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Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE THIRD:  by PENNY BLAKE

We wasn’t always called Jack and Marjory. But then again we didn’t always live in Lancaster. We didn’t always own these boots. We didn’t always work for Kitty Flynn.

Kitty’s coffee house, The Angel, is always full, always bustling, always respectable and everything above board.

They serve government standard issue coffee – the lifeblood of the workforce and the would-be well-to-do alike.

Chicory, acorn, dandelion … the great copper pots of brown liquid sit simmering in the seventeen fire places all day long and Kitty’s daughters run to and fro serving it out in pewter tumblers on silver trays.

The rules are framed in mahogany on the white washed wall: no foul language, no char-latin, no anti-royalist, anti-religious or anticlimactical notions, no games of chance, no business dealings, no magic.

Yes indeed, The Angel is a perfectly respectable place. It must be. The patrons run the great societal gamut from the lowliest mill worker, to dockers, street traders  and Sho’vani barge folk; from town Tinkers like The Time Keeper and The Spoon Smiths, to landlords like Montmorency and Clitheroe, even true aristocrats like Lord Ashton and Lady Grace and wizards like that so-called ‘Dr. Smith’…

The Angel is always full, never a spare room in the place. Kitty rents rooms alright but you’d be damned if you could ever get one. Very particular is Kitty Flynn about who she’ll let a room to and once she gets a tenant in, they tend to stay for a very long time.

We, certainly, intend to stay for a very long time.

Because once you’re in, like us, there’s only one way out – and it ain’t pretty. No, indeed, it really ain’t.

There are seventeen chimney’s in The Angel. Seventeen chimneys and each has an inglenook bookcase.

On a certain evening, at a certain time, after the doors are locked and barred and only a few select patrons are still at table – presumably having booked lodgings for the night and enjoying a late supper – Jack and Marjory might suddenly take into our heads the fancy of reading a particular book titled The Winchester Mystery which is located on the seventh shelf of the bookcase in the seventh chimney.

It is a favourite of almost every patron and tenant and no one  bats an eyelid as the whisper of well oiled cogs heralds the opening of a hidden door and we slip through, and down into an entirely different world below.

Here the air is tight, charged with electricity, close with the heat of many bodies and breaths and damp with sweat and mildew. Arachnid threads of green sphagnum and lichen trace along the limestone walls and arched tunnel ceilings and our footsteps echo among the cheers and jeers, shrieks of pain and laughter and flesh hitting stone.

There are rats down here, snails, reptiles, cats and dust but we don’t need them. When you work for Kitty Flynn, you keep things pure. Just the magic, that’s what Kitty wants. That’s what Kitty gets.

Kitty’s house is always full. All the tenants fight down here. It’s how we earn our keep, of course, and more than that as you can see ; no Hex Slingers in Lancaster are togged out finer than us who board at The Angel, well and truly minted is what we are because Kitty looks after her own…

But you knew that already, right? That’s why you came, that’s why you asked if there was a room and when we saw your hands, bandaged up in strips of kid leather to hide the scars and that high collar pulled up close under your chin, when we saw the hunted look in your blood shots eyes, we knew you’d fit right in…

 

 

 

Soup Of The Day : With Katherine McIntyre

Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!

 

Helping me this morning is author Katherine McIntyre! Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, Katherine! May I take your hat and cloak? It is still very warm here in Lancaster today although the season is undoubtedly on the turn!

Thank you for inviting me!

Now, why don’t you have a seat by the window there, how was your trip from your own dimension?

Breezy! Flew on in by airship ; )

I had quite the quick trip from the suburbs of Philadelphia!

 

Splendid! And  have you brought along some soup to share with us?

Absolutely! I’ve got a penchant for potato soup 😊  

This is one of my favorite soup recipes: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/13218/absolutely-ultimate-potato-soup/

Mmm, it smells delicious, I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us all a little more about your Steampunk series Take to The Skies?

My steampunk universe isn’t set in Victorian England like a lot of them tend to be—instead, I brought anachronistic elements to a sci-fi future where the landscape has changed and airships dominate the skies. It’s a swashbuckling adventure series akin to pirate novels, which fans of Treasure Island and Firefly are sure to enjoy.

 

It sounds marvellous! But you don’t only write Steampunk, you have two other series if I’m not mistaken?

I do! I primarily write paranormal romance. I’m currently working on the second book in my Discord’s Desire series, which is about a fae rock band who get embroiled in the middle of a war between hunters and their own kind.

The shifter series I just completed writing the third book of is the Tribal Spirits series. It revolves around the wolf and mountain lion packs in central PA and the politics that descend upon the region with the arrival of a dangerous renegade.

 

And have you brought some of your books with you to show the orphans?

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Your web-mantra is “Strong Women. Strong words.” I must say I like that very much indeed! What inspired you to choose that phrase?

I have a natural inclination to write women in places of power in my books, whether it’s female captains or alphas. I love the complexity that strength involves, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional, and I’m determined to represent women in a realistic way that honors their flaws, strengths, and struggles.

 

Women have always had a voice in science fiction, from it’s very beginning, and today sci-fi enjoys a huge female fan-base and many excellent female content-contributors, do you have any favourites in particular either past or present day?

