Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “stories

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…





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…

Pipe And Slippers: With Elen Sentier

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  sweet delights. 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 the old Green Fairy 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, or perhaps my dear friend Elen Sentier here, who is visiting me this evening, will oblige us with a reading from her wonderful book Moonsong?



Oh marvellous Elen thankyou so much for that! Just the ticket on a night such as this eh?

If you are not already familiar with Elen’s work, she writes paranormal mystery-romance novels. She’s been writing all her life and professionally since 1999. Elen is a wilderness woman, born on Dartmoor, grew up on the edge of Exmoor, and comes from a long line of British cunning folk so she also writes about & teaches British native shamanism. (so it is really no surprise to find her here on a Friday night sharing a bottle with a Lancastrian Ghost!)  She now lives with her husband, cats and a host of wildlife in the wild Welsh Marches of Britain.


You can find Elen on the aether web here:  @elensentier and

Her latest book is available here; Merlin: once & future wizard, and her  first 2 novels, and all her other books are available on Amazon.

Now then the hour is getting extremely late, 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…

Pipe And Slippers: With Kara Jorgensen

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

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

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

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

like this perhaps… it is an extract from Kara Jorgensen’s latest release Selkie Cove (Ingenious Mechanical Devices book 5) and if you haven’t been following the series then I’m sorry but what planet have you been living on? Still, nevermind, you can catch up here: Book 1, The Earl Of Brass 

Now then, are you standing comfortably? No? Then I’ll begin…

Excerpt from Selkie Cove (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #5)

by Kara Jorgensen


Immanuel closed his eyes, drinking in the crisp autumnal air as it ruffled his sigil for conjuring wind. For most of the morning, he had barely gotten a stir of air. It wasn’t until he stopped picturing hurricanes and replaced them with birds soaring and the smell of rain that he felt the kiss of Hyde Park’s earthen perfume brush his cheek. Opening his eyes, Immanuel found a loose Celtic knot beneath the nib of his pen. A smile flashed across his lips as he quickly jotted down his thoughts and results before they could sink beneath the sea of the research piled on his desk. For most of the morning, he had been gathering information on Arctic mammals out of half a dozen books from the museum’s library, but he desperately needed a break from penguins and whales. Immanuel shuddered at the thought of having to dissect the latter beast and studied the new sigil’s form. While magic had only been part of his life a short while, it was proving to be as interesting a discipline as science.

Immanuel eyed the tea cup resting at the edge of his blotter and chewed his lip in thought. He had at least fifteen minutes before Sir William Henry Flower finished his weekly meeting with the heads of the museum’s departments. Anyone with any authority would be in the Shaw Room, which meant there would be time to practice a trick he had been working on. Placing the cup before him, Immanuel drew in a slow, steady breath. With his eyes locked on the cold tea, his finger traced a whirl that grew into a deformed star on the tabletop. For a moment, nothing happened. He pictured water rolling over his back, the sensation of water dripping across his skin, the call of the ocean lapping against the shore. A ripple passed from his mind to the tea’s surface. The harder he stared, the rougher the waves became until the tea nearly sloshed over the edge of the china. When it reached a peak in the center, Immanuel’s mind snagged it. The sigil evolved beneath his hand, twisting into a lattice of peaks and valleys as the surface rose high above the cup.

“What the devil do you think you’re doing!”

Immanuel jumped and the liquid plummeted into the cup, splashing tea across his blotter and papers. Scrambling to keep the ink from bleeding into an indecipherable blur, Immanuel looked up to find Peregrine Nichols glaring back at him from the doorway. The junior botany curator’s sharp brown brows furrowed as he kicked the door shut and stood at the end of Immanuel’s desk. Despite being over a head shorter than Immanuel, Peregrine had a commanding air he couldn’t hope to emulate. He had seen Peregrine take down a revenant with a pry bar and an incantation when Immanuel could scarcely will his fear-frozen body to move. Carefully mopping his notes with a handkerchief, Immanuel avoided Peregrine’s gaze.

“Are you out of your bloody mind, Winter?” Peregrine hissed. “What if someone saw you? How would you have explained your levitating tea?”

“It wasn’t levitating, I was merely experimenting with— with— I didn’t think anyone would barge in.” Immanuel’s face reddened against his will as he held the handkerchief over his paper and hoped he hadn’t ruined the wind sigil. “Sir William always knocks.”

“But not everyone does. That’s the point. If you’re looking for a way to get on Elliott’s bad side, provoking a modern Inquisition by being careless is a good way to start.”

“I didn’t mean any harm.”

“It doesn’t matter. One slip up and we’re all pyre fodder.” Running out of steam, Peregrine deflated and rested on his heels. “So, have you decided yet? She’s been nagging me to find out.”

A wave of guilt rippled through him as he broke from Peregrine’s hard gaze to shut the window and put the wet pages on the radiator to dry. He still didn’t have an answer. After discovering he had extranormal abilities and helping to foil a witch hell-bent on bringing an otherworldly creature to London, he had been offered the chance to join Her Majesty’s Interceptors, a sort of Home Office to deal with England’s overlooked world of magic. It had been tempting, but— Immanuel wasn’t certain what the “but” was. With all that transpired since he had been given a second chance at life, he was tired, and he savored the peace that had finally fallen over his life. His job as a junior curator and his relationship with Adam were all he could have wanted. Becoming an Interceptor would change all of that.

“I will get back to her soon. What is it you need?”

“For you stop doing magic at work,” Peregrine snapped, keeping his voice low. Releasing a sigh, the impish curator stepped around Immanuel’s desk to inspect the drowsy pink orchid blooming on his shelf between an ammonite and a sea urchin’s shell. “This is Hexalectris colemanii. Where did you get it? They’re exceptionally rare. I tried to get one, but it arrived dead.”

Immanuel met Peregrine’s umber eyes before quickly averting his gaze back to his papers. “I— I didn’t think you wanted it anymore.”

“So you fished it out of my rubbish bin?”

“I… Well, yes. I thought it might be pretty, and I wanted to see if I could revive it. It was an experiment, really. You can have it back if you want.”

“Thanks,” he replied tartly as he stood on tiptoe to pull the plant down. Hugging the orchid to his chest, he turned on heel at the door. “Oh, Sir William wants to see you in the loading dock, and may I suggest you put your papers away before you go.”

The moment Peregrine shut the door behind him, Immanuel released a slow breath. Carefully moving the drying pages behind his desk, he blocked them from sight with a stack of books and darted down the hall, hoping to god Sir William hadn’t been waiting long. The last time he did, he became the liaison between the director and the British Museum, which really meant a month of being a glorified errand boy. At the bottom of the steps, Immanuel nodded to the archivists at the front desk before slipping into the storeroom’s maze of dusty wooden shelves. His heart thundered in his throat as he crossed the boards, focusing his attention on the shelves of specimens and bones. It had been months since he was attacked between the stacks by Lord Rose, but each time he ventured into the vast storeroom alone, he found his mind grasping to relive those dark moments. More than anything, Immanuel wished he knew how to make it stop.

Near the loading docks, an unintelligible mix of accented voices rose through the stillness. Ahead, a crane swung, dangling a long box the size of a coffin. Sir William stood near the controls, watching the crate with an eagle eye as he fed its operator directions. As Immanuel stepped from the shadows, Sir William stared down his patrician nose at the lanky young man, his gaze lingering on Immanuel’s scar and blotted eye. Immanuel shifted beneath his gaze before clasping his hands behind his back to stop from fidgeting.

“I beg your pardon, sir. I got caught up helping Peregrine.”

Without a word, Sir William turned and gestured for Immanuel to follow him the he way came. “A specimen has arrived that I need you to examine. I know it to be the work of a mountebank, but it came from a well-respected benefactor who claims it to be genuine. I will not tolerate forgeries in the collection, which is why I would like you to give it the time and attention it deserves. Very little. But make the report detailed, so I can present it to them with little conflict. Do you understand what I’m asking of you, Winter?”

“Yes, sir. I believe so, but what is it?”

“A charlatan’s creation.” Stopping beside a man-sized crate hidden beneath a canvas sheet, Sir William scowled. “Here it is. Put the report on my desk when you’re finished, so I can review it. No matter how foolish this is, we must take care not to offend our donors.”

The breath hitched in Immanuel’s throat as the director tossed back the sheet. Floating within the glass-walled case was a seal-like beast. While the skin retained the smooth, grey speckled fur of a harbor seal, the face and body had the unmistakable profile of the human form. Its arms were short, as if stunted, and ended in a webbed hand tipped with sharp claws. Spotted, hooded lids covered the creature’s large eyes, which peeked out beneath long lashes. A twang of recognition rang through him, touching the deepest parts of his mind. All thoughts escaped him as he took in the creature’s bisected tail and elongated human torso. With a tut, Sir William tossed the sheet back over the glass coffin, hiding the creature from view as a dockhand passed.

“Take this up to Mr. Winter’s office and let no one else see it.”



My goodness! What adventures await Immanuel and Adam this time eh? Well if you wish to find out more you will have to grab a copy of Selkie Cove for yourself …


And you can find out more about Kara’s books on her website:

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…

Tea @Three: What is this ‘novel thing’ of which you speak?

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, friends, fiends, octopi and anyone else out there who is sensibly sitting in with a quiet brew instead of braving the atrocious amounts of wind out there this morning.

As November begins to wrap itself up in shiny paper and tinsel and writers across the globe chew their knuckles to the bone and pull out the last of their hair and dissolve into soft pools of jelly on the floor I thought I would share what we here in the Bitter North (Mordor some like to call it) have been doing to celebrate National Novel Writing Month.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a novel as : A long printed story about imaginary characters and events.

