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Parents! Guardians! Teachers! Gather Here!

...in the Bubble Houses of Auger Town!


In this section you'll find more detailed information about Mars and the story of 

Charlie Maidly and the Kink-Konk 

The Story

Mars and Science

Descriptions of the Landscape

Atmosphere

Housing and Travel

Food and Clothing

Geography and Geology

The Polar Spiders

Boys and Emotions

The Artwork

Plot Overview

Study Guide

The Story

The story is set far into the future, and begins with 10 year old Charlie Maidly moving to Mars with his parents and what is left of the human race. Charlie is surprised to find himself feeling bored on Mars until his dog begins to talk to him, a strange effect of the Martian atmosphere. Charlie learns that his dog is not called Benny but Vladivostok Woofers, and has a bizarre and colourful Russian history.

Charlie is revealed to be a sensitive and moody boy, and his dog, VW, picks up on this. VW encourages Charlie to tell stories in order to express and identify his feelings. Charlie is mostly upset about his parents arguing (they are splitting up). (The first major story-within-a-story begins here, and this pattern is repeated throughout the book).

Charlie dreams one night about a strange squirrel-like creature, yellow and about the size of a toddler.

Despite the insistence of human scientists that there is no indigenous life on Mars, a few days later Charlie and VW meet the creature from Charlie’s dream. The creature claims to be a native creature of Mars, in fact the king of a race called Kink-Konks. He refers to himself as the Kink-Konk. He is an odd character, poetic and mischievous, wise and annoying, impatient and insightful and Charlie and VW warm to him straight away.

The Kink-Konk shelters Charlie and VW from a sudden dust-storm in his home. (The science in the book is accurate but adapted for my own narrative purposes. The descriptions of the Martian landscape are faithful in respect to names, topography and distances. I felt it was important that the young reader had the opportunity to learn something about this strange other world. See Mars and the Science below for more details).

The Kink-Konk tells Charlie and VW that all the other Kink-Konks are lost and that he is alone.

Around the same time Emilia Flagstaff turns up, an old school-mate of Charlie’s, who Charlie once teased a little. Her parents are also on Mars and Emilia becomes friends with Charlie, VW and the Kink-Konk.

Despite Charlie’s parents arguing, they agree to take Charlie on a special trip for his birthday. Emilia and her parents are planning to join them. This trip will take them on a Rocketship to the Martian South Pole, and then a drive back across the landscape in a vehicle called a Stroller, back to their home in Auger Town, a settlement in the shadow of Olympus Mons.

Meanwhile the reader is introduced to another indigenous race - a race of insect-like creatures called Pumpkin Bugs. These creatures live in a rocky warren called the Noctis Labyrinthus (Labyrinth of the Night), are ruled by a king called the PumpKing, and they are the primary food source of the Kink-Konks.

Mars and the Science

A synopsis of the Story identifying the Scientific/Astronomical features

The story is set in the future. It is a fantasy rooted in facts about the geography, geology and atmosphere of Mars.

Humankind has decided to leave the Earth in peace after many years of war, environmental damage and wasting of natural resources. What is left of the Human Race moves permanently to Mars. The reader follows the story of a ten year old boy Charlie Maidly, his parents and his dog, as they settle into life on the Red Planet. Charlie finds that his dog can now talk (it’s a Martian thing!) and – despite what the Grown-Ups believe – Charlie discovers that there are two indigenous species on Mars. These are the Kink-Konks and the Pumpkin Bugs. Charlie and his friends go on a journey across Mars – the ‘Big Adventure’ – experiencing the Martian landscape in all its eerie wonder, and, at the same time, searching for the Kink-Konk’s lost friends. This is a journey set within a well-researched Martian world. The journey that Charlie follows can be followed on a map of Mars: the distances, geological and geographical features are all accurate; the majority of the location names already exist (like the crater named Porter). I have expanded on these features for my own fictional purposes (like creating a town at the Porter crater) (see notes on Geography and Geology below).

