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 one of my favourite Steampunk writers Kara Jorgensen, author of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series!
Good morning Kara, thank you so much for coming to help me it is so nice to welcome you back to my soup kitchen again, I hope your journey here from your won dimension was a good one?
…. It’s always a little rough this time of year, but luckily, I made it in one piece. Thank you so much for having me.
Oh you’re most welcome , Dear, it is lovely to have you back! And have you brought something delicious with you today to share with the orphans?
I have brought some Tamatar Palak Ka Shorba, or Indian spinach and tomato soup. Here’s the link to the recipe:
Thankyou! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t we have a little peer into its depths and see what images it can conjure up for us from the aether?
Ah yes, the Steampunk genre is certainly full of characters who sport mechanical prosthesis of one form or another isn’t it? I wonder why that is?
I’ve wondered that myself. A lot of it I think is merely due to aesthetics. You can add all sorts of gizmos and gadgets to a prosthetic, like knives, guns, rocket launchers (if you’re a little more modern in your punking). Plus, then your character has some steampunk flavor beyond just their clothing. Now they are actively part of the genre, so to speak. If it’s an actual limb, your character will also regain most of their function or even more, depending on how functional the prosthesis is.
Prosthesis feature prominently in your own writing, not simply as an aesthetic to support the genre but as key elements which shape the narrative, was this a conscious decision?
Yes, it was definitely a conscious decision. While I enjoy the aesthetics of steampunk, I had read a story where the prosthetic served no other purpose than to look cool. I didn’t want that with Eilian and his arm. Disabilities aren’t a costume, and I didn’t think a character with a disability should merely be used to strengthen the genre’s aesthetic. I wanted to show Eilian’s struggles with coming to terms with his disability and eventually progressing enough that he could function without an arm or prosthetic. I felt that journey was necessary before I introduced the prosthetic arm into the story. Instead of having the prosthetic “solve” his problems, I wanted him to solve them himself.
Of course to Eilian and Hadley, prosthetics have a huge impact on their lives in many ways…
Oh yes, well, poor Eilian is minus one arm, so his prosthetic arm plays a large role in his story. Going from an active world-traveller to an invalid, even temporarily, is a huge blow to him, but he eventually adapts to his burn scars and missing arm. His first prosthesis is horribly cumbersome and not worth wearing. After he meets Hadley, well, I won’t give too much away, but she devices something much more functional. Prostheses are Hadley’s business, so they are her livelihood. As a woman in the Victorian Era, she is expected to keep house and have children, but because she is the last surviving member of her family who can create prostheses, she totally goes against the norms of the time by actively working on mechanical devices.
But for Immanuel, his eye injury is not remedied by technology or medical science. Did you ever think that he might choose to try and repair or replace his injured eye, or was that never an issue for his character?
It may sound silly, but I don’t think Immanuel likes to admit that his eye bothers him. In several scenes, his partner has suggested he get glasses, but I don’t think there would be any other technology that could “fix” his eye. In my writing, I only use materials that were at least semi readily available during the Victorian Era, so I can’t make anything too complex. A moveable arm is one thing, but an eye is a much higher level of complexity. I couldn’t think of a way to make a device to help him see that wasn’t completely anachronistic.
You do a marvellous job of showing the complexities that Eilian has to face, both physical, logistical and social when he loses his arm, do you think it’s important to explore these issues in Steampunk and not just have characters ‘slap on a clockwork prosthetic limb and jump back into the fray’ ?
Very. It’s one thing if the story takes place a long time after the character lost their limb or they have always used a prosthesis (as in someone who has a birth defect). Then, it would make sense for them to slap on a prosthesis and go, but to lose a limb is a life-changing event. To brush it off as if it were nothing is unrealistic and kind of insulting to those who have gone through similar traumatic experiences. One thing I try to teach in my creative writing classes is that characters are people, too, so you have to give them human psyches. Exploring these psychological and sociological complexities are what make works of fiction rich, and in my writing, I try very hard to give my characters realistic experiences that readers can connect to.
Immanuel certainly has some physical injuries remaining from his ordeal with Lord Rose (goodness that monster’s name sends a shiver down my spine!) but what affects his life the most is PTSD, isn’t it?
Definitely, his PTSD is far worse than any physical wound. In time, those heal and disappear, or scars at least lessen, but PTSD never truly goes away. As I mentioned before, my characters are written to be human and have human limitations, as far as trauma goes. After being kidnapped and tortured for nearly three months, he has deep psychological wounds. I try not to overdo it in his stories to the point that his PTSD is comical or makes him seem completely dysfunctional, but it affects his everyday life. There are times when something triggers flashbacks to Lord Rose (such as cigarette smoke) or he has a panic attack that tears his mind away from reality. As the series goes on, his PTSD lessens to a point and the psychological issues associated with it change with the healing process.
