Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

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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 vintage port 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 FOURTH:  by ALLISON SHEPHERD

 

“My brooch!” I yelled as Mariah’s twinklepuff slam hit me full force in the chest

and sent me hurtling backwards into the wooden crates at the makeshift

gayelle’s edge. I hadn’t anticipated Mariah’s last pattern and was now

scrambling to catch my breath and get back on my feet. My brooch had ripped

off my bolero as the twinklepuff spell had infused the fibres of the old velvet.

My grandmother had made that brooch for me from the cogs of a broken toy

train and an old yuletide ornament. She’d fashioned the cogs into an owl tying

them together with copper wire, and using tiny emerald crystals pulled off the

bauble for the eyes. Every afternoon after school I’d go to her rag-and-bone

shop tucked away down a narrow cobblestone alley to wait for my parents.

She’d make a pot of Earl Grey with leaves from her “secret supplier” and tell

me stories of when her mother baked double-layered sponge cakes with

strawberry jam filling, and lighter-than-air profiteroles filled with sweet gooey

cream. “Earl Grey.” “Strawberry jam.” “Profiteroles.” I hadn’t heard those

words in almost a decade. My owl brooch had become my talisman, my

connection to my past.

I tried to stand but sat down quickly as my vision blurred. Mariah? This

powerful? I couldn’t understand; she was a third-rate slinger at best, over

estimating both her charms and her spells. Something was different. The

sophistication of the twinklepuff weavings and glitter were not her. Someone

was helping raise the level of her usually amorphous, sloppily put together

concoctions. Who? And why?

It was odd when Mariah had drawn the wildcard for our slingoff but I had

missed a few of the preliminary fights when I had gone out of town. Maybe

she’d improved and been bumped up a couple garnets, I thought. This was my

livelihood, and sometimes it’s better to shut up and sling. Now, as I sat

befuddled trying to clear my head and weave my threads, I saw a glint of silver-

black emanating from Mariah’s perfectly poised hands. Mariah who could

barely make a pattern for a pink-and-gold unicorn spell slinging an

onyxmirrorpearl? With advanced finger positions? I sat spellbound and the

omp smacked me flat. Blood gushed out of my nose, ruby red against my white

pin-tucked shirtwaist. Before I lost consciousness, I saw Emily, the bookie,

collecting from the disgruntled gamblers.

Gill found my brooch, the emerald crystals winking in the twilight-find spell he

cast. The healers had tried to revive me right away but the omp had proved

beautifully formed and knocked me out for hours. I lost my deposit and got

nothing for the night. According to Gill, Emily had been apologetic but could do

nothing as an unexpected large bet against me had her scrambling for gilt. Gill

had taken me home and tucked me up in bed with a hot water bottle, three

pillows and my favourite fluffy wrap. I was still in bed when he came back with

my brooch. I tried to sit up but the wave of nausea had me lying back gingerly

on the pillows. I closed my eyes clutching my owl, my fingers tracing the

notches along the cogs, and started to cry.

My parents were wizards, of course, fighting for Queen and country. They truly

believed that magic should be controlled and out of the hands of ‘ordinary’

people. My parents were strong weavers but by the time they disappeared (of

course) my abilities were rudimentary at best. I’d become a trope: orphan,

living with my grandmother, no magic. But as with my favourite fairy tales, this

was simply the beginning of the story.

My parents had taken an assignment to escort our Queen to Boss Town for a

diplomatic sojourn, or that was what the official correspondence claimed. We

knew better: an excuse for the elite to sample new-fangled sweet marvels and

magiscience tea twists. Mum and dad couldn’t say too much but they were

more tight-lipped than usual as they hugged me goodbye and dropped me off

at Gran’s. We never saw them again. I was fourteen.

