Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously raucous and chi-chi to the core parlour located high above it all on board our beautiful rainbow-sailed ship, The Harlequin Ladybird.Our tentacles are all of a quiver this morning and our china cups are chattering because we are honoured to have Stephen Palmer joining us for elevenses this morning.
Do please have a seat, (Max, get off the chaise and let him sit down … hm? … no he can’t sit on your lap, just move aside.)
Would you like tea? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Assam? Darjeeling? ( We are all out of Oolong Max so don’t even think about making that joke again)
Definitely Darjeeling. Nothing else will do! But I’ll just cross my legs and place this pocket abacus on my lap so that Max is stymied…
That is very kind and unnecessarily accommodating of you Stephen, here is your tea. Now then, do tell us more about yourself and your latest books.
Well… it’s a long story. Many years ago I was taken off the slush pile by Orbit Books, which started my time as a published author. Since then my career has scaled some heights and descended into some depths, though recently it’s been on a bit of a high. At the end of 2016, my steampunk/alternate history trilogy Factory Girl (The Girl With Two Souls / The Girl With One Friend / The Girl With No Soul) was published, to a very positive reception. Earlier this year we decided to relaunch it with covers designed by famed steampunk illustrator Tom Brown (he of Hopeless, Maine), with a fourth, supplementary novel – not published with the original trilogy – also set for publication. This latter novel is set in 1914-15 and is called The Conscientious Objector.
Oh that does sound like an intriguing series! We very much admire Tom Brown’s artwork too and did you hear that Max? That last book sounds like just your cup of tea! ( Many people find Max objectionable, I’m sure you can see why.) What inspired you to write the series?
The entire plot, characters and structure of Factory Girl came to me one evening during a two hour blitz of ideas. That this happened means it was waiting in my subconscious ready to appear. The overarching theme is whether or not souls exist, an area explored via Victorian-style automata, though also through the life stories of the main characters. Of these, the main ones are: Kora Blackmore, an illegitimate mulatto (used here for historical accuracy) girl imprisoned in Bedlam Mental Hospital; Erasmus Darwin, grandson of Charles; Dr Spellman, an entirely mysterious benefactor; other members of the Darwin family; an enigmatic automaton who can speak and understand; and Sir Tantalus Blackmore, Kora’s father, the greatest industrialist of his age and owner of the Factory in Sheffield, where all the Empire’s automata are manufactured. The story takes place over all three novels during 1910-11.
I see, it sounds most enticing… er, no Max we do not need to hear about your experiences in Bedlam thankyou… nor why there is a young lady there who swears you have tentacles… I’m so sorry Stephen I’m afraid he has been at the sugar again this morning. Moving swiftly on, what would you say most influences your writing in general?
I’m known in the genre world for rarely reading fiction. Most of my influences are non-fiction. For instance, I recently read: Mama’s Last Hug (the emotions of animals), Novacene (James Lovelock’s new one, celebrating his 100th birthday), and The Hare With The Amber Eyes (an extraordinary memoir about netsuke).
How interesting! But if not any fiction then are there any authors who have particularly inspired you?
In my earlier days I was influenced by authors such as Jack Vance, Gwyneth Jones and Gene Wolfe. These days there aren’t many authors of fiction who inspire me, but in the steampunk world I much enjoyed the YA novel Cogheart.
Hm. Excellent. (No he does not want to hear your poetry Max, that is not in least bit inspiring, stop interrupting) Battenburg?
Do you have any parkin? I understand they make it in Leeds.
We certainly do have some Parkin – left over from a tea party with the Brown’s in fact! – although this was made in Lancaster. You know, writing is something I’ve always fancied turning my talents to – having so many tentacles I imagine I could be quite productive as an author. Tell me, what was your own road into fiction writing like?
It was an extraordinary stroke of luck. I had been sending sample chapters and the like to various London publishers, but without much by way of reply. Then, mere days before I moved house (never to return for reasons best not mentioned), I received a letter from Orbit asking me to send the full MS of a novel I’d sent them over a year before. I was surprised! So I sent it off, but then, because of various life-events getting in the way for me and for them, I didn’t hear anything for a while, during which time I wrote a third version. This version was eventually accepted, to be published in 1996 as my debut Memory Seed.
