Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “history

Frost Fair: Collin’s Memoirs part 5…

Thankyou, friends, for joining me this morning on board the Harlequin Ladybird, do pull up a cat.. er, sorry, I mean a cushion… and make yourselves comfortable as I, Collin The Octopus, read to you all from my marvellous journal of extremely exciting adventures… a-hem…

February 1824…

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to Max and Collin’s delicately dazzling and glamorously glitzy parlour located within the fantabulously frost spangled city of Lancaster!
True there are those who will say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us this morning enjoying what may well be the last week of the frost fair as our Oracular Pet has assured us that the ice will begin to melt over the weekend and the Barge Folk will be able to get their craft dislodged soon afterward.
People are beginning to carve things into the ice now – at first it was just the odd name or profane comment – “Victoria was ‘ere” and the like –  but now the whole river resembles the Cameo Libris in the Burlington Arcade and it seems every drunk and lunatic is determined to leave his mark…

“Whereas you J .  FROST have by force and violence
Taken possession of the RIVER
I hereby give you notice to quit Immediately
A . THAW”

“Behold the Power of WIZ! Which locks,
In close Confinement, under pond’rous Rocks
Of dreadful Ice and Snow, our famous RIVER;
Whose matchless Glory doth the world make shiver!”

Even the stall vendors have taken to the sport, ‘pitting their limited wits against the noble tongue’ as Max put it …. here are some of the worst we have read….

To the Print-house go,
Where men the art of Printing soon do know,
Where for a Teaster, you may have your name
Printed, hereafter for to show the same:
And sure, in former Ages, ne’er ‘was found
A Press to print where men so oft were droun’d!

Behold the liquid RIVER now frozen o’er
That lately SHIPS of mighty burden bore.
Here you PRINT your name tho’ cannot write
‘Cause numbe’d with cold: ‘Tis done with great delight.
And lay it by: That AGES yet to come
May see what THINGS upon the ICE were done.

Kind master, drink you beer, or ale or brandy?
Walk in, kind sir, this booth is the chief,
We’ll entertain you with a slice of beef,
And what you please to eat or drink, ‘tis here,
No booth, like mine, affords such dainty cheer;
Another crys, Here master, they but scoff ye,
Here is a dish of famous new made coffee.
And some do say a giddy senseless ass
May on the LUNE be furnished with a lass.

I was sincerely hoping that Max would join me in setting our sights a little higher and agree to stop and watch the Parlour Poets in their ‘Sparring Salon’ but he suddenly became uncharacteristically Quiet, mumbled something about dogs, and has now skulked back to the parlour claiming a sudden urge for a cup of tea.

As I am still wheelchair-bound I had absolutely no say in the matter and so here we are, feeling a little perplexed and out of breath (it is no fun being rattled along the cobbled streets at speed in a bone shaker like that I can tell you), but with an excellent tea on the brew.

 

Yes indeed those amateur ice graffiti ‘artists’ left a lot to be desired – and along with the roasted Ox and the rampaging elephant I feel they were at least partly responsible for what happened next… but I will leave that until the next time you visit and instead leave you with this marvellous video of someone doing something FAR more worthy and impressive with the medium of ice…


Frost Fair: Collin’s Memoirs part 4…

Thankyou, friends, for joining me this morning on board the Harlequin Ladybird, do pull up a cat.. er, sorry, I mean a cushion… and make yourselves comfortable as I, Collin The Octopus, read to you all from my marvellous journal of extremely exciting adventures… a-hem…
February 1824…
Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome once again to Max and Collin’s splendidly Siberian – themed parlour located within the spectacularly frosted-over city of Lancaster.
True, some have called it a frigid flophouse belonging to chilling individuals whom you would not wish to meet down a dark alley, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find me this afternoon feeling a little foolish, a little sorry for myself and a little disappointed that ice skating isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Certainly ice skating with tentacles is not a thing I shall ever be attempting again. I’m afraid I got a little over excited at the Street Pageant … the Masala Chai punch…you know…
So here I lie, my tentacles in splints, attempting to suck chips of frozen tea through a straw while Max reads to me and the cats do their best to irritate me to distraction. Mrs B has kindly made up some foul smelling brown goo to rub into my wounds but it does nothing for my pride, I’m afraid; I am a fallen creature indeed….oh do shut up Max I am in no fit state to suffer your dubious wit.
Fortunately our soothing tea this morning is a beautiful and gentle blend of Sencha with sea buckthorn, spearmint and lemon verbena which reminds me of my ocean home and a lesson learned that not all forms of water provide an octopus with his element!
Still we did manage to take something of a stroll around the fair this morning.
I say stroll, which implies a leisurely pace, but my Very Quiet Gentleman Friend was doing an embarrassing amount of huffing and puffing and gasping for breath which was quite off putting I can tell you and leads me, once again, to question exactly what constitutes ‘Very Quiet’ in the realm above the waves.
I say stroll, but perhaps that is a misnomer for the exercise as in fact my tentacles were, as I said, all in splints from the ice skating affair and so Mrs B kindly rustled up an old wheelchair from somewhere and we strapped a couple of floor board planks to the wheels so that Max could push me through the snowy cobbled streets and over the icy river with ease.
Oh the joy! I cannot tell you how immeasurably more enjoyable it is to experience a winter’s walk from the cozy comfort of an armchair…there were fire eaters and jugglers, oh my goodness they even had an elephant! I’m amazed the ice does not crack! Mind you, they were roasting spit an ox with impunity over near the centre and I am certain it is going to lead to disaster.
There were so many things for sale, most of which are double the price one would expect to pay for them because they have the word ‘souvenir’ and a date scratched onto them. Luckily Max is a bit of a Finger Smith and we managed to procure some excellent spiced buns and treacle toffee before slipping away into one of the ‘fuddling tents’. These are made of the barge sails propped up haphazardly with poles and inside you will find some of the most lethal chai-cocktails to be mixed this side of a Tiffin Den.
We sampled ‘Purl’ (a steaming black brew made with lapsang and wormwood) which the vendor told us would have a man gibbering for days, and ‘The Spiky Mother’ (A pungent Assam with chilli and dark chocolate) which had apparently already hospitalised a crowd of eight, but we must be candid and say that, even after four or five cups of each, Max still had the wherewithal to hot foot it out of the tent and away before the angry vendor could catch up with us an extract his payment.  (no mean feat pushing an octopus in a make-shift sled)
He almost cornered us but luckily Max employed a pocket full of escapological marbles (if you are naive to the uses of escapological marbles to thwart a pursuer just ask the nearest five year old) and we left him cursing in the gutter.
So here we are again, back in the parlour, and eager to tuck in to our sticky treats – once Max has got his breath back.

Ah yes, I still suffer a little with rheumatism in my tentacles after that terrible episode – nevermore! Is now my mantra when it comes to the ice skating, but I do so love watching you humans go about the business, all the same. So I’ll leave you with this lovely lady doing a far better job of it than I did and until we meet again, tread with care and remain always,
Utterly Yourself


Frost Fair: Collin’s Memoirs part 3…

Thankyou, friends, for joining me this morning on board the Harlequin Ladybird, do pull up a cat.. er, sorry, I mean a cushion… and make yourselves comfortable as I, Collin The Octopus, read to you all from my marvellous journal of extremely exciting adventures… a-hem…

February 1824

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen! You find us some what in haste this tea time as we are getting ourselves all dressed to impress and not just for larks or some nefarious landord’s scheme to make money, no, this time we actually do have somewhere swish to go!
Courtly Masques have been a traditional part of New Year celebrations here in The New World for centuries and the public version The Street Pageant is something that accompanies the Frost Fair here in Lancaster every year.

Some of the most outstanding lunatics, parlour-poets, tea fiends and self proclaimed ‘artists’, in the full intensity of their creative insanity, have devoted themselves to producing these Pageants (despite the earnest efforts of various New World Puritans to abolish them) and the infamous Garish Theatre producer Joyce Jameson recently proclaimed it to be “the highest art form in The Scattered Isles.”

To give the balance however we should  also quote journalist Pomona Squash of the Tiffindependent Newspaper whose scathing review of last years’ revels read:

“The entertainment went forward, and most of the presenters went backward, or fell down, wine did so occupy their upper chambers. The actress playing the Queen tripped over the steps of the throne, sending her gifts flying; Hope and Faith were too drunk to speak a word, while Peace, annoyed at finding her way to the throne blocked, made good use of her symbolic olive branches to slap anyone who was in her way” (click here to tut at our rampant quote theft)

So that is where we abscond to this evening, to paint the town of Lancaster (revolutionary) red and utterly get away with it because we shall be masked up and totally unrecognisable… we hope…
We wish you all an equally jubilant evening and we will let you know how we got on on Monday so, until then, please throw on a mask be whoever the Hull you wish (for one night at least!)

 

Hm, yes I remember those pageant nights getting somewhat out of hand… in fact (voices hushed please) perhaps this extract wasn’t such a good one to have been reading out loud at all – Max once spent some time in Lancaster Castle prison, rather beaten up and waiting to be hanged (whether or not they managed to hang him in the end I really couldn’t say, he has an annoying knack of defeating death which really makes me wonder if he isn’t some sort of demon afterall…)

Ah but I digress; the point is he had some sort of delirious vision while he was there about a Cheese Ball… or a Cheese Masque… or some such nonsense, (I believe some nefarious conspirator from the island of Hopeless, Mainementioning no names – slipped him a hairy coffee at visiting hour) and it would be well not to set him off on a blasted recital of the Mostly Awful Poem he wrote about the…

Sunken Hull Max! Are you trying to frighten the life out of us sneaking around like that? …. no nobody mentioned cheese, or Masques, or indeed anything of the kind and we certainly have not got time for… will you get down off the table… oh dear, it seems there is no dissuading the wretch, cover your ears or run good people – preserve your sanity!

 

HISTORY IS MADE AS MAX SPEAKS TO THE ROOM AT LARGE RATHER THAN JUST COLLIN FOR THE SECOND TIME IN PARLOUR HISTORY…

 

Friends, Tea Fiends, Revolutionaries, Poets, Painters, Hex Slingers, Technomancers, Goddess Worshippers, and Octopussies, I humbly (sort of  I mean, one can’t be too humble with a face like this -wink- ) present to you all …

“En Route To The Fromagian Ball”
(A Political Poem Of The Mor Irate Revolution By Eightcups Max)

As I waited for the Tyburn Tree
To spread its limbs and welcome me
To its embrace eternally
I dreamed I journeyed long, to thee
(To dance The Masque at Caerphilly)

I met Morbier on the way
He wore a masque of silver grey
Very smooth he looked, yet grim
And seven rats did follow him

Fat they were, and no surprise
For, despite his mournful sighs,
And as I feasted with my eyes
Yet they with sharp teeth took their prize.

Next came Roqufort and he had on,
All speckled with viridian,
A gown so tattered, holed and frayed
I wondered not he looked dismayed

“Can you sir, really, thus arrayed,
Be going to the masquerade
To dance at Caerphilly?”

And the little cats, who round his feet
Did lip and lap and even eat
The scroobius crumbs which from him fell
And each grew fat and fine and well

Clothed with Her Majesty’s revenues bright
Glittering gold through the grim twilight
Mild Camembert, smiling, sauntered by
And by her side, strode Manouri

And my heart sank to see the sly
Reflections in each gleaming eye
Of all the host that by me strayed
Towards the marvellous masquerade
To dance at Caerphilly.

A mighty troupe of cheeses round
And as they rolled they shook the ground
Waving each a blunt hooked knife
And in their wake came grief and strife

And yet with glorious triumph they
Rode through The Scattered Isles so gay
Drunk as with intoxication
Upon the wine of unfair taxation

Through Crumbia, past The Once Was Sea
Caroused the pageant, fat and free
Pounding flat and crushing down
Each village, hamlett, temple, town
Until they came to Caerphilly

And each guest of that monstrous ball
Did gasp and gape and stand in thrall
As tearing down their revelry
The fromagian host advanced with glee

And, to my horror, out there came
To meet the host and so to claim
Their glory, friends and family
All singing odes to Sbrinz and Brie

“Oh we have waited, hungering
For the mighty curd-coming”
And on their knees each one bent down
And for each cheese, proffered a crown

Then each took fork and knife and spoon
And there below the blood red moon
They rat-like, cat-like all did feast
And, eating so, became the beast

And wild, rapacious was the eye
Of every one who passed me by
Behind each masque that greeted me
As I came to Caerphilly
But as I felt myself besieged
By comrades now themselves in league
With lovers lost and rampant cheese
As gazing, lost, at all my foes
A vapour from my teacup rose

Faint and fragile as the dew
All silver grey the image grew
This Maiden, mailed, before me stood
With spork blade bright and shimmering hood

My Lady, Silverneedle, stands
Her teapot held in mighty hands
And above the roar of cheese
Her voice rings o’re the land and seas:

“Sions of Ire, scions of glory
Heroes of unwritten story
Suplings of one mighty pot
Rise and slice the Gordion knot”

“Rise like Silver Needle’s steam
Swift and to fulfil the dream
In the heart of every slave
The late of birth, the late in grave.
The dream of every treacle miner
No notion simpler or sublimer”

“Rise as one to take with might
The final bag of flour, white,
For you are many, they are few
And all they gorged was meant for you!”

With step as soft as wind she passed
O’re my head so swift and fast
And though I sought to find her there
Still all I saw was empty air.

But lingering in the morning grey
Some muse stirred in my memory
The scent of bergamots’ faint leaves
Which soothed my soul to thoughts of thee

As I waited for the Tyburn Tree
To spread its limbs and welcome me
To its embrace eternally
Still in my dream I danced with thee
(We danced The Masque at Caerphilly)


Frost Fair: Collin’s memoirs part 2…

Thankyou, friends, for joining me this morning on board the Harlequin Ladybird, do pull up a cat.. er, sorry, I mean a cushion… and make yourselves comfortable as I, Collin The Octopus, read to you all from my marvellous journal of extremely exciting adventures… a-hem…

February, 1823…

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s splendiferously sparkling and frostabulously frozen parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster!

