Tag Archives: steampunk

Creative Osmosis, a guest-blog in two parts

A guest blog from Nils Visser

 

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I receive short book reviews with fierce and joyous exclamations that will startle the cats into a sulk. I’m at the self-publishing Indie stage where reviews, rather than the occasional sale, are the measure of success.

From that perspective, the length and complexity of a review is irrelevant. “I liked this book” is enough. Some of my favourite reviews are thunderous in their brevity. “Insanely well-written” for Escape from Neverland, and – I suspect by the same reviewer – “KICKS ASS” for Dance into the Wyrd. What more do you need to know? Plus, it’s pretty clear to me that the reviewer has read the books. J

I probably risk undermining the message that ‘any sort of review will do’ by gushing over longer and more comprehensive ones, but those longer ones do something entirely different. In their own way they’re as priceless as “KICKS ASS” and “Insanely Well-Written.”

Apart from the sheer magic of realising that there’s someone out there who has demonstrably grasped the essence of a story, and their generous allocation of time in digesting a story comprehensively, it’s also awfully kind of them to formulate that essence in a manner which I could never do myself. I can write a book, but please – OH HORROR – don’t ask me to describe it.

I can get as far as saying, “Look, I did a thing, where before there was nothing, kinda neat, isn’t it?” If you respond, “Yeah, cool, what’s the story about?” (like a normal human being showing interest would), I withdraw back into my shell. “Erm…ah…nothing much…I dunno…you probably shouldn’t bother…”

Every now and then a reviewer manages to phrase what the story is about with such eloquence that it not only leaves me stunned, but also arms me with an answer to that “what’s the story about” question. I can now answer, “Well, so and so says…” Somehow that is easier.

Every now and then, a review is so sirageously awesome, that the aftershocks of sheer jubilation transform into renewed inspiration for stories.

I have been fortunate enough to receive two of these reviews recently, for the novella Rottingdean Rhyme. One by Nimue Brown and one by Mark Hayes. I’m profoundly grateful for these reviews, more than they will ever know, so have no hesitation to gush wildly about these two reviewers, and their skills in unravelling aspects of Rottingdean Rhyme.

Through these reviews, both Nimue and Mark have, unwittingly, made a big mark on the two novellas which complete this mini-series regarding the childhood years of Alice Kittyhawk, protagonist of Time Flight Chronicles Book 1: Amster Damned.

Nimue for Them that Ask No Questions (just published), and Mark for Fair Weather for Foul Folk, still in progress.

I’m not entirely sure they’ll be pleased to have been allocated parental responsibility for the stories, so will have to turn to you, the jury, to demonstrate that their creative DNA, strands of their own writerliness as it were, have been woven into the stories about Alice.  I’ll do this in two parts (sharing this same introduction), covering Them that Ask No Questions on Nimue’s blog Druidlife, and Fair Weather for Foul Folk on Mark’s Passing Place blog.

Creative Osmosis: Indie October Guest Post By Nils Nisse Visser

 

THEM THAT ASK NO QUESTIONS

 

Nimue identifies the novella Rottingdean Rhyme as a story about “smuggling and steam powered aircraft, and community and poetry, written with charm and heart.”

(Her full review can be read here: https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/05/05/rottingdean-rhyme-a-review/)

She mentions that she is aware of the darker aspects of the 19th century and believes that any story “pretending the past was a lovely place, is not for me.” She adds: “One of the reasons I appreciate Nils’ work is that he gets an excellent balance of squaring up to issues while creating an engaging adventure.”

That last stuck with me, as well as her analysis of the archetypal common denominator Rottingdean Rhyme shares with traditional smuggler’s lore, which of course forms an inspiration for my re-invention of Sussex smuggling within a Steampunk context.

The reason people can identify with stories about smugglers, pirates or highwaymen, according to Nimue, is that “in so many times and places there have been so few ways of dealing with relentless, grinding poverty. Robin Hood is the poster boy for this sort of thing, but he’s never been alone. These are all figures who, through British history have raised a finger to the ruling classes and pushed back against abject poverty. When you’ve got nothing, the story of someone who pushed back can be worth a great deal.”

That really gets to the heart of the matter, and was immediately relevant to the follow-up novella, Them that Ask No Questions.