Prosthetics are very popular in Steampunk cosplay but do you think there is ever a line of tension between creating worlds where varying abilities and needs form major narrative / aesthetic devices, and making those worlds accessible to real people with varying needs and abilities?
I’m not someone with a physical disability, so I can’t say for certain but I could definitely see how that tension could arise. When a disability is used as a prop, it may look cool to the average reader, but to someone with a similar disability in real life, it could be disheartening to see themselves used to further an aesthetic while in real life they struggle for accommodations that would help them live a more normal life. Having a disabled character float through life, especially Victorian life, without issue is hard to believe unless a very high percentage of people in that world are also disabled. No one’s hardship should be used as a prop, whether it’s a disability, their sexuality, or their race, just because it makes the character more exotic or interesting. These things affect people’s lives, and to treat it as nothing more than added flavour, is disrespectful to those living with it.
Do you think more can be done to make sure that Steampunk fiction and conventions are made accessible and welcoming for all fans of the genre?
With conventions, it is fairly easy: make sure the events are all on one floor or have elevators and accommodations for those who need them. The Steampunk World’s Fair does a good job of being inclusive for those with disabilities, differing sexualities, nationalities, etc. Panels on writing/creating characters different from yourself would help a lot to create awareness among writers that their stories could hurt people with disabilities if they don’t do proper research. Going off that, writers of steampunk fiction can take these things seriously when they write and be aware of what having a foreign or disabled character really means and what bad representation does to those that character represents.
Thankyou Kara for those wise and insightful words, I absoloutely agree with you. It really has been so wonderful to chat to you today, thank you so much for coming to give me a hand in the kitchen again! Now then, the kettle is singing so why don’t we pour a nice brew and you can tell me about what is new in the world of Ingenious Mechanical Devices; I know you have Selkie Cove which has just been released ?
Oh yes, Selkie Cove, book five of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices, came out in late July. It’s my latest book child, and I’m super stoked to have it out in the world. In Selkie Cove, Adam and Immanuel get involved with a magical government agency called Her Majesty’s Interceptors, and for them to join, they must first solve a case involving a murdered creature called a selkie. The selkies are seemingly half-human and half-seal and dwell in the northern waters between England and Scandinavia. Along the way, they find more dead bodies, new powers, and that Adam has been holding back more than he’s let on.
And do you have any new titles planned for next year?
Several, hopefully. I’m currently writing a story about Emmeline Jardine that takes place around the same time as Selkie Cove. She finds new love, some interesting lore about her family, and a new direction for her life. In 2018, I’m hoping to write another Eilian and Hadley story as well as an Immanuel and Adam story. With those, I only have a vague idea of what those might be about, but the Emmeline story should be out by Spring 2018 at the latest.
Well that certainly is alot to look forward to! Oh! I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready so shall we start dishing it up?
Mmmm, I can’t wait. Thank you so much for having me. Bon appetit!
Thankyou all of you for joining us in the kitchen today, if you would like to find out more about Kara’s writing you can find her on the aether-web here…
Blessings on your brew my dears!
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to the parlour, pull up a lemonade crate and make yourself at home. I’m afraid you find us in a contemplative and, some might even say, philosophical mood this morning… so if the idea of a contemplative and philosophical octopus will put you off your tea, you may wish to call back another day when we have sobered up a little…
Staying? Oh marvellous, well then… a-hem… this is what we were discussing…
If steampunk sits, eyeing us all seductively across the poker table, shuffling the cards of re-imagined realities , be they past, present or future, then surely He / She / They or indeed It is well placed to grind one sneering scarlet stiletto boot heel into the face of the spluttering, over indulged prejudices and misconceptions that have thwarted the progress of humanity throughout history?
And it is our own, humble, modest and most tentatively proffered opinion, that anyone who is inclined to be a part of that boot, or the alluringly unshaven leg within it, or even to cheer from the side lines and pour the next round of absinthe laced tea, should be encouraged to do so.
You know the Age Of Steam has always been my Least favourite in history; so much of it makes my blood boil, and no less in your own dimension than here in Ire. Granted we don’t have the issues of colonialism or empire building that you have had, but if you think that means our world is free from oppression and bigotry then you really haven’t been paying attention.
Everyone hates the Wizards and the Tea Time Lords because they control everything, everyone hates the Witches because the Wizards tell us to, everyone hates the Tinkers because they can do things that most of us can’t , but everyone wants the Tinkers to do things for them, everyone hates the Land Pirates, the Tea Smugglers and the Tiffin Madams because they succeed in living outside the law, and everyone would love to live outside the law, but everyone wants the things these outcasts have to trade, and few want to examine the turbulent history that has lead them to their current mode of existence.