One of my particular favorites is Madeline L’Engle, whose intelligent book, A Wrinkle in Time, and its sequels captured my attention from an early age. Despite it being young adult, she never tried to dumb down the concepts and the book expanded my horizons in a wonderful was as a kid.

 

Despite the consistent  contribution of women to the  sci fi genre, the stories told still often portray women as the victim, the villain or the supporting role to a male hero, do you think there is a reason for this?

I think a lot of it revolves around societal expectation and what’s considered the norm. Even now, there exists a struggle to get stories out there which feature women in a different light. I’ve faced rejection for featuring a female alpha who they deemed too masculine. A lot of places aren’t willing to take the risk to push forward the change, which is a reason I will relentlessly push for it myself.  

 

Do you think we need more stories where the capacity and depth of female (and indeed male) characters is expanded and explored in greater detail – or do we perhaps have these tales already and they are simply not given the spotlight they deserve?

I think we have some of those tales, which do deserve the spotlight, but I also think we need many more. A lot of the characters prescribe to a definitive gender divide when the reality isn’t quite so clear. I would love to see more depth in both men and women, instead of the tendency to shy away from any traditionally ‘masculine’ tendencies in women, or ‘feminine’ qualities in men.  

 

Ah now the kettle is boiling, what is your ‘poison’ dear and how do you take it?

 

Always coffee, which I take with cream and sugar.

 

You are in luck! We don’t farm traditional coffee here in Ire but I do have a little canister down here that one of my guests kindly left behind some time ago… There you are, now then, diversity and representation are big issues for us here in Ire and they are for you as well is that correct?

Absolutely. Reading teaches empathy, and if we’re only presented with limited options of who to empathize with, we’re missing a broad mark of how to promote acceptance of one another. I’ve been making an active effort to push past my own experience to explore others, whether it’s including characters of different races and sexualities than my own, or exploring characters who struggle with mental or physical disorders.

 

Do you think that the sci fi and fantasy genres are representative enough of the diverse realities of our little blue planet, or do you think there is still ground to be won in that area?

I think there’s a lot of ground to be won. While some wonderful examples exist, I think in the past a lot of science fiction and fantasy represented a very white and heterosexual viewpoint, as well as a lot of Eurocentrism in fantasy. I am loving the new array of stories emerging from so many different perspectives than the ones we’ve seen in the past, and I hope that trend continues.

 

Do you have any works in progress or new releases that we can get excited about?

I’m currently writing the second Discord’s Desire book, and I’ll be starting the fourth Tribal Spirits book soon! As far as new releases, the first two books in the Tribal Spirits series are coming out with Totally Bound in January and February of 2019. I’m also participating in a steampunk Christmas anthology, Bustles and Bells, which will be coming out later this year.

 

And in the meantime where can we purchase your wonderful works of fiction?

My books can be found on

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Katherine-McIntyre/e/B00J8U4VNU

Website: http://www.katherine-mcintyre.com

As well as many other online retailers!

 

 

Fabulous! Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Katherine, it’s been wonderful to chat with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?

 

Thank you so much for having me! I absolutely enjoyed the visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning Cuppa:A Study In Temperance

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome back to Max and Collin’s marvelously mysterious and sublimely sleuth-tastic parlour located beneath the beating heart of te splendidly scenic city of Steampunk’d Lancaster.

True some have said that its occupants couldn’t figure their way out of a paper bag and that the only mystery involved is their continued existence but we consider that such people are merely embittered that we are smarter than them.

You find us this morning with a happy pig swilling beer, and a new idea for making rent money – we are going to open a small private detective agency! Surely there is an abundance of crime here in Lancaster (much of which we are involved in ourselves and still more of which we are already acquainted with the perpetrators, so finding the villains should be a piece of cake!)

However we wanted to begin in an informed manner and so we have been reading A Study In Temperance by our good friend Mr Ichabod Temperance. It’s taken us rather longer than intended to review this book because when we read an exert of The Two Faces Of Temperance WE JUST HAD to read that one first, we couldn’t wait! So our review schedule got a little messed up as we didn’t feel we could review book 10 out of the blue without going back and doing books 4-9 first.. if that makes sense? So, without further ado, let us kick our tentacles up on the table, pour an excellent cup of Sherlock Holmes Tea from Victoria Mae Designs  and take a look …

If you haven’t yet begun the riotous romp that is the adventures of Mr Temperance and Miss Persephone Plumtartt, you could easily start with this adventure but you would do much better (because otherwise you will have missed so much fun!)to begin at the beginning…

If on the other hand you have got to book three and been eagerly awaiting to get your hands (or indeed tentacles) on the next installment then you are going to be in heaven because this series just gets better and better!

This time Ichabod and Persephone are back in England and we also get to meet a rather famous fictional detective… this was so splendidly done, as always,the writer goes far beyond taking a literary character, plot or setting and lifting it into his own world – rather he utterly makes it his own with more parody and pastiche than even we could shake a stick at. Also, as the books are progressing, t Persephone and Ichabod are given less of the spotlight which is a very interesting approach and gives the comedy a lot more scope as well!

We really don’t want to give any spoilers on this marvelous tale, suffice to say, another laugh out loud, unpredictable and utterly delightful  adventure from this chaotic couple.

