Elevenses: With Stephen Palmer
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously raucous and chi-chi to the core parlour located high above it all on board our beautiful rainbow-sailed ship, The Harlequin Ladybird.Our tentacles are all of a quiver this morning and our china cups are chattering because we are honoured to have Stephen Palmer joining us for elevenses this morning.
Do please have a seat, (Max, get off the chaise and let him sit down … hm? … no he can’t sit on your lap, just move aside.)
Would you like tea? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Assam? Darjeeling? ( We are all out of Oolong Max so don’t even think about making that joke again)
Definitely Darjeeling. Nothing else will do! But I’ll just cross my legs and place this pocket abacus on my lap so that Max is stymied…
That is very kind and unnecessarily accommodating of you Stephen, here is your tea. Now then, do tell us more about yourself and your latest books.
Well… it’s a long story. Many years ago I was taken off the slush pile by Orbit Books, which started my time as a published author. Since then my career has scaled some heights and descended into some depths, though recently it’s been on a bit of a high. At the end of 2016, my steampunk/alternate history trilogy Factory Girl (The Girl With Two Souls / The Girl With One Friend / The Girl With No Soul) was published, to a very positive reception. Earlier this year we decided to relaunch it with covers designed by famed steampunk illustrator Tom Brown (he of Hopeless, Maine), with a fourth, supplementary novel – not published with the original trilogy – also set for publication. This latter novel is set in 1914-15 and is called The Conscientious Objector.
Oh that does sound like an intriguing series! We very much admire Tom Brown’s artwork too and did you hear that Max? That last book sounds like just your cup of tea! ( Many people find Max objectionable, I’m sure you can see why.) What inspired you to write the series?
The entire plot, characters and structure of Factory Girl came to me one evening during a two hour blitz of ideas. That this happened means it was waiting in my subconscious ready to appear. The overarching theme is whether or not souls exist, an area explored via Victorian-style automata, though also through the life stories of the main characters. Of these, the main ones are: Kora Blackmore, an illegitimate mulatto (used here for historical accuracy) girl imprisoned in Bedlam Mental Hospital; Erasmus Darwin, grandson of Charles; Dr Spellman, an entirely mysterious benefactor; other members of the Darwin family; an enigmatic automaton who can speak and understand; and Sir Tantalus Blackmore, Kora’s father, the greatest industrialist of his age and owner of the Factory in Sheffield, where all the Empire’s automata are manufactured. The story takes place over all three novels during 1910-11.
I see, it sounds most enticing… er, no Max we do not need to hear about your experiences in Bedlam thankyou… nor why there is a young lady there who swears you have tentacles… I’m so sorry Stephen I’m afraid he has been at the sugar again this morning. Moving swiftly on, what would you say most influences your writing in general?
I’m known in the genre world for rarely reading fiction. Most of my influences are non-fiction. For instance, I recently read: Mama’s Last Hug (the emotions of animals), Novacene (James Lovelock’s new one, celebrating his 100th birthday), and The Hare With The Amber Eyes (an extraordinary memoir about netsuke).
How interesting! But if not any fiction then are there any authors who have particularly inspired you?
In my earlier days I was influenced by authors such as Jack Vance, Gwyneth Jones and Gene Wolfe. These days there aren’t many authors of fiction who inspire me, but in the steampunk world I much enjoyed the YA novel Cogheart.
Hm. Excellent. (No he does not want to hear your poetry Max, that is not in least bit inspiring, stop interrupting) Battenburg?
Do you have any parkin? I understand they make it in Leeds.
We certainly do have some Parkin – left over from a tea party with the Brown’s in fact! – although this was made in Lancaster. You know, writing is something I’ve always fancied turning my talents to – having so many tentacles I imagine I could be quite productive as an author. Tell me, what was your own road into fiction writing like?
It was an extraordinary stroke of luck. I had been sending sample chapters and the like to various London publishers, but without much by way of reply. Then, mere days before I moved house (never to return for reasons best not mentioned), I received a letter from Orbit asking me to send the full MS of a novel I’d sent them over a year before. I was surprised! So I sent it off, but then, because of various life-events getting in the way for me and for them, I didn’t hear anything for a while, during which time I wrote a third version. This version was eventually accepted, to be published in 1996 as my debut Memory Seed.
I see, what marvellous good fortune! And do you have any plans for new projects in the near future?
When I do writing events or author appearances I usually mention writer’s volcano – the opposite of writer’s block. So, yes, I have lots of projects on the go! This winter I’ll be writing the final volume of a steampunk trilogy set in an alternate Shrewsbury (my home town) and in London. Set in 1899 and 1900, it follows the fortunes of a couple of orphans.
Ah, we are well acquainted with a small army of orphans so can easily see how that subject could provide ample plot-fodder – in fact Max often wishes he was an orphan. So, where can we get our tentacles on your work?
My novels are available in all the usual places online, both as paperback or ebooks. Infinity Plus have most of the ebooks of my back catalogue.
Splendid. And can we find you online?
Wooooah! Dear me I do apologise, the airship must have slipped and I seem to have landed in your lap I hope I haven’t covered you in octopus slime?
It’s no problem! I’m wearing Dr Avebury’s Secret Trouser Improver, from which liquids dissipate.
What a marvellous invention, perhaps we should invest in some ourselves. But Are you sure you’re alright? Can I perhaps tempt you with another cup of the hot stuff?
If it’s my usual poison, yes indeed… but I must away. A Nigerian automaton has just leaped from my blazer pocket and told me the time. Farewell!
Oh dear, Max I do believe your menacing threats of mostly awful poetry and ill-concealed amorous advances have scared off yet another of our guests. You really must learn to behave yourself ‘In Company.’
Thankyou, friends for joining us this morning on board our beautiful rainbow sailed ship The Harlequin Ladybird and until we see you again, please remain always