True, some have called it a frigid place of cold hearts and frosty welcomes but we consider that uch people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

You find us this morning, warming our tentacles beside an imaginary fire after an enterprising and entertaining morning at the fabulous frost fair which is being held on our beloved river Lune.

Our psychotic scarecrow landlord, Montmorency, woke us before dawn with the business end of his walking cane and demanded that we head out into the frozen darkness and not return until we had enough money to pay for this month’s rent. The fact that we only just paid for the last month seems to have escaped the rogue and so I perched upon Max’s shoulder and we set off towards the river.

There were already traders setting up stalls on the ice but none of them took favourably to our offers  of  assistance (it seems that Queen Vic’s recent  amendments to equality in employment law do not extend to an Octopus and a Tea Fiend) So we settled ourselves on the bank instead and watched the sun rise over the frosted spires of the sail barges which had collapsed crazily into the ice sheets and lay mired liked the skeletons of stranded beasts from some fantastical caffeine-fuelled nightmare.

Things picked up once the punters arrived. After some initial competition from a woman hawking root beer (For a Very Quite Gentleman, Max can be terribly clumsy when glass bottles are around) we managed to sell twenty bottles of lemonade (and drink many more) without being lynched by the barge folk for selling without paying the trading fees.

We decided that that was quite enough hard shirking for one morning and spent the rest of the time mooching around the stalls, watching the jugglers and fire eaters and, most impressively to me, the ice skaters. Having lived under the sea all my life, I never imagined this curious form entertainment and I am determined, soon, to beg, borrow or steal enough pairs of ice skates to attempt the thing myself.

Now here we are back in the parlour, our landlord briefly appeased, our cats greedily devouring the last of the skimmed milk ration, and all desperately in need of a reviving spot of elevenses and some soothing music to tap our tentacles to. Unfortunately our absconding butler has not seen fit to deliver the goods this morning (perhaps she thinks it’s a holiday? ‘Though what a werewolf would find to do at a frost fair we have no idea…) but not to worry because we managed to run into our lovely Mrs Baker on the way back and she has set us up with a packet of genuine Frost Fair Souvenir Gingerbread which, knowing Mrs B, will be crammed full of illegal sugar…mmm…

And, by happy chance, Max’s constant pocket companion ‘The Whole Duty Of A Woman (or an infalliable guide to the fair sex) – 1737’ (A birthday gift from a devoted family member I think) has an excellent recipe for … OWCH! …Well, really! You know, for a Very Quiet Gentleman, Max, you  can be excessively violent devoid of a sense of humour… do learn to take a joke, please!

I was going to say, before I was so rudely interrupted by a flying teapot, that this is a recipe for ginger bread biscuits, rather than the cake which we are enjoying now but it is nonetheless share-worthy, I think…

“To Make Gingerbread…

Take a pound and a half of London Treacle, two eggs beaten, half a pound of sugar, one ounce of ginger, beaten and sifted, of cloves, mace and nutmeg, all together, half an ounce beaten very fine, coriander seeds and caraway seeds of each half an ounce, Two punds of butter melted; mix all these together, with as much flour a will knead it into a pretty stiff paste, then roll it out and cut it into what Form you please; bake it in a Quick Oven on Tin-plates; A little time will bake it.”

 

 

Oh I do miss our dear Mrs Baker very much indeed! And yes, I’m sorry to say that Max is no less violent and humourless when it comes to ‘taking a joke’ these days as he was then… fortunately he has decided not to join us for these little readings, although I can’t think why he would deny himself such a pleasure, hedonism notoriously being his chief virtue…

If you are out on the ice today, do tread with care won’t you? Unless you have ice skates in which case throw yourself gracelessly with wild abandon! And until we meet again please, remain always

Utterly Yourself


January Book Review: Boston Metaphysical Society

Good morning! So, this is me taking over the review slots from Collin and Max … is it weird that I should feel inexplicably nervous about this? As though Collin is peering over my shoulder to make sure I get all my links in the right places and don’t get my tentacles in a twist over the spellchecker? (Perhaps not as he is in fact sitting in the armchair by the window contemplating the frost outside and hopefully not about to put his ice skates on again after the last fiasco.) If you are missing Max and Collin, they are still very much around and doing fun and you can catch up with them having that on Saturdays in our #rainbowsnippets posts. But for now you have me, hugging my mug of Lapsang in fingerless gloves to ward off the snow and bringing you our monthly book review…

 

 

Boston007 coverfinal2 [Recovered]

Boston Metaphysical Society is a  graphic novel series set in the late 1800’s in an alternate retro-futuristic America, where steam power has allowed rapid technological advancement along with rapid and, for some, alarming changes in the function of society. This socio-political upheaval and its affects on the collective consciousness have rent the fabric of time and space and a sinister creature has been able to pass through into this world.

Caitlin O’sullivan, Samuel Hunter and Granville Woods are The Boston Metaphysical Society and their individual expertise in science, detection and the spirit world must combine to destroy The Shifter once and for all.

This is a story which touched my heart in many ways. Firstly the illustrations (Emily Hu) are perfect; capturing the pace, emotion, mood and narrative perfectly in each scene and reminiscent of a combination of the weight and beauty of Sana Takeda and the vibrancy of Tim Yates in a style which enticed me before I had even read a word.

Secondly, the writing is exquisite and tight as tuned drumskin. The dialogue is an absolute joy to read at times, particularly the banter between Tesla, Houdini and the other members of the secret society B.E.T.H, and works in perfect harmony with the illustration to give a rich and  immersive experience for the reader.

And lastly I loved the characters – from the machinating big-names who I fell in and out of love with all over again (having had to wrench their souls laboriously from dry history books and dull documentaries over the course of many years, to see them here given life in alternate and vibrant form which both captured and questioned their lives, personalities, motives and aspirations was an exciting and exhilarating experience.) to the Boston Metaphysical Society characters with their rich, diverse and engaging personalities and their complex and intriguing back stories (more about which can be found by reading the prelude to this series) .

This is bold, unflinching storytelling at it’s best and sits at that raw, uncomfortable heart of the Steampunk genre where the lives of the privileged and the poor jarr together and their stories and histories vie for our attention. This is the curtain – as subtle and subliminal as it ought to be – which gives the backdrop for this graphic novel series. Madeleine Holly-Rosing has built a seductive world filled with the classic steampunk staples of alternate science, technology, history and magic and laced through with sharp wit and subtle warmth, but our storytellers come from every corner of late 1800’s society and this, for me, makes the series particularly enjoyable.

I am very much looking forward to reading the next books in the series ; The Scourge Of The Mechanical Man and A Storm Of Secrets and will be reviewing both over the next few months.

The complete series of Boston Metaphysical Society installments can be bought as one paperback with a ten page bonus story ‘Hunter-Killer ‘ here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Boston-Metaphysical-Society-Madeleine-Holly-Rosing/dp/0996429220/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1548232812&sr=1-2

 

Or kindle users can purchase the episodes separately in special editions  here:

 

I hope you are all able to enjoy, or at the very least survive, the cold snap and I hope you’re enjoying our Frost Fair guest posts as well which will be going on throughout the rest of January and February, we’ve had some fabulous contributions and if you’d like to take part there’s still just about time to send me something so drop me an email for full details.

Blessings on your brew, Penny 🙂


Pipe and Slippers: Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster

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

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

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

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

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

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE THIRD:  by PENNY BLAKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 


Pipe and Slippers: Tales from Steampunk’d Lancaster

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

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

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

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

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

TALES OF STEAMPUNK’D LANCASTER

SERIES 1: TALES OF THE HEX SLINGERS 

TALE THE FIRST : Siggy And Me

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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


Soup of the day with Suna Dasi of Steampunk India

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 Suna Dasi of Steampunk India ! Good morning Suna, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, there is a weapons cache in the bread bin there by door if you’d like to leave your… what do you call that piece of dispachorial equipment, I have never seen anything like it!?
It’s my Aural Induction Oscillator, also known as the Earwig…and I shan’t need it while enjoying the hospitality of your kitchen! I’ll lean my pneumatic crossbow against the wall if that’s alright?
Of course! How was your journey here from your own dimension? I hope you were not waylaid by any skywaymen or land pirates en route?

Well, I was hoping you were receiving my ship’s dispatches, as I very much wished to arrive on time. Unfortunately we had some temporal flux issues – putting us about eight months off-course! – but we made it in the end. As far as pirates and other skyjackers are concerned, I’d like to see them try! My airship The DevaDasi is perfectly well equipped to deal with such situations and my pilot, Captain Gita Rohini is a force to be reckoned with.
Well you don’t look at all ruffled my dear, your outfit is amazing, did you make it yourself?
I wish I were skilled enough with my hands, but no. I’m a Pengineer, so I’m most at home in the inkwell, not the sewing kit….my saree was hand spun in Varanasi, the blouse custom fit to match. Only the embellishments are mine, which reminds me, I should have taken off the bandolier belt that holds my crossbow bolts, my apologies.
That’s quite alright! And have you brought some soup with you today to share with the orphans?
No soup, I had hoped your orphans might be adventurous enough to try some South Indian kitchree? This is the original dish that Scottish kedgeree is a derivation off. So a base of fragrant stock with ginger, galangal, some chilli, turmeric and coriander, thickened with basmati rice, chopped carrots, chickpeas, okra and green beans. My own version; you’ll find many varieties and the ‘right way’ to make it in several regions of India. I have added crumbed eggs and dried caramelised onion flakes on top. I do hope it’s not too outlandish!
 

Oh what a splendid idea! Thankyou! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat here by the fire and tell us what attracted you to Steampunk in the first place?

My passion existed before I discovered the word.
As a child I was fascinated by aspects of history like the Age of Sail, the history of global trade and the Age of Steam. I had a hankering for objects behaving like more than what they were designed for. I’ve always loved classic adventure novels (Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, et al may be problematic to modern sensibilities but their books are also ripping adventure stories!), vintage sci-fi, Victorian poetry, weird fiction, mythology, folklore and pantheism. I’m hugely interested in applied sciences, neuroscience and robotics. I’ve never grown out of preferring costume-type clothing incorporated in daily attire and because of my heritage I was very focused on blending in Indian elements. Corsets combined with tweed trousers, riding boots, a sash and a jacket made of saree material and a turban, or better yet, a traditional Indian saree or salwar kameez suit with Steampunk accessories are so much more enjoyable than modern Western fashion! All these things and many more besides, seemed to suddenly fall into the same category called Steampunk, or aspects of my interests were used in the world-building of Steampunk fiction.
And have you found that your own cultural heritage has influenced your participation in the genre?

Absolutely. I am less active at events and cons, but if I do, my costumes are always based on Indian dress. Mostly, though, it expresses itself in writing and that is because I wasn’t reading characters I wished to see. 
When we read, we want an escape and an anchor at the same time. We want to escape into worlds beyond our own and we want a character we can anchor ourselves to, a way of sailing through the narrative.
Aside from a very few dusky damsels in distress or a few crudely drawn male martial sidekicks or stern warrior types, there was a dearth of actual Indian characters with developing stories. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s Nemo is great because we follow him through the second half of his adult life, all the way to the very end; after he dies, his daughter takes the relay baton as the protagonist. It’s almost unheard of for a non-Western character to have such a narrative run in Steampunk.
On the other hand we have the fact that the Victorian Age transformed society and made it what is today; one of the biggest ingredients of that transformation was British rule in India.
It can perhaps be understood why I felt underrepresented within the genre once I started reading the fiction on offer. India during the British occupation is a prominent and influential chapter in history, a chapter that has a deep political and cultural resonance to this day. It is really quite odd to completely ignore it as a part of the Steampunk genre. What makes engaging in Steampunk so wonderful is the re-creation of an era in history in a different mould – an era that has the Empire running roughshod over other cultures. Why not make alternate history truly alternative? Instead of writhing in post-modernist angst about what is ‘correct’, which seems to be the going trend, we should grasp the creative nettle, as it were. It is fiction: the creativity that builds alternate history must be allowed to run unimpeded or the trap of self-censoring is a very real and dangerous one. And humour. Humour is so important!

I confess to very much enjoying your writing, would you mind telling the little urchins here a little about the wonderful Steampunk world you have created?
My India has seen the Mutiny come and go, but the outcome is very different indeed. India has essentially been split into three enormous regions and the British are more or less integrated in society, depending on the region.
For my stories I have taken certain things as read: though there are traditional elements to my alternate India, it is a given that women can study, work any kind of job, have sexual relationships with whomever they please, including other women, and lead independent lives to a reasonable degree. This is not a glorious, golden army of amazing accomplished saints, however; there are thieves, cowards, degenerates and murderers among them… They are people. I have moved certain elements from Victorian Britain to the Indian setting, such as children’s workhouses, though they may not be what they seem at first glance…Mostly, it is important to me to think through of what might be in such a society. The added mythological and slightly supernatural elements, which are sparse but present, are pure fun.
 
Empowerment of women is a strong theme running through your fiction isn’t it? Is that something you feel particularly passionate about?
It fuels everything. I work in the creative industries, I’ve done some acting for theatre and film and I currently earn my living as a singer. The glass ceiling for women within the creative disciplines is an ever present beast. I wish this wasn’t so and there is a massive sea change occurring as we speak, in the film industry, the music industry. In fiction, I contribute in my own way by writing women (and men) in reversed roles, unexpected situations in which their reactions aren’t restricted to classic, outdated heteronormative expectations of how men and women are. (I’d like to say that I’m pretty politically incorrect in all areas however; I may not satisfy. I am satisfying me.)
At the moment, I’m actually digressing from specifically Steampunk into speculative poetry and harder Sci-Fi, both excellent formats for expanding similar ideas and great vehicles for turning some classic tropes on their head. Similarly, I’m exploring ancient Indian myth and folklore for writing fiction. 