Even if we lay aside all the comments we hear abut writers being turned down by mainstream publishing houses because their plots, characters, style or creative format is deemed ‘niche’ and therefore not all that profitable, there are still two words in that description which close off the world of baking and consuming novels to large groups of people – those words are LONG and PRINTED.

Those of you who only know me through the aetherweb are probably unaware that I have PMA (Persistent Migraine with Auras) with Alice In Wonderland Syndrome (cool huh? I thought so when I finally got a name for it!) This means that for as long as I can remember, I have seen an overlay of lights, colours and patterns on top of around and behind everything else. Sometimes there are sounds too and occasionally objects become very tiny and far away then grow big again. I was an early consumer of literature (by 2 I could stomach a short book and by 5 I was eating Narnia) and I recorded my first horror stories on cassette when I was 4 , but digesting long amounts of small printed text in identical format throughout has always been very difficult for me. I do it because I love stories. But it’s hard. It wasn’t until I discovered House Of Leaves in my teens that I realised a novel could be something else…

We live in an age where technology allows us to create interactive book formats, audio, braille, tactile books, stories that arrive in a series of boxes through the mail…

Our small storytelling group is fortunately blessed with some fabulous little (and big!) people who have a variety of ways of processing sensory information as well as attention, emotional, social and physical issues which render the classic format of a classic 80,000 word novel problematic. So this month we have been exploring different ways of creating and consuming works of novel fiction.

There is always a danger that when folks with what others might term ‘special needs’ (don’t we all have those?) attempt something like this the rest of society expects that we are lowering the bar or going to produce something substandard that everyone can smile at and say ‘awwww bless!’ So we also set ourselves some really tough challenges to make sure our stories were as tight and top notch as they could be, just presented in an alternative format.

I have already shared our tea books with you all. Here are some of the other things we have been up to…

Messages on bottles

Bottles, cartons, jars and tins or cylinders made from oiled paper all make lovely tactile surfaces for writing on. You can hold the physical object in your hands in a way that is great for those who need to fidget or find holding a heavy book or turning fiddly pages a strain on their joints (several members have hypermobility with arthritis and this can be a big issue). The beauty of light shining through the inked on words is enchanting and holds the attention of the reader and writing on the curves and small sections proved a very manageable and enjoyable task for those of us who struggle to attend to one thing for a long time. The containers can be painted first then inked with sharpies when dry, or left plain. We put LED candles inside ours but I would love to see them hung outside in summer where they would catch the light, or the glass bottles filled with coloured water.

Sound Stories

These were surprisingly  difficult to make well. We planned out our stories and then thought about a series of sounds that could be put together to convey that story to a listener. We tried using sounds we could make ourselves, such as footsteps or cutlery, doors etc. and soon realised that even the most obvious sounds don’t always convey the action we need them to. We later experimented with various apps to layer in music and other sounds and eventually ended up with some pretty good ‘sound stories’ but nobody was entirely happy with their finished pieces and so I think we will come back to this project again.


Picture Stories

Everyone loved these – even the two year olds in the group had a go! – a series of photographs were taken to tell a story. See what you think of this one…



Stories Hidden Inside

Inside a bottle, an envelope, a box, a shoe… we carefully selected  a series of objects that told a story, some collections were obvious, some needed explaining, some were extremely powerful, poignant and sad – it was amazing how as few as three or four objects, carefully chosen, could move us to tears just as much as 50,000 well chosen words.

Story bracelets

Next week we will be turning one of our stories into code by choosing either coloured or shaped beads to represent each element or word in our story and then threading them into wearable novels. This is a follow on from an activity a few years ago when we made wearable story jackets, shoes and trousers which could be added to over time.


We also did a lot of spoken word story telling in the form of roll-and-tell (or some prefered to roll-and-write which was fine. Here are some of the D6 games we played…


Roll a D6 and tell a story that begins with the word matching your number:

  1. Clunk                             1.Sorry!                       1.We
  2. Oh!                                 2.Violent                      2.Perched
  3. Silently                          3.Swish                        3.Struggling
  4. Never                             4.Five                           4.Why
  5. You                                  5.Sand                          5.Flames
  6. Falling                            6.White                        6.Bone



Roll a D6 and create a character that is like…

1. Glass                                1. Marble

2.Autumn                            2. Spring

3. Cider Apples                   3. Evening

4. Chalk cliffs                      4. A broken pot

5. Rain                                  5. Moss

6. A Utility knife                 6. Lemon sherbert



Roll a D6 and create a setting that contains the word (or is inspired by the word) ….

1.Silk                           1. cardboard                      1. Smoke

2. Velvet                      2. Pigeons                           2. Laughter

3. Acrid                       3. Bare                                 3. Luminous

4.Stale                         4. Iron                                  4. Pin

5. Vivid                       5. Air                                     5. Sickly

6. Crunch                   6. Chestnuts                          6. Close



Roll a D6 and tell a story (or add an event to your story) that begins “suddenly…”

  1. A monster                 1. Sound                  1. Breath
  2. Light                           2.Pain                      2. Droplets
  3. An animal                  3. A person             3.The scent of
  4. A trap                          4. Fatigue                4. Weight
  5. A person                     5. Fear                      5. Vibration
  6. The hand of god        6. Hunger                6. Memory


And here are the D20 challenges we gave ourselves for editing, improving, experimenting and tightening up… Roll a D20 then re-tell / re-write your piece as follows…

  1. Don’t use any colours or visual descriptions
  2. Don’t use sounds
  3. Only use descriptive words associated with taste and touch
  4. Don’t use weather or landscape to reflect the mood / atmosphere
  5. Use only dialogue
  6. Use no dialogue
  7. For every adjective, find 3 alternatives
  8. Use metaphors and similes that seem completely out of place
  9. Tell it from the perspective of three different characters or objects
  10. Don’t use the same word twice
  11. Write it twice, each at a different time of day
  12. Use no adjectives
  13. Sum up the whole scene in one word
  14. Choose a paragraph and remove as many words as you can
  15. Double the length of the scene or paragraph
  16. For every verb find 2 different ways of describing the action
  17. Choose a colour and make every adjective fit that colour theme. Repeat with a different colour
  18. Write a synopsis of your piece in one sentence
  19. Write or tell it in just 250 words
  20. Write or tell a synopsis of your story in one paragraph.



So we have been using this month to celebrate all that a novel can be and I have also been working hard on the very last novel that will make up the Smith and Skarry series – yes, yes, I know I haven’t actually published the first one yet and the second and third are only half done but that’s the way I roll I guess, it came to me how the thing should end and so I thought it best to write what was flowing. I say ‘write’ but as each book is meant to be a hybrid graphic novel / novella there’s a lot of story boarding too. It may well be a hopeless endeavour as I still haven’t found another illustrator and my own art skills are way too shabby but ‘hey ho’ it keeps me off the streets 😀

And now a lil ‘heads up’ that the next two months round here may be a little chaotic (because they aren’t already…) I am moving house and also at some point going to have an operation (no idea when yet) I’m scheduling as many posts for Dec and Jan as I can in advance but I’m not sure when I will have computer access over that time so if I don’t respond to your lovely comments / emails etc immediately please understand I’m not being rude, I’m just on my back getting high on opiates or something.

And now we must all take a huge calming breath and brace ourselves because next week I will publish my recommended steampunk Christmas reading list (email me if you want to be added to that) and after that…. WIZMAS! (Or Christmas as I think you call it? ) anyhoo it all translates as madness and I have to polish my spurtle , order extra oats, buy a new hat, brush up on my spuelling technique and get cracking on a new witch hunting wagon…

Biggest blessings on all your novel endeavours

Penny 🙂

Morning Cuppa: Punk fiction, Poe and Cake (is there more to life?)

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s pristinely punked-up and ruthlessly rebellious parlour located somewhere  near the grumbling appendix of that splendidly scenic city of Lancaster.

True some have postulated that we are an inconvenient truth which our landlord has sought to bury in his darkest and most inhospitable dungeon, but we consider that any below ground level abode is vastly preferable to one with windows in a city that is overrun by flesh eating birds. In short, we couldn’t be happier with the arrangement. ish.

You find us immensely apologetic that we have not been ‘at home’ the last few days – we honestly swear that we have been up to a lot of very good things and Penny will tell you about them shortly but for now all we can do is humbly offer an appeasing teapot overflowing with splendid keemun xiang luo, an epicly proportioned slice of sticky ginger cake, and two excellent books…

The first of which is….




This book came into our hands via the eminent procurer of curiosities via the historical Suffolk ‘free trading’ system – steampunk author Nils Nisse Visser , and fans of his excellent book ‘Amster Damned’ will be happy to see another splendid smuggler’s tale ‘The Rottingdean Rhyme’ featuring the series’ central character Alice Kittyhawk (as her much younger and frankly adorable self).

The collection is a gleaming treasure trove of subversive, twisted, re-imagined  and perfectly punked-up versions of classic tales from a wide variety of genres and time periods;

Our personal favourite was ‘A Connecticut Rigger In Kings Court’ not only because we are utterly besotted with anything to do with Ada Lovelace but because it was challenging and heartbreaking and had that exquisite but very subtle  tension between beauty and abomination that pervades all good Gothic tales, but presented in a refreshingly original way.

We also loved The Red Headed Mob by Anthony Stark which, although not quite as ‘punk’ as some of the other tales, was a strong, well written and altogether utterly enjoyable tale that set Holmes and Watson amid the political and social tension of the 1980s.