Gran moved in with me. I finished school at sixteen and tried out for the

apprentice wizard programme. I didn’t qualify even though my parents had

been senior civil servants. Apparently, according to the report, I didn’t have the

“right attitude, and my spells were nonexistent.” Gran and I eked out a living

from the shop. I met Quelin her “tea supplier,” a jovial smuggler who was able

to find the choicest leaves for us, and sometimes, just sometimes, the tiniest

silver-sprinkled cupcakes. He’d never tell where he got them but always

tapped the side of his nose with his forefinger, “It’s best you don’t know, my

darling,” he’d say, “because if anything happened to me, you might be running

for your life from some nasty bits.” He’d glance across at Gran, who would

pretend to be engrossed with a length of glitterwool handicraft, or checking

her numbers in the accounts book. They thought I never noticed but I always

did.

I had turned seventeen the year of the Youshallnevereatcake Spring, a short-

lived, half-hearted coup d’etat by a handful of boisterous youngsters. It was

quashed by the wizards within hours, the rebels marched through the streets

to the palace courts. I rushed home to tell Gran only to find her in the garden,

sitting in her favourite chair under the willow tree, a cold cup of Earl Grey in

her lap. She looked as though she were taking an afternoon nap, the breeze

ruffling her mop of curls. I clasped her inert hands, and wept.

I started hex slinging in the underground circuit soon after.

Of course my latent abilities eventually showed up, stronger than either of my

parents but without proper training and guidance, it was a mess. My early

slingoffs were either a triumph of a knockout, or me vomiting an endless

stream of bile in a dank corner, a side-effect of using pure, raw magic. Through

practice, and more practice, and much much more vomiting, I learnt to control

and weave almost beautiful hexes. I found a circle of friends who helped me in

the nine years since Gran died: Gill, Emily, Jendra. And I still ran the shop. It

didn’t make much but had become a safe place for us to meet to try out new

patterns and concoctions, catch up on gossip and, yes, of course, find a way to

bring back tea, cakes and magic: we’d been denied our right to a free life for

too long.

***

As I clutched my brooch in my hand, tears streaming down my face confusing

Gill to no end, I realised that Mariah’s win tonight had shifted our timetable. It

hadn’t been subtle, literally a punch to my gut. Someone had wanted our

attention. No longer was our light-hearted, drinking-after-a-slingoff chant of

“Tea, Cake, Magic For All!” a someday cake-in-the-sky dream; someone, or

someones, wanted us ready now. And I was terrified.

 

Allison Shepherd enjoys reading and writing speculative fiction, especially paranormal romance. She teaches at the medical school at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and has had her work published in bmj Medical Humanities, Tales From the Fluffy Bunny, and is upcoming in Lycan Valley Press Publications “Darkling’s Beasts and Brews”. https://mh.bmj.com/content/43/3/e33 https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Fluffy-Bunny-Various-Authors/dp/1942450699

 


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…

 

 

 


Soup Of The Day : With Katherine McIntyre

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 author Katherine McIntyre! Thankyou so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, Katherine! May I take your hat and cloak? It is still very warm here in Lancaster today although the season is undoubtedly on the turn!

Thank you for inviting me!

Now, why don’t you have a seat by the window there, how was your trip from your own dimension?

Breezy! Flew on in by airship ; )

I had quite the quick trip from the suburbs of Philadelphia!

 

Splendid! And  have you brought along some soup to share with us?

Absolutely! I’ve got a penchant for potato soup 😊  

This is one of my favorite soup recipes: https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/13218/absolutely-ultimate-potato-soup/

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 Steampunk series Take to The Skies?

My steampunk universe isn’t set in Victorian England like a lot of them tend to be—instead, I brought anachronistic elements to a sci-fi future where the landscape has changed and airships dominate the skies. It’s a swashbuckling adventure series akin to pirate novels, which fans of Treasure Island and Firefly are sure to enjoy.

 

It sounds marvellous! But you don’t only write Steampunk, you have two other series if I’m not mistaken?

I do! I primarily write paranormal romance. I’m currently working on the second book in my Discord’s Desire series, which is about a fae rock band who get embroiled in the middle of a war between hunters and their own kind.

The shifter series I just completed writing the third book of is the Tribal Spirits series. It revolves around the wolf and mountain lion packs in central PA and the politics that descend upon the region with the arrival of a dangerous renegade.

 

And have you brought some of your books with you to show the orphans?