I see, what marvellous good fortune! And do you have any plans for new projects in the near future?
When I do writing events or author appearances I usually mention writer’s volcano – the opposite of writer’s block. So, yes, I have lots of projects on the go! This winter I’ll be writing the final volume of a steampunk trilogy set in an alternate Shrewsbury (my home town) and in London. Set in 1899 and 1900, it follows the fortunes of a couple of orphans.
Ah, we are well acquainted with a small army of orphans so can easily see how that subject could provide ample plot-fodder – in fact Max often wishes he was an orphan. So, where can we get our tentacles on your work?
My novels are available in all the usual places online, both as paperback or ebooks. Infinity Plus have most of the ebooks of my back catalogue.
Splendid. And can we find you online?
Wooooah! Dear me I do apologise, the airship must have slipped and I seem to have landed in your lap I hope I haven’t covered you in octopus slime?
It’s no problem! I’m wearing Dr Avebury’s Secret Trouser Improver, from which liquids dissipate.
What a marvellous invention, perhaps we should invest in some ourselves. But Are you sure you’re alright? Can I perhaps tempt you with another cup of the hot stuff?
If it’s my usual poison, yes indeed… but I must away. A Nigerian automaton has just leaped from my blazer pocket and told me the time. Farewell!
Oh dear, Max I do believe your menacing threats of mostly awful poetry and ill-concealed amorous advances have scared off yet another of our guests. You really must learn to behave yourself ‘In Company.’
Thankyou, friends for joining us this morning on board our beautiful rainbow sailed ship The Harlequin Ladybird and until we see you again, please remain always
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning I am extremely honoured to welcome Admiral Ceri Harper-Leigh and George! Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, me Dears! May I take your hats and coats? We may be over St Michael’s Little Summer but here in the kitchen the fire is nice and warm
Thank-you, its splendid to be here. George and I feel quite at home sat by the fire.
How was your trip from your own dimension? I hope you did not run into any hostile skypirates or alien life forms on your way?
Fortunately the Sky Pirates and aliens stayed away. Luckily we managed to cadge a lift from the Regius Professor of Chronology at St. Cedd’s college, who just happened to be passing by your time/space co-ordinates.
Oh that’s marvellous, how convenient for you! And have you brought along some soup to share with us?
I think we should have Georges favourite meal of “Magical Soup” – basically a mixed vegetable recipe with a star shaped toasted cheese crouton to float on top..
Mmm, it smells delicious, what a lovely idea! I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now George why don’t you stand on a stool beside me here and as I chop the vegetables you can put them into the cauldron for me?
oooo, thank-you Mrs. Baker
You are most welcome my Dear, It’s so nice to have a little helper in the kitchen! There, now while the soup is simmering away, why don’t you tell us all a little about how the two of you first met?
We first met when we (The Royal Steam Navy) rescued George and his family from the pirate Red Tail and his dastardly crew of grey squirrels when they unsuccessfully tried to sell the bears into “showbiz”.
Oh my goodness! What a dreadful scoundrel! George have had many adventures, haven’t you dear?
I have, thank-you. Not only pirates, but also martian mice, and my latest adventure which is yet to be published with queen Victoria.
Indeed! And Admiral you have begun documenting them in a series of beautifully illustrated books, have you brought some with you to show the orphans?
Is it an easy task to keep up with the adventures of such an intrepid young bear?
Yes, they a very easy to write down as I keep a personal journal of my travels, and I can assure the fans of the “bear that dares” that his adventures will continue for at least three more books, bringing the total to six. So when you place them in order they will portray the colours of the rainbow flag.
I think that is a very beautiful idea! And which has been your favourite adventure so far George? (I know that Max and Collin have enjoyed reading all about your trip to Mars!)
oooo, tough question, but I think I have to say it’s my latest adventure with queen Victoria.
We are all excited to read about that when it is available! And will you be having any other adventures in the near future?
Most certainly, Mrs Baker. I love having adventures
Splendid! Good for you, Dear! But the life of a small grey bear cannot only be about adventuring, surely you have a loving home and family George where you spend most of your time?