There really is something for everyone in here from ‘Aurelia Awakes’ by Andrea Hintz giving  Pinocchio a delightful Steampunk make-over to ‘Of Folly And Fallibility’ by Amber Cook who skillfully manganese to take Jane Austin to ‘new heights’… “If an ordinary woman is to become a heroine, she cannot allow the unremarkable state of her life to prevent it. She must and will do something, anything, to throw adventure her way…” Or from Rachel A Brune’s ‘Bea Wolf’ to Jeffery Cook and Katherine Perkins’ ‘Consolidated Scrooge’ and plenty more besides but we won’t list them all – you need to have a peek at this chocolate box for yourselves…


Our second book this morning is also from Writerpunk Press and (only because of our obsessive compulsive penchant for punking Poe) was our favourite of the two and longstanding followers will remember we did feature it in our Poevember month last year – but it’s such a fantastic collection we’re sure you won’t mind us singing its praises once again…


Here in the parlour we have read lots of Poe, we have punked lots of Poe, we have read lots of attempts at punking Poe and we therefore, rather egotistically, consider ourselves to be quite the connoisseurs of the genre. So when we say that “this collection of short stories is a splendid spectrum of Gothic gorgeousness that takes a hearty cross section of the Poevian gamut, distils each essence into scintillating glass vials and then creates a series of new and wonderful word-creatures in which the marrow of Poe lives on” you can take us at our word.

The  macabre, the melancholy and the madness that we all expect from Poe are here in abundance but the ‘punk’ aspect is very skillfully executed throughout to give a collection that is inventive, refreshing, exciting and unpredictable. Steampunk seems to marry well with Poe for obvious reasons but we hadn’t anticipated how well his themes would be translated here  into Cyber, Bio and Diesel as well.

Sandwiched between two vibrant and  enthralling versions of The Fall of The House Of Usher, we have another gem from the world of Alice Kittyhawk ‘The Oval Skyroom’ , the beautiful ‘To Helen’, the sinister ‘Envy Of Angels’ and ‘Silence, Stillness, Night’ , the pure insanity of ‘Ticker’  and so very many more treasures that we often find ourselves dipping into on a rainy afternoon or long skyrail journey. This is an indispensable addition to the library of punk and Poe fans alike.

And now the teapot is empty and we are quite breathless from all this talk so I hope you will excuse us as we retire for a little snooze? We wish you a devilishly delightful afternoon and until we see you again, please be always

Utterly Yourself


A Post Script From Penny – I’ve started using the ’embed’ version of sharing amazon titles because it’s easier and quicker than authors having to send me cover files and also hopefully easier to find the book if you want to sample or buy it. I haven’t signed up to the affiliate amazon programme though, if I ever do I will make that clear in the posts. If anyone would strongly prefer me to go back to the old method of posting just the cover file and links let me know 🙂

Pipe and Slippers: With David Lee Summers

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 the promise of strange fruit. 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 Amontillado eh? Oh…. well, yes perhaps it is about time I put my feet up for a while, pipe and slippers and a little drop of something, the day has, after all been a long one. And I suppose I could read a very little something,

like this perhaps… it is an extract from the book Owl Dance, which is the first in the excellent steampunk series Clockwork Legion by David Lee Summers. Are you standing comfortably? Oh I think you can pour a more generous helping than that you know, it is rather chilly down here… a-hem….



Electric Kachinas

Chapter Two of Owl Dance

David Lee Summers


His name was Legion.


For millennia, the nanite swarm that was his current form explored galaxies and visited planets populated by thousands of races. He hadn’t always been this way. Many centuries ago he had another name on a planet now nothing more than dust, gradually drifting outward from the exhausted core of a dead star. On that world, he’d possessed a mortal body. The thing called Legion remembered that world, and remembered his old body, and also the first computer he lived in, but he knew such memories meant little in the face of his immortal existence.


Unconstrained by a mortal lifetime or the distance he could travel, Legion gathered information about everything he came across. The universe contained so much variety that if he grew bored in one location, he simply moved on to another.


Eventually, he found his way to a small cluster containing two spiral galaxies and several dwarf galaxies.  While ambling through one of the spirals, he came across a middle-aged yellow star that supported a handful of planets in stable orbits.


Legion was especially interested in the problem of intelligence. How did it evolve? What was its purpose? In all of his travels, he had yet to find a satisfactory answer. This humble solar system looked like one that could nurture life.


As he approached one of the inner, rocky worlds of this system, Legion grew excited. The planet contained large bodies of water broken up by landmasses, not unlike the world where he evolved. As he drifted closer, he saw straight lines cut into the ground and regular, geometric patterns of growing things. Not only was there life on this world, but there was life that altered its landscape. That indicated intelligence. Legion decided on a closer look.


On the world, he found corporeal beings, similar to the creature he once was. Legion realized these beings might be at the perfect stage to help him answer a few of his questions about the purpose of intelligence. They had developed agriculture and industry. However, they still appeared primitive. All the devices he saw could have been built by hand or through the use of rudimentary machines. The creatures of this planet appeared to be on a path to become as intelligent as he was, yet they were still primitive enough he might be able to glean some understanding of how that intelligence came about.


He sought out an intelligent being so he could study its neural structure and attempt to interpret its thoughts with minimal interference or detection. Because of that, he chose to seek out a being in a sparsely inhabited area. He found a river valley he hoped would serve his purpose.


It was windy in the valley and Legion allowed his component parts to ride the air currents. The wind came in gusts, propelling him some distance, but then quieting, allowing him to regroup and scan his surroundings. He passed what appeared to be a military fortification near the river and then he saw ruins of much older habitations. Walking among the ruins was a lone creature, who looked around with interest.


The being was perfect. He was clearly the same type of creature who had altered the landscape. Moreover, the creature was alone. If Legion affected the creature adversely, detection was unlikely.


Before the next gust of wind, Legion drifted over to the creature.


The being took a deep breath and some of the components entered its nasal passages. Those components traveled into the being’s lungs and ultimately into the bloodstream where they were carried to the brain, scanning and transmitting information as they went. Other components scanned the ruins and still others, further down the river valley, analyzed patterns of technological development and settlement, then compared that information to data collected from other worlds.


<< >>


Alberto Mendez belonged to a team of men installing telegraph lines between Santa Fe and El Paso. The team consisted of carpenters, electricians, linesmen, post hole diggers and even lumberjacks. Mendez helped to wire up the electrical equipment at each of the telegraph stops. They had arrived at Fort McRae that afternoon and would begin installing the telegraph station in the morning. The soldiers at the fort told him about some Indian ruins nearby and he decided he would take a hike and have a look before settling in for supper and a night’s sleep.


Despite his Spanish name, Mendez was an Indian from the pueblo of Tortugas. His ancestors used to live in the pueblos around Fort McRae. They used to be called the Piro.


In 1598, a group of Spaniards emerged from the harsh desert south of the ruins led by a man named Juan de Oñate. The Piro provided food and water to the dying men. The pueblo was a city as grand as anything the Europeans had in Mexico and it was the site of America’s first Thanksgiving. Despite that, the pueblo would be abandoned within the year. Over 250 years of wind and rain had all but erased the pueblo’s existence.


Mendez put his hands on his hips and looked around at the low walls that surrounded him–sad reminders of the grand pueblo that used to stand in this place.


He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. A few minutes later, as he continued along the path, strange words formed in his mind. They weren’t English, Spanish or even the few words of Piro that were still known, but somehow he understood them just the same–or at least some of them.


“…DNA analysis confirms this being is a descendent of creatures that inhabited this site 278 planetary years before…”


Somehow Mendez knew that meant he was, in fact, a descendent of the people who once inhabited the pueblo ruins where he now stood.


“…archeological evidence, along with memories from this being, suggests two waves of invasion…”


After the Spaniards left the Piro Pueblo, they went north and enslaved the other peoples they encountered. Not wanting to incur the wrath of the Spaniards, the Piro refused to join when the other pueblos revolted. Like Oñate and his men, the Piro were driven south, toward El Paso del Norte. Shunned by their own people and abandoned by the Spaniards, the Piro were just as much victims of the invasion as the northern pueblos.


Now, there was another group of invaders forcing Indians from their homes. This time the invaders came from the east. Mendez looked over his shoulder at Fort McRae.


“…topological and technological analysis indicates a 97% probability this area will be the site of a hydroelectric facility within the next century…”


A picture formed in Mendez’s mind of a great wall being built on the Rio Grande. The mighty river would be trapped and the valley where he stood would be flooded, all for the benefit of the newest wave of invaders.


Alberto Mendez did not have to think too hard to know where the images were coming from. He was on the land of his ancestors. The wind–a mighty elemental force–whipped through his hair. He must be in the presence of an elemental spirit. His people called such spirits kachinas. Alberto Mendez believed this kachina had selected him for a mission.


<< >>


Ramon Morales was bone-weary when he finally saw Fort McRae on the opposite side of the Rio Grande. The landscape around the fort was more barren than around Socorro. It was as though the land near the river could not drink enough to grow vegetation. The mountains that bordered the Rio Grande Valley were covered in scrub brush instead of trees and seemed less friendly than they did further north.


Washes ran down from the mountains and cut through the flatlands of the valley, but did not actually carry any water this time of year. They left the land looking like a cracked and dried husk. Ramon wondered, not for the first time, if fleeing south had been such a good idea.


He took off his hat and wiped gritty sweat from his brow. It had been a long time since he’d spent the better part of a day on horseback. At least it wasn’t windy like it had been a couple of days before.


Fatemeh Karimi, who rode in a wagon next to him, also looked bedraggled. Her black dress was coated in a fine layer of dust. Rivulets of sweat etched dirty streaks down Fatemeh’s skin. Strands of wiry, black hair jutted out here and there. “Maybe we should go up to the fort and see if they’ll put us up for the night,” Fatemeh said.


“Nah.” Ramon shook his head. “We’ve only got a couple more miles until we get to Palomas Hot Springs. My cousin Eduardo has a small hacienda there. He can put us up and we can get a hot bath.”


“That sounds wonderful.” Fatemeh’s smile lit up her face and her green eyes sparkled.