And now we must busy ourselves with finding the right hats and pipes and business cards and all the other essential things needed for solving crime… we wish you all a delightfully delinquent morning and if you are personally involved in any felonious enterprises do please let us know so that we can cash-in won’t you?

And do remain always, utterly yourself.

If you are interested in reading our review policy please see the reviews section at the top menu. 

 

 

 

#amreading : Here’s what we’re reading this month…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#rainbowsnippets : Nothing New Under The Sun

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Happy Saturday everyone! We are ecstatic to announce that Blake and Wight are now participating in ‘Rainbow Snippets’ which means that every Saturday we will endeavor to post 6 lines of LGBTQ+ fiction from some of our favorite writers. Some will be published works, some will be works in progress, some may even be book recommendations but all will be utterly awesome tidbits from LGBTQ+ writers with LGBTQ+  characters and themes.

And kicking us off on this ride, who better than Ceri Harper-Leigh with a snippet from her upcoming novel (October release) Nothing New Under The Sun …

Chapter One

Friday 16th

 

Old Compton street on a late summer Friday afternoon was buzzing with the local LGBTQ community soaking up the last rays of sun sitting outside Chi-Chi coffee shops drinking their skinny caffè latte’s, it was like a rainbow jeweled fashion show, even the Weather Man was wearing shorts. She checked her mobile again, re-reading the last text she had received from her friend. ‘…Yep’ she thought. Pausing as she stood outside the familiar doors she looked back on how long it had been, and the whole different lifetime away since the last time she stepped into “Comptons of SoHo”.

 

And for more snippets head to the official fb page and see what other snippeterd are posting… https://www.facebook.com/groups/RainbowSnippets/permalink/2170572923012758/?comment_id=2171236862946364&reply_comment_id=2172099499526767&notif_id=1537069769865966&notif_t=group_comment_mention&ref=notif

Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster

 Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing, stalking … I mean studying… the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in the curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

Tale The Second By LESLIE SOULE

 

“Your writing – I’d like to see it,” he says, hopeful like a child getting candy. I don’t

want to open up that book and show him the horrors of a past I’d care not to remember – most of it I’ve already shared, but that book opens wounds afresh, even though I had to write it, to tear the little imps from my heart, force their tiny legs between the pages and stamp out their pokers onto the sheets of print.

It was part of a healing ritual, a ceremony, and maybe instructions for someone else who needs them. One never knows these things. But all I do is smile, and nod, in the way that you’re supposed to do, when confronted with such gestures of interest.

This fellow is my friend, a banker from the gentrified part of town. He rarely travels downtown. There is no tea, here. Maybe one day I’ll tell him the truth, or he’ll discover it. But for now, the coffee steams between us, and the silence speaks volumes, and I feel disheartened. I don’t want those imps to escape again, and plague my beleaguered heart anymore. It needs a rest.

“So what brings you here?” I ask, adjusting my knitted scarf. I see his eyes trace the tattoos on my hands as we converse.

“I have some business with Montmorency,” Christopher explained, sipping his coffee, and I watch those lips for a fleeting moment, hoping he doesn’t notice. I am reminded of the strange night we spent together, with kisses and cuddles, before he discarded me for getting too close to him emotionally, the way men do – the way they’ve always done, when it comes to me.

I nod, drinking my mocha as though it is the water of life that can save me, and mentally, I am far away, back at the hideout, hanging out with the rebel hex-slingers and talking shop with them.

I’d spent most of yesterday practicing martial arts with Delvan, admiring the bright blue eyes he pinned me with. It was my day off.

I look down at my watch, knowing that I have to be at work by 10am and put in a full shift, transcribing records onto the mega-typewriter in the Office of Records, and file them away into folders, and into drawers, into rooms.

What business can Christopher possibly have with Montmorency? It interests me, but I dare not approach the subject. I knew Montmorency to be a slumlord, directing his army of street-urchins selling their illegal lemonade.

Tea, cake, lemonade – the governments of Lancaster strictly controlled their use and prohibited their sale on the streets.

“Well it’s good to see you again,” I say to Christopher, and that was no lie. It really was good to see him – he tended to keep to himself and to his hobbies of making money and brewing beer. The government Wiz-goons hadn’t outlawed beer…yet. But give them time.

“Have you ever thought about leaving the Office of Records?” Christopher asked. Well I’d certainly considered it – it was boring, repetitive work and not everyone could do this kind of job. But the real reason, was that I’d become addicted to the fights and the resistance, and the feeling of power that I’d get from those late-night street duels. I never fought alone. Eros, my morph corn snake who looked white with pink patches, always joined in, channeling the mystic power that emanated from my hands in neon rays.

No one asked any questions when I walked into the office bleary-eyed, and the Wizards hadn’t yet thought to look for resistance fighters in the Office of Records – and who would? What kind of danger would lurk in such a bland atmosphere?

“Yeah, I’ve considered it.”

***

When I arrived, my desk looked exactly the way I’d left it – pens sitting there in the wooden holder, notebooks stacked off to the right. My co-workers sat patiently at their desks, some of them sipping from mugs of coffee, waiting for the work bell to ring, and indicate the official start of the work day.

“Long night?” asked Erin, my blue-haired, bespectacled co-worker.

“Yeah,” I admitted.

You have no idea.

Last night, I’d found myself cornered in an alley, three Wiz-goons heading my way. One of them wore a pink carnation in his lapel. I wondered at that strange symbolism.