Sometimes I can get a little sad when I’m away from my mums and my cat, spot. but I sing my “happy bear” song and I feel so much better. would you like to hear it?
Oh yes please! We love a good sing-song!
(ahem) # i’m a happy little bear, i never try scare. i always am polite and i never like to fight. i love my mums and spot so i never ever stop from be-ing a hap-py little bear…#
Oh that is marvellous! Well done indeed! Ah now the kettle is boiling, what can I offer you my dears? – I have contraband tea of all descriptions and a very little coffee saved for special guests (assuming you don’t want the government-standard-issue-decaff?)
Thank-you, tea for me, milk and no sugar please, and a baby-bear-o-ccino for George please.
There you are, now where can we purchase copies of your small grey bear adventures?
Funnily enough you can find us on Facebook as “Small Grey Bear Adventures”
Marvellous! And will you be making any public appearances in the near future?
We are planning to return to the “Festival of Steam and Transport” at Historic Dockyard Chatham next Easter as part of the “Steampunk Village”
Well perhaps we will see you there! Thankyou so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Admiral, and for bringing young George along to help as well! It’s been wonderful to meet and chat with you both and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?
Thank-you Ma’am for inviting us to your cosy cottage. Sadly we have to return to our own dimension now as I believe I’m needed back on the bridge of my flagship HMS Essex, and George has school in the morning and we wouldn’t want to upset his teacher Mrs. Shorttfur.
No indeed! Thankyou all for joining us in the soup kitchen today, you can find George’s adventures by following the links below – Blessings on your brew my dears!
George books LINK: http://www.smallgreybearadventures.yolasite.com/
Umbrella publishing group LINK: http://ghostbearpublishing.yolasite.com/
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Argonauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is Steampunk author, pillar of the Steampunk Community and all-round Accomplished Gentleman, Mat McCall! Thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, Mat! May I take your coat? Despite the deluge it is very warm here in Lancaster today…
Indeed. It’s wonderful to be here. Something smells delicious!
Ah yes I have been doing a spot of illicit baking this morning! Oh, could you leave your blunderbuss in the hat stand please, if you don’t mind?
Thank you, dear. I’m afraid weapons unnerve me somewhat. Now, why don’t you have a seat by the window there, how was your trip from your own dimension? I hope those wretched airship pirates didn’t give you any trouble?
Well, no. They are mostly me old mates.
Ah, that is good news indeed! And have you brought along some soup to share with us?
Cream of Dandelion Soup.
- 2 or 3 cups chopped dandelion leaves
- 1 cup dandelion flower petals, divided
- 1 cup dandelion buds
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup of cream
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon each: salt, dried parsley, dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon each; cumin, garlic powder
- Chopped spring onion or nasturtium flowers to garnish
- Bring a pot of water to boil, add the dandelion leaves and boil until tender, 3-5 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking.
- In a heavy-bottom soup pot, sauté onion and garlic in butter or oil on medium heat, until tender.
- Add 2 cups water.
- Reserve some of the petals for garnishing, and put aside.
- Add dandelion leaves, flower petals, buds, and spices to the pot.
- Lower heat and simmer gently 45 minutes.
- Add cream and Parmesan cheese, and simmer a few minutes more.
- Serve immediately and garnish with flower petals and green onion.
- If you don’t have enough dandelions, or like a more peppery taste, you can use nasturtium leaves and flowers.
Mmm, it smells delicious, I’m sure the little urchins will enjoy it immensely. Now, while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you tell us all a little more about your book The Dandelion Farmer? Have you brought a copy with you to show the orphans?
It looks marvelous, I must say! What inspired you to write such a unique tale?
I have always felt that a lot of Steampunk literature, if you can call it that, has always played to the audience with all the subtlety of a Brian Rix farce, nudge-nudge, wink-wink… and making virtually no contribution to Science Fiction as a genre. So I aimed to write a ‘Steampunked’ Science Fiction novel that was more Science Fiction than Steampunk whimsy.
Saying that, there are some amazing authors writing in the genre of Steampunk, authors that do not get the recognition they deserve, like Craig Hallam, Nimue and Tom Brown, Meg Kingston and Ceri-Leigh Harper, I think that is because Steampunk is not taken seriously as a legitimate branch of Science Fiction by publishers.