In travelling back to Alice Kittyhawk’s past, I was bound by the background information supplied in Amster Damned (in which Alice is in her mid-twenties). In short, Alice was born and partially raised in the small fishing village of Rottingdean, right in the midst of an active smuggling community. That bit was covered in Rottingdean Rhyme, and Alice’s continued association with the Rottingdean Free Traders will be addressed in the third novella, Fair Weather for Foul Folk (more on which in the twin guest blog on the Mark Hayes page).

However, Amster Damned also revealed that the later part of Alice’s childhood was spent in the Brighton slums, and I wanted to use Them that Ask No Questions to expose that experience.

These days, The Lanes quarter of Brighton is a pleasant maze of little courtyards and alleys filled with eateries, pubs, and more boutique shops than you can shake a stick at, usually crowded with tourists. Go back less than a hundred years, and it was strictly a no-go area, reminiscent of Dickensian scenes of abject poverty. Having lived in Africa and Asia, I have visited slums and shantytowns where open sewers running through muddy ditches in the streets add a distinctive odour to the sheer horror of the rampant poverty evident all around you, an experience I could draw on in transforming the picturesque Lanes back into what they used to be.

The trick of course, was to weave this horror into a story as part of the setting, rather than making it the main focus. That included being fairly sparse with details, a long list of every aspect of Victorian poverty would make grim reading indeed. So, what to use, and what to leave to the reader’s imagination?

My regular job, the one that pays the bills, is working in homeless hostels, the most harrowing part of which is when ex-armed service homeless people are visited by their demons late at night. I will not repeat their most tragic memories of Iraq and Afghanistan here. Suffice to say I understand why they are haunted by them, and regularly feel helpless rage that men and women subjected to these experiences are conveniently forgotten by their country when discharged. The associations with the 19th century are easy to make, little has changed it seems. All the more so when some councils in today’s Britain still make use of the Victorian Vagrancy Act to literally punish people for being homeless, and even threaten to arrest grassroots volunteers distributing hot drinks and soup on cold nights.

Homelessness then, features as a theme, specifically that of ex-armed services personnel.

A more difficult theme to tackle was widespread sexual exploitation of children, especially when writing from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl. To ignore it altogether, when one in five women and girls in Britain was engaged in prostitution simply to keep from starving, wasn’t a realistic portrayal of life in the slums.

But…eleven?

Unfortunately, yes. At the time the legal age of consent was twelve. After years of public campaigning to redress this matter, the government reluctantly raised it to thirteen (a year after this story takes place).

Alice would not only have been confronted by countless scenes of public fornication in the alleys and streets of The Lanes, she would have been eyed as fair game by many of the ‘gentlemen’ at the time. To give this further perspective, reading some contemporary accounts of slum residents, it was clear that slumfolk were seen as sub-human, just as the ‘gentle’ folk viewed the native inhabitants of their sprawling empire as being lesser members of the human race. Having sex with children was generally seen as wrong. Forcing yourself on slumgirls as young as eight or nine, however, was seen as something those sub-human children were pretty much bred for, and all they were good for.

Tragically, this theme is still relevant today. Not a day seems to go by without a hypocritical politician being exposed for sexual exploitation of girls or women. The speed with which women’s rights are being stripped in Red State America is terrifying, and because of my line of work I have seen for myself the County Lines exploitation of vulnerable youngsters currently taking place all over Britain.

I decided to include this ugly theme in Them that Ask No Questions, confronting the reader with this despicable reality in a harrowing scene, but avoiding graphic descriptions and assuming the threat, rather than the deed, would suffice. A bit of a spoiler here, but I had also recently read angry letters of complaint by Victorian men in both Britain and America about the fact that Victorian women, for some strange reason, had taken up the habit of wearing ever longer and sturdier hairpins in their hair. It wasn’t fair, the men complained, that their attentions were potentially rewarded with a jab of cold steel. Hence, Alice is equipped with not one, but two hairpins. Need I say more?

Nimue’s review served as a challenge to write about all this in a manner that avoided these horrors dominating the story entirely, left place for more light-hearted moments good for a smile or a laugh, and most importantly, play on Anglo-Saxon sentiments regarding down-trodden outlaws.