I didn’t kill them. I’m no murderer, though this is a war, and I have no love for the Wiz-goon overlords who rule our lives down to the very foods that we are allowed to eat, or not. And there was something strangely intriguing about that pink carnation – it didn’t belong there, on those smelly, authoritarian streets covered in cold lamplight. It took all I had, to project the aether toward this one and knock him off his feet.

In the end, I followed through, because that was the way of the world – we stood on opposite sides of a battlefield that neither of us created, but both had to fight on, this unfair chess board of life.

“I’ll be alright as soon as I get some coffee from the break room.”

The work bell rang. I seized my timecard and dutifully punched a hole in the correct spot, grabbed my nondescript white coffee mug, issued by the Office, and walked over to the break room. This place ran on coffee – the life-blood of office work, surely as gasoline runs a horseless carriage or water runs a steam turbine. I poured the coffee from its decanter, a feeling of completeness filling my heart as the coffee poured, black as sin, dark as the deepest confessions of my soul.

Armed with it, I walked back to my desk, opening its drawer, to search for a copy of the procedure manual that I’d forgotten to toss out.

Instead, I found a pink carnation, and a small card – From Your Secret Admirer, was scrawled on it, in black ink.

 

LESLIE SOULE Infamous Fantasy Author I am a fantasy/sci-fi author from Sacramento, CA. she has an M.A. in English and is currently working on the final book of her fantasy series, The Fallenwood Chronicles.

Soup Of The Day: With Mat McCall

Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Argonauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!

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Helping me this morning is Steampunk author, pillar of the Steampunk Community and all-round Accomplished Gentleman, Mat McCall! Thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, Mat! May I take your coat? Despite the deluge it is very warm here in Lancaster today…

Indeed. It’s wonderful to be here. Something smells delicious!

Ah yes I have been doing a spot of illicit baking this morning! Oh, could you leave your blunderbuss in the hat stand please, if you don’t mind?

Carefully.

Thank you, dear. I’m afraid weapons unnerve me somewhat. Now, why don’t you have a seat by the window there, how was your trip from your own dimension? I hope those wretched airship pirates didn’t give you any trouble?

Well, no. They are mostly me old mates.

Ah, that is good news indeed! And have you brought along some soup to share with us?

Cream of Dandelion Soup.

  • 2 or 3 cups chopped dandelion leaves
  • 1 cup dandelion flower petals, divided
  • 1 cup dandelion buds
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup of cream
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon each: salt, dried parsley, dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon each; cumin, garlic powder
  • Chopped spring onion or nasturtium flowers to garnish

 Instructions

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil, add the dandelion leaves and boil until tender, 3-5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking.
  2. In a heavy-bottom soup pot, sauté onion and garlic in butter or oil on medium heat, until tender.
  3. Add 2 cups water.
  4. Reserve some of the petals for garnishing, and put aside.
  5. Add dandelion leaves, flower petals, buds, and spices to the pot.
  6. Lower heat and simmer gently 45 minutes.
  7. Add cream and Parmesan cheese, and simmer a few minutes more.
  8. Serve immediately and garnish with flower petals and green onion.
  9. If you don’t have enough dandelions, or like a more peppery taste, you can use nasturtium leaves and flowers.

 

Mmm, it smells delicious, I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now, while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us all a little more about your book The Dandelion Farmer? Have you brought a copy with you to show the orphans?

I do.

It looks marvelous, I must say! What inspired you to write such a unique tale?

I have always felt that a lot of Steampunk literature, if you can call it that, has always played to the audience with all the subtlety of a Brian Rix farce, nudge-nudge, wink-wink… and making virtually no contribution to Science Fiction as a genre. So I aimed to write a ‘Steampunked’ Science Fiction novel that was more Science Fiction than Steampunk whimsy.

Saying that, there are some amazing authors writing in the genre of Steampunk, authors that do not get the recognition they deserve, like Craig Hallam, Nimue and Tom Brown, Meg Kingston and Ceri-Leigh Harper, I think that is because Steampunk is not taken seriously as a legitimate branch of Science Fiction by publishers.

Steampunk often postures itself as the badly behaved and absinthe-sotted cousin of Sci Fi doesn’t it? Do you think that Steampunk has more to say on the world stage than “Oops Ma’arm where’s me cucumber sandwiches?” – If you’ll pardon the phrase;  living in close proximity to a flirtatious Octopus and his Gentleman Friend tends to rub off on One I’m afraid!

Nothing wrong with that.

Thankyou! Of course we all like a good laugh and a giggle, I’m sure, but do you think that sometimes the flamboyantly flippant style of many Steampunk novels prevents some of those more serious issues, which are so prominent in science fiction works, from coming to light or being taken seriously?

I think you’re absolutely right. SF has always been the best literary medium for exploring issues; such as the nature of being human; from Frankenstein and I Robot to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? To the nature of sexuality and gender, The Left Hand of Darkness, to the subjugation of women in our societies, The Hand Maid’s Tale, even the nature of sanity, anything by Philip K Dick, and it predicts the future, sometimes with frightening accuracy, read anything by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling. I don’t see any attempt in most Steampunk SF to tackle similar subjects.

