Gracious! You startled me!
Apologies, dear friends. I was expecting this old city watchtower in Steampunk’d Lancaster to be empty when we entered. Ah, but given the conditions outside – all those flesh eating Liver Birds plaguing the skies and the Sugar-Zombies roaming the streets and spreading their curse like a plague – I can’t blame you at all for taking refuge here.
Permit me to introduce myself. Jan Stone, story-maker and general assistant and dogsbody to a group of diminutive steampunk ladies and gentlemen who know me as Mrs Euphoria Steampunkle. I have brought a few of them with me tonight to provide some much needed help and protection. You’ll see them more clearly once I get the lantern burning.
As I’m sure you know by now, some of us have decided to re-kindle the old beacon in this watchtower and keep its flame burning each night as a way of giving hope to those being hunted down by terrifying monsters, or evil scarecrow landlords. Tonight is my shift.
Luigi, would you be good enough to pass me a lucifer? No, best I strike it, I think, given your long, flowing sleeves. There, that’s better. We can see one another more clearly now. Feel free to shuffle closer and warm yourselves slightly. Let the little ones come close to the flame; they look half-frozen.
But why are you huddling in that corner, whimpering and clinging to one another in that desperate way?
Oh, bless you, no! These are not flesh eating Liver Birds! I admit at first glance they have a slightly corvid-like appearance, but they are good plague doctors who have travelled all the way from the disease-ridden city of Roma to lend us support and assistance, having heard that we too are in dire circumstances at present.
No Giulio, I don’t think kissing the urchins on each cheek would reassure them of your friendly intentions at all, although it was a kind thought.
So you see, my friends, we are in safe hands for this night at least and since we will be here in the watchtower together for a while, let me tell you a little about my work, to pass the time.
‘Mwumph mwah gruphg.’
Luigi, I think it would be best if you left the talking to me. I agree that your English is coming along splendidly, but those masks, stuffed as they are with wormwood, make it quite hard for others to understand what you’re saying.
‘Gaph gogh eegha eegg!’
Exactly, Paolo, that’s why you carry your sticks. They allow you to show people what they need to do to keep safe. And obviously they are also fearsome weapons, are they not? No? Ah. Well I’m sure you will protect us perfectly, should the need arise, and if all else fails, we have a good supply of books we can hurl at any assailants.
So yes, I divide my time between curating these gentlemen and their fellow steampunk characters and accessories at The Steampunk Dolls House – a virtual shop located in the aether which exports worldwide – and writing blogs, books and so forth.
In fact, I have recently published a novel aimed at 8 to 12 year olds called The Glassmaker’s Children. Perhaps the urchins would enjoy listening to an extract from it? Here is a section from near the beginning, in which we are introduced to the Glassmaker and his craft:
He had a workshop right down by the coast and each day he would fire up the great, enormous furnace to a temperature you can’t even imagine. He had to wear special leather gloves and a heavy helmet and apron to protect himself. Imagine having all those thick clothes in such heat!
Once the furnace was roaring away, he would take his cart down to the beach and collect masses of soft, white sand. These days, all kinds of strange substances are added to sand when it is heated to make glass, but back in their times, it was usually just sand plus heat. He would tip the sand into the furnace and it would melt into a bright, glowing sticky liquid, like pale treacle.
Carefully, carefully, the glassmaker would take great globs of the glass out of the furnace with a long hollow pole and blow it and turn it. It was like a big, wobbly balloon. He would shape it and move it and stretch it, quite wonderfully, into whatever the villagers wanted – windows or drinking glasses, jugs or mirrors, bottles or ornaments.
Sometimes he would bring home gifts he had made for the children. For Ruby, he made a pair of glass slippers, so she could pretend to be Cinderella. (Her mother thought this was the stupidest gift she could imagine and worried that the child would fall and cut herself horribly each time she wore them.) For Stellan he created a magnifying glass with a silver frame and a brass handle, so that he could explore all the tiny wonders he found in the garden, and the mother was happy with that.