Descriptions of the Landscape

The Martian landscape as seen and experienced by Charlie and his friends has been described as accurately as possible using visual data available via the internet supplemented by books of collections of images from the various Mars Rovers. Although some place names are fictional (like Charlie’s home-town, Auger Town), many are real and placed accurately within the geography of the story. For example:

‘Charlie and Vladivostok Woofers were sitting in the Canyon Of Daydreams. The dog had named the place. On the local maps it was called Minor Canyon 479, a smaller part of the Abus Vallis and was just one of thousands of similar places in this part of the Martian landscape, west of the Peacock Mountain, Pavonis Mons.’

Atmosphere

There is no complex explanation of how humans are able to breathe on Mars, although there are references to algae pools (Great Elodea Ponds).

This is basically the simple idea that an intervention has been made with the least environmental impact (the algae pools) which has somehow enriched the air with oxygen. I am not a scientist but this seemed like a reasonably plausible solution, as well as being one which fitted with the idea that the humans in the story are trying to treat the environment with more respect and in a far less invasive way than previously in the history of Earth.

There is no explicit explanation of how the air temperature is now suitable for humans – but there are some details of the ways in which the Martian atmosphere has been managed to make Mars habitable for humans:


‘The little Rocketship sails into the sky, its little metal tummy stuffed with important minerals.

Heaps of Olivines for the Sequestration Silos, seventeen elegant towers anchored into the slopes of the Chico Valles, each tower absorbing deadly poisons from the Martian air!

Piles of Pyroxenes for the Solar Panel Makers in their tiny factory sheltered in the gullies south of Terra Sirenum! ‘


This is a good example of fantasy rooted in fact: olivine and pyroxene exist on Mars, and could be suitable materials for the purposes described; the Chico Valles and the Terra Sirenum exist and could be suitable locations - but I have used this information as springboards to allow me to write poetically about these practical arrangements!

I did not want the story to become too bogged down with scientific explanations. I wanted to place the reader in an alien world and to invite them to accept that it has been made habitable. But I also wanted it to seem at least plausible, so that the reader would not be stopping every few pages wondering how all this was possible!

The fierceness of the Martian dust storms is toned down a little, but their impact is described accurately enough to give the young reader the idea that being caught out in one of these storms could be deadly. The storms are either made of sand/dirt (as they really are) – or they consist of thousands of tiny, gritty bugs, like a swarm of locusts. These are the Pumpkin Bugs, both the food and the enemy of the Kink-Konks. This is of course a fictional fabrication to suit my own purposes!

Housing and Travel

Whilst housing is not described in great detail, the descriptions suggest low-level, bubble-shaped dwellings designed to withstand the dramatic and destructive Martian ‘weather’ – in other words the dust storms – and to make the most of the available sunlight.

Travel is either on foot - (this is how Charlie and his friends discover features in their locality) – overland in large vehicles called Strollers; or, for greater distances, by Rocketship.

The Strollers are large tube-shaped vehicles with very big balloon tyres; basically exaggerated versions of the existing Mars Rover vehicles. This design seemed the most visually appealing, and the most practical for dealing with the variety of rocky landscapes on the surface of Mars.

The Rocketships made sense in an atmosphere unable to sustain air travel, and were, again, appealing to me because they maintained the flavour of an old-fashioned sci-fi novel, and allowed the characters to have some fun with g-forces and low-gravity conditions. There are large Rocketships for passenger travel, and smaller ones (Nippy Nephews) for the transportation of goods and for repair work.

Food and Clothing

Charlie talks about wearing SuperElastics, and these are items of clothing which are designed to be so close fitting as to protect the wearer from intrusions of dust, sand or dirt. This is a theme which is echoed in the emphasis on the importance of the window and door seals on the houses and the Strollers.

I wanted to give the young reader a flavour of life on another planet from a practical point of view. And I liked the idea that this would be incorporated into fashion: that SuperElastics would be designed, and desirable, rather than merely functional.

I approached the theme of food in a similar way. Recognising that food may well be processed, and necessarily packaged in dust-proof containers, Charlie and his friends talk about SnackyTreats and SipSnacks. It seemed more fun to have the characters casually mention these things as if they were an everyday part of their lives - which, of course, they are!