In Steampunk’s pseudo Victoriana there is little exploration of the moral or social issues of today, let alone what life was like for the vast majority of ordinary people in the late 18th, 19th and very early 20th century. Gender and racial inequality, Imperialism, war, deprivation and grinding poverty.

I think that Steampunk should be as willing to explore tough issues and ideas as much as the main body of SF does.

Do you think it is possible, appropriate or even necessary, for the more humorous side of Steampunk to be used to highlight more serious issues? – ‘Heavy words, lightly thrown’ as some would say?  I am thinking in particular of Professor Elemental who was recently criticized by a minority of his audience for bringing politics into his stage show...

 

 Oh god yes. I think Steampunk can and should play a powerful role in social commentary, both of the past and the present. And as my late Mum used to quote, Chaucer, I think; “Many a true word spoken in jest.”

My book was accused by some rabid Trumpite of being a left wing diatribe, he also complained because it had transgender and lesbian characters. He didn’t see any place in what he thinks is Steampunk for them, he even questioned having black characters in a neo-Victorian story. Well, I put his “review” up on Facebook and let the Steampunks decide, they supported me whole heartedly, as I support Prof. Elemental.

Steampunk in all its forms is, at its heart, ART, and art’s greatest power is to challenge our preconceptions.

I absolutely agree with you, Dear… Ah, now the kettle is boiling, what is your ‘poison’ , as they say, and how do you take it?

Tea, please. Milk, no sugar. It’s a mnemonic I use to get people to remember my name; Mat, one T, no sugar.

Oh dear me! You musn’t make me chuckle I shall spill the hot water all over the mechanical cat. There you are, now then, tell me, what made you choose Mars as the setting for The Dandelion Farmer? Do you think perhaps the human race may end up there one day?

Yes. Unless we extinguish ourselves first. The day a successful colony on Mars reaches true independence is the day our survival as a race takes one major step closer to certainty.

My Mars is probably more about the realities of colonialism. The historical parts of the background story, presented to the reader in the form of extracts from Beresford’s History of the Martian Colonies, is about the failure of imperial colonialism. This follows a clear historical pattern that we have seen, again and again, on Earth, except in this narrative it is accelerated.

Will such a thing happen if we colonise Mars? A struggle for independence from Earthly bound powers. Yes, probably.

Mars, real and fictional, is Science Fiction’s first great love. A hostile world where if you just dig a little below that red sandy surface you will discover a literary layer cake, a fictional geology, of several hundred years if not longer, laid down by writers and imagineers like Greg, Flammarion, du Maurier, MacColl, Wells, Verne, Wyndham, Robinson and Weir, to mention only a few.

I wanted to draw on elements of Verne and Wells, but also Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Burroughs’ John Carter/Barsoom adventures, and little touches of  Le Guin’s questioning of humanity, P.K. Dick high strangeness and Lovecraftian menace. There are elements of homage, but not cod plagiarism, and it gave me the opportunity to build, not only an alternative history but an entirely new world.

That big red dust ball has been the playground for SF fiction since the earliest stories. SF’s fascination with other worlds and space travel is at least as old as Lucian of Samosata’s True History, written in the second century.

So I wanted to play in that barren garden of delights, and leave my metaphorical boot prints in the red dust of Mars.

And Dandelions! Of course I use them for tea and coffee, but I’d never entertained the notion that they could be used as a  botanical fuel crop! Such an elegant idea, was there a particular reason behind that too?

I was walking the dogs, one morning and at the end of the road where I turn into the park is a house, and that house’s front garden was awash with dandelions. I made a remark to my partner, Nikki, that it looked as if they were farming dandelions. And the idea stuck.

Dandelions are an amazing plant. Everything that Edwin does with them is being done today; liquid fuel, biomass, tea, even soup. Russian dandelions are the best. In a world without much in the way of fossil fuels, humans will have to grow their own fuel.

Did you know that the German bombers of WWII were flying on fuel made from dandelions? It’s not a new idea.

My goodness I had no idea! (Mind you, I am stuck here in the future 1840s and I’m afraid my soup-scrying does not always furnish me with a comprehensive picture of past-future events.. )

The Victorians were also very ingenious about using alternative fuel sources; they were using mummies to fuel the Cairo express at one point, they were cheaper than wood or coal and pretty plentiful.

Goodness! I had no idea!

The book contains an excellent mix of high action and intriguing plot development which adds to the tension, but, as a reader, I felt at all times in touch with the feelings and emotions of the characters because of the structure of using journal entries and letters to tell the story… Was this a very difficult balance to get right?

Very. I wanted the plot to move fast, and there is a lot of plot, several major interwoven themes, in fact, but I didn’t want to lose sight of the humanity of the characters involved. The tradition of using journals and diaries of course goes back beyond Victorian literature, but it has been a device Victorian writers used often.

I like to take the reader into the minds of the characters, to let them see the world through their eyes. To explore their passions, fears, motivations and ideals without bogging the reader down with long expositions by a third person narrator.

It’s also important, when exploring the frailties and uniqueness of the characters, to let them have their own voice. My characters are complex people. Edwin is wracked by self-doubt and worries, and that intensifies his stammer, Adam is on a journey to discover his origins, but everything he learns horrifies him, Aelita is discovering who and what she is, but to do so she has to throw off a lifetime of colonial Victorian culture, Charity is on a mission of vengeance but ends up finding love.