You have some wonderful, strong female characters, I particularly fell in love with the idea of the Temple Priestesses with their secret double lives, would you tell us a little more about them and how their creation come about?
It comes from the very popular and often loudly vocalised idea that all sex workers are always downtrodden doormats who had no choice and that there is no woman on the planet who would enjoy doing that kind of work. That no woman would make the autonomous choice to give the gift of sex to paying customers and actively enjoys it.
Yes, there are women who fall under this category, especially in impoverished countries. But nuance is vital. There is a history of sacred sexuality in many cultures, of ecstatic pagan worship involving orgiastic rituals and yes, of sacred prostitution as a lauded, accepted and valid path for a woman to pursue (cadres of historians and feminists serving a certain agenda will loudly naysay this, whatever I say or do) So I am writing about two strong willed, happy, sex positive, kick ass temple dancers, whose patron deity is Vajrayogini (an emanation of Chinnamasta, a left hand path Tantric goddess). They use everything in their considerable arsenal of feminine autonomous strength to solve crimes and political intrigues. The underlying reasons for them being who and what they are sound quite heavy, I know, but it will make for quite the adventure. 
No one is black and white in my universe, people are complex creatures, they have flaws and foibles and they make stupid choices when they’re emotional. No one is exempt. 
I am working on a short SciFi story that goes deeper into the morals and values that surround this topic, including certain strands of current sex-negative feminism.

Your writing takes the viewpoint of characters who are often looked over in society, those who come and go unnoticed but without whom 19th century society would have ground to a halt, was that a pre-meditated decision?
It was! It seems preposterous to me that worlds are built without those strata of society, especially as, when they are incorporated, it is usually in an antagonistic setting, or a classic ‘frowned upon romance across different societal layers’. Surely there can be more outside of those contexts! It’s a big part of any culture’s struggle away from restrictive caste systems, to this day many cultures only marry into families of their own social milieu and many cultures have class wars that are still ongoing – but there were far more ‘odd couple’ groups and pairings in history than recorded history lets on. In Science, in Music, in Romance….
I must say, we don’t see many Chimney Sweeps or Night Soil Men walking round Steampunk conventions do we? Do you think Steampunk would benefit from more diversity in it’s central characters, settings and themes?
I think Steampunk, like any genre or subculture, would benefit most from accepting that everyone has different ways of expressing their passion for said genre or subculture and make sure there is enough room, without being snotty or judgemental about somebody else’s enthusiasms.
With common sense and some self awareness, everyone should be able to enjoy their favourite genres. 
I understand that some Steampunks especially love the etiquette and sense of inherent poshness that goes with Victoriana, but I imagine they may conveniently forget that some of the most retentive politeness in Victorian society covered up some of the most hedonistic behaviour behind closed doors, the Victorian criminal underworld was something to behold and some of the most inventive smut ever written comes from the 1800s. I should know, I’ve read quite a bit of it.
And as Steampunk is about alternate worlds and universes, what a great opportunity to incorporate everything, bloomers out and all – including the peoples and cultures of all those wondrous, far flung continents that made up the Empire.
If I may deviate from Steampunk for a moment, I have just seen Deadpool 2 and straight up loved it. One of my favourite characters is Dopinder, the starry eyed cab driver who wants to be a superhero. I’ve heard from many different directions how he is seen as a problematic character.
I thought he was hilarious and everything relating to his race was pure, unalloyed, wicked irony, especially as (spoiler alert!) he actually pulls through in the end and gets his kill in.
If I listen to most of the indignant people, apparently I should be offended. I am Indian and I wasn’t. I’ve asked fellow Indian, Pakistani and Sikh people what they thought and they all without fail thought he was great. 
By the same token, there was a great outcry when the other Avengers ranted at Thor about how his brother attempted to level New York, to which Thor hastily responds: “He’s adopted”.
I was howling with mirth in my seat at that. I am also adopted. I was not offended in the least.
(I’m also very invested in the Marvelverse – I’ve been reading X-Men since I was 14 – so I will stop digressing or we’ll be here forever.)

You describe the Victorians as ‘dodgy’ my dear, which I confess did make me chuckle, do you think that, as Steampunks, we stand, at times, on slightly thin ice and have a duty to make sure that we challenge rather than glorify that ‘dodgyness’?
No, I think we should absolutely glorify the dodgyness! I think a lot of Steampunk is way too politically correct. Be the cads, scoundrels and perverts some of them were, openly and with pride. It’s the glorification of stilted manners and stuffiness that gets on my nerves. You can be a sophisticate and a thorough sexual hedonist, an autodidact scientist, mathematician and musician and a wheeler dealer in the London underground crime scene.
It’s what makes Gordon Dahlquist’s Glass Books of the Dream Eaters such an exquisite symphony of politics, science, intrigue, cultishness and sexual deviance. For me, those books are the perfect Steampunk; quite literary but not eschewing the underbelly of life and it still involves airships, steam-trains and afternoon tea. Just perfect. 

And what about challenging prejudice within the genre, that’s not always easy to tackle head-on is it?
The only prejudice that continuously gets my goat is ‘more Steampunk than thou’ attitudes. Everyone is here to have a good time, whether they wear a dress with clockwork print or a full suit of armour with actual working, ticking clockwork. MAKE ROOM. YOU’RE NOT LOSING ANYTHING. 
*cough* 
Apologies, I hope I didn’t startle you.
What would you say to those here today who might want to express their own culture and history through their Steampunk writing and costuming?
Do it. Be proud.
And what about those who might want to explore and express aspects of cultures that are not their own?
Do it. Be not an idiot about it.
Now then, I must apologise, the kettle has long been singing at us and I haven’t offered you a cup of tea! What is your poison dear and how do you take it?
Masala chai without sugar, please!

Ah, one of my favourites! There you are. Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, it’s been wonderful to chat with you! I know you are very busy at the moment, would you  like to point us to where we can find out about your current projects?

Please could I refer to my website and Twitter account for listed projects and some free fiction?
http://www.steampunkindia.com and http://www.twitter.com/SteampunkIndia

image1

Some of my work includes:

A Day in the Life or, What The Tiffin Saw, Steampunk fiction, February 2014, Brown Girl Magazine, USA

Those Dark Satanic Mills, Steampunk Novella for the Tales From the Archives anthologies, edited by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, May 2014

The Steampunk User’s Manual by Jeff VanderMeer & Desirina Boskovich, (nonfiction contribution), October 2014

The Tinku Diaries, Steam/Clockpunk fiction for The Clockwork Watch Transmedia Project & the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK, November 2014

UnMade, Steampunk LGBT romance for the Steampunk Writers Around the World anthology, Luna Press, August 2017

Internal Devices, Steampunk LGBT romance for the Steampunk Universe anthology, Alliteration Ink, January 2018

 

Marvellous! Well now, I must say that kitchree smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins are starting to get fidgety so shall we start dishing it up?

Let’s! I have been baking some roti’s and garlic naan to accompany the food and I have brought some jars of my homemade courgette chutney.
Splendid, thankyou so much all of you for joining us in the kitchen today – blessings on your brew my dears!


Elevenses: The Politics of Post-Brexit treacle

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, thankyou for joining us for elevenses this morning! Today you find us burning the candle at both ends. We have just returned from laying bets on a splendid spot of hex-slinging over at The Angel where we ran into a very dear friend of ours, Jack and Marjory, who used to work in the treacle mines over at Chobham (before we liberated them and the other orphans who had been enslaved there that is)

We should probably explain to any non-UK residents that, here in Britain, we mine our treacle out of the ground. This has been the case for centuries and  William Cobbet, recently visiting Crumbria in 1816, wrote:

“This place I found to be a fair and healthy place, the women and children well fed and happy. Most menfolk were at work upon the Land but that evening in the excellent Crown and Thorns Inn I was surpassingly surprised to see many men brown of hue. On enquiry I determined that these were miners of Treacle and what a jolly crew they turned out to be. That night I repaired to my bed thanking our maker that there was at least one happy parish in the land.”

 

You see, when rain water falls over Birch forests any residual sap on the sides of the tree trunks becomes dissolved in the rain water and is carried down under the ground. The rainwater seeps into the bedrock where it pools and eventually evaporates, leaving behind the black sticky birch sap , or treacle. Over thousands of years the treacle hardens into veins which can be mined out of the rock in the same way as coal. Occasionally, the pressure of large deposits  causes the rock to crack and the treacle to ooze, or sometimes rocket,  to the surface, in fact this is how the treacle hot spot in Chobham was discovered – much to the embarrassment of the courting couple who were caught in the explosion.

Treacle mining has, in the past, controversially employed boggarts to retrieve the ‘black gold’ (as we call it over here) but the government now ‘employs’  street children to do the dirty work as the boggarts, along with all other magical beings,  disappeared after the goddess was defeated.

Of course Max and I are communicating with you via the wonders of aether-technology from the year 1842 but Penny tells us that in fact the last known treacle mine in Britain closed in 2012, which begs the question…if you are still eating treacle, where is all your treacle coming from? Hm? Because if you are depending on the one and only European Treacle Mine in Bergues, you may find your post-Brexit  desserts have come to a sticky end.

The Bergues Treacle Mine was founded when Frittenden pit boss Harrold Gray was forced to close his mine after a plague-like  infestation of Fritts (small insects which live below ground and destroy the wheat crops of neighbouring farms). Gray decided to take a trip down to the cliffs at Dover and reflect on which direction his life now ought to take. Gazing out to see he happened to glance down and saw a gentleman of similar age standing perilously close to the cliff edge. Harry called out to warn the fellow but in doing so alarmed him and the young man slipped, falling into the waves below. Without thinking, Harry leapt after him and, clinging to eachother for dear life, the two were quickly swept out to sea. Fortunately they were picked up by a schooner running buns out of Calais but as the smugglers were on their return trip they could only agree to drop the two men in France. Stranded with no means of getting home, Harry and his new chum Herbert made their way by happenchance to Bergues where they discovered that the local forester, Majolica Luneville, had recently struck a treacle gyser and had no idea how to exploit the vein. Harry stepped in with his expertise and together the three treacleteers opened the first and only ever French Treacle Mine. Since all the British mines are now closed, we can only assume that all the world’s treacle now comes from there.

Still it is possible that the British monarchy have already forseen this problem and made the first move – The Prince Of Wales has apparently recently laid claim to the treacle mining rights in the Duchy of Cornwall, much to the anger of Talskiddy Treacle Mining Corporation.

Luke Bazeley, the mine boss at Talskiddy said  “Although it’s said that nothing will come of this, I think that as the current climate is cold as far as Talskiddy treacle’s market value is concerned, this worried some local employees.”

Talskiddy residents first heard about the claims in a letter sent to them by the Land Registry. It said the registration did not mean it had any intentions of mining the land but residents and workers are naturally concerned.

Mayor of St Columb David Swindells said: “The Duke of Cornwall is trying to claim the land and minerals of the people of Talskiddy, but this is a Mad Hatter idea. This isn’t Alice In Wonderland and if he continues, he might find himself in a sticky situation.”

A Cornwall Council spokesman said they would try “ to keep the local community sweet”

So there you have it, will there still be treacle after Britain leaves the EU? Will the crown seize the day and cash-in by re-opening  the mines of old Blighty? Or will treacle deposits be discovered elsewhere and instigate world war five? Who knows. In the meantime here are some interesting articles exploring the plight, decline and politics of the treacle industry in Britain , you know, in case you thought we were making it all up… oh ye of little faith…

 

Treacle Mines Of Britain: http://www.treacleminer.com

Treacle Tax: Dunchideok Mine Treacle Tax

Trevithick re-opnes – https://trevithick-society.org.uk/cornish-treacle-mine-re-open/

Miners convention: http://www.treacleminer.com/

Kent closures: http://www.treacleminer.com/

Saben mine closure: https://www.duedil.com/company/gb/02159301/sabden-treacle-mines-limited

 

Mrs Baker will be talking Steampunk India with Suna Dasi in her soup kitchen tomorrow and Peril flings wide the doors of his Lovely Library on Friday to bring you his latest piece of anthropological research – ‘Tales From Steampunk’d Lancaster Part 1: Tales Of The Hex Slingers’ . And of course Max and I will be back on Monday with some more excellent fiction and tea so, until then please remain always,

Utterly Yourself

 


Tea at Three: Mythpunk For Monsters

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, thankyou for joining us once again on the swelteringly sultry streets of Steampunk’d Lancaster as we attempt to sell bottles of illegal home brewed lemonade in a desperate bid to pay our rent.

At least that is our ruse for loitering on this street corner this morning, but shhh, step closer, we have something to show you…

Mahrime_Cover_for_Kindle

 

If you’ve been with us for some time you’ll probably be aware that our mistress, Penny, as well as leading a secret double life as an incorrigible octopus and his unnerving gentleman friend (that’s us by the way and we’re not sure we care for the description!) also writes short stories, poems and prose with a far less frivolous flavour in the Mythpunk genre.

If you weren’t aware, you can read some of them here for free: PENNY BLAKE ON VOCAL POETS 

Mahrime – Mythpunk For Monsters is a collection of  mischievously mutilated and punk’d-up folk tales heavily influenced by Penny’s Rromani cultural heritage. Each poem, story or prose piece explores the themes of identity, power and love by putting the monsters, the outsiders, the outcasts, the ‘unblessed’ right at the heart of the narrative.

It’s available now to pre-order on Kindle, free with Kindle Unlimited or 0.99 without and also in paperback if that’s what you prefer (the paperback is full colour with black pages, white text and beautiful white mandala art work by ArtsyBee and comes with a free Kindle copy)

“And what is Mythpunk?” we hear some of you ask…

Mythpunk can be as simple as taking a traditional tale and re-working it to produce something fresh, inspiring and new , or it can be a far more complex synthesising of cultural and mythological evolution; a deep exploration into the cultural psyche or an unflinching dissection of archaic archetypes. A lot of Steampunk involves some Mythpunking along the way and a lot of Mythpunk has a decidedly Steampunk flavour.