Alice freely admits, at one point, that a gentlemen’s observation of slumgirls being lost to a life of crime is accurate. When she’s apprehended by the Brighton constabulary, she is engaged in three unlawful activities all at once, a regular little criminal, though more in the light of Oliver Twist than the Artful Dodger.  My hope is that you, the reader, not only understand why she is breaking the law, but find yourself actively cheering her on, encouraging a child to be successful in her criminal endeavours. If I managed to achieve that, I’m a happy scribbler.

I inserted a few Easter Eggs into the story as a homage to both Nimue’s review and her own creative endeavours (of which I am an avid fan). The best course of action to have taken would be to wait to see if Nimue (and her partner-in-crime Tom) would pick up on this when reading, supposing they would read Them that Ask No Questions. However, being an impatient fellow, I wasted no time informing them of the fact even as I was writing, so might as well spill some more beans here.

In a wink to the most excellent and bodacious Hopeless, Maine series, by Nimue and Tom, there is a special role for a spoon, and even a spoon joke of sorts. It’s unlikely to be seen as anything remarkable, but I like the little nod to the perpetual spoon crisis on Hopeless.

As for Nimue’s splendiferous review, here is a (redacted) extract from Them that Ask No Questions.

“No buts,” Chief Forty-Guts said gruffly. “I don’t care what Lunnon says, it don’t come right to me. Savvy? Well done, Harding. Now where is this hardened and vicious, but charitable criminal of yours?”

“Miss Gunn,” Harding called out. “The Chief Constable requests your presence.”

“One of the Gunns, is she?” Chief Forty-Guts asked.

“Aye, Sarge. Fancies herself a regular little Robin Hood, robbing the rich, feeding the poor.”

Figuring she had no choice, Alice stepped into view, scowling at the Rozzers. “My name bain’t Gunn nor Robin Hood, and I’m innocent cause I bain’t robbed no one.”

The chief raised his eyebrows. “Innocent?”

“Yarr! I’d like to go home now, Guv. Me mum’ll be worried.”

 

One final touch has been to play on Nimue’s reference to “jolly japes in period costume” by inserting two encounters with followers of the ‘Flight-Funk’ fashion, which involves decorated top hats and goggles. It’s possibly self-destructive to poke fun at the Steampunk audience I’m trying to reach, but I couldn’t help myself. I freely admit that I’ve treated them a bit unfairly and will in future stories make up for this, but perhaps these scenes can be seen as a thought-provoking moment, because as we parade around in our finery, that war veteran still sits outside whatever fine location we’re at, still begging for a penny or a crust of bread just like he did in 1871.

The novellas are set up as stand-alone stories, so can be read in any order you please, but they also form a series. If I’ve whetted your appetite, both Rottingdean Rhyme and Them that Ask No Questions are available as paperback or kindle. By the way, the kindle versions are cheaper than contraband brought ashore on a dark and moonless night. Fair Weather for Foul Folk, the third novella that completes this mini-series, will hopefully be out before Christmas, and is discussed in the twin guest blog on Mark Hayes’s page.

Fair Winds!

Nils

 

http://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk

 

 

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The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry – a review

Imagine a world in which caffeine and sugar are controlled for being too dangerous. Imagine illicit tiffin dens, land pirates, soup seers, dodgy magicians, and a very quiet gentleman with an octopus friend… and you’re starting to get a feel for the delightfully madcap reality in which Penny Blake’s Curious Adventures are set.

It’s great fun.  This is playful steampunk adventure with lots of LGBTQ characters (so much yay!), and political substance underneath the entertaining surface. It’s a tale that has questions to ask about who holds power and on what terms. It has things to say about gender and identity, and questions to ask of the reader, who will be left to ponder their own answers at their leisure. For me, this book is the perfect balance of entertaining escapist fantasy, and serious stuff to chew on.

The world building is great – it’s such an entertaining setting, and the way in which tea, and sugar and cake function in the lives of the characters is a joy to behold. For me it also says a lot about who gets to decide which of our pleasures are socially acceptable, and which are vices to be punished or made inaccessible. Actual history is full of this and I think it’s no coincidence that the kind of real-life people who would bring back hunting are often also the ones who would criminalise being gay, for example.