You are obviously a long standing fan of Science Fiction and Steampunk, are there any particular authors, books or events which have influenced your work?

I have always had an abiding passion for Science Fiction and Fantasy only equalled by my passion for Archaeology and History. I’m a big fan of Philip K. Dick,  Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Robert Aspin’s “Thieves World,” George Martin’s “Game of Thrones,” and Ursula La Guin’s “Earthsea.”

So I guess all those writers are conscious and unconscious influences on my writing. Specifically, La Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, Shelly’s Frankenstein, Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Borough’s Barsoom stories and, of course, Jules Verne and Lovecraft.  

The story ends on a cliffhanger, please don’t say we have to twiddle our thumbs for long before the tale continues?

No, not too long, the second book, The Hourglass Sea, is already half completed.

And in the meantime, where can we stay in touch with you and your works in progress?

Anyone who wants to contact me is welcome to.

My web site is Doktormatas@weebly.com, where you can read the first couple of chapters for free.

On Facebook author’s page is Mathew McCall, author.

And I also have the FB page. Matas Corvus.

I am at Goodreads and the book is available, at the moment, from Amazon UK, and worldwide.

Marvelous, thankyou! But writing fiction is not the only string to your bow is it? When you are not penning works of Steampunk Splendidness what else can you be found doing?

I am very active in the British Steampunk community both online and in the real world.  I’m an educationalist, specialising in Adult Education, I also work for the NHS presenting Diabetes Prevention courses. I’m a History and Archaeology lecturer, award-winning Steampunk artist and contraption maker, bulldog fancier, natural philosopher, gardener, Socialist, non-fundamentalist Christian and Fortean.

I believe very much in the idea of a worldwide Steampunk Community in which we are all part and so I started and run the FB pages; The Steampunk Community Bookshop and Steamcycle.

Steamcycle is the Steampunk’s Freecycle, which I and the inimitable Janine Marriott run so as to help foster that sense of community. Steamcycle has over 1500 Steampunks around the world swapping or giving away things for free to other Steampunks.

The Steampunk Community Bookshop was created to give Steampunk authors a platform to promote their own work to the Steampunk community and for Steampunks looking for a good book to browse through.

I also am a founding member of the Steampunks of Gloucestershire group and the Minimum Altitude Display Team, “MAD T’s,” that has featured at the Lincoln Asylum for the last 5 years.

Splendid! Well, thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Mat, it’s been wonderful chatting with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?

Shall I be mother?

Thankyou very much! – and thankyou to all of you for joining us today in the soup kitchen,

Blessings on your brew my dears!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elevenses: Utterly Myself

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to Max and Collin’s providentially propitious to porcine perfection parlour located beneath the seasonably sodden streets of the splendidly scenic city f Steampunk’d Lancaster.

True there was a little kerfuffle here yesterday with some animal rights activists getting  hold of the wrong end of the proverbial stick and and trying to beat us to death with it, but never fear, such morally explosive coves will not be receiving another invitation.

You find us this morning much returned to the usual mill of things, the angry mob has dissipated, the furniture is recovering its dignity, Freddy is telling himself obscene jokes and we are feeling virtuous after feeding an entire town full of orphans their first taste of bacon. We have also stocked up on beer pending the arrival of our new pet and even made it a sort of ‘hutch’ …. hm? …. oh sorry Max says it’s called a sty… in the corner out of lemonade crates and the dismembered chaise. So, we are pig-ready and so forth.

Also, we have some news. News which I didn’t personally believe when Max first informed me of it. But, there it is, a box has arrived and now there is no doubting the fact – Max has written a book. And yes it is painted in tea. Of curse it is. How could it not be.

You may recall some time back that Penny put all her stories together into a book? Well if you remember that then you may also remember that Max got a bit shirty and said that he – or indeed we – ought also to be in a book. Some banter was exchanged and Max, being the precious kid he is, stormed out in a sulk and went to have a hairy coffee in The Squid and Teapot where he moaned and sulked and whined and recited a lot of embarrassing poetry until he passed out in a pool of his own sonnet. In short, he made such a damned nuisance of himself that in the end our dear friends Nimue and Tom Brown said that they would help him into a book if ONLY he would sod off back to Lancaster and leave them in peace with their demons.

So Max returned, joyfully coughing consumption over everyone but, nevertheless, with a box full of books. Somehow he persuaded Penny to do the words and pictures – I think a lot of Lapsang must have change hands there – and so here they are, available to buy on our etsy store, should you be inclined to do so…

Utterly.jpg

 

“Description

Eightcups Max and his Octopus friend Collin feature in their first book together – Utterly Myself –

Max may use the ironic handle of Very Quiet Gentleman but everyone who has ever Met Max knows that Very Quite and Gentleman are not accurate descriptions of our beloved tea fiend. Rumors abound about demonic rituals and medical malpractice and there is even a young lady in Bedlam who swears Max has tentacles…

So what the hell are you Max? – Man? Woman? Monster?