 

So, now that we know exactly what we’re letting ourselves in for , lets take a little sneak peek at just some of the things inside the cover…

Mahrime

mahrime quote

 

Mahrime means ritually unclean  / unblessed in Rromani language, it is akin to the word Unseelie in Celtic lore but it is applied to people. The title story in this collection draws heavily on the experiences and mythology of Rromani People and explores the historical out-casting of certain groups and types of people who are branded as ‘monsters’ because their existence is at odds with a dominant cultural or religious ideal. It also goes deeper to hint at the aspects of self which we choose to lock away because we believe them to be unlovable or unacceptable.

 

The Road Back Lost

mahrimequote3

This Mythpunk’d version of The Company Of Wolves is a response to the ideal that we all have both an internal and external collective of wise guiding voices who can teach us our culture, our heritage, our purpose and our place in the world; these voices, intuitions, bodies of lore, family, elders, clan-folk etc are supposed to teach and guide us safely through the wild woods of life and all the dangers therein but what if we don’t have them? What if our family or culture or bodies of lore or even our parents and home have been lost to us? This is the situation for many people today as war and poverty tares children away from their families and cultural white-washing tares culture away from people and places it in the hands of the fashion industry. So what can we do? Try to go back? Try to move forward? Or stay and become the wolf?

 

DAMAO

mahrimequote2

 

Damao means ‘to overcome’ ; the final piece of prose in this collection echoes the hopeful thought that is embedded throughout the book  – with solidarity and support for eachother we can overcome the problems inherent with being labelled ‘outcast’ or ‘monster’, we are not alone and we will endure.

 

So there you have it, Mythpunk for Monsters, we hope you enjoy it, and now I think we will just sit back on this soap box here and sample some of our own lemonade, this day is far too hot to be doing any work and my tentacles are wilting despite the negligee we borrowed from Nimue Brown and her Hopeless Sinners yesterday I think what I really need is a parasol…

Thankyou for joining us on the street corner today, hm? What’s that Max? You think YOU ought to write a book? Honestly, I really don’t think ANYONE is going to be interested in anything you have to say… well alright then I will ‘wait and see!’ … and who exactly do think will publish such an atrocity? Hm? …. oh you’ll ‘find a group of marvelous monsters as mad about tea and tentacles as you are’ will you? Well good luck with that my friend! I shan’t be holding my breath…

While we wait to see what, if anything, comes of Max’s new ambition, let me thank you once again for joining us today and for supporting our endeavors as always and whatever kind of monster you happen to be please, do remain always,

Utterly Yourself.

 


Pipe and Slippers: Army Of Brass

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

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

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

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

like this perhaps… it is an extract from Army Of Brass and marks our last stop on their blog tour…

stories meme base

Army of Brass

Chapter 45

By Phoebe Darqueling

 

The funicular trundled to a stop on the landing, and Jack approached the door release. It hissed open, but Elaina stayed frozen in place, her eyes once again resting on the Baron as he and his men dismembered the fallen automaton. Crashes reverberated from around the bend as more of the giants began to move.

“Focus, Elaina,” Jack pleaded. “We need to go.”

When her eyes met his again, something had changed. The rage and sorrow had drained away, leaving her gaze hollow but determined. Her spine straightened, and her shoulders relaxed as she put the gun back into its holster. Her free hand briefly rested on her shoulder, then the last trace of rage melted from her body as she strode forward.

She passed the Cartographer and went straight to the interior controls, calling over her shoulder, “Are you coming?”

With a smirk, he followed her into the cabin. Elaina moved a dial and a lever, and the funicular rose again from the valley floor before he’d even hit the button to close the door. Apparently, she was taking his plea for speed to heart, but he’d have waited for that particular nicety. They swayed slightly as they rose, and Jack grabbed frantically for one of the leather straps built into the wall to steady himself. He glanced out the open door to see the solid ground creeping away. It felt as though he’d left his stomach behind.

“Vertigo?” Elaina scoffed, taking in his grim expression and white knuckles with a gesture. “You’re an airship captain. How could you possibly be afraid of heights?”

“It’s somewhat of a new development…” he choked, falling back gratefully into a seat across from her.

As they crept upward, more of battle came into view. Several more of the Cartographer fleet had arrived, their mismatched colors and designs a delightful quilt against the cheery blue of the sky. More soldiers poured out of the cavern, bolstered by the air support. At least two of the automatons seemed to be immobilized, but down the line, head after head lifted and turned its attention to the fight.

“Look!” Elaina rushed to the door, pointing frantically. “It’s Aletha!”

One of the automatons reached out with its drill-arm spinning and drove the point into the chest of another metal giant. The whine and the screech of metal rang out over the valley as the thing’s mechanical guts were ripped out.

Another automaton raised a fist and smashed it into the head of Aletha’s giant. The two machines stood frozen for several seconds, then the attacker lowered its arm and turned its attention to another of Bircham’s machines. The two of them ripped off its arms.

“It’s working,” Jack sighed.

“So far,” his companion agreed.

They had only made it about halfway up the mountainside, but the funicular chose that moment to lurch to an unexpected halt. Sweat beaded on Jack’s brow while Elaina calmly looked over the control panel.

Outside the cabin, most of the Cartographer fleet was engaged with the rebel lords, but a few of them had turned their attention to the brass army. A net shot from a massive gun and enveloped the head and shoulders of one of the automatons. It struggled for a moment, and Jack dared to hope it would stumble and fall. Then it reached up a massive hand, grabbing onto the line. His gut heaved as the machine ripped the airship from the sky.

When he couldn’t take her measured silence any longer, he blurted. “What happened? Can you fix it?”

She shrugged and turned toward him. “It’s not a problem from this end. It must be the winch at the top. There could be shrapnel in the mechanism, or Bircham had it disabled. Either way, it’s useless now. We can’t go up or down.”

Jack wheeled back to the door and saw parachutes blooming around the falling ship. One of the Marksmen trained his gun carefully as he sailed toward the ground. With a single, expert shot, he ignited the hydrogen, and the airship burst into a fiery ball. The automaton batted it away, undeterred, only to have one of Aletha’s metal giants punch it in the chest.

He hadn’t realized Elaina had joined him at the door until she murmured, “We can’t stay here, either. It’s only a matter of time before we’re hit by debris, or one of those things notices us.”

“How?” Jack spluttered, though on some level he knew exactly what she was about to propose. “You said it’s broken!”

“We’ll simply need to climb,” she replied. “The cable is intact, and we can use the ties between the tracks like steps.”

“I… don’t think I can…”

She waved away the panic in his voice. “Of course you can. We use those rocks and then go around to the front to grab onto the cable. It’s simple. See?” Elaina vaulted from the open door and scrambled over the jagged stone. Jack’s shock immobilized him until he heard her voice from the front of cab. “Are you coming, Mr. Davenport?”

With far more resolution than he felt, he answered in the affirmative and followed her path. He could feel the wound at his hip reopen as he lunged, and hot blood soaked his bandage by the time he reached her. True to her word, a taut cable ran up the middle of the track, and the evenly-spaced wooden beams would make the climb much easier, but the pain flashed bright, and nausea roiled in his guts. He leaned against the cab to catch his breath and put pressure on the gash in his hip.

“Pull yourself together,” Elaina said. “You’re the one who told me to focus, remember?”

Jack help up his bloody hand. “Ashtan’s handiwork.”

“I can take a look at it once we reach the top, but right now, we have got to move.”

Elaina started up the tracks, hand over steady hand as she progressed up the cable. Jack steeled himself against the pain, then followed. The sounds of the battle echoed all around them, but he resisted the urge to turn around and watch. The cable bit into his palms, giving him something to focus on besides the fact that he was over a hundred feet in the air. He kept his eyes trained on Elaina’s back and tried to match her steady pace until a few stray pebbles got between his boot and the next tie. He kept hold of the cable but landed on his bloody hip with a groan.

“I can’t. My leg—”

“Yes, yes. Your leg hurts. I heard you,” Elaina said, glancing over her shoulder before taking another step. “But honestly, what are you proposing? Will you build a nest and live up here like some sort of great buzzard?”

“This is no time for jokes, Mrs. Gable.” Jack used his good leg to regain his footing and willed himself back to standing.

“Was I joking? I can’t always tell these days,” she said thoughtfully. After another two steps, she called over her shoulder, “What I do know is that I am neither willing nor able to pull you to the top, due to the obvious discrepancy between your bulk and my upper body strength. Ergo, you shall have to climb or find some way to derive sustenance from bare—and might I remind you, toxic—stone.”

Jack frowned at her back, which was getting farther and farther away. He took a deep breath, then another step. A drop of his own blood splattered the wood under his feet, and his vertigo reasserted itself.

“Unless of course you plan to die,” she speculated, now at least ten paces ahead. “It would seem a rather fitting ending for your legend, as long as the details never made it out.”

He shook away the bout of dizziness and resolved not to let the gap between them grow any wider. With teeth gritted against the pain, he finally began to move.

Up ahead, Elaina continued. “Think about it! You lost your ship, the love of Captain Davenport’s life, on a mission to save the king. If you were to die here in the valley, everyone would think you were struck down in the Battle of Brasshaven. Now that would be one for the storybooks,” she said. “Then, of course, this discussion is all academic, and the necessity of your moving from that spot is moot. In which case, could you please let go and stop distracting me from climbing? This last part will be tricky.”

“What has gotten into you?” he marveled.

“Nothing at all. I simply took your advice,” she grunted. “Bircham is the mission. And if I am correct, and I nearly always am, we shall find him at the top of this cliff. I am simply attempting to keep you on task.”

The noise in the valley started to fade. Jack thought at first it was just because they were getting higher, but he risked taking a look. Yet more Marksmen still poured out of the caverns, and he heard the shouts of the smiths better than ever. But he realized in horror that the automatons no longer seemed to be fighting each other. Aletha was losing.

“You should press on without me!” he cried. “I just need a rest, that’s all. You have Rose’s gun, you shouldn’t need more than that.”

“You may proceed with that course of action, but I would advise against it,” she replied, disappearing over the top of the cliff. “Your arms are already shaking. What do you think a few more minutes will do?”

He willed himself to take another step. It couldn’t be more than a few more paces, but his throat was closing in panic. His wound bled freely. The Marksmen were clearly no match for the machines. The Cartographers were outgunned. And now, Aletha was failing. All was lost.

“You know the problem with stories, Jack? They are too… clean. The writers always type ‘The End,’ but it isn’t really, is it? Real endings are far more complicated than the stories make them out to be.”

He concentrated on the sound of her voice and continued his agonized climb.

“Besides,” she continued, “if you do decide to survive, I am sure the Society would be happy to get you back into the air again. Then there would be plenty of time for more adventures.”

Hope wasn’t lost. Hope was waiting just a few feet above his head. All he had to do was reach it. With a defiant cry, he harnessed his pain and took the last three strides to reach the top. At the edge, the cable no longer stood above the ground but instead lay directly against the ties. His tired hands scrabbled at the stone as he got his torso up and over, then he felt Elaina grab his belt and add her strength to his.

Jack spent a moment catching his breath, then struggled out of the pack. He heard Elaina rifling through it as the spots swam out of his vision, then turned over on his back. She held out a canteen. “Perhaps you could take me somewhere, when this is all over. I think we both could use a holiday.”

“Thanks for waiting,” he replied, taking a swig of water.

She smirked and pointed out, “You’ve got my bullet.”

 

And don’t forget, Army of Brass is available now! 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.


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

Panel 08

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… 😉

 


Soup f The Day: With Army Of Brass Author Jeremiah Rickert

 

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 Army Of Brass author Jeremiah Rickert, good morning Jeremiah and what a beautiful sunny one it is! Here, let me take your coat and hat and you can have a seat here by the window and put your feet up while I make the soup for the orphans.

There now, I have heard so much about the Collaborative Writing Challenge and your marvellous book Army Of Brass, tell me how did you first get involved with the CWC?

I believe I saw a solicitation on the CRWOPPS listerv and was intrigued by the idea of both collaborative storytelling and the idea of writing some steampunk fiction.

And what is your favorite part of working collaboratively?

It takes a lot of pressure off of worrying about macro-storytelling.  You get to focus a lot of energy on just your chapter.

Yes I imagine that must be a refreshing and unique experience. Who is your favorite character?

I had the most fun with Captain Davenport.  I like the idea of a gentleman swashbuckler with a strong well of pragmatism inside of him.

Oh yes I believe he made quite an impression on Max and Collin yesterday! Did you have a favorite setting in the story?

I usually would be seated at the keyboard with a goofy grin on my face whenever the characters were on one of the airships.

Ah yes, airships – I have seen some of my visitors arriving in those although we haven’t quite reached that level of technological advancement here in Lancaster. Did you have a favorite gadget or technology?

The airships with their gas bags and propellers have always been my favorite aspect of Steampunk.  They are a ubiquitous in the genre, but they are pretty cool, so I can see why.

Indeed! Did you have much experience with Steampunk before the collaboration?

I had read a few books, but I’m not super dedicated to the genre.

I see, would you mind passing me that sack of onions, Dear? Thankyou, goodness I’ve so much to do today! How often do you sit down to write?

Not with any regularity.  I write when I feel like I have something to say.

And what is your ideal setting for writing? 

I did most of my writing for this project at a local all-night diner.  I have headphones on, but often they are just there to filter the noise a bit.  After two hours, I would pause and have a snack, then write until I started getting sleepy.

Oh that sounds marvellous! What is your favorite genre to write?

I like all genres.  The key to me is just to have fun characters to play with, no matter what the setting.

Perhaps the reason you write such strong and memorable characters! Are there any genres you haven’t tried but would like to?

I have been sitting on an idea for a pulp-style Space Opera story for a long time.  This project has loosened up a lot of the machinery inside me that feels compelled to create.

That certainly sounds like a project that should see the light of day! Who is your favorite character that you’ve created?

I have a finished novel about a noir-style detective who happens to dress like a clown when he’s on the job.

