Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Notes From Penny

#inktober Necromancers and Tea

Greetings! Unfortunately there have been technical hitches abounding this week and last – laptops have died and other devices have proved unhelpful for most things other than facebook. However inktober has still happened as it’s non-tech dependent! So, here are the teabie doodles from the last few days.

The next 50 shades of tea sketch is here…

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These will be painted in tea eventually, maybe next week.

And I’ve also been doodling some silly little Necromancers who are characters in the very last (probably) novella of the Ashton’s Kingdom series (which you’ll be pleased to hear I am NOT illustrating myself! lol)  Here they are and below is the opening of that work in progress…

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Thunder, Lightening, rain, hail, ominous fog and all the other things that accompany the beginning of an iconic horror movie or damn fine novel about Tea, Cake and lashings of Untimely Death, were occurring all over the little crag of rock known colloquially (and everywhere else) as The Skull.

Douglas skidded and stumbled over the vindictively slick cobblestones, cursing the length of his disgustingly sodden red robes, the ineffectual protection offered by his floppy wet cowl, the stupid little purse that dangled at his waist and was constantly expelling all his valuables into the muck, the fact that his favourite pocket watch had broken – again – and any and everything else that passed through his mind as he finally staggered, panting and wheezing to the top of the hill.

Sheet lightening flared for a second, silhouetting the crumbling chapel as Douglas clasped the cold iron ring in the studded wooden door and, with a cautious shoulder, silently eased it open.

The eerie luminescence of a hundred flickering candles, vanished in an ebbing wave to be replaced by darkness and smoke and a smattering of accusatory choking noises.

Thunder shook the walls and lightening flashed again, gleaming on several stiletto thin blades, poised in mid air.

“Sorry,” Douglas ventured, shuffling sideways along what he hoped was the back row of folding chairs. There was an almighty crash as something large and metallic clattered to the flagstone floor. “Sorry! So sorry,  Sara, er, Your Grace…”

“Douglas!”

“Sorry!”

“Late again Douglas, we have already begun the casting!”

Douglas gulped as tapers flared on either side of him and the candles were slowly re lit illuminating hundreds of furious faces all glaring at him. He fumbled frantically with the circular tin he had been cradling…

“I…. I brought cake…”

“What?” Archcleric Sara lowered her knitting needles and the rest of the assembled necromancers did the same.

“Sticky toffee double fudge triple chocolate tray bake with crystalised ginger?” he ventured, prising off the lid and offering the tin with a trembling hand.

“oooooo!”

General pandemonium ensued as the Necromancers all abandoned their half completed cast-ons and scrambled for a slice of Douglas’s offering.

 

 

Blessings on your brew and all your #inktober endeavours! 🙂


30 Years Of Steampunk: The Second Decade – Guest Post By Phoebe Darqueling

Steampunk: The Second Decade

Greetings to fans of Steampunk old and new! This is the third installment of a series exploring the history of the Steampunk genre in honor of its “31st birthday” on April 27. As part of the 30th birthday festivities in 2017, I coordinated and contributed to a collaborative Steampunk novel called Army of Brass. You can pre-order now at a mere $.99 as our “gift” on this most hallowed of days and it will be delivered on Friday.

 

In the first post in this series, I talked about adaptations of Victorian works as examples of Steampunk before the word “Steampunk” came into being. If you want to know more about that momentous occasion and the first ten years of amazing books, check out part 2. Now, we embark on the decade spanning the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s in which Steampunk branched out from literature and found a home in fashion and graphic novels. Plus we see the birth of the first online forums for connecting Steampunk fans.

Army of Brass Cover

Steampunk Fashion

Steampunk jumped from the pages of books into the realm of wearable art sometime in the mid- to late-1990s. Fashion student and member of the fashionable set, Kit Stolen, is one well-known example. He wore distressed Victorian style clothes paired with his own unique hair creations (called “falls”) and caused quite a sensation. Large-scale events wouldn’t show up in earnest for a few years yet, but daring creators like Stolen paved the way for the rest of us to enjoy our corsets and top hats later on.

Visual Media

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

In 1999, writer Alan Moore (The Watchmen) and illustrator Kevin O’Neill paired up to create the first LoEG graphic novels. The story is set in 1898 in the aftermath of the events of Dracula. Mina Harker is recruited by Campion Bond (a predecessor of James Bond) to lead a unique group of “extraordinary” literary figures. She recruits the likes of Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and Captain Nemo to join her to fight Fu Manchu in the first collection. Volume II centers on the events of War of the Worlds.

 

This two-volume collection of comics is brimming with literary characters and settings from the 19th century. And much in the same vein as the first Steampunk books, this series definitely has a dark side. The 2003 film by the same name, however, was pitched as more of a family affair. Sean Connery plays Quatermain and as the one with the star power, he ended up totally usurping Mina as the leader of the group. They also added a big role for Tom Sawyer as a CIA agent. Many fans of comics hated the movie because it shed all of its darkness, and film critics didn’t love it either. Still, it’s a fun homage to the literature of the steam era.

Wild Wild West Movie (1999)

This is another movie that checks several Steampunk boxes but ran into problems with fans. This reimagining of the 1960s Western-spy crossover as an adventure comedy rubbed many the wrong way. The franchise centers on James West, a sheriff who works for Ulysses S. Grant. At the time, Will Smith, who played West, was one of the hottest actors in Hollywood, and Kevin Kline was on a similar hot streak when he played West’s sidekick. It culminates in a mad scientist on a rampage in his giant mechanical spider. I personally loved this movie when I first saw it. Then again, I’d never seen the original so I wasn’t suffering from any dashed expectations. The movie is definitely a comedy, so I can see why someone looking for James Bond in the Wild West could be disappointed. (But still, giant mechanical spider = awesome. Am I right?)

 

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Girl Genius (2001-Present)

The husband and wife team of Phil and Kaja Foglio created this series in 2001. It straddles the line between Steampunk and gaslamp fantasy, a term that Kaja Foglio created to describe the series as it straddles the line between sci-fi and fantasy. It’s about Agatha Clay, a harried science student in a semi-Victorian setting and carries the tagline “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!” It started off as a black and white print book, added color in issue 3, and jumped to the web in 2005. You can read the entire series from the beginning and it is still updated every week.

Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidoqc (2001)

In the original French, this film is called simply Vidoqc because this name is famous in their history. Eugene Francois Vidoqc was a real police investigator in the first half of the 19th century and is largely recognized as the “father of forensic science.” His methods were so advanced, in fact, that people thought he dabbled in the occult. This association is the inspiration behind the film, which is both gritty and beautiful. The structure is unusual and non-linear, and among my favorite films of all time.

The Amazing Screw-on Head (2002)

Dark Horse comics later released this dark comedy by Mike Mignola (Hellboy) about a secret agent working in Abraham Lincoln’s service in 2002. True to his name, Screw-on Head has a removable head that can be installed in a number of bodies with different capabilities. A few years later, the SyFy channel released the pilot for an animated series. Unfortunately, despite the voice talent of Paul Giamatti, David Hyde Pierce, and Patton Oswalt, it never made it past the first episode.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbsDvGtTRWU

 

The Five Fists of Science (2006)

Dark Horse published another Steampunk gem with Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla in the starring roles. This is a tight little book that doesn’t waste any words, which means that all of the front-pages are more than just prologue. If you pick this one up (and I recommend you do), make sure you check out the short biographies of the real people involved, as well as the letter shared between Twain and Tesla that inspired this story full of giant robots and Lovecraftian beasties.

 

Steampunk Hits the Web

In 2006, the first dedicated Steampunk forum was established. Though the creator no longer plays an active role or updates it regularly, you can still visit “Brass Goggles.” This was an important step in the evolution of Steampunk as a community rather than a string of independent people. People could swap tips about making props and costumes, recommend books, and plan get-togethers in a streamlined way.

And Then Came the Music

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And don’t forget, Army of Brass comes out tomorrow! 21 international writers came together to create this tale of giant automatons, fearless airship captains, and deadly conspiracies.

 

Order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday to celebrate Steampunk’s “31st birthday.” The blog tour continues until May 13, and so does this special price.

 

Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

 

Not sure if it’s for you? Read a review, take a sneak peek at the full Chapter 1 or read another exclusive excerpt. You can also get to know the character Captain Jack Davenport a little bit better with his interview on Blake & Wight. If you want to find out more about collaborative writing, Army of Brass contributors and Collaborative Writing Challenge veterans Crystal MM Burton and Kathrin Hutson shared articles for the tour about the pros, cons, and rewards.

 

Speaking of giveaways, you can enter to win ebooks from the CWC writers.

 

 

and if you want to read the other posts in this series you can find them here:

What’s in a Name? Steampunk before “Steampunk” :  https://www.steampunkjournal.org/2018/04/24/whats-in-a-name-steampunk-before-steampunk/

Note from Penny: Thankyou so much to Phoebe for this awesome guest post which forms part of the Army of Brass blog tour. Regular readers may have noticed the Abney Park album featured on the panel in the music section and recall that this blog is temporarily boycotting Abney Park because of Robert Brown’s antiziganistic remarks and behaviour (until such a time as we can speak to him personally and see what he has to say for himself)  However we have allowed this one exception so as not to ruin Phoebe’s wonderful guest post (Coz we iz nice like that innit?) and not at all used it exploitatively to draw attention to this issue we’re passionate about… a-hem… 😉

 


Getting back to normality! (And the ridiculous route we took to it!)

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Firstly I think I owe everyone  a massive apology  that it has taken me so long to get back to the blog. When I signed off for a while we were poised to move into our new house and I was poised to have a small but necessary operation… well the best laid plans as they say!

The house turned out to be falling down and had illegal building work done on it so the sale fell through – which left us sofa-surfing while we scrabbled around trying  to find another house! On the plus side we got to spend lots of time with family and friends, visited some unusual places and had some fun caravan in the snow and wrestling with frozen pipes, no heating, filthy accommodation and all sorts of funnish things! We made some lovely memories saw some beautiful landscapes and wildlife and, looking back, our lives are undoubtedly richer for those experiences – but it is very, very, very good to finally have a roof over our heads that is ‘ours’ !

We have now settled into a lovely little house which suits us perfectly and our first house warming present arrived yesterday which I have to share with you…

 

THE FLUFFY DOOM! Made for us by the most talented, awesome and beautiful woman in the world Nimue Brown of http://www.hopelessmaine.com

We had the very great privilege of spending time with Nimue and Tom at the Hopeless Maine Tourist Information Booth and Time Quake festival in Manchester last month and you can read all about that on the Hopeless Maine website here:

https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/hopeless-maine-comes-to-time-quake/

We also joined the Ministry Of Steam Wizards and there will be more about that in the coming months.

As I’m sure you can all appreciate, moving house and getting a truck load of little coglings back into their routines takes a lot of time and energy and I’d like to make sure I do that bit right, so there are going to be some temporary changes to the blog schedule to allow me to catch up with everything and not let anyone down.

My review list has grown slightly insane! So I’m not taking on any new books just now and any books I have promised to review will be done between now and December, when the list will open again with the usual Recommended Christmas Reads.

In order to make all this happen, elevenses and the soup kitchen will stop until either September or December, with the exception of very special and worthy promotions (ie folks doing non-profit, good cause  or exceptionally cool low budget / indie things). However if you are missing our kitchen witch and her culinary wisdom, if you feel you desperately need advice on housekeeping, moral living and general wholesomeness, you may want to keep an eye on the Hopeless Vendetta over the next few weeks … I will say no more but there will be links when links are available…

The lovely library will open as usual in the autumn and authors whose work has been reviewed or featured are, as always, welcome to submit short stories / extracts for this (see submissions above).

So things will be a little quieter than usual around here but the wheels will continue to turn and slowly gather speed as we settle in and whenever I get the chance I will continue with the Rromani Steampunk posts and Notes From Penny as well.

Next Friday (yes I know that’s weird)  Max and Collin will be back for the Army of Brass blog tour which begins today on Steampunk Journal  and continues across the web until the 13th May. You can join us all for the Facebook Launch Party on 28th – 29th April as well to chat to the authors and take part in giveaways and such but more about that next week.

