Palace of Machines by Luke Redfern

In a lavish French palace, twelve-year-old orphan Cataline maintains the mechanical animals and hidden tricks built by her father. But when the Duke asks her to leave, Cataline suddenly faces losing everything she has ever known. Desperate to keep her home in the palace, she makes a deal with the Duke: if he lets her stay, she’ll build her father’s most incredible design yet, a mechanical human called the Host. Cataline is determined. If she fails, she knows she won’t survive in the brutal and impoverished outside world, but building the Host isn’t her only challenge. Beadon, the scheming palace physician, is making things difficult for her. Is he trying to spoil her work because he’s worried about the Duke’s wasteful spending, or is there something more treacherous lurking behind his efforts?

About the Author

Luke studied art and design before going on to work in several different jobs, the highlights of which included working on an international opera, building a robot dog, and designing a toy Christmas sprout. At some point on this journey, his creative urges drove him beyond the drawing board, and he began to write. He was awarded this year’s United Agents MA WFYP Prize for the Most Promising Student, and in his spare time likes skateboarding, drawing and blogging. He lives in Gloucestershire.

  • Twitter

Palace of Machines by Luke Redfern, introduced by Alice Ellerby

I remember reading an early scene in which Cataline showed her friends her father’s camera obscura. Luke’s description of the image moving beneath the children’s fingers as they looked to the world beyond the palace was beautiful. I knew I would love the novel that would emerge from these first sparks of story.

The novel bursts with wonderful details of the palace, which will delight middle-grade readers. Cataline is an apprentice responsible for the ‘engiens’ – magnificent mechanical animals – built by her father before his death to amuse the Duke and his courtiers. She inhabits a hidden underworld; she knows every secret passageway, the route through every maze, every concealed trigger that activates the prank engiens.

Palace of Machines is full of heart. Desperate not to be cast out of the palace, Cataline must prove her worth to the Duke. She sets out to build an engien to surpass all others – the Host – guided by her father’s incomplete design. But she soon discovers that possessing great skill leads to a bigger challenge: how best to use it. Perhaps the question isn’t whether Cataline is worthy of a position at the palace, but whether the palace is worthy of her.

What was your inspiration for this story?

A radio programme about the history of robots. I was expecting it to start with robots from the computer age, but it began much earlier, with a description of a mischievous robot owned by a French duke in medieval times. It blew my mind to learn that robots were built so far in the past.

What was your most memorable moment on the MA?

When I arrived for my interview at Corsham Court, I thought the grand front door of the house was the way in. It was only after discovering that the ornate door-handle wouldn’t budge an inch that I got out my student map and found the much more modest side door for students.

What is the most important thing you learned on the MA?

Once I’ve written a piece, I read it back to myself out loud then rework it. It’s amazing how much this part of the process can help make things more readable.

What’s your favourite part of the writing process?

In the early stages when character and plot are still fluid, I’ll picture a scene, or maybe even just a second of a scene, and get excited about how vividly I can see it in my head. These scenes might not make it into the final novel, but that doesn’t matter. They are like creativity wind-turbines: they give me energy to write.

What do you like doing when you’re not writing?

I love skateboarding, and I’m lucky enough to have a local skatepark that hosts an ‘over 30s’ session once a month. There’s always such a friendly, encouraging crowd of skaters there.

What is your top piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Think about the plot of your story before you write it. You don’t have to know every detail, but having an idea of what’s going to happen in the last few chapters is a great way to motivate yourself to keep going.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Tintin in America. Tintin and Snowy get into life-threatening scrapes from the moment they arrive in America. There isn’t a dull moment!

What place in fiction do you most want to visit?

The palace in my story, of course!