We're pleased to present an excerpt from The Mapmakers' Race (Gecko Press), a new novel by Eirlys Hunter and illustrated by Kirsten Slade. Kate De Goldi says the book is 'one of the most poised, stylish children’s books [she has] read in a long time … An utter delight'.
In The Mapmakers' Race, four children temporarily lose their parents just as they are about to begin the race that offers their last chance of escaping poverty. Their task is to map a rail route through an uncharted wilderness. The children overcome the many obstacles posed by nature—bears, bees, bats, river crossings, cliff falls, impossible weather—but can they survive the treachery of their competitors?
from Chapter Two: The Santander Team Will Start Tomorrow
The square was criss-crossed with strings of coloured bunting, and a stage had been built at one end. It looked very important. There were more people milling about than Sal had ever seen in one place.
Beckett stopped the dray next to a statue of a frowning man in a top hat who was pointing at the sky. Joe and Humph climbed down and went to investigate a long table covered with piles of food under white cloths, but a red-faced man bellowed at them, “Hey you! Speeches first.”
They came slinking back.
From the top of the dray, Sal had a good view of the people sitting on the stage, the women in wide hats, and the men in tall hats and tail coats.
First the mayor and then the chairman of the Railway Company spoke about Heroic Endeavour, Glorious Railways, the Challenge of Gradients, and the Miracles of Modern Steam Power. He went on and on. Sal yawned. Joe and Humph were trying to balance on the top rail of the fence around the square, Beckett’s eyes were closed, and Francie was drawing Carrot, who was dozing on Beckett’s shoulder.
Finally, the chairman finished and the crowd applauded in relief, but the mayor stood up to speak again.
“Let me remind you of the extraordinary prizes being offered in this unique competition.”
Sal called to Joe to come and listen.
“The first team to arrive in New Coalhaven will receive five hundred guineas.” The crowd clapped and the mayor nodded graciously. “In addition, the team that produces the best route for a horse track, complete with maps, will receive one thousand guineas.” The crowd cheered. “AND if their route proves suitable for a railway line, they will receive a further two thousand guineas, provided—” he held up his hand for silence, “they arrive at the finish line before sunset on St Solitude’s Day, twenty-eight days from today.”
Sal gasped. Twenty-eight days! Actually no, only twenty-seven from tomorrow. Just finding a route could take twice that long, let alone surveying it—no wonder they could offer such a huge prize. So little time. But so much money. If they won they’d easily have enough money to buy a boat and sail off and search for Pa.
If only Ma had trusted Joe and stayed on the train.
The mayor picked up a pile of envelopes. “And now, the team leaders will come up to receive their race instructions. First up, please welcome Roger Rumpledown, team leader of Roger’s Ruffians.”
Roger Rumpledown stumbled up the steps, smiling and waving at no one in particular. He took the large envelope the mayor gave him and ignored the hand being held out for him to shake.
Sal hadn’t realised someone might have to go up onto the platform in front of everybody.
Her knees suddenly felt too wobbly to take her anywhere. “Next, it is my privilege to introduce you to the world-renowned explorer, Mr Cody S. Cole the Third, leading his team Cody’s Cowboys.”
There was a stir as the crowd parted for Cody S. Cole III. It was the tobacco-spitting giant from the train. He sauntered onto the platform, shook the mayor’s hand and took his envelope.
“Cody Cole is serious competition,” Sal said. “Do you remember Ma and Pa talking about him, Joe? They beat him by a whisker in that race to find a route through Lauratia.”
“And next I’d like to introduce the Solemn Team, which stands for the Society of Logical Explorers, Mappers and Navigators, led by Mr Keith Skinner. These men are scientific!”
A thin young man who had been doing star jumps at the back of the crowd ran forward, took his envelope and nodded a tiny bow.
Carrot scratched her head with a long claw. “Hip, hip, hoo. Hip, hip, hoo.”
“And now, it is my great honour to introduce to you Sir Montague Basingstoke-Black, leader of Monty’s Mountaineers.”
Sir Monty heaved himself out of a folding chair and climbed the steps to the platform in a cloud of pipe smoke. His team all had pipes clamped between their teeth. They called out “here here” and “jolly good show”.
“Isn’t he the one who crossed some desert and found that ruined city?” Beckett whistled. “He’s famous.”
Joe nodded. “The Desolo Desert. But our Ma says Sir Monty spends so much time being a World Famous Explorer nowadays that he’s stopped doing actual exploring. With a bit of luck, he’ll have forgotten how.”
The mayor cleared his throat. “And next, in the spirit of a new age, we have the ladies from the Association of Women Explorers. Mind you’re not AWE-struck, gentlemen!”
Some of the men in the crowd laughed, and a woman wearing a white dress and a sun hat as wide as a carriage wheel cleared a path for herself by waving a walking stick in front of her.
“The name is Agatha Amersham,” her voice boomed out. “When we win this race, we will use the prize money to endow a college for young women to study surveying and engineering.”
The crowd cheered and jeered in equal numbers.
Sal stared. “I didn’t even know they were things you could study.” She jabbed Joe. “Did you know that?”
The mayor peered at his notes. “And finally, the Santander family.”
People looked around.
“No show by the Santanders?” said the mayor. “In that case we move on to—”
Sal had to be brave. “Wait!” She took a deep breath, jumped off the dray and scuttled through the crowd to the platform. She wiped her hand on her skirt and stuck it out for the mayor to shake.
“I beg your pardon?” He raised an eyebrow and looked down his nose at her.
The crowd laughed.
She tried again more slowly, though her mouth was dry and she felt hot and prickly under her skin. “My name is Salvatora Clementina Elsie-May Santander.”
The mayor towered over her, even though Sal stood as tall as she could. “Is this a joke?” he boomed. “First, a team of women, and now a team of children. It’s ridiculous. This is emphatically not a race for juveniles.”
“The Santander family will be racing.” Sal’s voice wobbled but she spoke very loudly so everyone could hear. “Our parents are delayed right now, but you confirmed our entry. The Santander team will start tomorrow.”
Reproduced from The Mapmakers' Race by Eirlys Hunter & illustrated by Kirsten Slade, published by Gecko Press 2018
The Mapmakers' Race
by Eirlys Hunter
illustrated by Kirsten Slade
Published by Gecko Press