Geography and Geology

Anybody familiar with what we know about Mars may well recognise several features and locations straight away: Olympus Mons; Pavonis Mons; the Noctis Labyrinthus; McMurdo near the Southern Polar Ice-cap; the Claritas Rupes; the Cavi Angusti; the Daedalia Planum and Solis Planum; Arsia Mons, with its suspected caves; the Inca City; the ‘smiley face’ (the Face of Mars); and the ‘teardrop’ landforms.

I compared and contrasted the various maps of Mars available, as well as the Google Earth version of Mars.

All these features, and the distances between them, are accurately described to the best of my knowledge, as if the characters were really there:


‘Charlie’s mum and dad had promised to take Charlie and his dog to see the Polar Spiders, a journey that would take them over 3000 kilometres south of August Town to the Southern Icecap of Mars.

A Rocketship would carry them in a single day to McMurdo on the edge of the great Carbon Dioxide Ice Slab at the South Pole.

And once they had marvelled at the spring phenomenon of the Polar Spiders, they would return overland by Stroller. This was to be the Big Adventure, and this would take many days. It was 3000 kilometres back to August Town and the Stroller would not be as fast or as nippy as the Rocketship.

They had planned on beginning the long return journey with a visit to the Cavi Angusti, a hollow canyon with steep deeply scarred cliffs stretching over 600 kilometres. From there they would soon reach Porter Town and its amazing shallow Crater, then north towards the Claritas Rupes, a raised plateau of crusty twisted rocks, north east to the Noctis Labyrinthus, a 1200 kilometre long canyon, before finally bumbling over the lower slopes of the Peacock Mountain, Pavonis Mons, and then the last 1000 kilometres to home in the State of Olympus Mons.’


I have expanded on several features for my own purposes - but these expansions have not strayed too far from what might be likely to happen, or what might be possible. For example the giant crater known as Porter seemed a likely place for a town to have developed:


‘“It’s good for trade,” he said between sips of treacly coffee, “You see, Porter Town was built because of the Crater - there’s no other reason to be here. But tourists come – it was quite unexpected! To begin with there were only the Geologists. And then, after the Big Day, well! The New Families wanted to explore Mars, have a little look around, go on a bit of an adventure! It sounds like your patient is doing just such a thing right now as we speak!”

“Yes. I believe that he and his family and friends flew to the Polar Icecap in a Rocketship from August Town. They are returning overland in a Stroller.”

“Marvellous! What fun! The problem is...after the multitude of life, the cornucopia of greenery, waterfalls, forests, lakes and oh-so-many other environments of Old Mother Earth, Mars, a red world of dust, well... let us say it does not have quite such a variety of natural attractions.”

“It is a haunting and an eerie place,” said Dr. Stepanyova, “but it has a beauty of its own I think.”’


I gave the Noctis Labyrinthus - which is the home for the Pumpkin Bugs - a ‘city’ of tunnels within the cliff walls (which is a fabrication). But the general description of the Noctis - its temperature, its light and shade, its size and features -I have retained as faithfully as I could. This has been my approach for both these books: to take factual information and then adapt it to suit the purposes of the story whilst retaining a strong element of geographical and geological truth: the Kink-Konk’s cave is called The Hematite because of the presence of iron oxide on Mars; the ‘Temple’ which the two Pumpkin Bugs discover is not real - but the teardrop island it is located on is.

The Polar Spiders

This natural phenomenon has been written and speculated about and is a popular source of inspiration for artists of the Red Planet! It seemed like a gift when I came across it; and it seemed totally plausible that families living on Mars would travel to see this annual display, and that it would inevitably become a tourist attraction:


‘The creaking noises were becoming louder and every 30 seconds the ice groaned. It began making little splintering sounds like somebody in the distance smashing the tiny windows of an elf’s house.

“The sun is shining through the layer of True Ice,” Dr. Westbrook was saying in a soft voice, “ and the Dry Ice is beginning to sublimate. That means that the CO2 is going to change straight from ice to gas. And this is the exciting phenomenon which you have travelled all this way to witness! Now, follow me very, very carefully as we walk across the Slab, and we will be as close as we can be to the Polar Spiders!”’

