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Children! Gather Here! the shadow of the Rocketship!

The Story     Mars     The Characters    The Artwork

The Story

Ten year old Charlie Maidly moves to Mars with his parents and his dog and all that’s left of the human race after centuries of war, environmental damage and Bad Government to begin a new and exciting life.

But, unexpectedly, Charlie finds Mars to be very dull, being mostly red and mostly rocks, and often full of furious dust storms…

As if that isn’t disappointing enough, Charlie’s parents begin to argue every night, his dog starts talking to him and an old schoolfriend/enemy (Emilia Flagstaff) turns up out of nowhere.

Charlie is in a bad mood...until one day Charlie and his dog meet the Kink-Konk, the last surviving Kink-Konk on Mars. The Kink-Konk has lost all the other Kink-Konks. Charlie, his dog VW, and Emilia decide to help the Kink-Konk to uncover the truth about what has happened to his kith and kin.

Being around the Kink-Konk, with his poetic sayings, angry outbursts, impatience, ridiculous gymnastics and low boredom threshold, leads Charlie into all sorts of discoveries about the Red Planet, about growing-up, about loss, and about friendship.

Charlie begins to work out his complex feelings by telling stories about Old Mother Earth to his friends. The stories grow as Charlie’s moods take him to darker and darker places.

And Charlie discovers why all things happen for a reason.



What is Mars like?

Well, nobody has actually been there – yet. But lots of robots have.

Yes, it’s true!

But I‘m not talking about the sort of robots you might see in movies, looking like humans and running about and making tea and tidying up and all that sort of thing. No, I’m talking about little trundling trolley-things, things on wheels a little bit like the Strollers’ wheels, and sent to Mars in spaceships, sent all that way, and all on their own, with only a computer-brain to tell them what to do. Once they arrive these robots move about, but not too far (they’re only little!). They dig in the Martian soil and they sniff the Martian air, just like friendly dogs – they’re even called Rover! But best of all (and this is something dogs are not very good at – sorry VW!) they take lots and lots of photographs of the landscape of Mars. And then they send them back to the scientists on Earth. And then those same scientists share them with the rest of us – so we can see what Mars actually looks like, just as if you and I were really there.


Now the story of Charlie Maidly and the Kink-Konk is a fantasy (which means that I made it up!) but it is firmly rooted in geographical and geological facts about Mars.

Many of the place names are real – Mars has been well mapped already! Minor Canyon 479 exists, as does Pavonis Mons and Olympus Mons, and all the other locations: but Charlie’s home of Auger Town, on the slopes of Olympus Mons, is not actually there – yet!

All the landscape descriptions are as accurate as possible based on the visual and factual information I could gather about Mars (thank you little robots!)

The distances between places are accurate as well.

Have you ever been out on a windy day? I mean a really windy day, when umbrellas get snapped inside-out and rubbish gets blown around in big swirly heaps in the air? Well, that sort of a windy day would be a nice calm one on Mars! Mars is a planet swept by fierce dust storms; the atmosphere is thin; dust, sand and dirt are everywhere. Clothes, houses and vehicles all need to be able to deal with such weather – and you’ll find lots of details in the book about this, the practical side of living in such conditions.

But this is not just a story about surviving on an unfriendly planet. More than anything I hope you will discover – as Charlie does - the alien beauty, the eerie quality, and the poetry of living in such a strange place as Mars!

I hope that you too, Dear Reader, will feel as if you have been dropped into that magical and scary landscape, just like Charlie has been, and just like those little robots...


The Characters

Charlie Maidly

Have you ever moved house? Have you ever had to leave things behind that you love? Have you ever been upset?

Of course you have! We all have...but how do we get through those sad and tricky times? Everybody has a way. Maybe you go and punch a pillow. Maybe you weep into a big bucket. Maybe you slam a few doors. Maybe you shout and have a tantrum. Maybe you play the drums really loudly.

Charlie tells stories. He tells weird stories, funny stories, creepy stories, silly stories, chilly stories, long stories, stories, stories, stories.

Charlie is kind, thoughtful, feels a lot and thinks a lot – and, when he needs to, he does the right thing. You may know what I’m talking about. If not, you will, one day...

