While reading Matthew Skelton's The Story of Cirrus Flux, I was struck by a funny thought – it's a good thing that there's only one James Patterson, isn't it? I mean, I love the Maximum Ride series as much as the next guy, but all of those books are so. . . what's the word. . . hyper. It's one big set piece or chase scene after another. You never get a chance to catch your breath.
Sometimes you want a book that's a little slower, one that takes its time and doesn't rush the set-up. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, "There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it." But you don't want it to get too slow. It should still have action, fun characters, and a big climax at the end as a payoff for all that buildup. If you're in that kind of mood, The Story of Cirrus Flux is for you. Because as fun as James Patterson is, sometimes you want a filet mignon instead of popcorn.
Set in 18th-century London, in the same kind of historical-magical-realism world that Philip Pullman brought to life in The Golden Compass, Cirrus Flux follows the main character, a young orphan named Cirrus, on a quest to keep a piece of powerful magic out of the hands of some greedy, creepy ne'er-do-wells. I can't honestly say that the story takes a twist or a turn that you haven't seen before, but I can assure you that you'll love the vibrant, familiar-but-exotic setting, the quick-witted characters, and the thoughtful writing. The scene where Cirrus first encounters a hot air balloon powered by a flaming bird, and struggles to describe what he's seeing – as though you or I were trying to describe a UFO – is worth the price of admission alone, and a testament to what a pleasure it is to read Matthew Skelton's writing. This is an old-school adventure of the highest caliber.
As luck would have it, I got to actually ask the author himself some of my burning questions!
Q: Where did you get the ideas for Cirrus Flux?
Matthew Skelton: Cirrus Flux started in an unlikely place: a book on clouds. I discovered that the weather changed abruptly during the summer of 1783. All across Europe, the sun was barely visible and the moon, at night, shone blood red. This lasted for several months. No one could explain what was happening and some people feared that the end of the world was coming. I was hooked. My imagination took off…
Q: Which one of your characters is your favorite?
Matthew Skelton: I admire Pandora the most, because she’s gutsy, generous, and kind-hearted. She’s also the real hero of the book. I’m more like Cirrus myself (somewhat timid and cautious). If I had a choice, though, I’d like to meet Mr Hardy and Alerion – and travel with them to the other side of the world.
Q: Is any part of the book based on real people or facts, or is the story all completely imagined?
Matthew Skelton: Most of the gruesome parts of the book are based on fact. There really was a man like Mr Leechcraft, for example, who conducted experiments on children. The 'Hanging Boy' performance follows his instructions quite closely. Even Mr Sidereal’s chair is modeled on one used by the showman 'Merlin' during the eighteenth century. The eighteenth century was a difficult time to be a child. Infants were frequently abandoned at the Foundling Hospital because their parents were too poor to be able to care for them. Like Cirrus's father, they left heartbreaking tokens with their babies so that they might not be forgotten. So there is a lot of fact mixed up with the imaginary.
Q: Can you describe your research and writing process?
Matthew Skelton: I spend most of my time with my head in the clouds. I'm a professional daydreamer. I keep asking myself, "What if? What if? What if…?" That's the fun part. Getting words down on paper is much more difficult. I'm never satisfied with what I do and I'm constantly fighting the temptation to rip up everything and start again.
Q: Do you have any tips for young writers?
Matthew Skelton: Don't rip up everything and throw it away. The best things often happen by accident: such as Bottle Top's name and Pandora's use of the word 'moon-sail'. You never know what will happen next.
Q: What was the last kids' book you really enjoyed?
Matthew Skelton: The last book that really had me gasping and
laughing and waving my hands around in joy was Kenneth Oppel's
Skybreaker – the most fun I've had as a reader since I was twelve
OK, I'll have to check Skybreaker out! Have you read that one or The Story of Cirrus Flux? Let me know what you think!
— Jack, STACKS Staffer