Boys and Emotions

As Charlie Maidly and the Kink-Konk unfolded I realised that I was being drawn to write about a pre-teen boy character who had real feelings about real stuff going on, and who needed to find a way to express and work through those feelings. It seemed to me that whilst Junior Fiction abounds in strong, feisty, independent girl characters, I was struggling to find an equivalent for boys.

I wanted a boy who had emotions and felt them; who was moody but not trying to put a brave face on things; who could shed tears as a sign of strength, not weakness.

I also wanted a book which introduced children to philosophical thinking: of the value of reflecting, pondering, and of thinking things through.

To begin with it is my voice which comes into the story and encourages this kind of thinking. But as Charlie’s stories become more sophisticated, the philosophy becomes integrated into Charlie’s stories, and within the conversations which he has with his friends.

Charlie manages his moods with stories.

Charlie tells stories, metaphorical tales which marry old folk tales of Earth (often fictional, but not always) to Charlie’s struggles in his own current situation. As he grows up and his feelings become more complex, so the stories become more elaborate and more intense. The whole book leads up to the ‘Big Adventure’, a geographically accurate journey across Mars which is also a journey of the heart and the soul. Charlie learns what it means to grow up, accepting being let-down by his dad, realising how close he is to his mum, repairing past hurts and finding strength in dealing with the unexpected


The Artwork

The wonderful original artwork is done by Elham Jones-Redman. Elham worked very closely with me to capture the flavour and tone of the book. Like me Elham made use of the existing images of Mars sent back by the NASA vehicles, aiming for something realistic to begin with. But she also wanted to achieve something more - to capture the unique feel of the world of the book. 

Here's what she has to say about the process:

"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."

Many of her sketches can be found dotted around the website. She can be contacted at [email protected]


Plot Overview

Join Charlie Maidly, his friend Emilia F, his dog VW, and the quirky and unpredictable Kink-Konk, on a journey through the geology and geography of Mars on an adventure of discovery. Philosophy, emotions, drama and tragedy are all played out across an accurately described Martian landscape, and through the landscape of the hearts and souls of the children, young pioneers facing the challenge of growing up on an utterly alien world.

Charlie Maidly moves to Mars with his parents and his dog and the last remaining members of the human race. Charlie is a sensitive and an imaginative boy, and he is growing up fast. Mars has a strange effect on him and he begins to manage his strong moods by telling stories to his friends. The planet also has a strange effect on his dog - who begins to talk!

The stories Charlie tells and the story he is living become intertwined, enriching each other, and deepening the strange alien effect the Red Planet exerts over the friends. A new world and a fresh start are forged out of the memories of Old Earth...but nothing can be known for sure in such a melancholic, poetic, and ultimately inhuman landscape.

One day they come across a native of Mars - the Kink-Konk - who exists despite the grown-up scientists insisting that there are no natives of Mars!

The Kink-Konk tells Charlie and VW that all the other Kink-Konks are lost and that he is alone.

The Kink-Konk is an irritable, charming, poetic, and maddening creature - a lot like Charlie himself.

Around the same time Emilia Flagstaff turns up, an old school-mate of Charlie’s, who Charlie once teased a little. Her parents are also on Mars and Emilia becomes friends with Charlie, VW and the Kink-Konk.

Despite Charlie’s parents arguing, they agree to take Charlie on a special trip for his birthday. Emilia and her parents are planning to join them. This trip will take them on a Rocketship to the Martian South Pole, and then a drive back across the landscape in a vehicle called a Stroller, back to their home in August Town, a settlement in the shadow of Olympus Mons.

Meanwhile the reader is introduced to another indigenous race - a race of insect-like creatures called Pumpkin Bugs. These creatures live in a rocky warren called the Noctis Labyrinthus (Labyrinth of the Night), are ruled by a king called the PumpKing, and they are the primary food source of the Kink-Konks.