Oh marvellous, perhaps he would like to meet our own anchorite clown Freddy Payne some time! Where do you get your inspiration for these wonderful characters?

Being observant and people watching typically serves as my inspiration.  I tend to take a lot of notes with snippets of conversations I’ve overheard or thoughts that have occurred to me.  A particularly fertile period for me was when I worked a graveyard shift in a 7-11. I saw a lot of people and things that I am still mining for inspiration to this day.

And are there any writers who inspire you?

The first that comes to mind is Mark Helprin, author of A Winter’s Tale, Soldier In The Great War, and others.  I don’t know how he produces such beautiful, descriptive prose, that never seems like a slog to read through.  It is sorcery. I am also a huge fan of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, particularly the recent translation by Edith Grossman.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

There are two tips that come to mind:  First, read everything you can, as much as you can stand, across all genres, and don’t be afraid of the classics.  Second, get yourself some deadlines. The one thing I missed most about college after I graduated was having deadlines.  They are highly motivating.

Yes indeed! And speaking of deadlines, our soup here is nearly done and I can hear the urchins clamouring in the street outside so we had better start serving this up. But before we do, where can we find more of your writing?

Most my print and online material appeared in the late 90s/early 2000s and is no longer accessible unfortunately.  The Army of Brass collaborative project has re-awakened the urge to write, however, so I anticipate more material appearing soon.

Well I hope you will come back to the soup kitchen some other time and tell us about your next work when it is published! 

Thankyou everyone for joining us in the kitchen today and if you would like to find out more about Army Of Brass or purchase your own copy you can follow the links below.

Blessings on your brew my dears! 

 

Order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday, April 27!

 

Take a sneak peek at the full Chapter 1, read an exclusive excerpt, or check out another interview with writer Jason Pere or Jean Grabow as part of our blog tour, now until May 13. If you want to find out more about collaborative writing, Army of Brass contributors and CWC veterans Crystal MM Burton and Kathrin Hutson shared articles for the tour about the pros, cons, and rewards.

 

Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet some awesome writers, participate in a giveaway that includes a $25 Amazon gift card, and more!
Speaking of giveaways, we’ve got one going on for the entire blog tour, so between April 13-May 13, enter to win ebooks from our writers.


Elevenses: With Captain Jack Davenport of Army Of Brass

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously ridiculous and chi-chi to the core parlour located somewhere within the lower intestines of the splendidly steampunk’d city of Lancaster.

 

Our tentacles are all of a quiver this morning and our china cups are chattering because joining us for elevenses this morning we have our favourite character from Collaborative Writing Challenge’s Army Of Brass Captain Jack Davenport (is an octopus allowed to swoon?) of the Capital Cartographer’s Society.

 

Do please have a seat Captain (Max, get off the chaise and let the Captain sit down … hm? … no he can’t sit on your lap, just move aside.)

Would you like tea Captain? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Assam? Darjeeling? Oolong? (Max don’t be rude)

Just Darjeeling is fine, thankyou.

There you go. Now then , do tell us more about this Capital Cartographer’s Society you are a member of, what is its purpose?

 

Why, exploration of course! We use our fleet of airships to take us all over the world and we map the places and ideas we find there.

 

Oh did you hear that Max? Doesn’t it sound exciting and exotic and… hm? Oh yes, wait a minute, Max says  ‘did you say you map ideas?’

 

Er, well, yes. In a sense. The CCS is concerned with which way the wind is blowing, both real and figuratively. We pride ourselves on understanding the way information travels and being able to predict events as much as to report on them after the fact. We have agents who are stationed in different cities, and as captains, such as myself, travel from place to place, we always spend a day or two catching up on what has happened there since our last visit. That information is compiled in Mailderet’s capitol, Antikythera, and our agents sometimes act in an advisory capacity to the king.

 

Hm, we’re not overly fond of Royalty and their advisors around here Captain, do you act in that capacity yourself?

 

I never stay in any one place for very long, so I’ve never had the pleasure myself. Journeyman Cartographers rarely have the opportunity to rub shoulders with royalty.

 

Even a Journeymen as famous as you?

 

Though the general public has certainly become familiar with some of my more daring exploits through the press and the occasional novel penned in my honor, the CCS’s feelings on the matter are rather more…complex. Lord Whithorne, the Seneschal, says he would prefer I spent less time giving interviews and more time in the skies, at least officially. But between you and me, I think he secretly enjoys the favored place the Cartographers occupy in the imaginations of the people. Our image as heroic explorers can open doors for us that the king’s seal simply cannot.

 

As your presence in our parlour this morning testifies, Captain. Battenburg?

 

Er, thankyou … is that octopus slime on my plate?

 

Maybe…. Being a CCS captain must  keep you on your toes – Any time for finding that special someone?

 

[Clears throat] As in love and marriage you mean?

 

Not necessarily…

 

Well, as you say, my work keeps me rather busy and on the move. There is one woman who…that is to say, I have met many interesting and lovely ladies on my travels,

 

What about cephalopods?

 

God no! I mean …. no one can compare to The Wayfarer. She is my love, my constant companion, and my gateway to the skies. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I ever lost my ship.

 

Did you hear that Max? The man is in love with his ship. Our hearts are broken.

Oh well. So which decadent delights are you and ‘The Wayfarer’ off to sample next?

 

Unfortunately, I’ve got serious work to do at the moment. We’ve known for some time that the Hunter Baron has been gathering his forces. The rough seas around Maildaret have protected us for some time, and the mountains inland protect the capitol and the House of Lords in Brasshaven, but he appears to be mobilizing all the same. His Marksmen army certainly outnumber our forces, and we must be prepared. Personally, I believe the key rests in the hands of the Master Tinkerer, but she will need some assistance. So, when I leave this way-station, I am going to Brand to consult with the Forgemaster and convince him to travel to Brasshaven to lend her a hand. Then, I must deliver the news of Fairport’s fall to the House of Lords and the Master Tinkerer.  

 

Have you ever met the Master Tinkerer before? She’s rather new to the position, isn’t she?

 

Elaina? Er…I mean… Mrs. Gable? Yes, we’ve met before. In Corkshire, during the massacre. She lost her husband there, but also got dozens of people to safety. She’s one of the bravest, most competent people I’ve ever met.

 

Oh Max, I think we have uncovered something! Captain Davenport, are you blushing?

 

What? No, of course not. It’s just warm in here. Wouldn’t you say it’s warm in here?

 

I certainly feel some of us are rather hot, would you like me to relieve you of your coat? Shirt? Anything at all?

Ah, no I…

Hm? I am not ‘pestering the Captain,’ Max, I’m just being hospitable! Max says that the involvement of Tinkerers and Smiths makes it sound like you’ve got something mechanical brewing to fight the Hunter Baron?

 

That’s astute of you. Perhaps you should consider becoming a Cartographer as well.

 

It sounds like a delightful proposition, but I can’t help but notice that you didn’t answer our question.

 

Oh, I’m fully aware of that, my friend. But one mustn’t tip one’s hand completely. Especially not when war is brewing. Fairport fell far quicker than anyone would have guessed, and I suspect the Duke had a traitor in his midst.

 

Why Captain if my sensibilities were more delicate I’d be offended! Are you insinuating I could be a spy? How deliciously dramatic of you! But, seriously, you must have some idea what sort of strategy the king will take in fighting the Hunter Baron?

 

As I said, I don’t really know his majesty personally. Though he may turn to the CCS from time to time, her prefers his circle of lords to any of us commoners. Once I have all of the pieces of my own plan in place, I hope to convince the Seneschal to arrange an audience with him to present the idea. He won’t like it, but I think it’s the best shot we have at keeping the people of Mailderet safe.

 

I see, then all we can do is wish you the very best of luck, Captain, and hope that the king can be persuaded.  And we must be getting back to the devious business of financing our own revolution which is desperately disorganised and underfunded. Do give lavish amounts of love and kisses to ‘Elaina’ from us both won’t you?

Oh dear Max I fear your overly dramatic advances have scared him away, I’ve never seen an airship weigh anchor as quick as that. Oh well, onward to the next conquest… and if you, dear friends, would like to find out more about Captain Davenport’s adventures you can order your copy of Army Of Brass here:

 

army of brass

 

Mrs Baker will be in her soup kitchen tomorrow with the next stop of the Army of Brass tour and we shall be back next week with some Steam Wizard magic so until we see you again, please remain always

Utterly Yourself


Morning Cuppa: Army Of Brass

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome back to Max and Collin’s brazenly brassy and aggressively amorous parlour located somewhere beneath the bustling city of steampunk’d Lancaster.

Our tentacles are trembling with excitement to be back in the parlour, after so many calamitous adventures, and also to be part of  the Army f Brass blog tour this week so without further ado let us hand you cup of tea, kick our tentacles up on the table and take a look at this marvellous book.

army of brass

 

Army Of Brass was written by the Collaborative Writing Challenge with a different author writing each chapter. This gives the text quite a unique feel. On the one hand there is an inescapable sense of each chapter being its own ‘unit’ or ‘micro-story’ and on the other the neat plot development and consistency that speaks of the tight orchestration that must have taken place behind the scenes in order to bring a novel like this together, couple this with a cast of fully developed and likeable characters and you get an exciting, fast flowing steampunk adventure with just the right amount of romance, technology and political intrigue. It’s an amazing accomplishment and we’re all-over impressed by it.

Master Tinkerer Elaina Gable has settled into her new life after escaping her home country which was attacked by the blood thirsty conqueror The Hunter Baron. When the Baron’s warmongering  threatens to destroy her new life as well, Elaina is certain she knows a way to stop him; by reviving the ancient automaton army, the Tinkerers and the Smiths believe they can defeat the Baron, but the automatons harbour a deadly secret linked to the toxic valley in which they now sit rusting away. Only the mysterious silver skinned woman seems to hold the key, but will she decided to help or hinder Elaina and her friends as the Baron’s army draws nearer…

This is a nice, straightforward, old fashioned steampunk adventure full of automatons and airships and some really likeable characters (It was really lovely to see an older, mature heroine for once!) Excellent plot with a few carefully crafted twists and turns and overall a nice smooth read for existing steampunk fans or a perfect entry-point for newcomers to the genre.

 

Tomorrow we continue the Army of Brass blog tour and have the very great pleasure of entertaining Captain Jack Davenport of the Capital Cartographer’s Society for elevenses and so we must now ask you to excuse us while we race about trying on ludicrous amounts of bombazine and lace…. unless that is you’d like to stay and help a poor floundering octopus  with his corset?

No?

Well, until next time then, please remain always,

Utterly Yourself

 

 


Elevenses: Showing The (green) Love

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen I hope you are all feeling the love this morning? The time is of course eleven o clock and we are ravenously eleven o clockish and remorselessly revved up with romance so let us see at once what our gorgeous werewolf butler has cooked up for us this morning…

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Absinthe ‘Show The Love’ hearts… but these devilish delights are more than just a romantic gesture from a woman with the brains and demeanour of a rabid dog; we are offering them here today to show our support for the Show The Love Campaign  …

“Hand made hearts can move worlds. Make, wear and share your green heart. It’s a beautiful way to begin a conversation about the things we love that climate change threatens, and the clean energy choices we must make to protect our world. Hand-crafting a heart is a moment to share with a loved one, with family, with friends, with your community – and beyond via #showthelove. See the amazing hearts others are already creating.  “

 

Sustainable energy is just as important to us here in The New World as it is to you in your dimension – from cream-powered landships to GORGON energy generators, we are doing our bit to help the environment.

If you’d like to get involved in this festive environmental endeavour there are several ways you can find out more…

Check out some of the fantastic blog posts from ‘Queen Of Green Hearts’ Nimue Brown who has her finger on the pulse where all things green and hearty are concerned:

https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/climate-change-show-the-love/

Visit the official website and get some hearty inspiration for making your own beautiful green heart talking pieces:

http://fortheloveof.org.uk/

And if you’d like to make Klapka’s lovely absinthe green heart fondants,   here’s the recipe:

500g icing sugar, 1 beaten egg white, 1 tsp green food colour, 1 tsp absinthe (or any flavouring you like)
Mix it all together then knead it into a soft dough and roll it out, cut out your hearts and sprinkle or drizzle them with your choice of toppings. Leave for a short while in a cool place to firm up then serve.

 

 

We wish you a very splendid afternoon and do feel free to leave a link to your own #sharethelove green heart projects in the comments section…


Soup Of The Day: With Author Jack Wolf

 

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 Jack Wolf – author of The Tale Of Raw Head And Bloody Bones, which Max and Collin reviewed a short time ago with their Morning Cuppa.

Good morning to you Jack! Thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, may I take your coat and hat? It is certainly very frosty out there today but the fire here in the bakery is lovely and warm.  How was your journey here from your own dimension?

Not too bad – the skies were fairly clear and the traffic was ok.

I’m very glad to hear that! This cold snap seems to have the Skyway Men clinging to their fires which is a mercy! And have you brought some soup with you today to share with the orphans?

I make something called Bungitin Vegan soup, which is basically a load of chopped veg – 1 onions, 2 carrots, 1 tin’s worth of tomatoes, 1 pepper, half to a whole tin’s worth of chick peas and/or other legumes, and anything else I can find in the kitchen fridge – 1-2 courgettes are good. Add at least one clove of garlic or a teaspoon of garlic paste – this is really important – and a mix of herbs and spices to taste. The italian herbs are good for this, so oregano, basil and sometimes a little black pepper. I don’t usually add salt, but you can, if you want. To cook, brown the onions and begin to soften the carrots by stir-frying in vegetable or sunflower oil for about 4-5 mins, then add everything else and about 3/4 pint of vegetable stock, and let it all simmer until everything is soft and it tastes really rich. Don’t let it burn or get too dense, as this can make the flavour too strong – you have to keep tasting it.