For now I will just say thankyou so much to everyone who has continued to be patient and supportive and inspiring and awesome through this ridiculously uncertain and disorganised period of our lives.

Blessings on all your brews, whatever they may be

Penny 😀


Steampunk Gypsies: The many names of the Rromani People

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now you’ll know that the word Gypsy (especially with a lower case g ) is a highly offensive word to most Rromani people. What you might not know is why it is so upsetting. You might also want to know the correct term to use instead and a google search might well leave you even more baffled on that score! So, hopefully this post will be a good resource for this subject and of course if you have any questions (or if you’re fed up with me banging on about all this) feel free to leave your comments  in the … er… comments section 🙂

In order to understand this subject clearly, you first need to understand a bit about our language and history…

The Rromani People are a displaced diaspora of India. Back around  the time of the crusades, Rajput military units were formed to protect different regions of India from invading Muslim armies. As these soldiers and their families and attendants all spoke different dialects /  languages, a military language had to be formed which all could understand. This language formed the basis of what is now the spoken and written language of Rromani people worldwide.

When we refer to the way we speak might say ‘Romanes.’ But that is not the name of our language. The word Rom (s) / Roma (pl) means ‘a person / us / the people / (one of) the group / the family / ‘ so to speak Romanes means to speak ‘in the way of the group / the family / the people / us / to speak in our way … it is not the name of a language and, strictly speaking therefore, ‘Rom / Roma’ is not the name of our people.. it just means ‘(one of) the people.’ (It can also mean husband but not in this context – like the word ‘man’ can mean ‘a man’ or ‘people in general.’)

So, if you refer to Rromani people as The Roma or a Rromani person as ‘A Rom’  (which a lot of people do) you are saying ‘The People’ / ‘The Group’ / ‘The Family’ or ‘One of the people / the group / the family’.  That is absolutely fine, many Rromani people speak in that way, most don’t mind it even if they don’t use it themselves. It’s certainly a polite, respectful way to speak to or about Rromani people.

Getting back to the Rajputs again, two groups were defeated by the Muslim armies and forced to leave their lands. Some were captured by Turkish armies and forced to join as slaves, those who escaped into Eastern Europe were immediately captured and enslaved for hundreds of years, those who fled west were unable to find a place to settle but continued travelling through Greece and eventually into the rest of Europe, using their military skills, skills in metal work and horse trading (as well as trades they learnt along the way such as entertaining, dancing and fortune telling – more about that in another post I think? ) to make money.

Obviously during this time The Group was forced to split many times. As each new splinter group moved through different countries, new words were added to the military language they all spoke – thus each clan now speaks a slightly different version of that first ‘Language of The Group.’ They also began to refer to themselves by different names, names that for the most part described their skills and trades  much in the same way as surnames do the world over.

I belong to the Petulengros (Smiths) who are of the English clan known as Romanichals (which literally means ‘Rromani Chaps’ ) and the Kalderash (The cauldron makers /  copper-smiths who turned their pots on fat posts hammered into the ground). Often a Rromani family have kept their clan name (or a version of it). Sometimes though they have had to change it in order to hide the fact they are a Rromani person and so allow them to avoid persecution and live an integrated, peaceful life with the rest of society.

So, some Rromani people don’t like to be called Rom or The Roma – you can understand that now right? They don’t want to be called ‘One of the group’ or ‘The People’ … they want to be called by their clan / family name (Like you might say ‘I’m a Jones’ or ‘I’m a McGill’) they prefer to identify as something related to who their family is and what they do / did.

If you think at this point that Rromani people seem incredibly fussy and it is all terribly difficult to know what to call them please look at it this way…

You might call yourself ‘English’ or ‘American’ defining yourself by your location.

If you do so / have ever done so, please take a moment to consider that it is a privilege to be able to claim a geographical location as an aspect of your identity. It implies that you are an accepted member of that place, you belong there, it is a part of you, it’s your home.

Rromani people do not have that privilege, have not been permitted to join another nation and call it home, they have been refugees for hundreds of years and so they must find different ways of defining themselves. (And, I feel, this is food for thought for all of us when we consider the long term impact of our treatment of refugees and immigrants today.)

(It has been suggested that Rromani people reclaim their Indian connection and that is ‘all well and good’ but as many of us now have fair skin and hair and look anything but Indian, that idea seems a little laughable really! So we continue to be ‘The Family’ / ‘That Group that left India together’ because no other nation has welcomed us and we cannot now go back.)  

There are so many Rromani clans in the world today (Wikipedia has a quite dreadful map showing a very few in simple blocks which can only act as a rough guide) many, as I say, call themselves Rom / Roma and some prefer their specific clan name.

 

So, there you have it – When referring to a Rromani person or people you can say…

Rom – One of the people

Roma – The People

Romany (/ Romani / Rromani / Rhomani ) person – A person who is of the group (spelling is dependant on dialect)

Romany (/Romani / Rromani/ Rhomani) people – The people who belong to the group

Or you can use the specific name of the clan the person / people belong to eg: Sinti, Kalderash, Kale, Romanichal etc…

My advice is to just be clear about what word / spelling you are using, what it means and why you are using it.

 

“But why not gypsy?” I hear you say … well, again we need to look at history and language…

 

The word is a shortening of ‘Egyptian’. When Rromani people first fled into Europe their dark skin and hair caused people to mistake them for Turkish invaders and later either for Egyptians or people from Little Egypt (sources are unclear as to which). They were nick named ‘gyptians’ which soon became ‘gypsies.’ Obviously a homeless refugee population are powerless to dictate what they ‘should be called’.

The word gypsy became so far removed from the word Egyptian that, rather than describing the mistaken place of origin of a group of people, it instead took on its own bizarre set of definitions. Various leaders including Vlad The Impaler, Henry The Eighth and Hitler, all used the word gypsy to justify the de-humanisation and murder of thousands of Rromani people. Rromani people were burnt with the ‘gypsy brand’ on their skin which marked them as belonging to animal rather than to human kind and having no right to existence. They were then tortured, sterilised or simply murdered.

At least 250,000 Rromani people were murdered during the Holocaust alone, at least 85% of Germany’s Rromani population were branded ‘gypsies’ and exterminated because they were seen as sub-human.