Swarms of pumpkin bugs form clouds on Mars which are sometimes mistaken for dust storms. One such dust storm hits Emilia’s house as she sleeps. A tiny warrior bug – Torsolikos Mongovanian – finds a way into Emilia’s bedroom and buries itself under Emilia’s skin. From there it can witness Emilia’s dreams and influence her moods and actions. Emilia dreams about the Kink-Konk and Torso Mongo reports back to the other bugs. The reader learns that the pumpkin bugs have caused the disappearance of all the Kink-Konks – but they missed one: the Kink-Konk king, Charlie’s new friend. After Torso Mongo’s report they now know that the Kink-Konk is alive and set about manipulating Emilia to trap and capture him…

Charlie and VW manage to stow the Kink-Konk away on the Rocketship. They have persuaded the Kink-Konk to come with them on the Big Adventure as Charlie and Emilia believe that they can search for the missing Kink-Konks as they travel across the Martian landscape, covering areas which the Kink-Konk could never possibly reach by himself.

They all have some fun at the witnessing the geysers at the polar ice-cap, and visiting a ‘citadel’ formed of natural geological processes (both of these are real phenomena described as realistically as possible – see Mars and the Science above for more details).

The story now follows several strands:

• As Emilia F succumbs to the influence of Torso Mongo she becomes more erratic and more dangerous, setting traps for the Kink-Konk.

• Charlie’s parents begin to argue more and more and it becomes obvious to all that Charlie’s dad is having an affair with Emilia’s mum.

• Charlie starts to grow up, revealing compassion and insight about what is going on around him.

• The Martian landscape begins to feature more significantly, and reflects the state of mind of some of the characters.

• The PumpKing’s daughter, Vobster, becomes friends with an old pumpkin bug called the Psychopomp and together they decide that the PumpKing and his plans for revenge against the Kink-Konks are all wrong. They set out on a secret journey to warn the humans and the Kink- Konk.

The story now resolves these elements.


Study Guide

There are many themes within the book worth studying further:


The experience of relocation. Relocation can have a significant emotional impact on young children, and, whilst relocating to Mars is clearly a fantasy, it is true that many young children have mixed feelings about moving to a new home or school, expecting something magical but fearing something worse than what they already know, excited about the ‘new’ but sad at facing the loss of the ‘old’.

Managing feelings. Children have feelings but adults seem to be at odds about how to support children with their feelings. At one extreme adults can be very afraid of children simply having feelings and sometimes work hard to try to change what the child is feeling, especially if it is a negative feeling. Or conversely they can over-indulge those feelings until all boundaries disappear and the child no longer feels safe in the world. Ask your children to consider the differences between how VW supports Charlie and how the Kink-Konk supports Charlie. Who else supports Charlie throughout the book?

The experience of being a boy. Simple, really – but also massively complex. Sadly, whilst girls have benefitted from the gains of post-feminism, and have a range of legitimate ‘personas’ to inhabit, boys don’t. In fact it seems that choices for boys are even more conservative now than they’ve ever been. Ask the boys in your class what they think of Charlie revealing his feelings, and help them try to identify how they look after themselves emotionally. Ask the girls the same!

Mars. There is a huge amount of information out there about the Red Planet, so the projects you could launch are endless: art; photography; geography; creative writing; physics and so on.

Children and parents. Charlie has a fractured relationship with his parents but he tries to work things through. Encourage your children to think about how they manage relationships within families. Which leads to...

Power! Children often feel dis-empowered in their lives. A great deal of children’s fiction revolves around fantasies of children taking charge of situations, without any adults around. This book is no exception! Ask children to think about why some decisions in their lives are better made by adults and which ones they think they should be making. Start by asking the children about Charlie’s decision to leave the Stroller without letting any of the adults know. Ask them if they can see a difference between the Charlie at the beginning of the book and Charlie by the end. What has changed for Charlie?

Death. The book does not shy away from death. It is a difficult subject for children. But children aged between 8 and 12 tend to be open to conversations about mortality, and curious about the idea of death. Ask your children to compare how they felt about the different deaths in the book – which ones affected them the most, and why?

Crime and punishment. What do your children make of Douglas Maidly’s actions? And of his punishment? Can they make sense of the PumpKing’s actions (imprisoning the Kink-Konks)? And what do they make of his ‘trial’ on the mountain-side? Vobster and the Psychopomp have thoughts and feelings about imprisoning the Kink-Konks – what do your children make of those?