Steampunk often postures itself as the badly behaved and absinthe-sotted cousin of Sci Fi doesn’t it? Do you think that Steampunk has more to say on the world stage than “Oops Ma’arm where’s me cucumber sandwiches?” – If you’ll pardon the phrase; living in close proximity to a flirtatious Octopus and his Gentleman Friend tends to rub off on One I’m afraid!
Nothing wrong with that.
Thankyou! Of course we all like a good laugh and a giggle, I’m sure, but do you think that sometimes the flamboyantly flippant style of many Steampunk novels prevents some of those more serious issues, which are so prominent in science fiction works, from coming to light or being taken seriously?
I think you’re absolutely right. SF has always been the best literary medium for exploring issues; such as the nature of being human; from Frankenstein and I Robot to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? To the nature of sexuality and gender, The Left Hand of Darkness, to the subjugation of women in our societies, The Hand Maid’s Tale, even the nature of sanity, anything by Philip K Dick, and it predicts the future, sometimes with frightening accuracy, read anything by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling. I don’t see any attempt in most Steampunk SF to tackle similar subjects.
In Steampunk’s pseudo Victoriana there is little exploration of the moral or social issues of today, let alone what life was like for the vast majority of ordinary people in the late 18th, 19th and very early 20th century. Gender and racial inequality, Imperialism, war, deprivation and grinding poverty.
I think that Steampunk should be as willing to explore tough issues and ideas as much as the main body of SF does.
Do you think it is possible, appropriate or even necessary, for the more humorous side of Steampunk to be used to highlight more serious issues? – ‘Heavy words, lightly thrown’ as some would say? I am thinking in particular of Professor Elemental who was recently criticized by a minority of his audience for bringing politics into his stage show...
Oh god yes. I think Steampunk can and should play a powerful role in social commentary, both of the past and the present. And as my late Mum used to quote, Chaucer, I think; “Many a true word spoken in jest.”
My book was accused by some rabid Trumpite of being a left wing diatribe, he also complained because it had transgender and lesbian characters. He didn’t see any place in what he thinks is Steampunk for them, he even questioned having black characters in a neo-Victorian story. Well, I put his “review” up on Facebook and let the Steampunks decide, they supported me whole heartedly, as I support Prof. Elemental.
Steampunk in all its forms is, at its heart, ART, and art’s greatest power is to challenge our preconceptions.
I absolutely agree with you, Dear… Ah, now the kettle is boiling, what is your ‘poison’ , as they say, and how do you take it?
Tea, please. Milk, no sugar. It’s a mnemonic I use to get people to remember my name; Mat, one T, no sugar.
Oh dear me! You musn’t make me chuckle I shall spill the hot water all over the mechanical cat. There you are, now then, tell me, what made you choose Mars as the setting for The Dandelion Farmer? Do you think perhaps the human race may end up there one day?
Yes. Unless we extinguish ourselves first. The day a successful colony on Mars reaches true independence is the day our survival as a race takes one major step closer to certainty.
My Mars is probably more about the realities of colonialism. The historical parts of the background story, presented to the reader in the form of extracts from Beresford’s History of the Martian Colonies, is about the failure of imperial colonialism. This follows a clear historical pattern that we have seen, again and again, on Earth, except in this narrative it is accelerated.
Will such a thing happen if we colonise Mars? A struggle for independence from Earthly bound powers. Yes, probably.
Mars, real and fictional, is Science Fiction’s first great love. A hostile world where if you just dig a little below that red sandy surface you will discover a literary layer cake, a fictional geology, of several hundred years if not longer, laid down by writers and imagineers like Greg, Flammarion, du Maurier, MacColl, Wells, Verne, Wyndham, Robinson and Weir, to mention only a few.
I wanted to draw on elements of Verne and Wells, but also Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Burroughs’ John Carter/Barsoom adventures, and little touches of Le Guin’s questioning of humanity, P.K. Dick high strangeness and Lovecraftian menace. There are elements of homage, but not cod plagiarism, and it gave me the opportunity to build, not only an alternative history but an entirely new world.