 

Oh vegan soup recipes are always here, what with the dairy rationing and such, thankyou very much! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat here by the fire and tell us about your book The Tale Of Raw Head and Bloody Bones, and its main character Tristan Hart? I see you have brought a copy with you to show the orphans..

full cover rawhead.jpg

 

 

The cover art is stunning! I confess to very much enjoying the book myself, not least because of the cunning use of magic, folk lore and the world of faerie to support the narrative – tell me, have you always had an interest in the relationship between our own everyday ‘stories,’ and the magical and mythological frameworks we use to make sense of our ‘real world’ experiences?

I’ve been drawn to faerie tales, and faeries in general, for a long time. I’m also fascinated by human psychology, and the idea that humans create our own conceptual worlds out of the stories – and I use that word extremely broadly – that we tell ourselves. To an extent, the ‘real world’ of our experience is something we invent – a story we tell ourselves every moment of every day.

 

And the story of Raw Head, that is a real British folk tale isn’t it?

 

Yes and no. It’s a recorded folk belief, but I haven’t found any complete tales concerning it – with a beginning middle and end, and so on. It’s likely that the original RH&BB is more a general bogeyman than a character, in the way that, say, the Wolf in the Three Little Pigs is a character. I think he was a personification of the threat of drowning in a culture where only a tiny minority of people knew how to swim, and nobody knew how to perform cpr on a drowning victim. The idea was, I think, that the fear of RH&BB would keep the kids away from the waterways in a way that a simple explanation of the danger would not. References to the figure seem to peter out in the UK after the 18thC, so I guess superstitions moved on.

But oddly enough, in the US the image seems to have persisted, and mutated – there’s a legend in the Ozarks of RH&BB where a creature by that name appears as a monstrous pig. It may be co-incidental, of course. But I drew on this alternate image a little bit as well in the novel; Tristan’s dread of Joseph Cox becomes focused on the fact that Cox works as a pig-keeper.

 

Ah yes! I didn’t recognise that wonderful little twist but that certainly makes sense!  I had also thought it reminded me of the La Lorona mythos and more localised ‘Maggie O Th’Well’ tales. Tell me, what particularly drew you to use that tale as the focal point for Tristan’s story?

 

I’m fascinated by bogeymen, and the idea that one of the tools we use to keep ourselves safe is actually terror. But the name “RH&BB” is also a wonderful metaphor for what a human being is – mind and body brought together in this messy, contradictory way – and trying to make sense of that conundrum is Tristan’s most prevailing obsession.

Raw Head is by no means the only myth you reference in the book, what other prominent faerie figures feature in the narrative?

Well, I also draw heavily on the idea of the Glanconer – the Irish Faerie seducer – or as we might now acknowledge, rapist. He’s the dark Faerie who lies at the bottom of the myth of the Elf Knight, or as I call him in the book, the Goblin Knight. In numerous folk songs such as The Outlandish Knight and Steeleye Span’s The Elf Knight (which was the first place I encountered him) he is a seducer and murderer of young women who lures them to their doom sometimes by drowning, like RH&BB, or more simply by stabbing or strangling them. But of course as a Faerie Knight he’s also part of the court of the Faerie Queen, so she had to come into the book as well – and the image I’ve used to represent her is that of the shapeshifting barn owl. I’ve called her Viviane, of course, which is a nod to the Arthurian tradition. 

Of course, and very nicely done indeed! Now, in some modern / mythpunk re-workings, the world these tales and archetypes belong to is something that is a step removed from the protagonist’s reality but in your book the world of faerie doesn’t just run alongside Tristan’s human world does it?

Well, I don’t see the worlds as being separate in the way that a lot of modern fantasy does. I’m much more drawn to the Alan Garner or Susan Cooper school of world building in which the two realms are in constant communication with each other. It’s much closer to the way I experience the world, as well.

Well, I for one can certainly identify with that, Dear! I very much liked the way that, by giving each of the main characters both a human identity and, simultaneously, a faerie-self, you seemed to re-imagine (or perhaps ‘release’) some of those ancient beings in a way that made encountering them a very fresh, real and emotive experience.

Do you think that it is important to keep exploring these tales and releasing these characters into the collective consciousness?

 

Yes. I think it’s vital, actually. In the last couple of hundred years, we have built an  industrial society that demands that we deliberately reject older, deeper ways of thinking, and more intuitive ways of experiencing ourselves and the world around us, in order to be considered full, ‘rational’ individuals. It’s a form of madness, I think – cutting off a very ancient, nourishing, and protective part of the psyche. We need to find stories that allow us to reconnect with who we really are as a species. I think faerie stories do have the capacity to do this.

 

I certainly think you are right on that point!

The book is set at an important liminal moment in British history – revolutions in the worlds of medical science and industrial technology are bringing a ‘great awakening’ of so called rational thought, but at that same time, aspects of the collective consciousness seem still to be slumbering in the ‘dream world’ of spiritual / magical understanding and superstition. Did you deliberately choose this time period as one that would reflect the turmoil within Tristan and some of the other key characters?

 

Absolutely. The period stands exactly on the cusp of the modern world – and Tristan, in particular, is a character who represents – even embodies – the confusing contradictions inherent in that historical moment. 

 

The character Katherine Montague uses the story of Raw Head And Bloody Bones to communicate and cope with her traumatic life experiences and Tristan uses it to understand and make sense of his own fragmented reality… do you think that, to some degree, we are all prone to using the language of faerie / magic to feel secure and form an understanding of our often confusing or frightening world?

 

I think there is a human tendency to perceive the world through stories – and as I said above, I think that, right now, we need better ones than we currently have. It is a form of magical thinking, in a way – constructing one’s own reality through images, words and ideas. But we don’t all draw on the language of faerie to do this: we all construct our own stories out of whatever conceptual material we have to hand. In Katherine’s case, this happens to be the language of faerie tales: the abused girl, the wicked mother, the stolen child, etc are all common tropes in the folk-awareness of her time. A modern character in her situation would most probably use different stories to try to make some sense out of the dreadful things that have happened to her, and around her. But a modern character would hopefully have more psychological support… Katherine literally can’t speak about what she has gone through unless she displaces it onto a faerie tale – which both enacts and subverts another faerie trope, the magical silence. For her, magical thinking really is a survival mechanism.

For Tristan the situation’s slightly different, because the whole thing goes so much farther – for him, the worlds of faerie, story and rationality collide in a way that is quite traumatic in itself. He may be using the story, but there is also a sense in which he is also being used – and abused – by it. 

 

While this ‘magical toolkit’ for understanding the world may be useful to the individual utilising it, it can lead to fear, suspicion and ultimately persecution of individuals who are seen as liminal themselves – the ‘outsiders’ if you will, whose lifestyle or beliefs set them apart as ‘abnormal’ can’t it?

 

We still don’t live in a particularly tolerant society – even though in many ways it is, of course, much more accepting than it was in Tristan’s time. But it’s true that standing out from the crowd in ways that the crowd don’t understand, or even fear can bring about terrible persecution – I’m thinking of Sophie Lancaster’s murder here, but there are other examples.

When it comes to holding a magical or otherwise ‘fringe’ understanding of the world in some way, I have found that intolerance has tended to manifest as ridicule, rather than fear or violence. I am a panpsychist, for example (a highly unusual position here, but actually one that was most likely the norm throughout most of human pre-history, and which is still common in certain non-westernised societies), and most educated Westerners simply cannot grasp the principles behind it. So they mischaracterise and then dismiss it. The author Emma Restall Orr went through exactly this experience years ago on BBC Radio 4 with Michael Gove. She responded by writing The Wakeful World, which is a fairly decent introduction to the concept, I think. 

 

Viviane, for example, is a character whose ‘otherness’ allows Tristan to see her as quite unreal and therefore excuse and ‘explain’ his misconduct towards her using the framework of faerie mythology. This use of faerie / magical lore against women (and often, as you highlight marvellously in the book, against Rromani women) is a very real phenomenon isn’t it?

 

It was very much a problem in the 18thC, where it did become, in addition to other things, a cloak for racism against the Romani (not that the concepts of racism, or even sexism, existed then). It’s less obvious now, and here, of course – that’s thanks to the Enlightenment convincing the populace that magic is not real – but it still endures verbally in slurs – “Witch” etc – and in cultural assumptions about the overwhelming sexual allure of women’s bodies. “She put a spell on me, your honour” isn’t really that far from “she was wearing a short skirt,” in my estimation. Both rely on the belief that a female body – a woman in a body – somehow exudes some sort of mystical aura that overcomes a man’s ability to control himself, and provides him with the excuse to, as you say, explain away his misconduct.

 

But Tristan isn’t deliberately demonising Viviane in order to take advantage of her, is he? He is genuinely grasping at the threads of, what for him is, a confusing multilayered reality and this manifests to those around him as a form of madness – demonising him, in turn.

 

Yes, Tristan is completely oblivious to the cultural programming that’s going on beneath the surface; and he’s certainly not demonising Viviane on purpose. As far as he becomes concerned, she is wholly the Faerie woman of his dreams and nightmares – if she ever had a real, human self, he can’t acknowledge that.

 

Again, the demonization of those ‘outsiders’ who come to be labelled ‘mad’ is something that has always been a frighteningly real occurrence hasn’t it?

 

Yes, it has – and it is still going on today. When I was writing Tristan I was very conscious of the stereotyping that leads to people with severe schizophrenia, or similar disorders, becoming objects of fear. People have been taught to expect the mad to behave like monsters. It’s dehumanising – demonising. if you like. it’s also statistically untrue.

 

Perhaps especially unsettling is the fact that what is termed ‘madness’ to one particular culture or at one point in history, can later come to be understood as a natural phenomenon  – the hormonal surges of menstruating or pregnant women, for example, and those whose sexuality is anything other than heterosexual…

 

Absolutely – the boundaries of what is considered ‘sanity’ are shifting all the time. I really do believe that in a couple of hundred years – assuming any humans are still left by then – a lot of the beliefs and habits we hold to now will be seen as dangerously crazy. I don’t, of course, know which ones these will be. I have my hopes, but I don’t see history as  an inevitable march of “progress”, either technologically or culturally, so it may be that some very dark definitions of sanity/insanity will come to dominate. Hopefully we won’t go back to a time when women were locked up for being disobedient, but it could happen.

 

 

I suppose it all comes down to who has the cultural upper hand at the end of the day? Here in Ire, for example, a person is considered dangerous and ‘mad’ if they crave a cup of tea or a slice of cake!

 

Now, you see, I think anyone who doesn’t drink tea or like cake must be completely crazy.

 

Power is certainly a theme that you explore rigorously in the book isn’t it? – The power we may have over the people, animals and natural world around us, the power others may have over us and that which we have over ourselves, our actions and our perceptions…

 

Yes, it’s one of the major themes of the novel. It’s connected with the idea of disconnection and displacement – that the less integrated we are as beings with each other and the natural world, the more our relationships become aligned along power lines: power over, rather than power with. Katherine’s and Tristan’s relationship is really an example of mutual power in flux, rather than power over, on either side, although it may not look like that superficially. The dynamic between them is nothing like, for instance, Jane and Barnaby’s marriage, or the sibling relationship between Tristan’s father and his sister.

 

The power that women have over their own bodies is something that you explore in a number of ways through the different female characters in the story, is this something you feel strongly about?

 

I’m very passionate, actually, about the right of a woman to inhabit and control her own body. It is still a shocking truth of our society that women aren’t always accorded physical autonomy – look at the abortion debate, for example.

 

Looking at the #metoo phenomenon in your own dimension recently, it seems as though we are still very much in need of stories which explore this issue?

 

Very much so. We need, as a culture, to reclaim and then rewrite the ballad of the Elf Knight. I think we actually are trying to do something like that, in this historical moment, at least. I was delighted to read that in the latest production of Carmen, in Italy, Carmen shoots Don Jose, not the other way round – and there’s also that new prize for Crime Fiction that doesn’t focus on dead female bodies. There are other stories that can be told. When I started writing RH&BB, several of my early readers imagined Tristan was going to kill Katherine. Er, hardly! But that tells me how deeply embedded some of these unhealthy cultural assumptions about what love is, and what women can and should expect from men who love them, actually are. I was writing against those expectations then, and I will continue to write against them.

 

 

Such important subjects but oh my goodness! I do ramble on don’t I? I must apologise, the kettle has long been singing at us and I haven’t offered you a cup of tea! What is your poison, dear, and how do you take it?

 

Builders’, soya milk, no sugar. Thanks!

 

Here you are. Now then, moving away from The Tale Of Raw Head And Bloody Bones for a moment, what can you tell me about your own involvement in the world of faerie and the enigmatic character of Lord Crow?

 

That’s an interesting question. Of course, being bound by the laws of Faerie, I can’t tell you very much! But I suppose in one way Lord Crow is an idea; in another he’s a being-in-himself. I want to explore the possibility of writing from the point of view of the non-human, and he is my voice and my persona when I do that. I guess there are similarities here with the faerie co-walker, who is a figure I’ve come across occasionally in various modern “guide to faerie” books – though to be honest, I don’t tend to read those sorts of books. The older stories speak to me much more clearly – and also, there’s a tendancy in more modern writings to try to group faeries into species, or even races – which is a hangover from the Victorian obsession with scientific classification. The faeries I know – so to speak – would wet themselves at the thought that any human being should be able to classify them into any sorts of types – especially along such spurious lines as ‘light’ and ‘dark’. They would also probably explode at the notion that they should show any real interest in helping human beings. Faeries are wild. Humans, on the whole, are not. Faerie, as I understand it – in a modern sense, moving away from some of the ways it has been perceived historically as a concept, place, or whatever – has its essence in the flow of energy through complex systems – it can’t be fixed into any stable form. The best way I have found to get to know it is to get to know the natural world, and really fall in love with that – truly, madly, deeply, without reservation, fear, or any desire for power-over it.

I think Lord Crow is quite unlike me, personality wise, though other people disagree. He’s wilder, darker, cleverer, less forgiving, and much less patient. Given the current state of our relationship to the natural world, I don’t find this in any way surprising.

 

‘Re-wilding’ is an important concept that is, happily, growing in popularity as regards our physical relationship with the land isn’t it?