Ramon’s heart leapt at the sight of her renewed energy, but a hollow feeling soon formed in the pit of his stomach. He’d just thrown away his job as sheriff of Socorro to help her and yet he didn’t know whether she would stay with him once they reached Las Cruces. He still didn’t know whether she honestly liked him, or if she was merely using him as a protector and guide until they reached their destination.


At last, they topped a rise and could see Palomas Hot Springs. It really wasn’t a town as most people would think of one. It was more like a wide spot in the road before entering a bad stretch of desert called Jornada del Muerto–the journey of death. There were a couple of rooming houses, a livery stable and a few meager haciendas. They all traded with the fort a few miles north. There were no stores, saloons or other establishments in Palomas Hot Springs.


What really drew people to the area were the hot springs themselves. The Apaches and the pueblo people considered it a holy place and neutral territory where they could trade. Medicine men would use the curative power of the hot springs to heal warriors after a battle. Anglos and Spanish folk were welcome to trade there, too, and the Indians didn’t seem to mind the few settlements.


The austere scenery around the area certainly gave it the feeling of a holy place. Sheer cliffs of multi-colored rock walled in the barren valley and there was a dramatic butte, shaped a little like an elephant, near the river itself.


As Fatemeh and Ramon rode into Palomas Hot Springs, they caught sight of an Indian sitting on a blanket in the shade of an overhang. He had a wooden crate overflowing with wood and other odds and ends that looked like they could be springs or rolls of wire and tubing of some sort. Surrounding the Indian were little wooden dolls. He seemed to be whittling one of them.


Fatemeh pulled on the reins and stopped the wagon. Ramon tried to motion that they should continue on. He was tired and wanted to get to his cousin’s before dark. He really didn’t want to sit around while Fatemeh bartered with an Indian.


Either she didn’t see Ramon’s gesticulating or she didn’t care. She climbed off the wagon’s seat and stood before the Indian. He looked up as if noticing her for the first time. Gasping, he reached out as if to collect up the dolls. Ramon rolled his eyes and brought his horse to a stop. After climbing off, he wrapped the horse’s reins around a nearby hitching post.


“These are kachina dolls, aren’t they?” asked Fatemeh. “I didn’t know any Pueblo Indians this far south made them.”


“All pueblos respect the kachinas,” said the Indian, looking around nervously, as though trying to find an escape.


“May I see one?” Fatemeh reached for the nearest doll.


The Indian waved his hands. “They are sacred.”


Fatemeh knelt and nodded, solemnly. “I know they are.  That’s why I’m interested.” As she took hold of the kachina doll, her eyes went wide and she gasped. She quickly released the doll and brought herself to her feet. “What was that?!”


“The kachinas are displeased,” said the Indian. Ramon watched as he carefully reached out, took a doll by its head and hefted it into the box. The little wooden doll was apparently heavier than it looked at first sight. “First the Spanish came and caused this land to be taken from my people. Now the Anglos are coming and taking it from the Spanish. When will it stop?” He hefted another doll into the box. “Mark my words, great flood waters will come and destroy the land.”


“I’m neither Spanish nor Anglo,” said Fatemeh. “I’m Persian.”


“Perhaps your people will be the next wave of invaders.” The Indian grabbed the last kachina doll. “You must face the truth of the kachina’s displeasure and leave, or you will face consequences. Mark my words.” The Indian stood, gathered up his blanket and placed it in the box. With a heave he picked up the box and started waddling down the road.


Fatemeh looked at Ramon with wide eyes.


“What happened when you grabbed that doll?”


“It’s hard to describe,” she said with a shrug. “It was a tingle like my hand fell asleep, but it was also like a bite.” She climbed back up on her wagon.


Ramon’s brow creased as he considered what might have caused the sensation Fatemeh described, but nothing came to mind. Too tired, hungry, and saddle sore to consider the matter further, he gathered the reins and mounted his horse. Besides, Eduardo might already know something about this Indian and his kachina dolls.


A few minutes later, Ramon and Fatemeh found themselves in front of Eduardo’s small adobe hacienda. Eduardo came outside and greeted them with a warm smile. He looked much like Ramon would without glasses. He was a little taller, thinner, and–if one were to judge by the girls who fawned over him when he was younger–more handsome.


Ramon led his horse to a watering trough, then helped Fatemeh unhitch her two horses. Once the animals were tended, Eduardo ushered Ramon and Fatemeh into the kitchen, all the time casting sly glances between them. The former sheriff did his best to explain the events of the past two weeks in Socorro.


“Ah, Búho.” Eduardo winked. “I always knew your desire to do the right thing would get you in trouble with someone.”


“All I ask tonight is a meal and a couple of rooms,” Ramon said.


“And a hot bath,” interjected Fatemeh.


“Of course.” Eduardo grinned. “Alicia is making a big caldo de rez this afternoon. You may stay as long as you like. This is a place to rest and recover before moving on.”


“So, Ed, why haven’t you moved on?”


He held his arms out wide. “I haven’t finished resting and recovering!”


Later that evening, Eduardo’s wife Alicia prepared a beautiful supper for Ramon and Fatemeh. Alicia was a little shorter than Ramon and wore her hair tied back in a neat bun. Ramon noticed she was a little heavier than when he’d last seen her. In her clean, blue dress, she looked a lot like his aunt. Her appearance was a stark contrast to Fatemeh’s now-wild hair, rumpled black dress and fiery green eyes. As they ate, Ramon thought about how he had tried to catch Alicia’s eye when they were younger, but she pursued Eduardo instead, as though she had been under his spell. Casting a glance toward Fatemeh, Ramon felt drawn to her, but he was concerned she didn’t reciprocate his feelings.


After supper, Fatemeh decided it was time to have a bath. A short walk behind Eduardo’s house was a place where water bubbled up from the ground. Eduardo had stacked rocks around the spring to give the bather some privacy. While Fatemeh availed herself of the natural spring, Ramon went to his room to unpack a few things. Finally he took a towel from a dresser drawer and found a bench just outside the backdoor to wait for Fatemeh to finish. The sun was setting and the rocks had taken on a deep red hue. There was enough of a chill breeze that a dip in the hot spring would feel very good to a hot and dusty traveler.


Ramon looked up and saw Fatemeh as she stepped from the rock enclosure. She wore a clean, modest black dress, but it clung to her skin because of the moisture. Her feminine curves were very apparent. Ramon watched, mesmerized as she stepped over and sat down next to him.


“You should close your mouth,” she said. “There are mosquitoes.”


Ramon quickly apologized, but she laughed lightly without any hint of mockery and told him not to worry about it.


Ramon took a deep breath, and then looked her in the eye. “Fatemeh, there’s something I want…”


Eduardo stepped around the corner carrying an armload of firewood. “When you guys came into town, did you see that Indian with the kachina dolls?”


“Yes.” Ramon nodded. “I wanted to ask about him.”


Eduardo let the firewood tumble to his feet. Ramon stood and helped him neatly stack it behind the backdoor. “He showed up about the time a group of telegraph workers arrived at Fort McRae. He keeps moving around with that big box of his.” He looked over his shoulder. “He’s camped out a little ways down from the house. I wish I could find out what he keeps in that box.”


“So do I.” Fatemeh whistled a few short notes. Ramon looked up and noticed the silhouette of a burrowing owl perched atop the rock enclosure around the hot spring. She whistled again and the owl did a little dance and then flew from the wall to the ground near Fatemeh’s feet. “I might even have a way to distract him so we can find out.”


<< >>


A short time later, Ramon found himself hunkered down behind a watering trough in front of Eduardo’s house watching the Indian work beside his campfire. He asked Eduardo why they couldn’t wait until the Indian was asleep and just sneak a peek in his box.


“He never sleeps as far as I can tell,” whispered Ramon’s cousin.


The little owl Fatemeh summoned flew over and perched on the edge of the Indian’s box. The Indian shooed it away, but the owl returned and started pecking around in the box. The Indian shooed at it again, but this time the owl had something in its beak. When the Indian noticed, he scooted after the owl.


Ramon ran to the box and grabbed one of the kachina dolls–careful not to touch anything other than the head, as he’d seen the Indian do earlier. The thing was a lot heavier than Ramon expected from a little wooden doll. He hauled it back to his hiding place behind the water trough. He looked up in time to see the Indian return to the campfire, holding something that looked like a wire. The Indian dropped the wire back in the box. The owl returned to the box and looked as if he was going to dig for the wire again when Fatemeh whistled. The owl’s head turned, seeking the sound’s source. It did its little dance and then flew away.


Once the owl was gone, the Indian returned to his work. Ramon grabbed the kachina doll by the head and carried it inside where he found Fatemeh, Eduardo and Alicia already gathered at the table. In the light of the kitchen lamp Ramon could see a piece of metal sticking out of each side of the doll. “What are these?” He reached for one of the metal pieces.


“Careful.” Fatemeh batted his finger away. “I think I grabbed those when I touched the doll before.”


Being careful not to touch the two pieces of metal, Eduardo picked up the kachina doll and examined it closely. There was something round and metal on the bottom. He set the doll down and reached for it, but Alicia stopped him. “We don’t know what it’ll do,” she said.


“What’s for certain is that there’s something inside the thing,” Ramon said. Before someone could say anything else, Ramon reached out, grabbed the doll by the head and brought it down hard on the table. Fatemeh gasped in shock. The soft wood of the doll shattered, revealing a metal cylinder inside. The two pieces of metal that stuck out the side of the doll were connected to the cylinder by copper wire. “What the hell?” asked Ramon.


“I’m not positive,” said Fatemeh, “but I think that’s a dry cell battery.”


“Of course!” said Eduardo. “They use them in the telegraph equipment.”


“That Indian must be loco,” declared Alicia. “Why would he put batteries inside kachina dolls?”