During the industrial revolution, the notion of ‘being a gypsy’ was seen as a desirable alternative to the horrors of factory and inner city life. The dehumanisation of ‘gypsies’ at this time took a different turn as they were seen as wild, free, close to nature or at one with it, romantic, mysterious, magical, desirable, roguish, care free… writers, poets and artists failed to see the poverty and persecution suffered by a people who were not nomadic or ‘free’ , but shackled to a seasonal circuit of a few safe ‘atching tan’ (‘stopping places’) where seasonal farm work could be found, not allowed to own property, speak their own language or step foot inside shops. The Gypsy Law Society epitomised the attitude when they declared membership of their elite ‘research group’ required that the gentleman must first ‘bed a gypsy.’

You can, I hope, see why nobody would want this label. Why it is distasteful, sickening and upsetting for a Rromani person to be called a gypsy. Is it any different with a capital G? I don’t think so.

 

So, as writers and readers and steampunk enthusiasts who write and read and cosplay in an era where Rromani people were very visible and were habitually branded ‘gypsies’ how can we include the experiences of Rromani people of that time period without perpetuating the ongoing prejudice?

It might seem like a challenge but it’s really a no-brainer – look at other oppressed groups of the colonial period. How should they be referred to / treated / spoken about in historical or punk fiction? You might for example have a racist or ignorant English character refer to an African character using the N word, but you wouldn’t use the N word in the main text of the narrative to refer to that African person would you? You also wouldn’t call them ‘The N….’ , you would use their name. Just consider the G word, exactly the same as the N word. Because, to Rromani people , it is the same.

( Some Rromani people do use the word Gypsy – either because they are trying to re-claim and re-shape it as a form of empowerment or because the word Rromani is so often met with confusion from non-Rromani people. Many cultures take words that have historically been used against them and turn them into a form of personal power – that, surely, is their prerogative. )

If we couple the respectful use of language to talk about Rromani people, with an accurate portrayal of their history and culture, hopefully we can move the image of Rromani people away from the fantastical / de-humanised ‘gypsy’ and back into reality.

 

I really hope this info has been helpful – I’m by no means a linguistic scholar or historian though so if you think that I’ve made a mistake anywhere do please forgive me and feel free to discuss it, we are all learning together afterall 🙂 And of course if you have any questions or want me to cover any more topics on this subject let me know,

Big blessings, Penny 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Steampunk Gypsies : Character Creation – Amelia Manylentils

Greetings! Here, as promised some time back now, is a careful look at how to respectfully draw on aspects of Rromani / Gypsy culture and history in order to construct a Steampunk character. I’ve used the word Gypsy in the title here because many people mistake the term Rromani for Romanian but most Rromani people find the term Gypsy offensive so it really is better not to use it. You wouldn’t use the N word to describe a person of African heritage would you? No.

Rromani people are a fairly visible part of the Steam Era, cropping up in folk tales, art, literature and ephemera of the time but our portrayal is usually colourful , romanticised, demonised and mis-representative of the reality of every day life for Rromani people living in Georgian and Victorian times. (I’ll write in more depth about this in a separate article).

But we can move on from the mistakes of the past and make sure that, by educating ourselves, we don’t repeat or perpetuate them when we write , create or cosplay in the Steampunk genre today 🙂

So here is how I used Rromani culture respectfully to influence the creation of one the the primary  characters here in Ire, Amelia Manylentils. If you have any questions about creating your own Rromani characters or other topics you want to me cover etc let me know in the comments as I’m happy to do more articles like this if folks find them useful.

 

Amelia Manylentils. 

Amelia is a Sho’vani character. I drew a fair bit on Rromani history and culture to create the Sho’vani people and so I have drawn on many aspects of Rromani culture to create the costume for Amelia.

The Sho’vani are a technologically advanced, displaced diaspora of the Jentacular Landmass. Their rebellion against Wiz and his evil army of Wizards went horribly wrong when the automaton army they had created rebelled against them and the twelve tribes, led by twelve princesses, fled across the sea to the scattered Isles Of Ire where they have been outrageously persecuted ever since.

Colonialism is an important and troubling part of our world history but so is the historical and current treatment of refugees and immigrants and I wanted to reflect this part of Rromani history in the history of the Sho’vani.

(For those of you who are unaware, the Rromani people are a displaced diaspora of India. Two groups of Rajputs were defeated by Muslim invaders and forced to flee their land. Some were captured by Turkish regiments and forced into their army, those who managed to escape into Eastern Europe were enslaved for hundreds of years. Those who fled to the west were feared, outlawed, imprisoned, murdered, not allowed to settle down , speak their own language, have children or own property. Many are still facing this persecution today. As soldiers and their entourage, they already had skills with metal work , horses and other crafts which they tried to use to earn money. When this wasn’t possible, they took on farm and manual work and also picked up skills such as entertaining and fortune telling along the way. )

Amelia’s Story:

Amelia’s Sho’vani father was ‘adopted’ (read: stolen) by a rich Tea Time Lord and his wife because they could have no children of their own and they thought it would be an amusing project to ‘tame’ a little wild woodling and make him into a proper Ire-ish Gentleman. They succeeded but when he grew to manhood he annoyed his parents by falling in love with and marrying  the local watch maker’s daughter who was also Sho’vani. That is as far as his rebellion went however and he inherited his father’s estate and treacle mine and settled into life as a Tea Time Lord. His wife, who had always hated her father’s business and had been only too eager to escape her fate of having to become a ‘filthy Tinker’ (her words) took to the lifestyle like butter to a crumpet. Unfortunately their daughter Amelia was different…

Love Triumphant: 

“Amelia? Amelia where are you this time?” Gerda Manylentils wrung her hands anxiously as she scoured the ornamental gardens in search of her daughter.

From high amongst the whispering leaves of the grandfather willow, Amelia watched her mother’s progress through the labyrinth of repressed shrubbery. Each leaf of the neatly maimed privet hedges lapped at her crinoline skirts, like the wax-bright tongues of crouching goblins, green and catching the last drips of evening light like drops of honey.