Join Max and Collin in this lovingly tea-painted Small Strange Book as they ask what it means to be any or all or none of these things and above all, do remain always, Utterly Yourself. “

We are very much back to normal now here in Lancaster – Mrs Baker will be in her soup kitchen tomorrow and do please stop in and pester Peril in his Lovely Library on Friday, he does so hate to be interrupted in his vital work and we do so love annoying him.
We will of course be back in the parlour on Monday with some more excellent fiction and tea so until then
Please remain always, Utterly Yourself

Morning Cuppa: The Dandelion Farmer

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s exuberantly experimental and improbably porcine parlour located beneath the grimy streets of the splendidly scencic city of Steampunk’d Lancaster.

True some will call our flamboyant descriptions of our subterranean safe-house ‘Hogwash’ but we consider that such people are merely swine.

You find us this morning with a dead pig on the rug. This is entirely the fault of Nimue Brown and we take no responsibility for the matter whatsoever. (As Max says, “A True Gentleman never takes responsibility for anything, if he can help it, least of all his own actions.”) We have done some research and ordered a new pig and some beer and a couple of Conservative MPs and hope the thing will go better next time… What?

… Max says I am painting a very suspect and inaccurate picture of events and he would like me to make it clear that a) Max was not in any way involved with the pig , b) the purpose of the pig in the parlour was completely innocent and c) all we did was feed the pig substandard black-market tea which likely consisted of a large amount of brick dust and asbestos and this caused it to keel over and die. d) Max was in no way involved with the pig…

What? … no I don’t think that by making point d) a repetition of point a) it makes it sound as though you were involved with the pig Max… and I’m sure none of our dear friends here would think that of you in any case, I mean, I know you’re shackled to a regrettable romantic history but… owch! … right. Fine. I see cruelty to animals is not beneath you afterall. I shall say no more about it.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to listen to us bickering over a dead pig, you came to enjoy some marvelous tea and some splendid steampunk fiction. So, let us kick our tentacles up on the table, and do just that… Our tea this morning is Dandelion and Burdock brew by Muddy Boots (we are not usually fans of Dandelion, as you know, but coupled with Burdock here it is quite sweet and delicious) and to accopany it, what better than this…

 

 

The Dandelion Farmer is a magnificently crafted  steampunk’d science-fiction novel that could easily stand alongside any of the sci-fi classics, and indeed should be considered essential reading for anyone keen to expand their collection to include modern gems alongside the familiar old.

Humans have colonised Mars and the Dandelion Farmer is trying to grow plants for bio-fuel while fending off the underhanded tactics of his land-grabbing adversary. But when a stranger appears on the farm needing assistance events rapidly spiral into a dark and thrilling journey through a twisted labyrinth of past and present with some very real demons.

McCall’s Mars has an 1800s American Western feel and holds a critical mirror both to that colonial era here on Earth, and to our current socio-political climate. It is an exceptional work of science fiction with a steampunk flavour and we look forward to reading and reviewing the next book in the series , The Hour Glass Sea,  when it is released.

And now that appears to be the door … hopefully it is either the butcher or our new pet… hm? You’ll call who? The R.S what? Well there’s really no need to be like that you know… why don’t you calm down, put that dueling parasol away and stay for lunch? We’re having bacon sandwiches… OWCH! … Max stop cowering behind the sofa and protect me, our guests have been inexplicably incited to violence!…

 

 

 

Note from Penny: No pigs, octopuses or Very Quiet Gentlemen were actually harmed during this tea party. Well, not much… certainly no more than they deserved…

Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster

Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of  praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.

I am the ghost known as Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.

But this is not a public thoroughfare! If you have wandered in here on the ill-advice of that incorrigible octopus and its unnerving  Gentleman Friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by strange creatures promising  cake. Well, you will find nothing sweet and alluring down here;   here there is only the dark and the damp, the flickering of candlelight and the ceaseless toil of a man who did not re-animate from the dead to be pestered by people wanting bedtime stories!

But wait…what’s that you have tucked away under your arm there? A bottle of Single Malt eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… I have been tirelessly working over the summer, interviewing the Hex Slingers of Lancaster, compiling an anthropological study of the lives of those who use magic illegally in those curated back-alley fight clubs – why and how have they come to their present situation? What are their stories? Well, here at least, is one of them…

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FIRST : Siggy And Me

 

Sigmund Ignatius Newburger doesn’t hear his full name used often. Smite me down, I never even knew that was his full name until I heard it bellowed through the steam-filled Tiffin Den one Monday afternoon in late September. The fella bawling it was a sight. Mind you, smite me down if Siggy ain’t a sight himself. Guess we all are here though ; handling raw magic takes its toll, any hex slinger will tell you that for nothing, long as you ain’t the law o’ course!

The damage starts with your fingers, for most, just a tingling sensation at first a bit like pins and needles and if you stop then and there I dare say you’ll be alright after a fashion. But we didn’t stop, did we? Siggy and me. And now we have to hide our black veined hands and arms beneath long coat sleeves and leather gauntlets ; one look at that scorched, stained flesh and everyone knows what you are and we can’t have that now, can we?

This fella, anyways, he wasn’t a slinger. I could see his arms right up to his elbows, shirt sleeves rolled up and thumbs stuck in his braces like he meant business. “Sigmund, Ignatious Newburger!” he’s bellowed and Siggy jumped clean out of his seat like he’d just seen a flesh eating Liver Bird through the window.

