Are you ready to be whisked away on a breath-taking adventure? Dive into Moonflight and follow timid rat, Tilbury as he embarks on a life-changing quest…
‘Can a timid rat ever become a hero?
Tilbury is about to find out on the adventure of a lifetime, journeying across the sea to the realm of the dreaded White Death, to return a priceless diamond to its rightful owners.
A marvellous adventure begins and a truly intrepid hero is born . . .’
After I had sped through Moonflight, desperate to see how events ended up, I had some questions to ask its award-winning author, Gill Lewis:
1) Rats are often not shown in a good light in children’s literature, yet in Moonflight, they are amongst the heroes. Why did you choose rats as the lead characters?
‘You dirty rat!’
It’s true! Rats have been feared and loathed for centuries, seen as harbingers of disease, thieves of food stores and sharp-toothed chewers of wires, furniture and many other household things. But rats are more like us than we realise. They are highly sociable and show empathy to other rats in their social groups. They are intelligent, fierce and brave. I needed fierce brave characters in the story. I have often thought their lives run parallel to ours. Like us, rats are highly adaptable and opportunist. They utilise our buildings for shelter and our waste food to eat. It’s no wonder that they live in cities alongside us. They have lived along the Thames for centuries as London has grown, journeyed as unwittingly global travelers on ships to far shores. I have often imagined what they think of us humans. We are inextricably bound to each other in our evolution. Rats were perfect to choose as lead characters. I also happen to think they are very cute and hope to change some readers’ perceptions of them too.
2) Marvelous inventions and inquisitive minds are key to this adventure. Were you inspired by any real inventors?
A theme that runs through the story is one of the invention of flight. I was inspired by the Wright brothers, who were credited with building the first successful motorised flying machine in 1903. They also invented the three-axis aircraft controls that make fixed-wing powered flight possible today. I think it’s fascinating that these brothers engineered a craft to take off from the ground. Their first prototypes could only glide, but as the brothers began to understand how lift is correlated to the shape of the wing, they could develop their gliding flying machines into powered ones to take off from the ground. It must have been risky, terrifying and exhilarating to be the very first person to lift into the air on powered flight. It astonishes me just how quickly aeroplanes were developed over the next forty years to be able to be utilised in the Second World War. In Moonflight, Tilbury and his sister Nimble-Quick dream of finding the lost plans to the Silk Wing, a legendary flying machine invented by a famous rat, the Great Bartholomew. Tilbury tries to understand how birds fly, his inquisitive mind examining the shape of feather and wings. But can Tilbury’s curiosity be enough to invent a flying machine to take them into the air?
3) Were names significant in the story and if so, how did you choose them?
I had great fun choosing the right names for my characters. Some took a long time to think up, and others were almost immediately found.
Tilbury’s name came from Tilbury Docks, although I have no idea why I thought of Tilbury Docks at all. I’m not sure I have ever been there. His surname is Twitch-Whiskers, for obvious reasons.
His sister Nimble-Quick, was named because she is nimble and quick, both mentally and physically, and so the name stuck straight away.
Yersinia, is the general of the Tower Guard that guard the Elders, and is named after the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, that causes the Black Death. So, I suppose there is a clue to his character in the name.
Two dastardly Ship Rats are called Retch and Spew, for obvious reasons and they answer to Captain Spurious.
Readers will have to guess why some characters have names, such as Marmalade Paws, General Malice andJinkwene.
I loved bringing these characters to life and I hope readers enjoy Tilbury’s adventures and meeting the cast.
4) I absolutely loved the rich tapestry of rat legends and folklore woven throughout the story and how the rituals and superstitions mirrored elements of our own society. Did you draw on any specific sources to help create these?
I wanted to explore the stories we weave around society in the form of tradition, pomp and pageantry within the British monarchy, government and some religions too. Traditions reinforce the stories others tell us about ourselves. These traditions can present themselves as truths and deny the opportunity to challenge them. Indeed, to challenge a belief or tradition or the history we’re told to believe, can lead to being shunned from society. In Moonflight, the Elders are the Dockland Rats that hold power. They are the holders of the prophecy that surrounds the black diamond, the Cursed Night. The Elders preside over the ceremony that each young rat must attend to see if they are the chosen one to fulfil the prophecy. By holding tradition and reinforcing it upon the young rats, the Elders tell them what to think and who they are, and in doing so, control them. No one dares to criticize the Elders.