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TheAirshipAlsoRises-2.jpgCaptivating-Melody-evernightpublishing-JUNE2018-eBook.jpg

 

Your web-mantra is “Strong Women. Strong words.” I must say I like that very much indeed! What inspired you to choose that phrase?

I have a natural inclination to write women in places of power in my books, whether it’s female captains or alphas. I love the complexity that strength involves, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional, and I’m determined to represent women in a realistic way that honors their flaws, strengths, and struggles.

 

Women have always had a voice in science fiction, from it’s very beginning, and today sci-fi enjoys a huge female fan-base and many excellent female content-contributors, do you have any favourites in particular either past or present day?

One of my particular favorites is Madeline L’Engle, whose intelligent book, A Wrinkle in Time, and its sequels captured my attention from an early age. Despite it being young adult, she never tried to dumb down the concepts and the book expanded my horizons in a wonderful was as a kid.

 

Despite the consistent  contribution of women to the  sci fi genre, the stories told still often portray women as the victim, the villain or the supporting role to a male hero, do you think there is a reason for this?

I think a lot of it revolves around societal expectation and what’s considered the norm. Even now, there exists a struggle to get stories out there which feature women in a different light. I’ve faced rejection for featuring a female alpha who they deemed too masculine. A lot of places aren’t willing to take the risk to push forward the change, which is a reason I will relentlessly push for it myself.  

 

Do you think we need more stories where the capacity and depth of female (and indeed male) characters is expanded and explored in greater detail – or do we perhaps have these tales already and they are simply not given the spotlight they deserve?

I think we have some of those tales, which do deserve the spotlight, but I also think we need many more. A lot of the characters prescribe to a definitive gender divide when the reality isn’t quite so clear. I would love to see more depth in both men and women, instead of the tendency to shy away from any traditionally ‘masculine’ tendencies in women, or ‘feminine’ qualities in men.  

 

Ah now the kettle is boiling, what is your ‘poison’ dear and how do you take it?

 

Always coffee, which I take with cream and sugar.

 

You are in luck! We don’t farm traditional coffee here in Ire but I do have a little canister down here that one of my guests kindly left behind some time ago… There you are, now then, diversity and representation are big issues for us here in Ire and they are for you as well is that correct?

Absolutely. Reading teaches empathy, and if we’re only presented with limited options of who to empathize with, we’re missing a broad mark of how to promote acceptance of one another. I’ve been making an active effort to push past my own experience to explore others, whether it’s including characters of different races and sexualities than my own, or exploring characters who struggle with mental or physical disorders.

 

Do you think that the sci fi and fantasy genres are representative enough of the diverse realities of our little blue planet, or do you think there is still ground to be won in that area?

I think there’s a lot of ground to be won. While some wonderful examples exist, I think in the past a lot of science fiction and fantasy represented a very white and heterosexual viewpoint, as well as a lot of Eurocentrism in fantasy. I am loving the new array of stories emerging from so many different perspectives than the ones we’ve seen in the past, and I hope that trend continues.

 

Do you have any works in progress or new releases that we can get excited about?

I’m currently writing the second Discord’s Desire book, and I’ll be starting the fourth Tribal Spirits book soon! As far as new releases, the first two books in the Tribal Spirits series are coming out with Totally Bound in January and February of 2019. I’m also participating in a steampunk Christmas anthology, Bustles and Bells, which will be coming out later this year.

 

And in the meantime where can we purchase your wonderful works of fiction?

My books can be found on

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Katherine-McIntyre/e/B00J8U4VNU

Website: http://www.katherine-mcintyre.com

As well as many other online retailers!

 

 

Fabulous! Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Katherine, it’s been wonderful to chat 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?

 

Thank you so much for having me! I absolutely enjoyed the visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Soup Of The Day: With Mat McCall

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!

me pic

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?

Carefully.

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

 Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. In a heavy-bottom soup pot, sauté onion and garlic in butter or oil on medium heat, until tender.
  3. Add 2 cups water.
  4. Reserve some of the petals for garnishing, and put aside.
  5. Add dandelion leaves, flower petals, buds, and spices to the pot.
  6. Lower heat and simmer gently 45 minutes.
  7. Add cream and Parmesan cheese, and simmer a few minutes more.
  8. Serve immediately and garnish with flower petals and green onion.
  9. 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?