The children thought their father was a very clever man, and so he was.
Ah, but the Glassmaker had secrets. There were secrets about glass that were passed down from one glassmaker to another through the ages. Glass is a magical substance. You can see it, yet you can see straight through it. Sometimes you can even see your own reflection in it.
There’s something more, though – something chemical. Chemistry is hard to understand. What we really need is a chemist to explain it to us. Luckily, there is a chemist hidden in the pages of this book. He isn’t supposed to appear until later in the story, but I think I’ll bring him here for a while, to see if he can make things clear. He’s called an apothecary, which means he mixes medicines and potions and stuff to unblock drains and powders to make cabbages grow enormous and so on.
Here he is.
Good day, Apothecary.
“What? Where am I? And, ugh! What’s that smell, for goodness’ sake? Salt? Seaweed? This is the seaside, isn’t it? I HATE seasides! Nasty windy places with sand getting between your toes and into your lunch… and all those noisy, greedy seagulls. You can’t just pick me up and dump me here! I was in the middle of mixing some cough syrup for little Lily Jenkins. I’m not supposed to come into this story until Chapter 11!”
I’m sorry I shocked you, dear Apothecary, but I’m afraid we need you here, just for a little while, and then you can go back to mixing the medicine and I promise I’ll leave you in peace until your part of the story. You see we are talking about glass, and the Glassmaker. I need you to explain what is special about glass – the chemistry of glass – to our readers. Would you mind?
“Humph! It seems I don’t have much choice. Story-makers! How you mess about with people’s lives! Very well, then. Let’s get on with it, so that I can get back to my work. Glass is an amorphous solid.”
A WHAT? I think that’s a bit too complicated for us, Apothecary, dear. Could you make it a bit easier to understand?
“Oh blah! Well, let me see. Remember when the children and their mother made biscuits? The squishy mess went into the oven to be heated and came out as crisp golden biscuits, didn’t it? A chemical change. The dough turned into solid, tasty little shapes. Is that simple enough?”
Yes, we understood that perfectly. So what about glass?
“Glass is far stranger. Sand goes into the furnace and is heated up until it melts into a very hot goo. When it comes out of the furnace, it gradually cools down and becomes almost a solid thing.”
“Yes, almost. That’s the strange thing. No matter how much you cool it, it never turns completely solid. Certainly it feels solid, when you tap on it or drop it or drink out of it, but it isn’t. That’s what an amorphous solid is – something almost solid, but not quite. It’s like a frozen liquid.”
Beautifully explained! Thank you so much, Apothecary. Would you like me to move you back to your proper place in the story, now?
“Well as I’m here, could I just take a peep at the Glassmaker at work? Such an interesting job.”
I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm, but don’t spoil the story, will you?
“Oh don’t worry! I’ll just look through the window. Ah, there he is. I thought he might be blowing some glass. I love watching them do that, but – hang on! What is that in his hand? Is he doing what I think he’s doing?”
There, I knew this wasn’t a good idea! Please don’t give his secret away just yet. I was building up to that.
“But he has – unless my eyes are deceiving me… No, it really is. I’m certain of it. He has a sly-glass! That’s outrageous!”
Oh! Enough! Right, I’m sending you back to Chapter 11. We’ll see you later. Thanks for all your help.
Oh dear, I hope that hasn’t ruined the story for you. I suppose, then, I’d better tell you the Glassmaker’s other secret.
As you have discovered, glassmakers are very talented people. They work with this not-quite-solid stuff in all sorts of ways. They know the many secrets of this magical substance and a few glassmakers – a very small few, luckily – work out how to make the most magical and dangerous thing of all. They discover how to make a sly-glass.
I can’t tell you exactly how it’s done. It’s something to do with smoke and mirrors, but it doesn’t usually end well.
And if you want to discover what happens to the Glassmaker and – far more importantly – to his children as a result of his unfortunate discovery, you can search for The Glassmaker’s Children by Jan Stone on Amazon, where it is available as a Kindle e-book or a regular paperback.