And of course everyone hates the Skyway Men because… well, have you ever met one? I rest my case.
Hm? Oh, Max says that “everyone hates the Skyway Men because they are a small group of Tinkers who have broken away from their allotted niche at the bottom of society and formed an aristocracy of their own built on oppressing those they deem beneath them, much in the same way that the royal family and its social entourage have done for centuries, and nobody likes it when the tables are turned or when an upstart minority group rebels against its allotted station in Iife.”
Well possibly, Max ,possibly, all I know is, last time I was in Annwn they called me a dribbling cephalopod and threatened to blow our brains out. Hm? I don’t care if it was a hand made lace tablecloth Max, I just don’t care, offence has been taken and that is that. And will you please stop interrupting!
Now then, the reason I love Steampunk is that it provides a splendid, hand crafted, gleaming brass, steam powered, time travelling, dimension hopping vehicle into which we can jump (teapot in one hand and energy-ray-blunderbuss-of-idiocy-thwartation in the other) and re-write the wrongs of the past, not to somehow exonerate or brush under the carpet our embarrassing ancestors (and lets face it, we all have a few of those – Max particularly…) but to create new narratives that grab these perpetrators of injustice by the shirt collar, tie them to a small rickety wooden chair in the basement of an abandoned mansion house, shine a spot light in their face and pelt them with a relentless barrage of witty abuse, whilst posing about in front of them wearing smug faces and fabulous amounts of bombazine…
Hm? No! It is merely a sartorial preference, Max, not a fetish. Honestly, for a Very Quite Gentleman you do an awful amount of interrupting.
… Far from allowing us to then traverse the murky rivers of the past with impunity, pith helmets on crying “Oh it’s alright, we’re not like that any more see?!” these new narratives help inform the development of the future, both real and imagined. By not only slaying the beasts of the past but paving the road forwards with their carcasses, we create a poignant ‘bone road’ for those who follow in our adventurous footsteps.
But are we obliged to do this? Is it possible that all this talk of ethics, equality, diversity and inclusivity should not cross the boundary from the real world into the imagined? Can’t we just romp around in whatever costumes we like and write or ridicule whatever we fancy because, at the end of the day, it’s just a bit of fun and nobody means any harm and we don’t want the fun taken out of the thing now do we? Leave politics for the pub and steampunk for the cons? Hm? Does it matter if we create an accidentally segregated situation in which certain groups of society do not feel welcome in our ranks or are offended or hurt by our actions or unable to join in the fun because they cannot gain access to it?
Probably everyone’s opinion will be different, we can only offer our own…
Speaking candidly, as folk who are usually in the minority wherever we go (there not being many people in the world-above-waves who sport such fetching tentacles as myself and my Vary Quiet Gentleman Friend), Max and I think these things do matter and that in the Steampunk arena, as in every other area of life, everyone has a duty to follow the wise words of that hypocritical oath that so many doctors swear by…
Hm? Hypo what? Oh Hippocratic is it? So sorry I thought it said ‘first do no harm’ … oh it does say that does it? I’m sorry your human world is so very confusing.
But all this waffling is only the humble opinion of one tea-sotted octopus, over the next few weeks we will be talking to some seriously salt-worthy Steampunks who are passionate about the issues of inclusivity and diversity.
As I said earlier, I believe that anyone who is keen to jump into their space-time-dimension vehicle and begin wreaking restorational havoc upon the past, present or future should be encouraged to do so… but anyone who has encountered our own dear Gail Force will know that such well meant endeavours can occasionally blow up in one’s face, so I will also be getting some first class advice on how not to end up causing more harm than good.
Max and I encountered an irate individual the other day who, rudely but quite rightly, said that we shouldn’t go through life terrified of offending others. This is true and we would like to place it now upon the record that, as creatures with many tentacles, we do not wish anyone to be terrified of the ramifications of treading upon one of those limbs. Accidents happen all the time and any reasonable creature will understand that. (An Elder God may not, but they are thankfully few and far between).
We would however like to help create a world where everyone is aware that creatures with tentacles exist and where, just as we try to be polite and courteous and not to trip anyone up or dribble over your best lace table cloths (be quiet Max!), others try to be polite and courteous to us and not trample on us in their eagerness to get to the free biscuits.
More tea? No? Five cups is your limit is it? Ah well, thankyou for staying and enduring the ramblings of a tea-sotted octopus and the embarrassing ejaculations of his Very Quiet Gentleman friend, we hope you will join us again next week for more marvellous tea and excellent Steampunk fiction and of course tomorrow Mrs Baker will be talking to Nils Nisse Visser about his Steampunk book Amster Damned.
We wish you a very biscuit-full afternoon and, until we see you again,
please, be always
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.
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