The ways in which money and perceived class impact on how legal and acceptable your vices might seem is certainly a concept you’ll find in this book. It’s there in the dynamic between the two eponymous characters – one of whom has the confidence of wealth and one of whom does not and is consequently a lot more anxious about things. Illicit things become playthings for the affluent who can buy their way out of trouble, and dangerous life choices for people too poor to have many options.

Pagan readers should note that there’s some really interesting Goddess stuff going on in the background of the story. There’s also some no-punches-pulled things to be said about invasive, patriarchal upstarts who wish to be worshipped as Gods.

I very much recommend that you check this book out. My only warning is that it is clearly the start of the series and you’ll get to the end of book 1 and have feelings about not having the next one right now.

Pre-order a copy here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Curious-Adventures-Skarry-Ashtons-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B07Y4SYRVX

And I gather there will be a paperback in the fullness of time!


Upcycled Steampunk against waste

There are certainly steampunks who spend a lot of money on new clothes and for whom it works a lot like any other kind of fashion. Often though, that’s not what happens. I think Steampunk clothing has a lot of potential for up-cycling and keeping garments out of landfill. The focus on creativity and individuality gives a framework in which a person can play about, and re-use and re-imagine things.

For many steampunks, vintage clothing is a key part of the mix. This means second hand – however upmarket or un-chic your shopping options are. Second hand is good for the planet. Repurposing clothing, and tinkering with it to make it work is also very much a thing. When you value innovation, clever methods for re-use become appealing.

For example, I’ve recently dealt with worn, shiny patches on a second hand jacket by embroidering over them –

I’m not sure how fashion came to mean trying to look like everyone else. I’m not sure how we’ve decided who to follow as fashionable, and who is just weird. I’m not sure why we’re so collectively persuaded about what’s an acceptable way to dress and what isn’t. I’m also not sure why most of the clothing most people wear seems so dreadfully bland. Supermarkets tell us to express ourselves with their clothing ranges that are about as tedious and un-expressive as clothing can get.

When you’re tinkering with clothes, it becomes unique. When you make your own, amend what you have, re-think and re-jig you can have a varied wardrobe and as much novelty as you want. Our pre-mass production ancestors used to be good at this, changing the trimmings to give a garment a fresh look, cutting down old adult clothes for kids to wear, and all that kind of thing.

There are, apparently, trend setters and trend followers. Perhaps it’s validating to have people copy you – that seems weird to me, but maybe it works for some people. Perhaps there’s some emotional reward for being a bad copy of a celebrity by wearing the look they’ve already moved on from. Certainly, it makes a lot of money for some people. It’s almost like we’ve been persuaded that what we put on our bodies is better decided for us by the people who want to make money out of us.


The Dirigible King’s Daughter – a review

When Alys West guest blogged with me recently about living tradition (https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/referencing-the-tradition-by-alys-west/) she mentioned a Steampunk novel, so I asked for a review copy.

The Dirigible King’s Daughter is a steampunk romance and I liked it as a romance because it deviates from the usual story shape in some interesting ways. We know from early on that the protagonists are in love with each other – it’s never really in doubt, but it’s more a case of whether love is enough and what it might cost them. This is a question I’d like to see asked more often- I think the assumption that love will always be enough is a harmful one that needs challenging.

On the steampunk side, there’s enough action, adventure, dirigibles and other technology to cheerfully tick all those boxes. There’s also (which is really important to me) a political aspect to it. It’s not all titled people having jolly adventures. Alys has things to say about class and the way in which wealth impacts on how people are treated. She also has a lot to say about gender politics, both historical and by implication, contemporary.

What really caught me off guard though was the emotional intensity of the book when it came to the main character’s backstory – which you slowly piece together heading towards the reveals near the end. No spoilers from me! There turned out to be a number of difficult subjects in this book, handled with empathy that resulted in something both moving and engaging.

I usually don’t pick up books in which a female protagonist is defined in the title purely in relationship to a man. I made an exception for this one, and I’m glad I did, because the story is very much about dealing with the implications the central character – Harriet – has to deal with from having been defined to herself and others by her father’s actions. This is a story about a young lady taking control of her life and emerging from beneath the long shadow her father has cast, it is about becoming someone other than The Dirigible King’s Daughter, and I very much liked that about it.

