BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
We are so excited to host a Q&A with Martin Howard, author of the The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet .
Read on for a review of the book and an exclusive Q&A in which we ask Martin all about writing, mapping the cosmos and the likelihood of inhabited worlds outside our known universe. We also find out what's next in store for Alfie...
Book Title: The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet (available here)
Author: Martin Howard
Illustrator: Chris Mould
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: March 2019
Most Suitable For: KS2
Fasten your seatbelts and brace yourself for a rip-roaring adventure into the cosmos. Brimming with humour, imagination and all things wacky, The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet is reminiscent of the stories of Douglas Adams written with a younger audience in mind.
Young Alfie knows how tough life can be for his hard-working mum. With mum’s birthday just around the corner, Alfie sets his mind on a brilliant present for her: the Sole Sensation 6000 Foot Spa. The only problem is that at the hefty price of £149.99, Alfie will have to think creatively in order to gather together the money he needs in time for her birthday. In his desperation, Alfie turns to the classified ads in the newspaper and finds a rather vague job advert looking for a young person with a ‘taste for adventure’. Alfie decides to apply right away.
When Alfie meets his new employer, Professor Bowell-Mouvemont (the first of many amusing names in the story), little does he realise that he is about to embark upon a completely crazy adventure to other worlds that will involve stone circles, elves and dragons, a moped named Betsy and a place called Brains-in-Jars-World.
With a plot that feels like anything could happen next, this is the kind of story that will appeal to readers who love to laugh at the wacky and the unexpected. Beyond the humour, there is also a high spirit of adventure to enjoy and a blossoming relationship between Alfie and the professor; with Alfie bringing a fresh offering of youthful energy, entrepreneurialism and creativity along, the Professor begins to resurrect old dreams and dying hopes. Working together, the pair breathes new life into the struggling-to-survive Unusual Cartography Club.
With amazingly detailed maps and illustrations by Chris Mould to bring the fantasy setting to life, as well as snippets from Alfie’s notebook and extracts from his travel writings, this book is likely to inspire a host of new fantastical travel guides from creative young readers.
with Martin Howard, author of The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet.
What was the inspiration behind The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet?
First, thanks for having me. It’s the first time I’ve done a blog tour and I’m blown away by everyone’s generosity. I had an idea to write travel guides for fantastic worlds about fifteen years ago. I’ve always loved exploring the maps in fantasy books and decided a travel guide was the obvious next step. The idea bubbled away in the back of my brain while I was writing other books. I couldn’t use other writer’s worlds – Narnia or Middle Earth or wherever – so I realised the travel guide would have to be part of a story and I wanted the story to be exactly right before I sat down and started writing. I came up with the idea for the Unusual Cartography Club about three years ago and everything clicked into place so I finally got down to work. Which means The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet was fifteen years in the making!
Can you describe the story in 5 words?
Bonkers blast of cosmic fun!
If you could visit any part of the Cosmic Atlas, which bit would it be and why?
The world of Outlandish looks like a great place for a quest, but there’s a paradise planet called Blyssss mentioned in the book where they invented the sun-lounger before the wheel. They also have spa pirates who board ships and give everyone massages and beauty treatments. It’s based on the honeymoon my wife and I took on an island in Thailand and I love beach holidays so I think I’d visit Blyssss first and then make my way to Outlandish for an adventure.
In the story, Alfie is saving up money to buy his hard-working mum a really great present. Can you think of a time when you have had to work hard to save up for something really important?
I used to do a paper round when I was young, and wanted to buy my sister a really cool sixteenth birthday present. Like Alfie, I couldn’t afford it even though I saved really hard so I sold my record collection to a second-hand record shop. I ended up spending quite a lot of money, but neither me or my sis can remember what I bought her and there were a couple of rare David Bowie records in my collection that are worth a fortune now, so I wish I’d just given her a box of chocolates!
We love the maps in the story! Can you tell us more about how you and illustrator Chris Mould worked together to create the mapped-out worlds?
I live in France and Chris lives in the UK so we had to do it over email. I’m no artist but I sketched out rough maps and he turned them into beautiful, Chris Mould artwork. Then I realised that I’d forgotten to put stuff in and put things in the wrong places and had to ask him to change them. If you’re reading this, sorry Chris!
What were your own favourite books as a child?
Wow, that’s a big question! I always had my head buried in a book when I was young, even when I wasn’t supposed to. I earned myself quite a few punishments by reading under the desk at school. It got to a point where teachers checked I didn’t have a book on my knees before the lesson began. My favourite stories were always sci-fi and fantasy, and I especially loved Ursula K. le Guin’s Earthsea books, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, the Narnia books and – of course - The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But I could go on about my favourite books all day …
Some of the places in the story are pretty wacky (Brains-In-Jars World was our personal favourite!). Do you think there are really other worlds and universes out there somewhere? Absolutely! In the 1960s an astronomer called Frank Drake tried to work out how many other intelligent civilisations might be dotted around our galaxy using maths. The Drake Equation isn’t exact because there are still a lot of things we don’t know about the universe but even using cautious guesses it says there might be at least twenty other populated worlds in our galaxy alone, and possibly many more. As there are hundreds of billions of galaxies I think there must be other worlds with intelligent life out there, and some of them even more bonkers than the worlds in The Cosmic Atlas.
We really enjoyed the snippets of the travel guide inserted into the story, especially Alfie’s positive spin on some of the bizarre places he encounters. Have you ever trusted a review or guide that turned out to be wildly inaccurate?
A few years ago when my children were little we were driving through the South of France on holiday and stopped at Dinosaur Park. The adverts and pamphlet had pictures of a massive, roaring T-Rex and a huge Brontosaurus and promised an “unforgettable adventure through the world of dinosaurs”. We paid twenty-five euros to go in, expecting something like Jurassic Park, and found that it was a small, dark room with a bunch of plastic dinosaurs on shelves: the kind of dinosaurs you can find in bags of twenty in a pound shop. It looked like whoever was in charge had just raided their kids’ toy box. None of the dinosaurs was more than six inches tall. We laughed our pants off though, so it was money well spent!
We get the feeling there might be more to come from Alfie and his new friends Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont and Derek. Can you tell us what - if anything - is next in store for the cosmic adventurers?
I’ve just finished writing book two and I don’t want to spoil anything but the gang are about to get visitors from the Unusual Cartography Club’s past and Alfie is in for a BIG surprise …
For more from Martin, follow @MJHowardWrites on Twitter at or visit https://booksbymart.pub.
Many thanks to Martin for answering our questions and to the publisher for sending us a review copy of the book.
Do check out the other stops on the blog tour, too!