nicholas II, who wanted to unite distant Siberia with the rest of Russia. Though he saw his dream become reality, the coming revolution forced Nicholas to step down, and he and his family were transported along the railway to their execution. The line then became one of the main highways of war, with armoured battle trains launching artillery, carrying tanks and soldiers, and even distributing propaganda from on-board printing presses to help turn the tide of the conflict.
Today the line is used by tourists and everyday Russians alike, and links Moscow to the sea of Japan at Vladivostok. Though it crossed vast tundra with temperatures as low as -28C, Siberia is beginning to thaw from climate change: a growing business is the unearthing of woolly mammoth carcasses, preserved since the ice age, and plundering them for their ivory tusks.
Sprawling Australia has a number of epic railway journeys to choose from, but the Ghan is one its most impressive. Slicing the country up the middle from Adelaide in the temperate south to Darwin in the tropical north, it passes through the burning hot Red Centre of the Outback, calling halfway at the isolated town of Alice Springs, which floats out of the bone dry earth like a mirage. The desert here was so hot that camels were imported from Afghanistan to help workmen build the tracks: the Afghan camel drivers are where The Ghan takes its name from.
When the track to Alice was finished, the camels were cast out, but took very well to the Outback. Today, Australia has more wild camels than any other country, and many Middle Eastern countries import camels from the Outback.
Alice was the end of the line for almost 80 years, and the track from Adelaide was plagued with difficulties. Termites chewed through wooden sleepers, and sections of track were ravaged by floods, washing the line away. It wasn’t uncommon for trains to carry tools and supplies so that passengers could help repair the track when they ran into trouble. After adopting a new and safer route, with termite-resistant concrete sleepers, the line extended further north to eventually reach Darwin in 2002 – 120 years after construction began.
This line was the inspiration for our most recent instalment in the Adventures on Trains series, Sabotage on the Solar Express, where the maiden voyage of a futuristic hydrogen-powered train hurtles unstoppably towards danger, when it is sabotaged by one of the passengers.
Today, The Ghan’s gleaming silver passenger train clanks a distance of almost 3000km over three days, with a bewildering array of restaurants, lounges and sleeper carriages. At 774m in length, The Ghan is the longest passenger train in the world, and the finest way to experience the heart of Australia.
In addition (you lucky people!) illustrator Elisa Paganelli has shared this brilliant draw-along:
Find out more about the FCBG at their website, here: https://fcbg.org.uk/
These are the books on the shortlists- check out what other bloggers have on their stops via the links below:
The Highland Falcon Thief is published by Pan Macmillan - find out more here: www.panmacmillan.com/authors/m-g-leonard/the-highland-falcon-thief/9781529013061
Illustrator Elisa Paganelli's website is: https://elisapaganelli.com/
Many thanks to Erin (https://myshelvesarefull.com/ ) for organising this and for having me on the blogtour!
Blog by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) March 2022