I do.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Elevenses: Utterly Myself

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to Max and Collin’s providentially propitious to porcine perfection parlour located beneath the seasonably sodden streets of the splendidly scenic city f Steampunk’d Lancaster.

True there was a little kerfuffle here yesterday with some animal rights activists getting  hold of the wrong end of the proverbial stick and and trying to beat us to death with it, but never fear, such morally explosive coves will not be receiving another invitation.

You find us this morning much returned to the usual mill of things, the angry mob has dissipated, the furniture is recovering its dignity, Freddy is telling himself obscene jokes and we are feeling virtuous after feeding an entire town full of orphans their first taste of bacon. We have also stocked up on beer pending the arrival of our new pet and even made it a sort of ‘hutch’ …. hm? …. oh sorry Max says it’s called a sty… in the corner out of lemonade crates and the dismembered chaise. So, we are pig-ready and so forth.

Also, we have some news. News which I didn’t personally believe when Max first informed me of it. But, there it is, a box has arrived and now there is no doubting the fact – Max has written a book. And yes it is painted in tea. Of curse it is. How could it not be.

You may recall some time back that Penny put all her stories together into a book? Well if you remember that then you may also remember that Max got a bit shirty and said that he – or indeed we – ought also to be in a book. Some banter was exchanged and Max, being the precious kid he is, stormed out in a sulk and went to have a hairy coffee in The Squid and Teapot where he moaned and sulked and whined and recited a lot of embarrassing poetry until he passed out in a pool of his own sonnet. In short, he made such a damned nuisance of himself that in the end our dear friends Nimue and Tom Brown said that they would help him into a book if ONLY he would sod off back to Lancaster and leave them in peace with their demons.

So Max returned, joyfully coughing consumption over everyone but, nevertheless, with a box full of books. Somehow he persuaded Penny to do the words and pictures – I think a lot of Lapsang must have change hands there – and so here they are, available to buy on our etsy store, should you be inclined to do so…

Utterly.jpg

 

“Description

Eightcups Max and his Octopus friend Collin feature in their first book together – Utterly Myself –

Max may use the ironic handle of Very Quiet Gentleman but everyone who has ever Met Max knows that Very Quite and Gentleman are not accurate descriptions of our beloved tea fiend. Rumors abound about demonic rituals and medical malpractice and there is even a young lady in Bedlam who swears Max has tentacles…

So what the hell are you Max? – Man? Woman? Monster?

Join Max and Collin in this lovingly tea-painted Small Strange Book as they ask what it means to be any or all or none of these things and above all, do remain always, Utterly Yourself. “

We are very much back to normal now here in Lancaster – Mrs Baker will be in her soup kitchen tomorrow and do please stop in and pester Peril in his Lovely Library on Friday, he does so hate to be interrupted in his vital work and we do so love annoying him.
We will of course be back in the parlour on Monday with some more excellent fiction and tea so until then
Please remain always, Utterly Yourself

Morning Cuppa: The Dandelion Farmer

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s exuberantly experimental and improbably porcine parlour located beneath the grimy streets of the splendidly scencic city of Steampunk’d Lancaster.

True some will call our flamboyant descriptions of our subterranean safe-house ‘Hogwash’ but we consider that such people are merely swine.

You find us this morning with a dead pig on the rug. This is entirely the fault of Nimue Brown and we take no responsibility for the matter whatsoever. (As Max says, “A True Gentleman never takes responsibility for anything, if he can help it, least of all his own actions.”) We have done some research and ordered a new pig and some beer and a couple of Conservative MPs and hope the thing will go better next time… What?