“Maybe he wants people to believe kachina spirits really inhabit the dolls,” Fatemeh said. “It almost convinced me when I grabbed one and it felt like it was alive.”


Ramon shook his head. Things didn’t add up. “If he’s trying to scare people with his dolls, why does he pack them up and run away whenever someone comes near?” The former sheriff stepped out the front door. The Indian’s campfire was out and he was nowhere to be seen. Ramon took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he considered the questions that ran through his mind. The Indian must want to power something with the batteries in the kachina dolls, but what? He hadn’t seen anything besides dolls and wires in the box. The only thing he knew of in the area that required electric power was the telegraph, but then why hide the batteries in kachina dolls?


The door creaked open behind him. Fatemeh stepped up next to Ramon, so close he could feel the heat of her skin. He put his glasses back on and swallowed hard as he tried to turn his mind from the problem of the Indian to the questions he had about the nature of their relationship. He took a deep breath and formed a question.


Just as he was about to reach out and take Fatemeh’s hand, Eduardo appeared in the doorway. “Where’d that Indian go?”


Ramon blinked a few times and sighed. “It’s getting late, Cuz. I think I’m going to go have my bath and call it a night.”


<< >>


The dip in the hot spring after a long day of riding let Ramon sleep very well, but he still woke up sore the next morning. He dragged himself out of bed, washed his face in the basin of water that was in the room and dressed. Ramon could smell coffee and something else, a blending of chocolate and cinnamon he hadn’t smelled in many years. He followed the smells and sat down at the kitchen table. Alicia placed a bowl of chocolate and cinnamon-spiced atole in front of Ramon along with a cup of coffee. “I haven’t had atole since I was a kid,” he said as he dug in. “I’m not going to want to leave.”


Fatemeh stepped into the kitchen. “Is there any reason to leave right away?” She offered to help Alicia, who instead told her to sit and then placed a bowl of atole in front of her.


“Well, I don’t want to wear out Eduardo and Alicia’s hospitality.”


“Don’t worry about that, Búho,” said Eduardo as he entered the kitchen. “I already told you, you are welcome to stay as long as you’d like. Besides, they’re having a big shindig up at Fort McRae this afternoon.”


“What’s the occasion?” Ramon inclined his head.


Eduardo leaned forward. “They’re testing the telegraph.”


Alicia turned around, wide-eyed. “That’s exciting.”


Fatemeh smiled. “It sounds fascinating. I’d like to go.”


Ramon turned to his bowl of atole so he wouldn’t have to face her. It didn’t matter whether he was a bodyguard or a suitor. She hadn’t asked what he wanted to do, or even what he advised, and it stung his pride.  He wasn’t certain whether she noticed his silence or if it was just good manners, but she finally asked, “What would you like to do, Ramon?”


Ramon took another bite of atole and let the chocolate and cinnamon dance on his tongue a moment. He thought about his saddle-sore backside and how good another dip in the hot spring would feel. Finally he took a sip of coffee to wash down the atole. “Yeah, I’m game for a trip to the fort.”


That afternoon, Ramon, Fatemeh, Eduardo and Alicia rode north and then crossed the river to Fort McRae. Like many forts in the West, it wasn’t purely a military installation. It also served as a trading post and stopping point for travelers on the road between El Paso and Santa Fe. The installation was a series of adobe buildings hunkered behind a wall. Just inside the gate was a dusty courtyard that could be used as an assembly point or parade ground of sorts. At the center of the courtyard, a brass band played. Several of their notes went flat, but no one seemed to mind.


Next to the band, several people gathered around a canopy. From the distance, Ramon couldn’t make out what they were looking at, but he guessed that would be the place the telegraph was set up. The arrival of the telegraph meant the fort could send dispatches, wire for supplies, or receive news from around the country. Ramon presumed that after the ceremony, the telegraph would be moved inside one of the buildings.


Big pots of steaming food stood at one side of the courtyard. Ramon detected the earthy smell of corn mixed with chile. Perhaps someone was steaming tamales, cooking posole, or both. Despite his breakfast of atole, Ramon’s stomach rumbled.


Fatemeh turned toward the other side of the courtyard where several people had games set up. Ramon watched as a boy pitched a ball toward some bottles and missed. Next to the stacked bottles, there was a dartboard set up on the fort’s outer wall. An Indian came up and paid a penny. His first dart hit the bull’s eye and the man running the game produced a string of glass beads. The Indian scowled at the beads, but took them anyway.


Ramon heard a round fired from a six-gun. “They must have a shooting range set up. Let’s go see.” The former sheriff wasn’t confident in his ability to throw a ball or a dart, but he knew he could win a prize at a shooting competition.


As Ramon tried to follow the sound of gunfire, he tripped and fell flat on his face. Fatemeh helped him to his feet as he cursed about not seeing the thing he fell over. That’s when Ramon realized that what he tripped over was very hard to see–a pair of wires partially buried in the dust. He looked a question at Fatemeh. She shrugged.


The former sheriff wasn’t a half-bad tracker, so he turned his attention to the ground and followed the hidden wires to find out where they went. Fatemeh followed. They soon found themselves facing the canopy where the telegraph key was on display.


“Maybe the wires you tripped over are how they connected the telegraph to the outside lines,” Fatemeh said.


Ramon shook his head and pointed to a pair of wires that ran from the telegraph to a pole just inside the fort’s outer wall. He turned and followed the wires back the other direction. The wires led well away from the main activity and ran parallel to a row of identical adobe structures. Ramon assumed they must be the barracks.


Eventually, the wires disappeared under the dirt, but unless they turned, they went to a door that was guarded by two men who looked at once stern and disappointed that they were not taking part in the festivities. A sign on the door read: “Dangerous! Explosives!”


Without thinking too much about it, Ramon stepped up to one of the guards. “Hello, I’m Sheriff Ramon Morales of Socorro County and I’ve just seen something suspicious.” Ramon figured there was no way for the guard to know he was no longer sheriff and his gut told him something was very wrong. The possible danger outweighed any scruples he had about lying. “Is there a reason there would be telegraph wires running into this building?”


The guard looked at him dumbfounded. “No, sir,” he said. “No reason that I can think of.”


“Do you mind opening the door and letting me have a look inside?”


The first guard looked to his companion and they both shrugged. One of the guards stood right next to Ramon while the other opened the door. Inside, as Ramon expected, was a stockpile of dynamite and blasting powder. However, what really surprised him were the kachina dolls stacked all around–one connected to a pair of copper wires that came up from the ground. The other dolls were connected to the first by still more wires.


“That doesn’t look normal, does it?” Ramon asked.


Both guards shook their heads.


Ramon looked at Fatemeh. “I think we better find the guys who installed the telegraph and ask them what this is all about.”


They ran back to the telegraph pavilion. A few high-ranking officers and some other men had gathered. Ramon figured those other men must be some of the telegraph crew. He caught his breath and said, “Do you know you’ve got some extra wires coming out of the key?”


One of the men, who wasn’t in uniform, looked at Ramon like he was wasting his time. “What extra wires?”


The former sheriff stepped forward and lifted the covering from the table where the telegraph key sat. The man knelt down and blinked at the wires. He looked up. “Harvey, there should only be one ground wire,” he said. “Why are there two down here?”


“That’s because I changed the wiring, Mr. Hinkley.” The strange Indian had suddenly appeared next to the table. “The truth has been revealed by the kachinas. The invaders keep coming and coming. Now, the time has come to face the consequences.”


The man called Mr. Hinkley shook his head. “Alberto, where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you. What are you talking about? Truth? Consequences?”


Alberto reached out. “It is time for the consequences.”


“Stop him!” Ramon called. “He’s got the telegraph key wired up to the dynamite–some kind of detonator or something.”


The soldiers, though confused about everything happening at once, reacted to the former sheriff’s authoritative voice. They grabbed the Indian, but he struggled. Fatemeh whistled and Ramon wondered if she’d seen Eduardo and Alicia and was trying to warn them to get away. Ramon rushed around the table to try to help the soldiers–to calm things down enough so he could explain what was going on.


Alberto broke free and pushed the telegraph key. Ramon closed his eyes and winced but nothing happened. When he opened his eyes, he saw a little burrowing owl perched on the table. It had plucked one of the power supply wires off the key and still held it in its mouth. It dropped the wire and flew off.


One of the officers summoned more soldiers and Alberto was taken away for questioning. The fort’s commander, Major Johnson, stepped up and introduced himself. Ramon led Major Johnson and Mr. Hinkley back to the dynamite shack to show them what he’d discovered. On the way, Hinkley explained that Alberto Mendez was part of their crew. He’d gone missing the day they arrived at Fort McRae and no one was quite sure what had happened to him.


Major Johnson whistled when he saw kachina dolls stacked around the dynamite. “That’s quite a detonator setup he had.”


Mr. Hinkley pointed out that another set of wires ran toward the armory.


“He could have blown up the entire fort,” said the major.


“And himself, too,” Hinkley said. “He must have really gone loony in the head.”


Ramon saw that as a good time to make his exit. The soldiers had the evidence they needed and could question Alberto Mendez further. Ramon didn’t want to stick around so they could find out he wasn’t still sheriff of Socorro County.


Ramon made his way back to the pavilion, where he found Fatemeh leaning against a nearby building.


“Thanks for calling that little hooty owl,” he said. “He saved all of our lives.”


“What makes you think I can summon owls?” she asked with a cagey smile.


Ramon took her hands in his and brought her close.


Just then, Eduardo showed up. “Where have you two been? I’ve been looking all over for you! One of the vendors has empanadas!”


Ramon ignored him and kissed Fatemeh anyway.


<< >>


Over the millennia, Legion had known a few creatures that could sense the communications among the component nanites of his swarm. This was the first time he’d seen such a creature react so badly to the data and pictures the nanites sent.