Here is a link to the UK site: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Glassmakers-Children-Jan-Stone/dp/B08HTM1LNK/ref=sr_1_1?crid=23CSEKIU0C17K&dchild=1&keywords=the+glassmaker%27s+children&qid=1600758506&s=books&sprefix=the+glassm%2Cstripbooks%2C351&sr=1-1
Should you be more interested in the 1:12 scale hand-crafted steampunk miniatures and other delights at the SteampunkDollsHouse, you will find them here: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SteampunkDollsHouse .
If you’d like to connect you can find me here:
https://opentheboxweb.wordpress.com/ (story-maker blog)
https://steampunk-shrunk.com/ (website and blog about the steampunk miniatures)
Well it has been a delight to meet you. Thank you so much for joining me this evening as we keep the light in the lantern burning. I’m afraid that’s my shift over for the night. No doubt the ferocious appearance of my three companions here kept even the most audacious adversaries at bay.
I’ve heard some authors have had their spines ripped to pieces up here by those Liver Birds and there was tell last week of an artist who fell foul to a hoard of sugar zombies and is now best avoided… although his artwork apparently is better than ever…
Stay safe friends, whatever assails you, and when times are dark, look for the light in the lanterns of others and treasure the light in your own….
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 I am extremely honoured to welcome Admiral Ceri Harper-Leigh and George! Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, me Dears! May I take your hats and coats? We may be over St Michael’s Little Summer but here in the kitchen the fire is nice and warm
Thank-you, its splendid to be here. George and I feel quite at home sat by the fire.
How was your trip from your own dimension? I hope you did not run into any hostile skypirates or alien life forms on your way?
Fortunately the Sky Pirates and aliens stayed away. Luckily we managed to cadge a lift from the Regius Professor of Chronology at St. Cedd’s college, who just happened to be passing by your time/space co-ordinates.
Oh that’s marvellous, how convenient for you! And have you brought along some soup to share with us?
I think we should have Georges favourite meal of “Magical Soup” – basically a mixed vegetable recipe with a star shaped toasted cheese crouton to float on top..
Mmm, it smells delicious, what a lovely idea! I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now George why don’t you stand on a stool beside me here and as I chop the vegetables you can put them into the cauldron for me?
oooo, thank-you Mrs. Baker
You are most welcome my Dear, It’s so nice to have a little helper in the kitchen! There, now while the soup is simmering away, why don’t you tell us all a little about how the two of you first met?
We first met when we (The Royal Steam Navy) rescued George and his family from the pirate Red Tail and his dastardly crew of grey squirrels when they unsuccessfully tried to sell the bears into “showbiz”.
Oh my goodness! What a dreadful scoundrel! George have had many adventures, haven’t you dear?
I have, thank-you. Not only pirates, but also martian mice, and my latest adventure which is yet to be published with queen Victoria.
Indeed! And Admiral you have begun documenting them in a series of beautifully illustrated books, have you brought some with you to show the orphans?
Is it an easy task to keep up with the adventures of such an intrepid young bear?
Yes, they a very easy to write down as I keep a personal journal of my travels, and I can assure the fans of the “bear that dares” that his adventures will continue for at least three more books, bringing the total to six. So when you place them in order they will portray the colours of the rainbow flag.
I think that is a very beautiful idea! And which has been your favourite adventure so far George? (I know that Max and Collin have enjoyed reading all about your trip to Mars!)
oooo, tough question, but I think I have to say it’s my latest adventure with queen Victoria.
We are all excited to read about that when it is available! And will you be having any other adventures in the near future?
Most certainly, Mrs Baker. I love having adventures
Splendid! Good for you, Dear! But the life of a small grey bear cannot only be about adventuring, surely you have a loving home and family George where you spend most of your time?
Sometimes I can get a little sad when I’m away from my mums and my cat, spot. but I sing my “happy bear” song and I feel so much better. would you like to hear it?