“Amelia?” Her voice was grey with the coming dusk and it weighed on her daughter’s ears with the same impending doom.

Amelia carefully placed her dolls into their little wicker basket and secured it firmly to the hawser. She wiped her grease-stained fingers on an oil cloth and brushed an arm across her cheek, swiping off a layer of sweat and grime. She took one last look around the treehouse. Every nut, bolt and screw, every spanner, saw and wrench was neatly stowed away in its own private apple crate. The leaves of the old man were fainting and pale, fluttering as the tree drew his deep, ragged breaths. She tied the straps of her leather cap under her chin, flicked her goggles down over her eyes and clipped her utility belt to the hawser behind the basket.

“Amelia? Oh!”

Amelia sailed over her mother’s head like a whistling stormcrow and landed, inelegantly, beside the koi pond. She teetered for a moment on the brink, before steadying herself and unclipping the harness and the basket.

Meanwhile, her mother was passing through her usual colour scheme of emotional meltdown; parchment fright, scarlet shock and finally, purple rage. “Amelia, how could you? How, simply, could you do this to me? You know perfectly well that Watkin Caffiendish and his parents, Lord and Lady Sugar of Crumbria are here! That is to say, were here – they are leaving, and, to be perfectly candid, I cannot say I blame them.” She twisted her plump fingers together in agitation. “Oh, Amelia! I am not sure which is worse; that you didn’t make an appearance, or that you could have done and this is what you are dressed like!” She gestured despairingly at her daughter’s patched and grease-stained overalls. “No, it is no good, Amelia, no good at all. Your father will demand an explanation. I demand an explanation! What have you been doing all this time? Where have you been? Not up in that tree again? Oh no!” Her glance strayed to the basket, now hooked over her daughter’s arm. “Not those awful dolls?”

“Mother, they are not dolls they…”

“They were once!” her mother screeched. “Perfectly beautiful porcelain dolls, Amelia, which your Aunt spent months crafting the petticoats for! Why you have to…fiddle with everything, I do not know.”

“It’s not ‘fiddling,’ Mother, it’s ‘tinkering’ and look,” Amelia reached inside the basket and pulled out one of the dolls. It certainly didn’t resemble any of the prim and pouting manikins which graced the little bay windows of the toy shops in town. Any clothes it had once possessed were nowhere to be seen, large portions of the porcelain had been carefully hacked away and replaced with metal screw-plates and the entire chin was now a hinged collaboration of metallic scraps.

“Oh no, please, do not wind it up! Amelia, my nerves! You know I cannot abide…”

Amelia ignored her mother’s pleas and wound the key which protruded from the back of the doll. The moment she released it, the doll’s mouth began to slowly open and close and sweet string music, almost akin to lark song, filled the blushing air.

“See, it sings. I made it sing. And this one…”

“Absolutely not! No more, Amelia, no more! This whole nonsense has gone on for long enough. A Lady should not spend her time fiddling about with things like this, she…”

“It’s not fiddling, Mother…”

“No, enough!” Gerda snatched the basket of dolls and hurled it into the koi pond, where, of course, it floated like an infant Egyptian prince.

Amelia stared at it in silence.

“This is the last straw, my girl. Go to your room and make yourself presentable, whilst I speak to your father about what, exactly, can be done about you.”

 

Amelia let her head fall back, cradled against the warm wood of the ancient rocking chair which had been her grandmother’s, then her mother’s and was now hers. Her legs pulsed her back and forth like a living piston, the cogs of her brain whirring furiously. Above her bed, Love Triumphant rose on flaming wings into the golden dawn of eternity from the brooding brushwork wrought by G.F.Watts. Amelia pressed her index fingers together and a single eyebrow arched. To have wings. To rise from the grim clutches of the mortal bind. The drudge of duty and a course mapped out by incompetent navigators who would never sail this ship themselves, never set foot in the harbour for which they would doggedly insist it must be bound.

She continued to pulse. Each foot thrust a pump for the adrenaline that was fuelling her mind.

Above her head, the many ceiling fans looked down on her with sympathy, as redundant in the chill evening as a tinker at a tea party. The tiny automatons, arranged in regiment across her eiderdown, sat dutifully silent and even the pot bellied wardrobe seemed to suppress a sigh, bearing its burden of corsets and crinolines with sombre resignation.

Amelia scowled at the painting and out of the broad sash window to where bats were now looping gleefully like liberated gloves cast up in celebration into the greening light.

To have wings…

Amelia leapt to her feet, pulled her folding utility knife from her belt and wrenched a spring steel crinoline from the closet. Her furnace lit by the fuel of epiphany, she snipped at the light metal bands with her cutting tools, skilfully subduing the writhing serpents as they sprung and snapped, unleashed from their structural bindings.

Soon a nest of steel lay heaped in one corner of the room and Amelia turned her attention to the sheets beneath the eiderdown. Out came rulers and angle measurers, scissors and chalk and several tools she had designed herself; a rotating rivet setter and a hand held clockwork seam-stitcher.

Before long, a bat-like pair of wings lay spanning almost the width of the entire room. Amelia cast a critical glance at the rocking chair, made a few last minute calculations and then proceeded to strap the wings to the wooden framework at the back of the chair, using leather trunk-straps which she kept in store beneath her bed for just such emergencies. The wings concertinaed in on themselves perfectly and she arranged more straps which would release them at the precise moment of take off.

Next she turned her attention to the ceiling fans, which came down easily via the maintenance pulley system. Each fan came off in piece and was swiftly re-bolted to the chair, along with the small turpentine motor which powered them.

From somewhere deep in the belly of old house, a servant’s bell sang out its dainty falsetto like a knell. With no time to waste admiring her handiwork, Amelia heaved the chair up to the window and hoisted up the sash with practised difficulty, securing it with the tiny cheese wedges of splintering wood.

The giddy scent of pine teased through the fresh night air; exhilarating, promising adventure as it filled her senses until every cell stung with the anxiety to snap this leash of obligatory life.

Amelia raised the rockers of the chair against the sill and guided, slided, eased it into a position of perfect balance. Her breath caught in her chest, her heart a rapid rhythm as she carefully negotiated her way into the seat, feet now the stabilising factor and one arm braced against the rotting window frame, whilst the other tugged the motor into life.