Several of his component parts argued he should have terminated connection to avoid interference. However, most of his components were fascinated by the being’s way of relating the physical world to an unseen spiritual realm. Legion sensed these humans did hold answers to the meaning of life that had eluded him before. Moreover, he couldn’t dismiss the possibility the human called Alberto Mendez had simply been unstable. Observing the humans called Fatemeh Karimi and Ramon Morales further bolstered his supposition more rational humans existed.


Legion decided he would try to communicate with another human before giving up on the species. Before making the attempt, he would spend time observing the humans and their activities from a distance to gain more clues about their behavior. At the very least, these humans weren’t boring.



So! There you have it, an excellent introduction to the series and if you would like to hear more I do very much suggest that you procure yourself a copy…

Owl Dance_Front Cover_333x515px.jpg


Or find out more about the series and David’s writing here:

Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least preparing for a parasol duel with a Lambethian Rat Queen ….  Good Night!  Oh, er…leave the bottle though…



Pipe and Slippers: With Karen J Carlisle

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 a drooling octopus and its  dis-quietening gentleman friend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. 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,

something seasonally macabre, like this perhaps…




© 2013/2017 By Karen J Carlisle



The first thing Irena noticed was the silence. She could sense it even before she opened her eyes. Her house had always been a flurry of movement and sound before she had fallen ill – a riot of voices all vying for mother’s attention. There had never been much time to appreciate the little things. Now it was still. Quiet.


She opened her eyes – just a crack – and allowed her eyes to adjust to the light before she scanned the ceiling, then the walls. Not her room. The mattress was hard and cold. Glorious perfumes emanated from flowers surrounding her, covering almost every horizontal surface in the room. She drew a deep breath, enjoying the heady fragrances. Still nothing but silence.


Irena’s muscles cramped; it felt like she had slept for days. She tried to move but her body refused, weak from being bed-ridden. It was to be expected; the fever had taken her without warning and she had lain near death for much of her illness. She remembered the sound of crying. A lot of crying. She closed her eyes – drained, depleted but also refreshed and…


Finally, her body obeyed. She swung her legs awkwardly off the bed; her feet touched the tiled floor. It was unexpectedly warm. Irena regarded her pale feet. She must look dreadful.

Her gaze searched the room for a mirror, to confirm her suspicions. No mirror, just wall-to-wall flowers. She loved roses.


As she moved across the room, the lightness of her silk gown distracted her: the sensual feel as it softly caressed her body. She ran her fingers along the smooth material, enjoying the experience.

When she moved slowly, the pleasure was renewed. Irena wiggled her body under her clothing, enjoying the feeling it produced.


Something tugged in the pit of her stomach. A slow gnawing grew until it almost consumed her. She had not eaten since she had become ill. She glanced around the room. Nothing to eat here.


Her hunger tugged at her thoughts, reminding her of the rich aroma of her favourite chocolate. She could almost taste it, almost feel its smooth texture as it melted on her tongue. She remembered the calm that followed such an indulgence. She embraced the feeling as it washed over her.


That tore it! She needed to find food; she couldn’t concentrate with her stomach distracting her. The drive for hunger compelled her. She felt as if she had forgotten how it felt to be satisfied; it was as if she had always been hungry. Irena opened the door, looked back at her sickbed and smiled. A light breeze brushed over her skin. She turned to feel the breeze on her face, temporarily forgetting her hunger.

“I’m alive!” She laughed.


Her life had been but a dream until now. Finally, she had woken. New experiences lay before her and , with them, lay the delight of each discovery. The small details fascinated her, details she had never had time to notice. Fresh air heralded a new autumn day. The world was alive. She was alive. Everything was new.


Peace. Heaven. Excitement. Beauty. Pleasure. Bliss.  She was now free to explore all of these. Even the hunger. Her bare feet padded along the bitumen road, and gained momentum, until she ran so fast that the wind blew the hair from her face. She squealed with delight as she reached a tree-lined park and succumbed to the urge to spin around in circles as her toes sank into the fresh grass. She fell onto the soft ground. Never before had she felt such freedom.


Above, the sky was littered with shining jewels, each one twinkling as they stared back at her. How could she not have enjoyed all of this before? Slowly, the stars’ brilliance faded. Their canvas blurred through a range of colours: from purples to oranges to pinks. The clouds showed themselves, edged with shining copper. The sun was rising.


Irena’s stomach reminded her she had missed several breakfasts. She longed to feed the hunger, but there would be time for that soon. First, she wanted to enjoy her first new sunrise. She chided herself for too many sleep-ins and now wondered why she had never woken early to see a sunrise before. From now on, her life would be filled with new experiences. Whatever the cost.


Irena rolled over to face the east and the oncoming sunrise. The grass was cool, and the smell of the fresh earth was comforting. She felt the warmth on her skin growing. She shivered with excitement. The sky lightened; a myriad of colours coalesced into a pale golden sky as the sun crested over the horizon. Irena’s skin tingled, alive with pinpoints of itching heat. The warmth became a raging fire. Was her fever returning?


She sat up in panic. Her hands glowed; wisps of smoke drifted upwards, followed by flames.  She trembled. There was no time for breakfast, no time for fear.  She decided to embrace the dawn, as she had intended to embrace her new life.


Small eddies of dust played in the air before her eyes. Each followed the other, circling as they drifted away on the breeze.




Ah what a splendid offering from one of our favourite steampunk authors,  Karen J Carlisle. Karen is of course responsible for the fantastic Adventures Of Viola Stewart mystery series, the latest instalment of which is to be released later this month…

AVS 3 Illusioneer_800


Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least, putting pay to these dreadful rumours that I am a woman… or at least the ghost of a woman…. I may from time to time possess the bodies of young women, wear dresses and call myself Pearl, but that is purely for professional reasons , as anyone who has read my memoirs will tell you…. oh you have read them have you? …. well how very dare you! Good Night!  Oh, er…leave the bottle though…

Elevenses: Novel Tea

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome back to Max and Collin’s gloriously ghoulish and curiously cat infested  parlour located somewhere within the alimentary canal of that splendidly scenic city of Lancaster.

True our psychotic landlord may have banished us to this dank and dingy dungeon, but anyone who would be crest fallen by such a turn of events has obviously never stood in their night dress fighting off flesh eating Liver Birds with nothing but a teapot and a book of mostly awful poetry.

Hm? Yes I have a night dress…. well how the hell do you imagine an octopus can fit into trousers? Really! A-hem….

You find us this morning in outrage because our puppet mistress, Penny, is keeping a very dark and dirty secret. At least she thinks she is. But we know what is going on. Having been very loudly and vociferously against the notion of National Novel Writing Month since its inception, she has decided to turn traitor on us and sign up for this year’s event. She has told no one. She is hiding her evil nano-notebook inside a waterproof zip lock bag inside the toilet cistern, ready to fake daily bouts of dysentery in order to complete her ridiculous writing goals in secret. But she is fooling no one. Least of all us.

We should state that our collective objections thus far have been that, while there is no harm in a person trying to have a bit of fun and create something fabulous along the way,  to stipulate what a novel can and can’t be is to cut a huge number of people out of the novel creating and consuming world. So why is she doing this? She has obviously gone mad through lack of tea.

Max has optimistically suggested that she is only trying a splash of espionage and has cunningly infiltrated the machine to bring it crumbling to the ground from within. But personally I consider even such a move to be highly treacherous, traitorous, untrustworthy and utterly unacceptable and I for one cannot bring myself to look her in the eye. Which is making the whole morning routine very difficult indeed.

But never fear! We in the parlour remain stoic to the cause and so, to combat this fever of driving oneself into an early tomb trying to write 50,000 words or more in a month, we will instead be exploring and celebrating absinthlutely everything that a novel can and should be other than a book of 50,000 words or so. 

A lot of our time this month will be spent working with urchins who process audio and visual information differently from most other people, and helping them to explore and celebrate their own writing and story crafting, so we will be posting activities that are inclusive and open the world of ‘novel writing’ to a much wider field of participant and audience.

So to kick us off on our Nano-free-November, we give you ….


(didn’t see that coming now did you?)


These are teeny weeny tight little tales that can be stapled into a book using tea bags as pages (or if you are very clever, a single tea bag!) Dry out your used tea bags on a plate (different teas will give you a variety of coloured pages, strawberry -red, blueberry – purple, Matcha – green, Redbush – orange, apple – grey, turmeric – yellow)

When dry, cut along one edge with a pair of scissors, then carefully scrape out the dried tea inside.

Write your novel in fine line ink pen or ball point, being careful to use the perforated edge as a margin.

When you have finished, pile your pages on top of each other in the correct order and stitch or staple your book together along the margin edge.

Voila! Will be ding this today with our little Lancastrian urchins and so here is our ‘one we did earlier’ example…


And in case you can’t read the awful tentacular scrawl, here is the text…

Frogs’ Legs  

We met under a gut-punched sky, the raindrops racing down the tight screen of slipped out breath that caught in the space between our two neon egos – spitting sparks in the downpour.

Through a fudge of boiled rice conversation, I reached inside your brine and found the chalk of you ; graffiti-scarred myself, in fingernail wounds, into your smoothness and laughed .

“Give me back my soul,” I said, “I dropped it into the amber jewel pool of your eyes, while I was playing with your innards.”

“That’s not your soul,” you said, “that is only the sun, a bright gold ball reflected.”

I called you, “Toad,” and ran. The grass, like bottle glass, cut my feet and you, Hunter, licked up that garnet trail all the slow way to my door.

You dined on my defeat. Delivered up on plates of gold: pomegranate, passion, fig all patulous ; ‘Cuisses de Nymphe a l’Aurore’.