 

Yes; it’s a wonderful development, but it has a long way to go. I’m hoping that it represents the beginning of a tectonic shift in the terms of that relationship towards integration and respect and away from exploitation and power-over. It’s great that people here are slowly becoming accepting of the idea that we should live alongside beavers and – to an extent – wild boar, but I also want to see lynx in every suitable habitat across the UK, and I think some research should be done into reintroducing the wolf in Scotland, to balance the red deer population and give the Caledonian forest regrowth a fighting chance. (And besides: wolves! Wow!) Just as importantly, I want to see a new ‘wilding’ of cities. Bath, where I live, is an ideal habitat for peregrine falcons, because of the many urban pigeons. It’s also a breeding site for herring gulls, which are now in serious decline. People love the peregrines and loathe the gulls. I want to see the gulls welcomed alongside the more charismatic falcons. Urban foxes, too. For one thing, more foxes can mean fewer urban rats; and it’s not so hard for the city to provide fox and gull-proof bins. For another, there’s a moral case, I think, for opening up cities to creatures that can safely live alongside us.

Humans are a bloody invasive species. They need to learn to share.

That’s Lord Crow, now, interrupting. I knew once he heard the conversation he’d be unable to resist joining in with it.

And a very warm welcome to you Sir!

Space-invaders! Manspreaders!

All right, Crow.

 

Do you think that it also concerns our spiritual or psychological relationship with the land as well?

 

I don’t think one is achievable without the other. If we don’t change our overall attitude toward the land, then we will never effect meaningful changes in our behaviour. This whole “man must overcome nature” narrative has got to change.

 

Or it will be changed.

Is that a warning, Crow?

Just an observation.

 

 

Well thank you so much, both of you, for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Jack, it’s been wonderful to chat with you!

I know you are probably eager to be off and explore our wonderful Lancastrian Frost Fair that is just coming to an end at the moment but, before we start dishing up this wonderful-smelling soup, would you like to tell us about any of your current projects and where we can find more of your marvellous work?

 

I’ve got several projects on the go at the moment. I’m working on something with Lord Crow, of course, but obviously I can’t say too much about that, especially now he’s sitting in the kitchen with us. Faerie law. We’ll see what develops. I’ve also finished my second novel, which is currently looking for a publisher. I’m actually quite strongly drawn to the idea of putting it out via Unbound, as I like the idea of having full editorial control over my own work, and Unbound looks like exactly the sort of model I think both writers and readers want and need – grassroots, down to earth, writer and reader-centred publishing, which doesn’t have to pander to the rather limited tastes of the big London houses. But again, we’ll see what happens. Watch this space!

 

We certainly will! And I hope that you will come back and talk to us about your marvellous work again soon. Well now, I must say that soup really does smell delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins are starting to get fidgety so shall we start serving it up?

 

It’s been lovely to visit! Thank you for the conversation, tea and cake!

 

And thankyou to you all for joining us in the soup kitchen today! If you would like to read more of Jack’s wonderful works and keep up to date with his new releases, do visit his website and blog at: https://jackwolfauthor.wordpress.com/

 

 

 


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: Rromani Character Creation – Papusza

Greetings! Here, as promised, is another careful look at how to respectfully draw on aspects of Rromani culture and history in order to construct a Steampunk character. Again, I’ve used the word Gypsy in the title here because many people mistake the word Rromani for Romanian but most Rromani people find the term Gypsy offensive so it really is better not to use it. As several people have asked me for more details about this I will do another post soon explaining in detail where the various spellings of Rromani come from, which to use, the history of the word ‘Gypsy’ and why it is offensive.

But for now, let’s look at our next character…

Papusza

Papusza means ‘dolly’ in the Rromani way of speaking and was the nick name given to real life Rromani poet Bronislawa Wajs by her mother. She was called ‘dolly’ because of her beauty but the word is a double edged sword – a ‘dolly’ is a pretty, powerless play thing, manipulated as suits the one who plays with it and then dropped when that player becomes distracted or bored.

 

Bronislawa’s poems about the difficulties faced by Rromani people on the road were used against the Rromani community by various government regimes as an excuse for the execution, sterilisation or forced settlement of Rromani people (not into decent housing and mainstream society, which most would have desired) but onto filthy containment camp sites where their strict religious codes of cleanliness and ritual (Rromanipen) could not be observed. The problems of illness, poverty, persecution and social segregation which Papusza wrote about were obviously not solved by this move and the Rromani community blamed her for the trouble she had caused them by trusting her words to the hands of non-Rromani people.

A lot of lies can be found about her on the internet – for example, that she was cast out by her people for being a poet, that women are not allowed to be poets in Rromani society, she was not allowed to read and write because Rromani people believe these things are evil, that she agreed with the forced settlement regime and that the Rromani family she travelled with were lawless nomads.

A film has been made about her life but I haven’t seen it personally and so I’m not sure how authentic and accurate it may be…

 

The sad truth is that most of her work is now out of print, recordings are like gold dust  and versions that do exist have sometimes been altered slightly / interpreted differently “Dikchaw daj, dikchaw doj…” I look here, I look there, I cannot find my Papusza…

 

So I found myself wanting to pay tribute to her in my own small way, by basing a steampunk character around her real life self. But I know I’m on very dangerous ground here – what I absolutely don’t want to do is add to the false mythology that has grown up around her and now prevents people with a genuine interest from discovering the whole truth. I must remain respectful to the truth and evidence of who she was, as well as to her family and clan, her friends and everyone who may be affected  by my actions in characterising her.

So, instead of trying to take Bronislawa (as little as I can ever know of her) and plonk her clumsily into my steampunk world, I’m going to build an entirely new character who suffers the same problem of being exploited because she happens to have a particular talent.

And I’m going to call her Dolly Cauldari…

Dolly’s Story:

Dorothy Cauldari (Dolly) is a Sho’vani character. 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.)

As the Jentacular Isle is believed by most to be purely mythical (Collin and Max can personally vouch for the fact that it is not!) the government has decreed that the Sho’vani must have come from Bohemia. They first arrived in Ire during the reign of Henry The Eighth and the mechanical wonders they brought with them caused them to be instantly branded as witches (an offence in Ire that is still punishable by death.)

It wasn’t until Elizabeth The First  came to the throne that this persecution eased up a little and a deal was struck – if the Sho’vani would abandon their nomadic lifestyle (ie – hiding in woods and running from the witch hunters) and share their technological knowledge with the queen’s wizards they would be allowed to live peacefully in squalid little hovels just like any other peasant. Many agreed and became known as Tinkers, others did not.

When Ann became queen she tried to strike another deal with the travelling clans – if they would agree to transport the queen’s tea safely from her plantations to the elite county of Devon in their mechanised vans and prevent it falling into the hands of land pirates, all accusations of witchcraft would be dropped.

Dorothy Cauldari’s  family were among the many Sho’vani clans who ‘agreed’ to this arrangement and so by the time Dolly was born, they had been transporting the queen’s tea from the plantations of Crumbria to the elite closed county of Devon for many generations. They moved from one government designated or safe known stopping place to the next, using their skills in technology to make life on the road that bit easier and their skills with spoon-playing and spoon-duelling to entertain themselves and break the monotony of the constant circular journeying. It was not the idyllic, nomadic lifestyle that poets like Christina Biscotti like to fantasise about, but neither was it as bad as the lives of the plantation workers, treacle miners or inner city factory workers.

Unfortunately, when Dorothy was about ten years old, the ideological militant sect know as The Pre-Cognitive Sisterhood (A group of women who violently enforce their beliefs that the world would be better off if The Cog had never been invented) attacked their convoy one night, destroyed the vans, burned the tea and murdered almost the entire clan.

Dorothy managed to escape and eventually made her way on foot to Lancaster where she soon made a home for herself, along with hundreds of other street urchins, high up amongst the new Skyway Rail system that criss-crosses the entire city, carrying the wealthy elite in safety away from the stench and commotion of the over-crowded and poverty-stricken streets below.

Here she quickly earned respect and notoriety in the illegal spoon-duelling rings that are run out of the basements of the many Tiffin Dens and Flop Houses that pepper the overcrowded docklands on the banks of the river Lune.

The urchins who live amongst the Skyway Rails are vulnerable to many predators. After her first few nights of clinging to the enormous metal girders, trying to wrap her skirts and shawl in such a way that would reduce the risk of falling should the wind blow too hard or her fingers become too frozen to grip on, Dorothy received a visitor. A kind and sympathetic woman who brought with her bottles of sweet, fizzy, sugar laden Lemonade.

Night after night the woman came, bring these little bottles of sweet, sweet hope, until Dorothy and the other orphans found their days melting into grey insignificance as they waited for their next sugar-fix.

Then one day when the woman came she was very sad, her money had run out and she couldn’t bring this free Lemonade any more. But she had a good idea! If the orphans could each sell two bottles of this illegal beverage and bring her the money, she could then buy them one bottle each. It seemed fair enough at the start. But the amount of bottles she expected them to sell in return for one bottle for themselves kept rising and when Dorothy decided that she had had enough of this game, the woman turned very nasty indeed and made it clear that opting out was not an option.

Dorothy was trapped and so she turned to the only resource she had left for comfort – her spoons. Dorothy had played the spoons since before she could walk and she often drummed out little rhythms on the Skyway Rails to pass the time. But now she threw herself into the art with a violent passion – drumming out her anger and frustration at the injustice and futility of the plight of all these children being secretly enslaved to the Lemonade Dealers. There were words too, but she never let those slip out.

People stopped to listen, although they couldn’t see the percussionist high above them, and then one day a curious theatre owner braved the climb and discovered twelve year old Dorothy. He persuaded her to come down, though she was careful to pay for her own coffee and oatcakes, and it wasn’t long before his ‘Little Dolly’ was making headlines at The Garish Theatre with her incredible displays of cutlery-based- percussion-craft.

As Dolly’s fame began to increase, she saw the opportunity to introduce lyrics to these  displays  and finally expose the true and dreadful story of the exploitation of Lancaster’s homeless children. Hearts broke, tears flowed, rallies were held and the government of Ire was backed into a corner – what was going to be done about this?

There’s always a man with a plan isn’t there? Some bright Whitehall spark quickly saw that what these children needed was shelter, food, clothing, soap and the prospect of a life long career. Fortuitously, Her Majesty’s treacle mines and tea plantations were struggling due to the fact that the adults ’employed’ there were often too large to perform all the terrible tasks that needed to be done.

Dolly Cauldari’s name has now become a curse on the lips of every street orphan who lives in fear that tonight may be the night when Her Majesty’s ‘Good Folk’ will arrive in their wagons and spirit them away to a ‘better life’ in the treacle mines or tea plantations. Many Sho’vani people have also loudly expressed their condemnation of her actions – claiming that she should have known better than to trust the secrets of her fellow poor people into the hands of the hated rich, who will always see something that they can get out of the exploitation and powerlessness of the poor.

Ignoring her critics, however, Dolly has continued to attempt to use her fame, wealth and influence to improve the lives of the street children of Ire. She channels all her earnings into campaigning against the ill treatment of children in the mines and plantations and exposing the corrupt empires of the Lemonade Barons, many of which she claims are members of the aristocracy.

 

Costume For Dolly Cauldari

 

Despite her fame, Dolly spends very little of her earnings on herself. Her clothing is largely home made and she places great importance on certain religious and sentimental items. She always dresses in red – the feminine, protective colour of her people. Her shawl once belonged to her grandmother and, along with her handkerchief-bag, in which she keeps her heirloom amber bracelet and silver snake hair-charm and spoons, it is the only thing she has left of her original family life. She is a traditionalist and always wears a red dikhlo (head scarf) and still braids her hair in a crown braid. The locket and mulengi dori (ribbon of the wind people) she always wears in memory of her parents.

 

So, there you are! As with the character of Amelia Manylentils  , I have tried to draw respectfully on aspects of Rromani culture and history to create a character that is more realistic, respectful and removed from the Fantasy Creature we know from fiction and art as ‘The Gypsy.’  Again, I really hope this is helpful to anyone interested in writing Rromani characters into their Steampunk worlds or cos-playing a Steampunk Rromani character and if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Big Blessings, Penny 🙂

 


Elevenses: Strolling the frost fair

Good morning Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are all feeling remarkably eleven o clockish because it is, indeed, eleven o’clock and so I hope that you will come and join us as we stroll around the Lancastrian Frost Fair, taking in the sights and looking for dainty delicacies to nibble on.

I say strolling, which implies a leisurely pace, but my Very Quiet Gentleman Friend is doing an embarrassing amount of huffing and puffing and gasping for breath which is quite off putting I can tell you and leads me, once again, to question exactly what constitutes ‘Very Quiet’ in the realm above the waves.

I say strolling, but perhaps that is a misnoma for the exercise as in fact my tentacles are all still in splints from the ice skating affair and Mrs B has kindly rustled up an old wheelchair from somewhere and we have strapped a couple of floor board planks to the wheels so that Max can push me through the snowy cobbled streets and over the icy river with ease.

Oh the joy! I cannot tell you how immeasurably more enjoyable it is to experience a winter’s walk from the cozy comfort of an armchair…there are fire eaters and jugglers, oh my goodness is that an elephant thy have over there?! It is! I’m amazed the ice does not crack! Mind you, they are roasting spit an ox with impunity over there and I am certain it is going to lead to disaster.

There are so many things for sale. Luckily Max is a bit of a Finger Smith and we manage to procure some excellent spiced buns and treacle toffee before slipping away into one of the ‘fuddling tents’. These are made of the barge sails propped up haphazardly with poles and inside you with find some of the most lethal chai-cocktails to be mixed this side of a Tiffin Den.