That big red dust ball has been the playground for SF fiction since the earliest stories. SF’s fascination with other worlds and space travel is at least as old as Lucian of Samosata’s True History, written in the second century.
So I wanted to play in that barren garden of delights, and leave my metaphorical boot prints in the red dust of Mars.
And Dandelions! Of course I use them for tea and coffee, but I’d never entertained the notion that they could be used as a botanical fuel crop! Such an elegant idea, was there a particular reason behind that too?
I was walking the dogs, one morning and at the end of the road where I turn into the park is a house, and that house’s front garden was awash with dandelions. I made a remark to my partner, Nikki, that it looked as if they were farming dandelions. And the idea stuck.
Dandelions are an amazing plant. Everything that Edwin does with them is being done today; liquid fuel, biomass, tea, even soup. Russian dandelions are the best. In a world without much in the way of fossil fuels, humans will have to grow their own fuel.
Did you know that the German bombers of WWII were flying on fuel made from dandelions? It’s not a new idea.
My goodness I had no idea! (Mind you, I am stuck here in the future 1840s and I’m afraid my soup-scrying does not always furnish me with a comprehensive picture of past-future events.. )
The Victorians were also very ingenious about using alternative fuel sources; they were using mummies to fuel the Cairo express at one point, they were cheaper than wood or coal and pretty plentiful.
Goodness! I had no idea!
The book contains an excellent mix of high action and intriguing plot development which adds to the tension, but, as a reader, I felt at all times in touch with the feelings and emotions of the characters because of the structure of using journal entries and letters to tell the story… Was this a very difficult balance to get right?
Very. I wanted the plot to move fast, and there is a lot of plot, several major interwoven themes, in fact, but I didn’t want to lose sight of the humanity of the characters involved. The tradition of using journals and diaries of course goes back beyond Victorian literature, but it has been a device Victorian writers used often.
I like to take the reader into the minds of the characters, to let them see the world through their eyes. To explore their passions, fears, motivations and ideals without bogging the reader down with long expositions by a third person narrator.
It’s also important, when exploring the frailties and uniqueness of the characters, to let them have their own voice. My characters are complex people. Edwin is wracked by self-doubt and worries, and that intensifies his stammer, Adam is on a journey to discover his origins, but everything he learns horrifies him, Aelita is discovering who and what she is, but to do so she has to throw off a lifetime of colonial Victorian culture, Charity is on a mission of vengeance but ends up finding love.
You are obviously a long standing fan of Science Fiction and Steampunk, are there any particular authors, books or events which have influenced your work?
I have always had an abiding passion for Science Fiction and Fantasy only equalled by my passion for Archaeology and History. I’m a big fan of Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Robert Aspin’s “Thieves World,” George Martin’s “Game of Thrones,” and Ursula La Guin’s “Earthsea.”
So I guess all those writers are conscious and unconscious influences on my writing. Specifically, La Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, Shelly’s Frankenstein, Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Borough’s Barsoom stories and, of course, Jules Verne and Lovecraft.
The story ends on a cliffhanger, please don’t say we have to twiddle our thumbs for long before the tale continues?
No, not too long, the second book, The Hourglass Sea, is already half completed.
And in the meantime, where can we stay in touch with you and your works in progress?
Anyone who wants to contact me is welcome to.
My web site is Doktormatas@weebly.com, where you can read the first couple of chapters for free.
On Facebook author’s page is Mathew McCall, author.
And I also have the FB page. Matas Corvus.
I am at Goodreads and the book is available, at the moment, from Amazon UK, and worldwide.
Marvelous, thankyou! But writing fiction is not the only string to your bow is it? When you are not penning works of Steampunk Splendidness what else can you be found doing?
I am very active in the British Steampunk community both online and in the real world. I’m an educationalist, specialising in Adult Education, I also work for the NHS presenting Diabetes Prevention courses. I’m a History and Archaeology lecturer, award-winning Steampunk artist and contraption maker, bulldog fancier, natural philosopher, gardener, Socialist, non-fundamentalist Christian and Fortean.
I believe very much in the idea of a worldwide Steampunk Community in which we are all part and so I started and run the FB pages; The Steampunk Community Bookshop and Steamcycle.