The pang of pine was now intoxicating.

“Hello?”

A shadow eclipsed the green. The bats fled, piping indignation.

The rocking chair teetered on the sill.

“I say, hello? Amelia?”

In a fulmination of fragrant annihilation, the chair staggered, slipped and spiralled down into the ravenous clutches of the psychotic shrubbery below and combusted, leaving Amelia dangling, dumb struck, from the cross bar of the sash.

“Oh dear. Er, terribly sorry about that. Hold on…”

The vivid lights, cast upward from the flaming shrubbery, illuminated the profile of a pathetically small dirigible, from which a rope was now being lowered. Amelia grasped the life line without hesitation and hauled herself up into the gondola which hung beneath.

“Grab an oar then.”

“Excuse me?” Amelia stared incredulously at the synergist of the Armageddon below, as silhouettes of servants began pouring from the house, to leap in frenzied state around the flaming privets like demons around a hell pyre. “Who even are you?”

“Watt.”

“I said who are you?”

“No, sorry, I mean I am. I am Watt. Watkin Caffiendish, er, knight in shining armour, come to rescue you and all that shenanigans. So, grab an oar, fair lady. She rows out like a dream in this weather.”

Amelia looked down, bitterly, at the wreckage of her marvelous machine, now being stoically dowsed by the household domesticons. Behind the dark shutters of the house, the hue and cry was already up.

She picked up an oar and, for one glorious moment, considered trouncing this ballooning buffoon around the head with it and pitching him over the side into the dark abyss that was soon to be her past.

The scent of smouldering turps was becoming acrid and adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy was fast waning to fatigue and resignation.

Sighing inwardly, she fitted the oar into the rowlock and began to pull.

 

….

Above is one of the many mythical re-tellings of Amelia’s early life and the beginning of her infamous voyage to discover Siberia but rather than begin a philosophical debate on that subject, let’s have a look at her costume…

 

 

Amelia is more interested in dressing practically rather than in a way that is perceived as ‘feminine’ (a taboo both in Upper Class Western and Rromani society of the Steam Era!) so I made her a pair of the classic wide legged trousers worn by our Kalderash men and waistcoat to match from heavily embroidered fabric.

Embroidery is of great cultural significance in Rromani culture and I still have a lot of my family’s embroidered pieces which I wouldn’t dare use for costuming! In Ire, one of the Sho’vani families play an important role in the revolution and they use a cog-based embroidery to code messages into clothing they are ‘mending’.

Amelia likes to keep her inventing equipment close to hand. Belly dancing belts stitched with coins are a mark of shame and anger for many women – not just Rromani. In days where women (and men) were seen as property which could be bought to entertain rich people with dancing and other ‘tricks’ , many people were forced to lay aside their religious beliefs about modesty and proper sexual conduct in order to survive. The passion in many Rromani dances is an expression of the anger felt by the slave dancers at being forced to act against Rromanipen (their beliefs) in order to entertain the rich. For Amelia’s costume I decided to take the belly dancing belt of coins and re-purpose / re-claim it as a tool belt  – a status-symbol for an independent young woman – so I have attached cogs and gears and similar things to the sash instead of coins.

steampunkrromani3

 

I chose red for the belt because it is a sacred protective colour in Rromani culture and a very feminine colour too. I hate the fact that femininity is often seen as inferior and that when women choose to pursue traditionally masculine careers they are somehow seen as being un-feminine. I wanted to wrap Amelia in her femininity – her inventing and creating are expressions of her womanhood, not a rebellion against that. By the end of our little saga here she is a wife, mother, grandmother, chrononaut and the greatest inventor the world has ever seen and none of these aspects of her character contradict or corrupt the others.

The cap and goggles are necessary for any wife and mother and are just my own everyday wear for nappy changes , cricket matches etc. but I love the black and white lace and pearls adding lots of magpie-pretty to these functional items.

So, there you have it; part one of creating an authentic Rromani Steampunk character. In the not too far future I’ll do a completely different character for you, based on the real historical Rromani poet Bronislawa Wajs. (Yep, we have poets!)

Until then, best wishes for all you splendid steampunk capers and I hope you’ll join the boys in the parlour tomorrow for some marvellous masquerade madness 😉

Penny 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Happy New Year From Penny :)

Greetings! I hope this finds all of you well and happy after awesome amounts of festive fabulousness? Here in the land of Steampunk’d Lancaster we’ve been attempting to move house which hasn’t completely worked yet – we’ve sold and moved out of one house but haven’t yet managed to buy and move into the new place so we are floating in limbo with sporadic internet and other things and fighting off various nasty bugs at the same time.

But have no fear, over the next few weeks the threads of the universal corset will slowly be pulled together and Max and Collin will be back to guide you around the forthcoming Lancaster annual Frost Fair  and working their way through their splendid Steampunk review list and Mrs Baker’s soup kitchen will soon re-open its doors with some marvellous Steampunk writers and enthusiasts coming to help dish up some delicious treats for the orphans. I’m also putting together my series of posts on creating authentic Rromani / Gypsy characters in Steampunk fiction and cosplay aaaaaand I am currently working with one of my favourite artists in the world ever, Rae Smith, to put together a collection of Steampunk / Mythpunk short stories for publication this year. So, lots of lovely things to look forward to once we get the gears oiled and running together smoothly again!

In the meantime I wish you all the very best and biggest blessings on all your new year endeavours!

Penny 🙂


Tea @Three: What is this ‘novel thing’ of which you speak?

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, friends, fiends, octopi and anyone else out there who is sensibly sitting in with a quiet brew instead of braving the atrocious amounts of wind out there this morning.

As November begins to wrap itself up in shiny paper and tinsel and writers across the globe chew their knuckles to the bone and pull out the last of their hair and dissolve into soft pools of jelly on the floor I thought I would share what we here in the Bitter North (Mordor some like to call it) have been doing to celebrate National Novel Writing Month.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a novel as : A long printed story about imaginary characters and events.