Ever after then, you bound me in a forest of words, so that I lie now: Ophelia and inked-over by your own tongue.

I blink out, through the black-string bars of a story that I refuse, still, to claim and reach for each new princess as if, through her, I could regain a purchase on the world and stand again – under that bruised sky; a spectrum of spilled blood, pooling under porcelain…

If, then I would make my order quick – ‘Cuisses de grenouille’ – end you with a finger lick.



We wish you a fiendishly festive Halloween / Samhain / All Saints / Souls / Day / Night / Thing whatever it is you humans are celebrating right now (so confusing) and hope you survive the night and will join Mrs B in her soup kitchen tomorrow, until then

Please be always

Utterly Yourself


Pipe and Slippers: With E. A. Hennessey

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 a drag-dressed octopus and its dribbling Tea Fiend, let me advise you not to be so easily lured into a parlour by the promise of strange fruit. 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 The Green Fairy 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…

Excerpt from Grigory’s Gadget – Book 1 of the Gaslight Frontier Series by E. A. Hennessy:

Nikolai stared at the ceiling of the cabin, listening to Demyan and the elderly man snore. This is my luck, he thought unhappily. He rolled onto his side and picked at the golden wallpaper. Above, he heard the sound of rushed footsteps. At least I’m not the only one awake.

A few seconds later, a loud boom echoed through the ship. Nikolai felt the bed and walls shake.

“Nikolai, what are you doing?” Demyan asked sleepily. Nikolai heard a second boom, and Demyan jerked awake. “What was that?”

“I have no idea,” Nikolai said, jumping down to the floor. The girls appeared in the doorway.

“Is the ship being attacked?” Anya asked.

“Are you all alright?” Zoya added.

The elderly man stirred from his sleep.

“Sir, the ship is being attacked,” Nikolai told him, offering a hand to help him out of bed.

“Go back to sleep,” the man said grumpily. “The guards will take care of it. Silly kids.” He pulled his blanket back over his head and rolled over. Another boom sounded, and the ship shook especially hard.

“What do we do?” Lilia asked her friends. “Should we just stay in our cabins?”

“I’d say that’s a good idea,” a strange voice said behind her. The girls jumped and turned around. A lean young man with dirty blond hair and blue eyes grinned at them while drawing his pistol. A multitude of necklaces hung about his neck, and his ears were dotted with golden earrings. “I suggest you go back to your cabins and hand over any valuables.”

“We don’t have any valuables,” Zoya lied. The young man seemed surprised by her and stepped back eying her quizzically. It took less than a few seconds for him to compose himself. He stepped toward Zoya with his pistol aimed at her head.

“You look pretty valuable to me.” A second man with black hair and almond eyes appeared next to the first, similarly covered in gold jewelry with pistol drawn. “We’re in need of more crew, right Alexi?”

“That’s right, Fyodr,” Alexi, replied. “You and your friends have two minutes to grab anything you can carry. Then you’re coming with us.”

“We’re not going anywhere with you!” Nikolai said defiantly. Alexi stepped toward Nikolai, now pointing his pistol at Nikolai’s head. Anya stepped forward, placing herself between Alexi and Nikolai.

“Two minutes,” she said, staring the pirate in the eye. He smirked, nodded, and lowered his pistol.

“Anya!” Nikolai said, glaring. Anya returned his look then turned and walked into her cabin.

“What did I tell you kids?” the elderly man growled from within Nikolai and Demyan’s cabin. Nikolai glanced back at him and stepped to block the doorway. When the man saw Alexi and Fyodr, he furrowed his brow in annoyance.

“What are you, now? Pirates?” He spat in Alexi’s direction. “Bunch of lazy crooks. The guards will put you down in a second.”

“We’ve disposed of the guards already,” Alexi said. “We can dispose of you, too, old man, unless you give us whatever valuables you have.”

“Do I look like the sort who owns any valuables?” He gestured to his raggedy clothes. He wore a dingy, ill-fitting vest and a button-down shirt that may have once been white. His trousers were covered in salt stains and worn through in one knee.

“Well, if you have nothing of value, maybe we should just put you down,” Alexi said, raising his pistol and aiming at the old man.

“Don’t you dare!” Nikolai shouted, rushing toward Alexi. Fyodr turned his pistol on Nikolai and drew a sword. Alexi drew his sword as well. Zoya and Demyan moved to Nikolai’s side, guarding his body with their own.

“Your two minutes are almost up,” Alexi told the group. “I’d get moving if I were you.”

“You can’t just kill an innocent man!” Lilia protested. “He hasn’t done anything wrong!” Fyodr sheathed his sword and grabbed Lilia by the arm, shoving her toward the girls’ cabin.

“Get packing, miss!” he ordered. “This doesn’t concern you!”

Zoya took the opportunity to grab for Fyodr’s gun. He twisted around and slammed her into the wall, his forearm pressed against her neck. Zoya gasped and clawed at his arm. Demyan yelled and charged toward him, knocking his arm away from Zoya’s throat. Alexi shot his pistol into the air.

“Enough!” he shouted.

“That’s right, enough!” A third pirate appeared. This pirate was older, with scarred tan skin and black hair that was turning gray. The pinky and ring finger of his left hand were missing, as was half of the middle finger on his right. His eyes were large, and Nikolai thought he saw a kindness in them.

“Pavel,” Alexi said. His face flushed red and he lowered his pistol.

“Stop acting tough, Alexi,” Pavel said. “This old man hasn’t done anything wrong, let him be. The captain is almost ready to leave.” Pavel then regarded the group of friends. “Recruiting, are we?”

“Pavel, this bunch says they have no valuables,” Fyodr said. “They look pretty valuable to me.”

“So, try not to damage them.” Pavel smirked. “Let’s go. The captain is waiting.”

Pavel’s presence seemed to pacify Alexi and Fyodr, who watched silently as the friends gathered their things. Nikolai and Demyan packed quickly then joined the girls in their cabin to help them. Anya, having already packed her bags, stood in the doorway and glowered at the pirates.

“Zoya, what do we do?” Lilia whispered as she fastened her suitcase.

“I don’t know,” Zoya admitted. “They have guns and swords. I’ve got wrenches and screwdrivers. I don’t think we stand a chance.”

Nikolai watched as Zoya dug out her gloves. Her shaking hands knocked her gadget out of the bag. It rolled halfway to the door before she caught it. Fyodr and Pavel weren’t looking, but Alexi saw it and looked at Zoya coolly.

“It’s nothing,” Zoya muttered quickly, fumbling to hide the object.

“Put that away and hurry up,” Alexi replied. “We don’t have all night.” Zoya exchanged a concerned look with Nikolai as they finished packing and stood.

“Alright!” Pavel announced with a smile. “Let’s go introduce you to your captain!”




What’s that? More? No no I’m sorry I haven’t got time for that, I’m a busy man, albeit a dead one, if you want to know what happens to Zoya and her friends I suggest you pick up a copy of Grigory’s Gadget yourself…


Or connect with the author  online….



Barnes & Noble:




Now then I really must insist you go, I have important work to be getting on with, not least, putting pay to these dreadful rumours that I am a woman… or at least the ghost of a woman…. I may from time to time possess the bodies of young women, wear dresses and call myself Pearl, but that is purely for professional reasons …. well how very dare you! Good Night!  Oh, er…leave the bottle though…

Soup Of The Day: With Steampunk Author Nils Nisse Visser


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 Steampunk writer Nils Nisse Visser, author of Amster Damned! Good morning Nils, thank you so much for coming to help me in the kitchen today! 

NILS bw author

An absolute pleasure!

Oh and who is this magnificent gentleman you have with you?


I’ve brought Fiveways Wilf, an extraordinarily adventurous ginger Persian cat from Brighton. Fiveways Wilf is extremely sociable to both the delight and despair of the humans he owns (Staff#1 and Staff#2) as he’s an incorrigible jailbreaker and forever devising new ways to go for a saunter around the Fiveways area of Brighton, visiting friends, strolling into shops and generally just about owning the whole neighbourhood. Fiveways Wilf has become quite a local celebrity and generously uses that fame to raise funds for less fortunate felines ( Naturally I was delighted when Fiveways Wilf agreed to star in the Time Flight Chronicles where he appears as himself, albeit simply called Fiveways. All the payment he asked for was for me to help him support Lost Cats Brighton and I added the City Cat Shelter to that list of my own accord. My protagonist Alice Kittyhawk has a soft spot for cats you see…..when she retires she’ll probably become a crazy cat lady.

Well there is certainly nothing wrong with that, I have rather a soft spot for cats myself – except the clockwork kind, of course! And is that your sky-skiff double parked outside, Dear? I wouldn’t leave it there too long you know, the local law enforcement are inconveniently vigilant at this time of year. 

Yarr, Alice lent me The Liddle Mew, her own skyskiff, which means ‘Little Seagull’ in Sussex dialect. I’ve checked your local Lancaster parking regulations and they are fairly detailed on wheeled vehicles and air ships, but there’s nothing about leaving a fishing boat on the street, so I reckon that leaves me covered.

Oh splendid, well done for checking that! But how was your journey here from your own dimension? I hope you didn’t run into any rogues en route?

As for the journey, we had a brisk spectral wind at our back. Apart from having to evade a few critters and an Aero Fleet patrol it was pretty uneventful. All in day’s work.

For you perhaps! Goodness me I have never taken much to flying, not that I have done much of it I confess but my one impromptu airborne adventure was enough to last me a lifetime I assure you!  Mmm, but something smells delicious!  Have you brought some soup with you today to share with the orphans?

Sussex Fish Stew, a local speciality. Leek, fennel, bay leaves, rosemary, parsley, ground pepper, homemade fish stock, cider, a few taters, some sour cream and a dash of double cream as well as filleted cod and haddock. The secret ingredient is the cider, which goes into both the fish stock and the soup itself, it has to be unpasteurised Sussex cider, so none of your supermarket stuff. Proper cider does the trick.