You can read the first 2 chapters here – https://alyswest.com/the-dirigible-kings-daughter/tdkd-sample-v2/

Or find the book on Amazon –  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dirigible-Kings-Daughter-Alys-West/dp/0993288677


Hopeless Victims

A few days ago, copies of Hopeless Maine Victims landed at my door. For those of you who haven’t been following my exploits for long, an explanation… I do a gothic/steampunk graphic novel series called Hopeless Maine. I do most of the writing and I now also colour it. The artist and originator of the island setting is my husband – Tom. We got together through working on this.

I admit I was anxious – this is the second graphic I’ve coloured and the first time I’ve worked on all the art for a Hopeless book. I coloured chapters and two pages spreads in Sinners, but that didn’t quite feel the same. On the whole, I’m pleased with it. There’s an inevitable process whereby you know more at the end of a book than you did at the start, but the only thing to do is accept it – if a person tried to re-write, draw or colour a book the same thing would happen at the revision stage and the book would never be finished… Deciding when a thing is good enough is never a comfortable process.

This book represents a significant chunk of my working life last year. I learned a lot – and not just the experience of colouring. I learned what my hands cannot take. For the next book we will be moving at a slower pace so as to put less pressure on my hands and give me options on music and crafting. I have the willpower and discipline to push a hurting body and keep working, but that doesn’t make it a good idea! Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

This weekend we had some of the two page spreads from the new book out at an event – the coloured images are definitely stronger for display than the black and white ones – much as I love Tom’s original pencils. I’ve gone from starting early last autumn anxious about messing up his drawings to feeling reasonably confident that I’m adding something good to the mix.

We’ve got two more books to do to complete the story I first created more than a decade ago. (Tom’s been working on this idea for much longer.) It’s been through a lot of developments since then, and the process of evolving work over that time frame has been interesting. What happens after the final book I’m not sure – the project has expanded with more people coming in to explore it, including music, and a role play game. I’m going to be working more on the role play game soon – which I’m very much looking forward to. I don’t know what happens next, and I’m looking forward to discovering that in the company of fellow explorers.

Hopeless is easy to get in the UK – any bookselling site is likely to carry all three titles – The Gathering, Sinners and Victims. You may see copies of Personal Demons and Inheritance – these are both in The Gathering and we don’t get any money if you buy them as separate titles.

If you are outside the UK, your best bet is Book Depository with its free worldwide delivery…

The Gathering 

Sinners

Victims


I say Hopeless, you say Maine…

As I write this, I’m still recovering from a most amazing weekend. Stroud had its first Steampunk Weekend, run by John Bassett – he’s a very creative local chap and also an excellent organiser of things. When he expressed an interest in Steampunk last year, Tom and I were very excited and piled in as best we could to help. Tom was heavily implicated in sorting out the day program and we both did a fair amount of luring people in.

It was a touch surreal seeing people we normally have to travel to spend time with. It was also rather lovely getting people from afar who we really like and being able to share them with local friends. There’s a particular pleasure in watching people I like connecting with each other, and this is one of the things a Steampunk weekend can be counted on to do. Steampunk is all about the social opportunities and the creativity. There was a lot of cross pollination over the weekend.

We took a Hopeless Maine Home Companion set to the event – a team piece lead by The Keith of Mystery. It was fantastic for me being able to focus on performance in an ensemble session and have someone else hold the space together and make that work. There’s also something very lovely about seeing my project in other people’s hands. We also took a Cup Full of Tentacles set to the Sunday – this is me, Tom and James singing stuff we like to sing (mostly folk) and using it to talk about Hopeless Maine a little bit. The room we were in had fantastic acoustics, which is always a delight.

Saturday night was so emotionally loaded that I’m still recovering. It all revolved around Professor Elemental. He is one of my favourite people. It was something akin to love at first sight for me, encountering his Cup of Brown Joy song on youtube many years ago. Tom got talking to him at an event in America (after some pleading on my part) and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. The Prof and I co-wrote a novel, which was an amazing thing to get to do. He wrote us a Hopeless Maine song as well – which is out there should you feel moved to hunt it down with a search engine.