Even if we lay aside all the comments we hear abut writers being turned down by mainstream publishing houses because their plots, characters, style or creative format is deemed ‘niche’ and therefore not all that profitable, there are still two words in that description which close off the world of baking and consuming novels to large groups of people – those words are LONG and PRINTED.

Those of you who only know me through the aetherweb are probably unaware that I have PMA (Persistent Migraine with Auras) with Alice In Wonderland Syndrome (cool huh? I thought so when I finally got a name for it!) This means that for as long as I can remember, I have seen an overlay of lights, colours and patterns on top of around and behind everything else. Sometimes there are sounds too and occasionally objects become very tiny and far away then grow big again. I was an early consumer of literature (by 2 I could stomach a short book and by 5 I was eating Narnia) and I recorded my first horror stories on cassette when I was 4 , but digesting long amounts of small printed text in identical format throughout has always been very difficult for me. I do it because I love stories. But it’s hard. It wasn’t until I discovered House Of Leaves in my teens that I realised a novel could be something else…

We live in an age where technology allows us to create interactive book formats, audio, braille, tactile books, stories that arrive in a series of boxes through the mail…

Our small storytelling group is fortunately blessed with some fabulous little (and big!) people who have a variety of ways of processing sensory information as well as attention, emotional, social and physical issues which render the classic format of a classic 80,000 word novel problematic. So this month we have been exploring different ways of creating and consuming works of novel fiction.

There is always a danger that when folks with what others might term ‘special needs’ (don’t we all have those?) attempt something like this the rest of society expects that we are lowering the bar or going to produce something substandard that everyone can smile at and say ‘awwww bless!’ So we also set ourselves some really tough challenges to make sure our stories were as tight and top notch as they could be, just presented in an alternative format.

I have already shared our tea books with you all. Here are some of the other things we have been up to…

Messages on bottles

Bottles, cartons, jars and tins or cylinders made from oiled paper all make lovely tactile surfaces for writing on. You can hold the physical object in your hands in a way that is great for those who need to fidget or find holding a heavy book or turning fiddly pages a strain on their joints (several members have hypermobility with arthritis and this can be a big issue). The beauty of light shining through the inked on words is enchanting and holds the attention of the reader and writing on the curves and small sections proved a very manageable and enjoyable task for those of us who struggle to attend to one thing for a long time. The containers can be painted first then inked with sharpies when dry, or left plain. We put LED candles inside ours but I would love to see them hung outside in summer where they would catch the light, or the glass bottles filled with coloured water.

Sound Stories

These were surprisingly  difficult to make well. We planned out our stories and then thought about a series of sounds that could be put together to convey that story to a listener. We tried using sounds we could make ourselves, such as footsteps or cutlery, doors etc. and soon realised that even the most obvious sounds don’t always convey the action we need them to. We later experimented with various apps to layer in music and other sounds and eventually ended up with some pretty good ‘sound stories’ but nobody was entirely happy with their finished pieces and so I think we will come back to this project again.

 

Picture Stories

Everyone loved these – even the two year olds in the group had a go! – a series of photographs were taken to tell a story. See what you think of this one…

shoe1

 

Stories Hidden Inside

Inside a bottle, an envelope, a box, a shoe… we carefully selected  a series of objects that told a story, some collections were obvious, some needed explaining, some were extremely powerful, poignant and sad – it was amazing how as few as three or four objects, carefully chosen, could move us to tears just as much as 50,000 well chosen words.

Story bracelets

Next week we will be turning one of our stories into code by choosing either coloured or shaped beads to represent each element or word in our story and then threading them into wearable novels. This is a follow on from an activity a few years ago when we made wearable story jackets, shoes and trousers which could be added to over time.

 

We also did a lot of spoken word story telling in the form of roll-and-tell (or some prefered to roll-and-write which was fine. Here are some of the D6 games we played…

FIRST WORDS

Roll a D6 and tell a story that begins with the word matching your number:

  1. Clunk                             1.Sorry!                       1.We
  2. Oh!                                 2.Violent                      2.Perched
  3. Silently                          3.Swish                        3.Struggling
  4. Never                             4.Five                           4.Why
  5. You                                  5.Sand                          5.Flames
  6. Falling                            6.White                        6.Bone

 

NEW CHARACTER

Roll a D6 and create a character that is like…

1. Glass                                1. Marble

2.Autumn                            2. Spring

3. Cider Apples                   3. Evening

4. Chalk cliffs                      4. A broken pot

5. Rain                                  5. Moss

6. A Utility knife                 6. Lemon sherbert

 

SETTING

Roll a D6 and create a setting that contains the word (or is inspired by the word) ….

1.Silk                           1. cardboard                      1. Smoke

2. Velvet                      2. Pigeons                           2. Laughter

3. Acrid                       3. Bare                                 3. Luminous

4.Stale                         4. Iron                                  4. Pin

5. Vivid                       5. Air                                     5. Sickly

6. Crunch                   6. Chestnuts                          6. Close

 

SUDDENLY

Roll a D6 and tell a story (or add an event to your story) that begins “suddenly…”

  1. A monster                 1. Sound                  1. Breath
  2. Light                           2.Pain                      2. Droplets
  3. An animal                  3. A person             3.The scent of
  4. A trap                          4. Fatigue                4. Weight
  5. A person                     5. Fear                      5. Vibration
  6. The hand of god        6. Hunger                6. Memory

 

And here are the D20 challenges we gave ourselves for editing, improving, experimenting and tightening up… Roll a D20 then re-tell / re-write your piece as follows…

  1. Don’t use any colours or visual descriptions
  2. Don’t use sounds
  3. Only use descriptive words associated with taste and touch
  4. Don’t use weather or landscape to reflect the mood / atmosphere
  5. Use only dialogue
  6. Use no dialogue
  7. For every adjective, find 3 alternatives
  8. Use metaphors and similes that seem completely out of place
  9. Tell it from the perspective of three different characters or objects
  10. Don’t use the same word twice
  11. Write it twice, each at a different time of day
  12. Use no adjectives
  13. Sum up the whole scene in one word
  14. Choose a paragraph and remove as many words as you can
  15. Double the length of the scene or paragraph
  16. For every verb find 2 different ways of describing the action
  17. Choose a colour and make every adjective fit that colour theme. Repeat with a different colour
  18. Write a synopsis of your piece in one sentence
  19. Write or tell it in just 250 words
  20. Write or tell a synopsis of your story in one paragraph.