We sampled ‘Purl’ (a steaming black brew made with lapsang and wormwood) which the vendor told us would have a man gibbering for days, and ‘The Spiky Mother’ (A pungent Assam with chilli and dark chocolate) which had apparently already hospitalised a crowd of eight, but we must be candid and say that, even after four or five cups of each, Max still had the wherewithal to hot foot it out of the tent and away before the angry vendor could catch up with us an extract his payment.  (no mean feat pushing an octopus in a make-shift sled)

He almost cornered us but luckily Max employed a pocket full of escapological marbles (if you naive to the uses of escapological marbles to thwart a pursuer just ask the nearest five year old) and we left him cursing in the gutter.

 

So here we are, keeping our heads down in a much quieter area of the ice and ready to show you some of the delights for sale…

Moth Festival (The home of Hopeless Maine on etsy) have a massive amount of Steampunk delights for you to spend your pocket money on, including this spiffing steampunk manifesto print which we are coveting for our parlour wall…

steampunk manifesto.jpg

Hapi Cult (skateboards, skate wear and street wear for urban Magic Makers) have these fab new Hapi Life spell t shirts

hapi life t.jpg

Steampunk Parliament  has a huge array of beautiful Steampunk lace jewellery, cute wall plaques and colouring books.

steampunk parliament.jpg

We wish you all a very splendid afternoon and hope you will join us for more frosty fun next week so, until then, please be always,

utterly yourself

 

 

 

 


Elevenses: Frosty Fayre

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s splendiferously sparkling and frostabulously frozen parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster!

True, some have called it a frigid place of cold hearts and frosty welcomes but we consider that uch people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

You find us this morning, warming our tentacles beside an imaginary fire after an enterprising and entertaining morning at the fabulous frost fair which is being held on our beloved river Lune.

Our psychotic scarecrow landlord, Montmorency, woke us before dawn with the business end of his walking cane and demanded that we head out into the frozen darkness and not return until we had enough money to pay for this month’s rent. The fact that we only just paid for the last month seems to have escaped the rogue and so I perched upon Max’s shoulder and we set off towards the river.

There were already traders setting up stalls on the ice but none of them took favourably to our offers  of  assistance (it seems that Queen Vic’s recent  amendments to equality in employment law do not extend to an Octopus and a Tea Fiend) So we settled ourselves on the bank instead and watched the sun rise over the frosted spires of the sail barges which had collapsed crazily into the ice sheets and lay mired liked the skeletons of stranded beasts from some fantastical caffeine-fuelled nightmare.

Things picked up once the punters arrived. After some initial competition from a woman hawking root beer (For a Very Quite Gentleman, Max can be terribly clumsy when glass bottles are around) we managed to sell twenty bottles of lemonade (and drink many more) without being lynched by the barge folk for selling without paying the trading fees.

We decided that that was quite enough hard shirking for one morning and spent the rest of the time mooching around the stalls, watching the jugglers and fire eaters and, most impressively to me, the ice skaters. Having lived under the sea all my life, I never imagined this curious form entertainment and I am determined, soon, to beg, borrow or steal enough pairs of ice skates to attempt the thing myself.

Now here we are back in the parlour, our landlord briefly appeased, our cats greedily devouring the last of the skimmed milk ration, and all desperately in need of a reviving spot of elevenses and some soothing music to tap our tentacles to. Unfortunately our absconding butler has not seen fit to deliver the goods this morning (perhaps she thinks it’s a holiday? ‘Though what a werewolf would find to do at a frost fair we have no idea…) but not to worry because we managed to run into our lovely Mrs Baker on the way back and she has set us up with a packet of genuine Frost Fair Souvenir Gingerbread which, knowing Mrs B, will be crammed full of illegal sugar…mmm…

And, by happy chance, Max’s constant pocket companion ‘The Whole Duty Of A Woman (or an infalliable guide to the fair sex) – 1737’ (A birthday gift from a devoted family member I think) has an excellent recipe for … OWCH! …Well, really! You know, for a Very Quiet Gentleman, Max, you  can be excessively violent devoid of a sense of humour…

I was going to say, before I was so rudely interrupted by a flying teapot, that this is a recipe for ginger bread biscuits, rather than the cake which we are enjoying now but it is nonetheless share-worthy, I think…

“To Make Gingerbread…

Take a pound and a half of London Treacle, two eggs beaten, half a pound of sugar, one ounce of ginger, beaten and sifted, of cloves, mace and nutmeg, all together, half an ounce beaten very fine, coriander seeds and caraway seeds of each half an ounce, Two punds of butter melted; mix all these together, with as much flour a will knead it into a pretty stiff paste, then roll it out and cut it into what Form you please; bake it in a Quick Oven on Tin-plates; A little time will bake it.”

 

And now we’d better tune in our Tesla radio and have some soothing sounds to placate my beastly savage companion… drink your tea Max and calm yourself down, it is not becoming for a Very Quiet Gentleman to sulk like that…

 

Ah, much better, that was Smith and Burrows if you were not aware of the before they are rather marvellous. We wish you a very pleasant afternoon, filled with with warmest and spiciest of delights, and we will see you back on Monday for some more splendid steampunk fiction and excellent tea. So, until then, please be always,

Utterly Yourself

 

 

 

 

 


Elevenses: Off With The Masque!

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! We hope you had a deliciously delinquent festive season and are not yet ready to don the cap of contrition and sobriety because although our little dust cat friends have fled with the tinsel and the oatcakes back to their gothic island home we are none the less ready to make mischievous merriment in the aftermath of the Wizmas insanity!

You find us all about the lace and the periwinkles, all about the bombazine and the damasks, all about the masks in fact because tonight is the annual Lancastrian New Years Carnival which marks the end of the hated (a-hem, I mean beloved) Wizmas season and the beginning of our excellent Frost Fair as the weather begins to grow even colder and the River Lune threatens to freeze solid again.

Courtly Masques have been a traditional part of New Year celebrations here in The New World for centuries and the public version;  The Street Pageant or Carvnival, is something that accompanies the Frost Fair here in Lancaster every year.

Some of the most outstanding lunatics, parlour-poets, tea fiends and self proclaimed ‘artists’, in the full intensity of their creative insanity, have devoted themselves to producing these Pageants (despite the earnest efforts of various New World Puritans to abolish them) and the infamous Garish Theatre producer Joyce Jameson recently proclaimed it to be “the highest art form in The Scattered Isles.”

To give the balance however we should  also quote journalist Pomona Squash of the Tiffindependent Newspaper whose scathing review of last years’ revels read  ” the entertainment went forward, and most of the presenters went backward, or fell down, wine did so occupy their upper chambers. The actress playing the Queen tripped over the steps of the throne, sending her gifts flying; Hope and Faith were too drunk to speak a word, while Peace, annoyed at finding her way to the throne blocked, made good use of her symbolic olive branches to slap anyone who was in her way” (click here to tut at our rampant quote theft)

But what mask to put on? Well, let us have a look at some historical masks from your own dimension for some inspiration….

Bauta

https://goo.gl/images/rikGE6

Primarily a masculine mask. During the 18th century this mask and accompanying black cape were often worn at official and government events where anonymity was essential.

Columbina

https://goo.gl/images/5eEZac

Historically a mask worn only by women, this one is named after the famous character from the commedia dell’arte.

The Plague Doctor

https://goo.gl/images/87UpvJ

Invented by the 17th century physician Charles De Lorme, this macabre mask is a reminder that we are all participants in The Divine Comedy, our own parts decidedly finite whatever our societal status.

Visard

https://goo.gl/images/jVgrTR

A short-lived mask of the early 1700s , this small strange black velvet mask was worn by women and held in place by biting on a button, which rendered the wearer unable to speak or eat while wearing it. So obviously it won’t be any good for Max… ouch! Good grief is that our best teapot? Totally un-called for!

Larva

https://goo.gl/images/j6vGJk

The ghost mask, worn by both men and women, is usually all white although some are also decorated and worn with a veil, cloak or tricorn hat.

 

Pantalone

https://goo.gl/images/4JcEMz

A masculine mask depicting a grotesque old man this one is said to symbolise intelligence or wisdom so, again, perhaps not an appropriate choice for … ouch! For pity’s sake Max, get a sense of humour! This is supposed to be a holiday… tsk!

Harlequin

https://goo.gl/images/5WhiE6

Well here’s one our good friend Freddy Payne can tell us all about as he permanently wears one! The story of harlequin varies through the ages but essentially he is either a comical, foolish or romantic servant – character and a male counterpart to Columbina.

 

So, there you have it and that is where we abscond to this evening, to paint the town of Lancaster red and utterly get away with it because we shall be masked up and totally unrecognisable… we hope… not sure how much of a give away the tentacles will be…

We wish you all an equally jubilant evening and we will let you know how we got on on Monday so, until then, please throw on a mask be whoever the hull you wish (for one night at least!)

 

 


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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Morning Cuppa: Spoon Duelling for beginners

Good morning Ladie and Gentlemen and welcome to Max and Collin’s splendiferously spoontastic parlour located within the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.

True some have called it an unfulfilling place of half baked fancies, bad eggs and drastic measures, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

This morning you find us about to engage in the noble art of the festive spoon duel. We understand that in your dimension you settle your disputes by duelling with tea but, frankly, we find it hard to understand the mechanics of such a thing – do you hurl the tea at eachother? Or are the cups somehow used as foils?

Here  in the New World we settle our disputes with a series of Parlour Affairs, one of which is spoon duelling (or Spuelling if you are feeling lazy). Spoon duel challenges are usually reserved for the Wizmas period.

In case you are not familiar with the art and history of the spoon duel let us enlighten you:

Spoon duelling began during the Ancient Egyptian era and was reserved for religious ceremonies in honour of The Goddess. Ornate spoons made of wood, flint and ivory were carved with hieroglyphs pertaining to tea, cake and magic.

Archaeological evidence suggests that it was in Ancient Greece that spoon duelling moved from being a religious ritual to an event used by the upper classes to settle disputes in a sophisticated fashion. Silver and bronze spoons were used during this period and spoons in the British Museum can still be seen which bear the scars of spoon duelling.

By 1259 CE (Cakeless Era), spoons had become a symbol of power. Royal monarchs were anointed with a special spoon to mark their coronations. The wealthy displayed the many battle-mangled weapons of their defeated opponents while the peasants were left spoonless to slurp soup with their bare hands and stir their tea with their burnt and blistered fingers.

Discontent began to stir the soul of the general populous and The Great Spoon Uprising of the Renaissance period lead to greater equality in cutlery which in turn lead to a greater diversity in spoon design. In joyous celebration of the noble spoon, artisans sprang up in every town, flooding the market with an array of spoons for every occasion.

Soon  there were Caviar spoons (made of mother of pearl), Dessert spoons, Tea spoons, Fruit spoons, Runcibles (Max’s favoured weapon), Iced tea spoons, Jolly Long Spoons, Demitasse spoons, Chinese spoons, Bouillon spoons, Parfait spoons, Rattail spoons, Salt spoons, Seal-top spoons, Bar spoons, Caddy spoons, Slotted spoon, Mote spoons, Mustard spoons, Cheese scoop spoons… not to mention the cochlear ritual and anointing spoons, ear spoons, nose spoons and new born spoons (for ladling out babies)…

By the time Queen Vic came to the throne The Good Folk were screaming for regulation and one of the first papers to pass through parliament was the Standardisation Of Kitchen Utensils Act which introduced the standard issue spoons, tea cups and other tableware permitted for use today.

Obviously underground artisans linked to the Arts and Crafts Movement have sprung up across the scattered isles to produce illegal cutlery of the most impractical and extravagant artistic merit …

Hm? Sorry? Oh yes, Max says I should stop the history lesson and get on with the thing… you know for a Very Quiet Gentleman Max does interrupt an awful lot…

So, the noble art of spoon duelling :

Each competitor sits opposite the other at a tea table. (Historically, spoon duelling was a standing affair and opponents would attempt to crack eachother over the top of the head with a battle cry of ‘bad egg!’. After hats became fashionable the aim then became to knock the opponents’ headwear to the ground. This type of spoon duelling was outlawed by King George in 1721 CE. Of course there are those who claim to have revived it in some sort of secret- society- boys- club- thing… but we’re not sure we believe them…)

A point (or hit) is scored when one competitor taps the centre knuckle of their opponents’ spoon-hand with the back of their spoon. Three hits are needed to win the duel.

A hit is established thus; each spoon is moistened (traditionally with cold water but some vulgar persons lick their spoon and spiteful ones have been known to stir their scalding tea) and then dipped into coloured chalk. The chalk mark left on the back of the hand makes it easier for adjudicators to judge whether or not a hit is legitimate.

The spoon hand or wrist must remain in contact with the table at all times and the other hand may be placed behind the back, on the hip or above the head as preferred but never upon the table, knee or chair.

 The winner takes the spoon of the defeated competitor as a trophy and many people choose to display their hard won spoons upon their hats, waistcoats, parasols, bed posts and parlour walls. 

So we will soon be packing our runcibles into their leather holsters and heading into town to witness, and hopefully take part in, some festive sport. But before we do that we must tighten the belts on our dressing gowns, pour ourselves a morning cuppa and see what our little dust sucking friends have been up to in the night…

 hopelesslullabye

 

 

Hm, Gnii fishing eh? I’m not terribly fond of fishing now, having done so very much of it in the sunken city of Hull. Fish – delicious, but the getting of them? I would much rather visit the local monger rather than run the dispiriting odds of catching other ocean debris., the things you humans throw into the ocean sets my tentacles shuddering. Anyway… let us forget all that and dip our tentacles into  our seasonally spicy tea which should give us plenty of zest for the morning is this superb ginger rooibos from craftteacompany… 

ginger-rooibos

 

Splendid, and now we must button up tight and head out into the cold dark alley ways of Lancaster and find ourselves a shady little tavern where we can lay a few bets on a spoon wrestling match (it’s similar to the duelling but for Ladies only and so there are less rules, more name calling, eye gouging, spork scratching, hair tangling etc and it all gets a little rougher and therefore more interesting, especially when the wigs come off…)

We wish you an utterly ineffable morning chockablock with spoonfulls of fun and we invite you back to join us for elevenses tomorrow so, until then

please be always

Utterly yourself