I personally find the traditions and rituals surrounding the monarchy so strange and bizarre that we should exult one family purely by birthright. Many rituals go back many hundreds of years. But the story surrounding the monarchy is so powerful and so old, that we accept it part of our own narrative. Yet in doing so, we turn a blind eye to other narratives. The inspiration behind the cursed diamond in Moonflight was drawn from the story surrounding the Koh-i-Noor diamond that Queen Victoria acquired by deception from eleven-year-old maharaja, Duleep Singh. Yet the story that the British government still tell, is that the diamond was gained legally in the Last Treaty of Lahore. It is no wonder that the Koh-i-Noor is said to have a curse – maybe a legacy of the many narratives of bloodshed and deception that are woven around its history.
Some might say tradition is an important part of our past, to be respected and revered and to give us a sense of purpose and of who we are. Others might say tradition is peer pressure from dead people. I think it’s up to each of us to go in search of the truth and decide.
5) There was a strong theme of everyone having their own version of a story to tell – how details are embellished, how key players are omitted, how cultural norms and opinions can greatly influence a person’s perspective. Why did you decide to include this theme?
This was a theme that seemed to grow as I wrote the story. I wasn’t consciously aware of weaving this theme through until later, but I think ultimately it has become the predominant one. We are all made of stories, they shape us and tell us who we are. Whether on a personal or global scale, we often tell the stories we want to hear, because no one wants to be the villain of their own story. Britain’s colonial history has often tried to present Britain as a successful, benevolent nation, improving infrastructure and the lives of people in the colonised countries. But of course, the stories others would tell of British colonialism would be of violence, greed and plunder. It’s important these other voices, whether from past or present are heard.
Often key characters are written out of history. Emily Williamson, Etta Lemon and Eliza Phillips have only just recently been recognised as the founding members of the RSPB and responsible for stopping the trade of feathers for fashion. Black female NASA research mathematician, Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020) has also only relatively recently been recognised for her pioneering work that enabled humans to be sent into space.
We are all influenced by the stories told about us and often accept others’ viewpoint about the world. We all need to question the stories and challenge cultural norms and our own perspectives, even when it can be uncomfortable to do so. Accepting uncomfortable truths is the first step to being accountable for them and changing the future. I have just read that the Church of England, in a bid to ‘address past wrongs’, has committed £100 million to compensate for its historical benefit from the international slave trade. It is a bold and much needed step, and other institutions could follow.
In a world of so many stories, the truth can be hard to find, but perhaps the greatest truth is when we understand the truth of our own selves.
6) Illustrator, Pippa Curnick has done an amazing job of bringing the words on the page to live with her brilliant illustrations. Do you have a favourite spread?
Indeed, aren’t they gorgeous story-perfect illustrations. She has captured their characters brilliantly. There are so many wonderful images, but I think my favourite has to be the opening to part two, where Tilbury and Marfaire are about to leave Tilbury Docks by ship. The entrance of the dastardly ship rats makes me smile each time I look at this illustration.
7) Finally, what I would really like to know is whether we will be able to read any more about Tilbury and Nimble-Quick’s adventures or whether a new generation may take up the adventuring mantle?
At the moment there are no plans for a sequel, but I would never say never. Tilbury’s world is so rich and formed in my mind that I would love to return. However, writing Moonflight taught me a lot about my own writing process, and I would love to write a world-building story again.
Thank you Gill for answering all my questions – I would love to see a return to the world of Moonflight. I’d highly recommend this rich, enthralling title for anyone aged 9+
*Many thanks to David Fickling Books for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*
2 thoughts on “Blog tour: ‘Moonflight,’ by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Pippa Curnick.”
Excellent to see positivity rather than the usual negativity towards these highly intelligent and thus sentient fellow creatures.