 

 

So we have been using this month to celebrate all that a novel can be and I have also been working hard on the very last novel that will make up the Smith and Skarry series – yes, yes, I know I haven’t actually published the first one yet and the second and third are only half done but that’s the way I roll I guess, it came to me how the thing should end and so I thought it best to write what was flowing. I say ‘write’ but as each book is meant to be a hybrid graphic novel / novella there’s a lot of story boarding too. It may well be a hopeless endeavour as I still haven’t found another illustrator and my own art skills are way too shabby but ‘hey ho’ it keeps me off the streets 😀

And now a lil ‘heads up’ that the next two months round here may be a little chaotic (because they aren’t already…) I am moving house and also at some point going to have an operation (no idea when yet) I’m scheduling as many posts for Dec and Jan as I can in advance but I’m not sure when I will have computer access over that time so if I don’t respond to your lovely comments / emails etc immediately please understand I’m not being rude, I’m just on my back getting high on opiates or something.

And now we must all take a huge calming breath and brace ourselves because next week I will publish my recommended steampunk Christmas reading list (email me if you want to be added to that) and after that…. WIZMAS! (Or Christmas as I think you call it? ) anyhoo it all translates as madness and I have to polish my spurtle , order extra oats, buy a new hat, brush up on my spuelling technique and get cracking on a new witch hunting wagon…

Biggest blessings on all your novel endeavours

Penny 🙂


On Steampunk and Trolls : A note from Penny

A small but unpleasant thing happened at a con recently which brought to my attention several issues that, in my naivety, reclusiveness and small-scale social paddling pool of carefully vetted beautiful-hearted human beings I had not been aware of.

But before I talk about the little incident and the road forward from there, I need to make it clear that I am speaking and writing and feeling from a situation of immense privilege. For anyone who doesn’t already know, I am half Rromani. Over the generations the parents and grandparents of my family have done all they could to merge with mainstream British culture to the point that all the children of my generation (and now my children’s generation) can live without the stigma associated with being labelled with the racist term ‘gypsy.’

That means they totally (publicly) abandoned their names, culture, religion, traditions, language, dress, beliefs… so that we could have full access to jobs, education, a social life and all the other aspects of life which they had been denied because of their ethnicity. Being Rromani was dangerous, it still is for many, and so my family hid – becoming invisible in plain sight.

Because of their sacrifice, I am able to choose to stand shoulder to shoulder with any other middle class British person, blissfully unaffected by racial issues of disadvantage or prejudice. So when I choose to reclaim, explore or celebrate aspects of my cultural heritage I am exercising that right from a position of safety and privilege ; I am able to choose to opt in or out, to reveal or to hide.

Often I choose to opt in because I feel that, if I don’t, all the beautiful and terrible things that are becoming lost will be lost forever. All the stories will pass away. I feel that the efforts of my elders will have been wasted if I don’t stand in the place their sacrifice has put me and wave their flag for them. Opre Roma? Well, here we are! And although I have endured the odd idiotic remark, that is by no means comparable to the atrocious suffering undergone by many Rromani people, both historically and today.

So when my husband and I Steampunk we always draw inspiration from Rromani history and culture (real Rromani history and culture, not this, frankly insulting, ‘steampunk gypsy’ aesthetic that can be seen wafting around the internet) and, probably because we always Steampunk small-scale with friends and family, this has never been an issue.

But this year we went to something big and I’m sad to say that we received some rather idiotic  remarks from a few other Steampunks about our overtly Rromani costumes not being ‘Proper Steampunk.’ Thankfully our children didn’t hear and obviously we didn’t run off to blub in the toilets but just got on with the day and had a marvellous time.  But it has lead my husband to say that perhaps we shouldn’t dress like that anymore (in case it happens again and the children do hear and get upset), that we should just wear top hats, goggles and lots of high tech gadgetry to try and fit in more rather than stand out as something outside the norm, perhaps we’re ruining it for the mainstream and they don’t want people to stray from the approved aesthetic? Or perhaps they just don’t understand and it’s not worth trying to educate them.

Well I thought about it long and hard – at first I have to say I was shell shocked because I’d always assumed that my small but very diverse circle of educated, enlightened, all-accepting and utterly beautiful friends was reflective of the entire Steampunk Community. I did some snooping, hoping to discover that my first impressions had been correct and that what we experienced was a one off… sadly I found lots of folks had had similar experiences … but happily I also found that lots of folks like us were trying to put their own cultural stamp on Steampunk and THAT I felt was something to dwell on, to pay attention to, to celebrate and to encourage.

Professor Elemental tells us ‘don’t feed the trolls’ and Nimue Brown’s beautiful poem tells us not to give attention to the idiots of the world but to raise high those who are doing good things.

I need to respond to what happened, because it left such a nasty taste in my mouth, and fortunately I am in a position that enables me to choose to respond by ignoring those trolls and instead drawing attention to as many fabulous folks as I can find who are doing good things and helping to make our community diverse, interesting, welcoming, representative, inclusive and fun for everyone who wants to be a part of it – because I think that for the most part it is!

So I stand very awkwardly, very humbly, and very nervously before you all today, in the shadow of those far better and wiser than me, on the shoulders of those far stronger and more deserving, hoping to spend some time celebrating the diversity that already exists within our wonderful Steampunk world by bringing together some fantastic writers, artists, musicians and creators who are actively shaping the genre into a really splendid scene to be a part of. (rather than an exclusive, fusty old gentleman’s club stuck up it’s own rear end).

So that is what will be happening here over the next few months ( I mean, hopefully it sort of inadvertently happens already!)

Nimue Brown spoke recently about creating types of sacred space, the more we all work together to try and create sacred spaces where we can celebrate and explore our own histories and cultures side by side through the medium of punk fiction, the more the trolls will be pushed to the sidelines where they belong.

(Thankyou for humouring me. Apologies for the interruption to the usual schedule of frivolity and mayhem, normal tea service will resume as soon as octopoidly possible…)

😉  – Penny