Steamcycle is the Steampunk’s Freecycle, which I and the inimitable Janine Marriott run so as to help foster that sense of community. Steamcycle has over 1500 Steampunks around the world swapping or giving away things for free to other Steampunks.
The Steampunk Community Bookshop was created to give Steampunk authors a platform to promote their own work to the Steampunk community and for Steampunks looking for a good book to browse through.
I also am a founding member of the Steampunks of Gloucestershire group and the Minimum Altitude Display Team, “MAD T’s,” that has featured at the Lincoln Asylum for the last 5 years.
Splendid! Well, thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Mat, it’s been wonderful chatting with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?
Shall I be mother?
Thankyou very much! – and thankyou to all of you for joining us today in the soup kitchen,
Blessings on your brew my dears!
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.
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?
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!
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the sweltering summer streets of steampunk’d Lancaster! You find us this morning still trying to sell enough lemonade to keep our sinister landlord off our proverbial backs (and our actual backs, in fact – he has recently fitted his walking cane with a morning star.)
So, can we interest you in a delightfully delinquent and relentlessly refreshing bottle of fiz? Brewed by our own fair tentacles? …. What? Oh, hold on a minute, who’s this?
Well strap me into a corset and call me Susan, it’s our dear friend Nimue Brown! What brings you to this street corner, my darling? (Max, stop being rude and ridiculous)
N: This is what I get for borrowing a pair of trousers from Professor Elemental. At least we now know where and when I am, which is progress…
Well we are very, very glad the trousers went wrong because we have been simply dying to get our tentacles on a copy of Sinners – the newest release in your Hopeless, Maine Steampunk graphic novel series! Please, do tell me you have some Hopeless Sinners tucked away somewhere about your person?
N: I’m like some kind of non-seasonal, less than perfectly masculine Father Christmas with a really dodgy sack just now. I’ve got all the Sinners. Hopeless Sinners.
The very best kind of Father Christmas then by all accounts! Thankyou! (Max take your mits off it you’re getting it all sticky) we will certainly be reviewing that over a nice cup of tea in the parlour shortly, but before we get it home and out of its negligee (Hm? Oh it’s called a ‘dust jacket’ is it? Sorry…) a-hem… do we get a little teaser as to what’s inside? From the cover it looks like Sal has grown up a little!
N: No, you were right first time, it was a negligee, I may have got a bit carried away with the ‘sinners’ part. I don’t think I’ve got any of the chained ones left…
Oh that is shame…
Yes, Sal is a bit more grown up at this point, but it’s still a passably child friendly read, if the child has no fear of demons, elder gods, monstrous sea life and whatnot. Funny things happen, terrible things happen, and we find out more about the people who live underground on the island.
Now that is what I call a tease! And where can our good friends here get their hands (or indeed tentacles) on a copy?
N: In theory, anywhere that sells books. In practice, you have to make an appropriate sacrifice at the full moon and pray to an elder God that the online store of your choosing will have copies and will not be charging an entirely random price for them! We’ve had issues in the pre-order period.
Well if anyone needs a potential sacrifice candidate we have a landlord we are willing to part with for noble purposes such as this so do shout…
Splendid! Now look here, Mrs. Brown, I don’t suppose you could help us sell a few bottles of this fiz here could you? My tentacles are drying out in this heat and Max’s so called ‘wit’ is driving the punters away in… ouch!… I mean, is perhaps not to everyone’s taste…
N:We could redeploy some of the negligees to protect those vulnerable tentacles, don’t you think?
Hm, this reminds of that pole dancing episode … Max get off that lampost people are starting to flee the street…
I don’t know any lemonade songs. I’ve got a lemon song, but I mostly use it for stuffing chickens with. It goes (brace yourself)
‘lemon up your bum, lemon up your bum, lots and lots of lovely lemons, lemons up your bum’.
Which might or might not sell lemonade, I suppose…
Well I think between the three of us we have managed to clear the docklands quicker than if someone had shouted ‘PLAGUE!’ … and now we may well be reduced to pole dancing again to make the rent this month, so may I keep the negligee?
Thankyou for joining us on the street corner this morning, we will be back soon with more splendid shenanigans and a super special announcement … or two… so, until then,
please be always,
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?
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:
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