In Hopeless Maine sets, my son James performs Professor Elemental’s Hopeless Maine song, but the Prof had never heard him do it. On Saturday night, he had James up on stage to do the first verse of the Hopeless Maine song. Which was brilliant. What nearly broke me though, was Cup of Brown Joy – the song I started with. Normally there’s an audience participation bit – “I say earl grey, you say yes please” and then people in the audience yell ‘yes please’ in response to a few rounds of ‘earl grey’. We also normally get assam – lovely, herbal – no thanks and oo-long…. But on Saturday the song went “I say Hopeless, you say Maine.”

And they did.

Some of this is because Professor Elemental asks you to do something in a gig and you do it because of his strange, hypnotic powers and irresistible knees… but even so.

If you want to go to a gig that will make you feel better about yourself, and the world in general, he’s the person to seek out. If you want to come out of a room feeling love and solidarity with everyone else who was there, he will do that to you. If you want a space to laugh and cry and jump up and down and feel good about things, and like there’s room for you in the world and that we might be able to make lovely things together… go and see him. He is medicine for the soul.

https://www.professorelemental.com/


Female presenting body, in a corset

I have a complicated relationship with my body. It is me, and in many ways feels alien and more like something I inhabit than a place I could call home. I look overtly female, but what’s on the inside doesn’t connect easily with that. I can’t bear the performative stuff – issues of energy and feeling fake and so I don’t do makeup or much with my hair, and most of the time I dress in the ways that make me feel comfortable. I can’t present in a more masculine way because of how I feel about trousers – wearing them without a big tunic or dress, I feel too exposed from waist to upper thigh. I mostly want to cover up there, and make unavailable. I can’t stand swimming gear designed for female bodies.

We have a steampunk event in Stroud this weekend. I bought a corset for it. I have worn them before but not in a long time. I’ve spent the last three Saturdays on my high street, promoting the steampunk event, and for two of them, I wore the corset. It was educational.

Before the first round, I was really anxious about how people would respond to me. I was afraid of being grotesque, of disgusting and horrifying people who saw me dressed that way. I was afraid of being laughable. I also had no idea how anyone I knew would respond to me and how I would feel if any attention had a sexualised feel to it.

No one expressed horror or disgust. I had one round of a stranger putting a hand on my hip in passing, and that wasn’t comfortable at all. No one who knew me was weird with me, there were some slightly flirtatious responses but those were gentle enough not to alarm me. I have a lot of anxiety around being read in a sexualised way and having that reading justify treating me in a sexualised way. I have fears about my clothing being taken as my consent or being read as meaning things about me that I do not mean. I want to be able to be playful and expressive with clothing, but this is often a difficult area for me.

I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself what it means to feel attractive and to feel good in my body. Inevitably some of that is relational and about how people respond to me. Sometimes I find it really affirming when it is the visible femaleness of my body that gets a good response. I have a lot of gender identity issues, and feeling allowed to present as feminine, and it being imaginable that I am not hideous is a big deal for me. But other times, that doesn’t work for me at all and I don’t want to be read as gendered.

So much of it comes down to feeling good enough and acceptable. That putting my hairy mammal body into spaces where there are other bodies is not an affront. That I am tolerable. I put that body into a not-tightly-laced corset so that the curve of my hips was visible, and my breasts emphasised. No one laughed at me. No one told me off. No one said anything to me about my gender identity or my sexual identity or what they had decided to infer from my corset. This is a very big deal for me.


The Secret Order of Steampunk Druids

I’ve had a page on this blog for many years about the Secret Order of Steampunk Druids. It’s not a secret, and there’s no order worth mentioning, and yet a number of people have identified with it, and that cheers me. I think it’s good and necessary not to take yourself too seriously…

Dear Secret Steampunk Druids, a thing has happened. I am going to The Town That Never Was in Shropshire this June, and I shall be standing for election as the mayor of that imaginary place. I have been invited to do so as a representative of The Secret Order. I know that I am up against The Cthulhu Party who have slogans like “Why vote for a Lesser Evil?” so it’s going to be tough!

Over the coming month, I’m going to be putting together my manifesto. Clearly it has to include the right to beards. I’m tempted to get some wicker man content in there too.  There have to be trees. It’s an excellent opportunity for some properly Druidic political satire, and if I can get the balance right, it may even be a genuine opportunity for some interfaith work… there’s also colossal scope to make a total arse of myself in quite the wrong way, so I’ll be thinking about this carefully.