It didn’t take long, a brief altercation and the fella left looking ‘Most Put Out’ as the Garish Set would say. Plenty of them in the Den that day as well but we don’t mix with that sort, revolution’s all well and good when you’re just spitting daggers about the Queen across the tea table, but smite me down if some of these Theatre Lot aren’t a bit too serious for their own safety, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, I got the savvy over a custard tart and a pot of chajo. Clarence is the fella’s name, Clarence Aloysius Newburger and he’s Siggy’s own cousin. Siggy now spills his guts all over our elevenses and it ain’t pretty ; his old man works for Lord Ashton up at the Silk Mills, he’s some sort of overseer there, right high up and fancy which is how they got the coin  to send The Young Sigmund to school and then, later, to the Wizards’ Collegium in Litchfield.

I never knew all this about Sig before but it all makes sense to me as he says it ; there are three sorts of people who end up here in the back-alley hex rings of Lancaster and smite me down if it probably ain’t the same in all the big cities of Ire : there’s those who ran away because this was their dream, and I guess you’ve got me pegged now too coz I’m certainly one them, then there’s those who are down and out anyhow and looking at any way they can to make ends meet, hex slinging can be the end of you, WILL be the end of you if you stick at it, but if you’re good at it, really good, and me and Siggy, smite me down if we ain’t pretty damn good, you can pretty much make your fortune at it. Or so the ring bosses will tell you. Anyhow then there’s the last sort, Siggy’s sort as it now turns out, and that’s the fallen wizards.

When a wizard gets disillusioned or disgraced – I don’t know, maybe he suddenly realises that The Almighty Wiz ain’t as benevolent and loving as all his holy texts make him out to be or maybe he develops a Tiffin habit or a taste for Lemonade, we all have our vices eh? – whatever the reason for him leaving Litchfield he doesn’t have many options open to him; everyone hates magic users and if you ain’t carrying an official licence from the Collegium you can’t legally practice it anyway. Chances are he’ll end up in one of two places; The Gutter Wizards or The Hex Slingers.

We don’t get many of Siggy’s sort down here, as you can imagine.

But I’m getting off the point again. Siggy said he never like Litchfield. He loved magic but he says they don’t teach you real magic up there, only their own limited and feeble understanding of how the world is put together and how a man can influence and exert his limited and feeble will over bits of  it.

Not like us, we stretch our soul out of our fingertips and into the aether, grasp the threads that hold the world together and force them to obey. It’s incredible, raw, adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy and once Siggy tried it( in a back alley behind the Burlington Arcade with a Youth who wore the scarlet leather of the Cameo Libris Scribes and claimed his mother was witch) he knew his Collegium days were over.

He came home to Lancaster but his old man didn’t want to know about it. That’s when he met me and I got him his Beauty and we started this whole lark together.

“Haven’t a friend in the world, Erik,” he kept saying – Erik Wise, that’s me in case you didn’t figure it out – “Haven’t a friend in the world now.” He’s one of those comic-morose types y’know? All Over with the Rueful Smiles and Languid Glances, the Heavy Sighs and such.

So I got him one. In a matchbox. Docklands are crawling with mice you see and they’re good for the fight if you know how to use them. You can use anything to boost your game if you know how, but Siggy likes mice ; smite me down if he can’t stand in a hex ring with Beauty on his shoulder and whistle and every mouse in every garret and gutter will come and swarm on him like a second skin. You can really do a lot with a skill like that and it drives the crowds wild and terrifies the wits out of any newcomers I can tell you.

We always go in for the doubles, Siggy and Me. I like the dust, it listens to me now and I can use it to bring physical form to the magic, which is terrifying in its own right, even without the Myomancer beside me. But we’re a great team and I wouldn’t go solo for any common price.

So this Clarence fella, he’s come to Lancaster looking for help and Siggy’s father won’t give it to him. Clarence is all set to solve his problems some other way when he hears on the ground that Siggy is still in Lancaster and fighting for coin in the hex rings. This suits Clarence’s plan even better ;  seems that some rogue relation – Harvey Hilarius Newburger, whoever he may be – has gotten himself into a scandal and needs to be gotten rid of sharpish before he lands the whole family in hot treacle. Seems Clarence thinks a hex slinger ought to be able to sort this little problem out a treat.

But Siggy’s a decent sort and he won’t have a part in it so old Clarence goes off to do the dirty work for himself and smite me down if I didn’t pity this fella Harvey-Whoever-He-Is on account of the murderous look on Old Clarence’s face as he left the Tiffin Den that day.

We never heard from him again and smite us both if we ain’t glad about it. We’re doing alright, Siggy and Me, we make enough in the rings to keep us in ‘Tops, Tails n Tiffin’ as they say round here. Maybe one day we’ll make that fortune we were promised, or catch the eye of some well to do Patron, then we’d hit the big time and no mistake. But we’re doing alright for now…

 

So there you have it, the first in this little series of snap-shots of Lancastrian street-life.

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least making sure the front door is Liver-Bird proofed again, true I have no flesh to devour but they do make a dreadful mess of the books if they manage to get in …. what’s that? You’re not sure your coat is Liver-Bird -proofed either? Well I’m sorry you should have thought of that before you decided to break the curfew! It’s certainly not my problem! Good Night!  

Oh, er…leave the bottle though…I mean, if you don’t make it home it’ll be a terrible waste…

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