Oh yes please! We love a good sing-song!
(ahem) # i’m a happy little bear, i never try scare. i always am polite and i never like to fight. i love my mums and spot so i never ever stop from be-ing a hap-py little bear…#
Oh that is marvellous! Well done indeed! Ah now the kettle is boiling, what can I offer you my dears? – I have contraband tea of all descriptions and a very little coffee saved for special guests (assuming you don’t want the government-standard-issue-decaff?)
Thank-you, tea for me, milk and no sugar please, and a baby-bear-o-ccino for George please.
There you are, now where can we purchase copies of your small grey bear adventures?
Funnily enough you can find us on Facebook as “Small Grey Bear Adventures”
Marvellous! And will you be making any public appearances in the near future?
We are planning to return to the “Festival of Steam and Transport” at Historic Dockyard Chatham next Easter as part of the “Steampunk Village”
Well perhaps we will see you there! Thankyou so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Admiral, and for bringing young George along to help as well! It’s been wonderful to meet and chat with you both 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 Ma’am for inviting us to your cosy cottage. Sadly we have to return to our own dimension now as I believe I’m needed back on the bridge of my flagship HMS Essex, and George has school in the morning and we wouldn’t want to upset his teacher Mrs. Shorttfur.
No indeed! Thankyou all for joining us in the soup kitchen today, you can find George’s adventures by following the links below – Blessings on your brew my dears!
George books LINK: http://www.smallgreybearadventures.yolasite.com/
Umbrella publishing group LINK: http://ghostbearpublishing.yolasite.com/
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome back to Max and Collin’s indeterrably intrepid and frabjously furry parlour located somewhere within the irritable bowels of the splendidly scenic city of steampunk’d Lancaster.
True some have called it a devilishly delinquent dive, frequented by only the most diabolical demons, but we consider that such people are merely getting a little carried away with the festive spirit.
This morning we are feeling far too warm and fuzzy inside to be entering into the Halloween / Samhain / All Souls / Candy-fest / Thing atmosphere because we have just finished reading two of the most delightful books ever written and we would like to share those with you over a spot of Galli-Grey Regeneration Tea ( because, New Doctor and, of course, Earl Grey…)
George is a small grey bear of adventurous inclination and these two books detail two of his intrepid adventures. He is also a Ghost Bear – which is something really quite marvelous indeed!
In book one, George and his chums are kidnapped by wicked pirate squirrels and are forced to endure scathing reviews of their performances of Gilbert and Sullivan and in the second book our little furry hero pits his wits against the some sweet-toothed skulduggerists on planet Mars!
These heart warming illustrated adventures are beautifully produced and an absolute joy from start to finish. The urchins we read them to were beaming with glee throughout and there many excited squeals of delight, particularly at ‘the end’ !
We actually shed tears and the urchins literally leap up and down with excitement when we discovered the story-related recipes in the back cover of each book (you know how emotional we get about cake…) We will definitely be baking these soon and when we do we will post pictures in our elevenses slot (but not the recipes! You’ll have to read the books for those because the recipe is given as a little story which is just too, too adorable to miss!
There is enough warm-hearted, gentle but highly witty humour throughout both books to keep both urchins and adults chuckling and engaged from start to finish and they immediately became firm bedtime favorites.
If your own little urchins are of the intelligent and discerning sort who prefer A A Milne, Kenneth Grahame, Edward Leah or Lewis Carroll to the average uninspiring mass produced picture books on offer, then these are a couple of gorgeous gems to add to your storytime treasure chest.
As for us, we are still plucking up the courage to have those stern words with Montmorency about the flooding in here – our pig has set sail for the land where the bong tree grows and I believe we may be heading that way soon ourselves if Max doesn’t bail out fast enough. Still tomorrow we will share with you our #inktober tea painting efforts and inky things and a little bit of story to go with them.
In the meantime stay dry and warm and do remain always