Oh how wonderful! That certainly sounds delicious – and thankyou so much for bringing the cream, we are spoiled for fish here at the docks but since The Good Folk have stepped up their patrols I cannot risk having any contraband in the house! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t we have a seat by the fire and I will put the kettle on, and you can tell the orphans here all about your book, Amster Damned…

There are a number of themes in the story. One is the notion that girls can’t do some things because only boys can do them. That is absolutely ridiculous. Girls can do anything they want, they are just as clever, just as resourceful and just as capable as boys. So my main character, Alice, is a young woman doing what people in her time considered a man’s job, and she is very good at it. Some of her friends are the same, there’s a female Admiral in the story and the engineer of the airship The Centennial Kestrel is a woman too, and both of them are very friendly, intelligent and capable. The Minister of Lost & Found is a woman as well, but although she is very clever and cunning she isn’t such a nice person. Anyhow, none of these women, nice or not, stand around waiting for men to rescue them or tell them what to do or how to think, and that’s how it should be, don’t you think so?

Oh yes indeed! I’m sure we all agree with that!

Another theme is one you might know well children. Maybe you’ve been told before by adults that you can’t read certain books or find out about certain things because you’re not old enough. Well, in the story some people, the powerful ones, have taken that a step further and made very long lists of books people of all ages aren’t allowed to read or ideas people aren’t allowed to think about. Adults can be just like children and when they are told not to find out or think about some things that’s exactly what they do. That includes Alice. She is an avid reader of books and she spends a lot of time finding books she’s not allowed to read.

Well here in Ire we can all identify with the notion of having others control what we can or can’t read, think, say and even eat! But Alice is a wonderful character isn’t she!

Then there are a lot of interesting characters, many of those really exist. I don’t know them myself but a good friend of mine, Corin Spinks, is an excellent photographer and takes their photographs at steampunk gatherings, sends them to me and I then make up a story about them and put them into my stories.

Last but not least, there is a fabulous airship, because……well, you know, because: Airships.

Yes of course, airships are beautiful things indeed, although, as I said,  I think I prefer to keep my feet firmly on the ground! Oh lovely, I see you have brought a copy of your book with you to show the children?


amster damned


That is marvellous. Now then, the theme of smuggling crops up rather a lot, are you a smuggler yourself , Dear?

We prefer to use the term ‘free trader’ in Sussex.

Oh dear, I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to cause offence!

It’s been my professional ambition to become a fully-fledged pirate since I was a little lad. As I got older I was often told that wasn’t realistic or mature which only made my determination stronger, being an irrationally stubborn person (or so I am told – I don’t believe a word of it myself of course). I was absolutely delighted when I moved to Sussex and discovered a very rich smuggling heritage, moreover, one of which the locals are extremely proud. In Rottingdean, Hastings, Brighton and other places there are annual celebrations in which everybody dresses as a smuggler, pirate or mermaid. *glances at orphans* A lot of “Yo Ho Ho and bottle of sugar-free lemonade” going on on those days, savvy?

Oh yes I’m afraid we’re all a little more worldly wise than we ought to be around here… A-hem… Ah now the kettle is boiling!  May I offer you a cup of tea? How do you take it?

With a dash of ru……a dash of milk and sprinkling of sugar please.

I quite understand, Dear. There you are. So what first attracted you to Steampunk, was it the tea?

The Nautilus. I was six or seven and my parents took me to a seaside town in the Netherlands with an unpronounceable name, Scheveningen. There’s a pier there and at that time within one of the pier buildings they had a life size scaled Nautilus submarine. I walked into that ship and was smitten. Gleaming pipes, fascinating instrument panels, portholes which offered a view of a sunken pirate treasure protected by a giant octopus waving its tentacles, schools of fish… those fish were paper mache dangling from strings but as a young child with an overactive imagination it was pure magic. The rest wanted to go to the beach, swim, eat ice cream and such stuff and I just wanted to stand behind the helm of the Nautilus and sail off into the unknown. They had to drag me out screaming and kicking in the end.

So it was love at first sight? What a splendid tale, and how have your own culture and experiences influenced your writing?

I define myself as a cultural chameleon. When I was a child I grew up in countries in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe, all over the place really. So I have passport which says I have a nationality but I feel transnational. I can identify with all the cultures I’ve lived in but also see the less positive sides. I hear a lot of people from different countries enthusiastically expounding on how their country is the greatest and best, but I don’t believe in all of that. All the countries I’ve visited or lived in have wonderful sides to them, and darker, far darker, sides to them as well. As a writer I feel that I’ve benefited greatly from the ability to view things from multiple perspectives. I am going to use The Time Flight Chronicles to revisit all of those places. We’ve had Amsterdam in Amster Damned, but in her attempt to find Dr Beesworth, Alice Kittyhawk will visit Brighton, Paris, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Dar-Es-Salaam, Zanzibar, Cairo and Oklahoma. I know all of these places, have vivid memories and my own unique insights, so the setting is pretty much sorted.

There is a lot of humour and warmth in your writing style which complements the serious issues you raise concerning prejudice, governmental control and oppression, both historically and today – do you think Steampunk is well placed to draw attention to important issues like these?

Thank you, that is a very thoughtful compliment and I’m glad you’ve picked up on that. That balance is very hard to achieve and you’re the first to suggest I’ve succeeded in it. I think Steampunk is ideally placed for this purpose, yes. The inclusion of ‘punk’ in the name suggests as much. I reckon Punks are meant to be hollering about something or other and definitely ought to be kicking against the walls of the establishment. So I remind people of Victorian realities, in which, for example, two adult ‘gentlemen’ tell a ten year old girl they’ll pay for her services in four, five years time when she is considered ‘ripe’. At that time their social status as rich and influential men and the child’s as a slum-girl meant they could get away with that kind of behaviour. The child is Alice, my protagonist. She’s far older in Amster Damned, around 25, but the incident left a deep impression on her, the notion that such a future was all she was deemed good enough for has fuelled her aspirations to reach to greater heights and make her own destiny.

I also think Steampunk can be used as a mirror to reflect on our own time, and you’ve noticed that because the attempts by TimePol to suppress all forms of fantasy fiction in my steampunk setting very much reflect the manner in which today’s global society sees increasing government and corporation control over every conceivable aspect of our lives. In Alice’s world, the powers that be have identified writers, readers and librarians as the enemy and are actively oppressing them. The current flow of international politics suggests that we might not be far off from such a moment. Freedom of speech is under threat when science and progressive thinking is debunked as fake news, experts are ridiculed and fantastical make-believe is presented as reality. As another Alice once famously said: “Curiouser and curiouser.”

Indeed! Do you think, there is sometimes a danger that Steampunk may be seen to glorify the blunders of the past rather than expose them?

No. One of the reasons that I really love this genre is that it affords me ultimate creative freedom, Steampunk is whatever I want it to be. In my case I have some limited talent in telling a story and in that I weave social and historical observations and try to kick the establishment a little. Somebody else may be 100% engaged with Steampunk purely because of the frocks and corsets or creating the perfect top hat, not ever having read a single word of Steampunk literature or caring much about the social inequality of the period. Who am I to say that what they are doing is not Steampunk and what I am doing is Steampunk? The moment I would do that I would try to impose rules on Steampunk. That leads to exclusion and dogmatism, moreover, it erodes the very core strength of Steampunk which is the freedom it affords.

Yes I see your point, there certainly is a strong argument for keeping things as rule-free and inclusive as possible. Now then, back to your own writing, do you have any new releases or projects brewing that we can get excited about?

Definitely. Time Flight Chronicles Book 2 is called Brightonesque and should be out within a year. Also, Writerpunk Press has recently published its fourth anthology, called What We’ve Unlearned: English Class goes Punk. I’ve got a novellette sized story in there called “The Rottingdean Rhyme” which is a stand-alone story and it’s about the friendship between a London poet and a Sussex smuggler called John Hawkeye, who happens to be Alice’s father. So Alice Kittyhawk features in that one as a six-year-old and as a nine-year-old, in the company of her childhood friend Brax Beesworth and Fitzsimmonds Noakes also makes an appearance. So if you simply cannot wait to read more about Alice, I’d very much recommend the anthology, it has really good stories in it from the other writers as well, a wonderful diversity of imaginative craftings. Seth features in another story in the Writerpunk Press anthology Merely this and Nothing More, as a side-character in my “The Oval Sky Room” story the main character in my “The Oval Sky Room” story is Alice’s childhood friend Lottie. As for the Wyrde Woods fans, my other main series (magical realism and dark urban fantasy), I haven’t forgotten about them. There will be a brand-new Wyrde Woods back story in a new Fantasy Anthology called Dreamtime Dragons, and I am determined to get on with Hidden Spring, the sequel to Forgotten Road. Also, back to Amster Damned, Alice was recently invited for an interview by The Protagonist Speaks. Being rather busy she sent Fitzsimmonds Noakes instead and you know what Captain Noakes is like, so prepare for a torrent of Victorian obscenities. That is scheduled to be released on October 6th.

Oh splendid, lots of things to look out for then! And where can we find your work online?

Well, there’s an Amster Damned teaser here:

I’ve got a facebook page:

GoodReads works for an overall impression of all my books:
Marvellous! Well now, it really has been so wonderful to chat to you today Nils, thankyou so much for coming to give me a hand in the kitchen! I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready so shall we start dishing it up?

The soup does smell delicious. Thank you very much for having me, it’s been a pleasure.

And thankyou all for joining us today! I hope you will all pop back again next week for some more splendid Steampunk and Soup, until then,

Blessings on your brew my dears!