… Max says I am painting a very suspect and inaccurate picture of events and he would like me to make it clear that a) Max was not in any way involved with the pig , b) the purpose of the pig in the parlour was completely innocent and c) all we did was feed the pig substandard black-market tea which likely consisted of a large amount of brick dust and asbestos and this caused it to keel over and die. d) Max was in no way involved with the pig…

What? … no I don’t think that by making point d) a repetition of point a) it makes it sound as though you were involved with the pig Max… and I’m sure none of our dear friends here would think that of you in any case, I mean, I know you’re shackled to a regrettable romantic history but… owch! … right. Fine. I see cruelty to animals is not beneath you afterall. I shall say no more about it.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to listen to us bickering over a dead pig, you came to enjoy some marvelous tea and some splendid steampunk fiction. So, let us kick our tentacles up on the table, and do just that… Our tea this morning is Dandelion and Burdock brew by Muddy Boots (we are not usually fans of Dandelion, as you know, but coupled with Burdock here it is quite sweet and delicious) and to accopany it, what better than this…

 

 

The Dandelion Farmer is a magnificently crafted  steampunk’d science-fiction novel that could easily stand alongside any of the sci-fi classics, and indeed should be considered essential reading for anyone keen to expand their collection to include modern gems alongside the familiar old.

Humans have colonised Mars and the Dandelion Farmer is trying to grow plants for bio-fuel while fending off the underhanded tactics of his land-grabbing adversary. But when a stranger appears on the farm needing assistance events rapidly spiral into a dark and thrilling journey through a twisted labyrinth of past and present with some very real demons.

McCall’s Mars has an 1800s American Western feel and holds a critical mirror both to that colonial era here on Earth, and to our current socio-political climate. It is an exceptional work of science fiction with a steampunk flavour and we look forward to reading and reviewing the next book in the series , The Hour Glass Sea,  when it is released.

And now that appears to be the door … hopefully it is either the butcher or our new pet… hm? You’ll call who? The R.S what? Well there’s really no need to be like that you know… why don’t you calm down, put that dueling parasol away and stay for lunch? We’re having bacon sandwiches… OWCH! … Max stop cowering behind the sofa and protect me, our guests have been inexplicably incited to violence!…

 

 

 

Note from Penny: No pigs, octopuses or Very Quiet Gentlemen were actually harmed during this tea party. Well, not much… certainly no more than they deserved…


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

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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

 


Back From Weekend At The Asylum / The Naming Of Wyverns…

Greetings! What a fabulous and utterly breathtaking time was had by all of us at Lincoln Asylum weekend last week.

We had the very great pleasure of spending time with the most amazing authors, artists and creators in The Assembly Rooms where we had our little book stall and wyvern-hatchery, including Nimue and Tom Brown of Hopeless Maine , Nils Visser author of the Time Flight Chronicles, Jade Sarson of Cafe Suada, Francesca Dare creator of Penny BlackfeatherSpec Fiction author Craig Hallam , Ingenius Steampunk creator Herr Doktor, transmedia producer Yoms, Dr Porridge and Chris Mole of Professor Elemental Comics 

We met so many fantastic and friendly folks who came to litsen to our storytelling sessions and play with our puppets – Collin was there of course shaking tentacles with folk and sipping his many cups of tea which he had lined up along the window sill, as were the story spirits who took part in the storytelling sessions and of course Kyril our evil crow!

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But stealing the show I’m afraid was The Wyvern, our animatronic Steampunk demon who attracted so much attention we have had to take orders to make more of them (see our shop links at the top if you’d like one too) and are debating a Wyvern Tea Party at some point in the future!

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Sadly our own wyvern was without a name but thanks to the enthusiasm of his new friends we managed to gather an enormous box load of suggestions and today we will draw out one of those names at random and that shall be his name for evermore …

Drumroll ….

 

…. HUZZAH! : We can now happily announce that the name of our Wyvern, submitted by Lyssa Lopez Wain, is … JULES WYVERN!

We love that name so much! But there were so many gorgeous, cute, witty and well thought out names that were suggested over the weekend we’d like to thank everyone who took the time to interact with Jules and lend their ideas to our little game.

And thankyou to everyone who came and said hello and made the whole event such a wonderful experience to be a part of, here are some of our fave pics from the weekend and Jules would like to say a particularly big hello to his new friends Jelly Bean the dog, and Gresley Dragon …

 

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