Victorian era Druids were amazing, and mad and ridiculous, and consequently fit well in a steampunk setting. But at the same time I’m likely to have an audience of people who have no idea who I am, or what Druidry is, or how my five minutes of yelling relates to anything else. There’s the possibility that I will be some people’s first encounter with Druidry – new or old.

So, what should I be standing for, and what should I be rabidly against? I’m very much open to suggestions!


Rottingdean Rhyme – a review

Rottingdean Rhyme, by Nils Nisse Visser is a steampunk novel set in an alternative Victorian England. The book connects with Amster Damned (reviewed here) but you don’t need to have read that to enjoy this tale.

It’s a short story about smuggling and steam powered aircraft, and community and poetry, written with charm and heart.

When people write alternate history, the decisions about what to leave out and what to include are really important. For anyone writing steampunk, questions of race, gender and class are ever present. How do we think about colonialism, industrialisation, pollution, and the widespread exploitation of the era? There are many dark aspects to our history, and any novel that’s just jolly japes in period costume while pretending the past was a lovely place, is not for me.  One of the reasons I appreciate Nils’ work is that he gets an excellent balance of squaring up to issues while creating an engaging adventure.

The context for smuggling, is poverty. One of the reasons smuggling, like piracy, highway robbery and other such technically criminal activity is so romanticised, is because in so many times and places there have been so few ways of dealing with relentless, grinding poverty. Robin Hood is the poster boy for this sort of thing, but he’s never been alone. These are all figures who, through British history have raised a finger to the ruling classes and pushed back against abject poverty. When you’ve got nothing, the story of someone who pushed back can be worth a great deal.

Early on in this book, one of the characters enthuses about all the technological advances being made, and another, older, wiser figure puts him straight on this. How many people can afford to take advantage of those developments? How many new technologies are playthings for the rich, and how much use are they when children still go hungry? It’s a question that is tragically still relevant.

This is a great little story, full of adventure and memorable characters. There’s a deep love of landscape and people underlying the whole thing, and a political sensibility full of modern relevance. How can we ask anyone to honour laws that keep them hungry and powerless?

More about the book and other titles by Nils Nisse Visser here – https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/ 


After the Asylum

I write this blog post on the morning after getting back from Asylum in Lincoln – the biggest Steampunk event in the UK, one of the biggest on the world, in fact. Perhaps the biggest. It involves a great many people, and is always an epic experience.

I’ve always gone to the event to work. This year and last year, Tom and I have run space for books and comics people. We’ve taken a team, provided daytime entertainment and looked after a venue. This tends to leave us too tired to do much of the evening stuff. But still, it’s a great thing to be part of.

This year, I got to meet Nils Nisse Visser, whose novel – Amster Damned – I’ve reviewed here. I also got to meet Stephen Palmer, whose Factory Girl trilogy I reviewed here. This is no kind of coincidence. We’re picking people who write excellent books, and who have the kind of ideas that translate well into presentations. As this is not a literary festival, most people going have no interest in book readings from authors they’ve never heard of. Most of us are authors most people have never heard of. Most people do not want to go to talks on facets of the publishing industry or talks about the writing process.

However, what people clearly do want is to be entertained, inspired, and engaged. Workshops are good, drink and draws, talks based around concepts, and things you might join in with. We delivered that this year, we delivered it with knobs on. Collectively, we created a space where people could come and hang out, chat, and be amused, and I want to do more of this.

We had an amazing team in the Assembly Rooms – alongside Nils and Stephen, we had Lou Pulford (who writes as Penny Blake) Craig Hallam, multimedia genius Yoms, Jade Sarson who makes beautiful comics, Chris Mole of Professor elemental Comics and Brigantia, Super-minion and MC James Weaslegrease and creator of fabulous devices Ian Crichton. Plus partners, and children. An excellent set of people to spend a weekend with!

Those of you who follow this blog or follow me on social media will recognise many of these names. It may look to a casual glance that what I do is advance my friends. What really happens is that I find people whose work I love and who I want to support, and become friends with them. I believe in creating opportunities and holding permeable edges, and letting people in. I’ll make space where I can for people doing excellent work and putting forward fine ideas.