Vladivostok Woofers (or Benny)

VW is just about the best friend anybody could wish for – and he was Charlie’s best friend even before he could talk! VW arrives on Mars as Benny, Charlie’s dog, but the Martian atmosphere has a strange effect on Benny. He starts to talk, revealing his real name and a bizarre Russian ancestry. The dog also becomes an expert (overnight) on the Red Planet, another effect of the Martian atmosphere. VW can explain none of these changes except by saying that, “It’s a Martian thing,” which doesn’t really explain anything!

VW considers humans to be ‘mumblers’ and he often mishears what they say, leading to all sorts of funny misunderstandings. But behind all the silliness – he can get sidetracked very easily by meringues – VW is as thoughtful as Charlie, and, as you will find out, can be incredibly brave when the time is right.

Emilia Flagstaff

Emilia first appears under a cloud – not a real, grey, rainy cloud – but a Cloud of Suspicion. Which means that Charlie is not quite sure what she is up to. You see, long ago, Charlie played a nasty trick on Emilia involving a worm, and he’s not quite sure if she’s forgotten...or forgiven. But, as things turn out, Emilia F soon becomes a good friend to the day-dreamy boy – until a terrible thing happens to Emilia, a thing which turns her from a trusted friend into a sickly baddie! However, when she’s not being a baddie, Emilia is as kind and as thoughtful as Charlie. She can be a little bossy, but she can also be a little more sensible than Charlie. Emilia, like all girls on Mars, is both strong-minded and independent, just as comfortable with trying to save somebody’s life as applying make-up in a moving vehicle.

The Kink-Konk

Have you ever laughed so much that your belly actually begins to hurt and tears run down your cheeks? And have you ever been lying there shaking with merriment only to slowly realise that you are the one your friend was making fun of? Yes?

Well, that’s the Kink-Konk for you.

The Kink-Konk, if he sees you looking sad, will not comfort you. Instead he will poke fun at you. Until you burst with anger. And then he will smile and point out that you’re probably feeling better now that you’ve expressed yourself. And, annoyingly, you’ll know that he’s right!

The Kink-Konk looks a little like a squirrel, but a squirrel the size of a large toddler. But, unlike most toddlers, he is orange and yellow, and good at burrowing in the Martian sands.

He can be poetic. He can be mysterious. He sings and the rocks move about. He can enter your dreams and play around there, just for fun. He never seems to take anything seriously – but he is the most serious creature you could ever meet. He is ridiculous, angry, impatient, dislikes rules, gets bored too easily, and causes an awful lot of trouble.

He is also a great king, and the last of the Kink-Konks.


The Artwork

People often ask me ‘How did the lovely illustrations for your book come about?’

So I thought I’d tell you!

Charlie Maidly and his friends were in my head before they found their way into words and then into a book. And that was hard enough. And then I asked my friend Elham to try to draw them! 


Can you imagine how tricky that is? 

I’m not even sure what these characters look like, not exactly!

And then my friend sent the first few sketches and – Wow-Meringues! – there was Charlie, there was the Kink-Konk, there was Emilia F and VW, the Rocketship and Auger Town and the rowing boat, and I felt as if I were really there, and meeting the Chums for real, even after having spent all of that time with them already!

But how did she do it?!

Well, Elham was as keen as I was to make use of those photographs the little robots had sent back from the real Mars, and to begin with Elham tried to create a realistic image inspired​ by those photos - but she also wanted to achieve something more, something that captured the world of the book.

Here's the Artist in her own words...

"Just to explain a little..I wanted to bring out a dreamlike, ethereal quality - This is an entirely new Mars, unlike the one we know of now. It's far in the future, with an unfamiliar, yet breathable atmosphere ..and it's inhabited, not only by humans but also by the Pumpkin Bugs, the PumpKing and, of course, the Kink- Konk. Alongside this, I felt there was an engagement with one's inner mind as I read the story, and with the inner worlds we inhabit all the time that no one sees - I accentuated the blues to hopefully bring out that atmosphere and to create the look of a mysterious twilight on a far away world."

Double Fabuloso! 

Look around the website for lots more examples of the wonderful work Elham did for the book, 

and be sure to check out the Gallery!