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Category Archives: Australian Author
The Department of Curiosities: The Aussie Connection
WARNING… Some SPOILERS Ahead.
I started writing The Department of Curiosities in 2013. The story was set in busy, 1883 London, with very English heroes and villains. London was an easy choice of setting; just about everyone has either been there, read about it or seen versions of it in movies or on television. Most readers have developed a mental picture of Victorian era London. It’s crowded, noisy, full of mystery and potential danger. I could tap into that picture.
Like I said, it was easy to set The Department of Curiosities in London.
But there weren’t many steampunk stories set in Australia – and I really wanted to write one…
But Queen Victoria plays a significant part in the story, and she never came to Australia…
But I really wanted to write Australian characters. Perhaps I could set some of the story here in Australia?
At the time, I kept reading articles bemoaning the state of Australian fiction: ‘readers weren’t interested in reading books about Australia.’ This annoyed me. A lot. I’m an Aussie author and I wanted to write Australian stories.
That was 2013.
In 2018, I picked up my (almost completed) original manuscript for The Department of Curiosities. I had a few ideas and plot snags to add, but I was still happy with the main story. After setting my last book, Aunt Enid, in Adelaide, I was determined to make The Department of Curiosities a more Australian story. Perhaps if I started the first book in England, and then transported the characters to Australia…?
I did some research. (Did you know South Australia has many scientific, medical, political and inventive ‘world firsts’ in history?) and decided to make Adelaide the ‘world hub’ for mechanical research at the time. Everything fell into place – a steampunk adventure that would take our heroine half way across the world, and back again!
Though most of the action in The Department of Curiosities is set in London or countryside England, there are several connections to Australia. Firstly, there’s Tillie.
Matilda (Tillie) Meriwether was born in Australia and spent her young childhood in Adelaide with her father. We first discover this when the General (Director of The Department of Curiosities meets Tillie for the first time and mentions her (almost lack of) accent.
“I was aware Meriwether’s niece was Australian; I expected a Colonial accent. How long have you resided in England, my dear?” [said the General]
“Fifteen years; since I was a young child.”
“Ah, that explains it.”
Tillie bit her lip. No one usually bothered to check on family in the Colonies. She wasn’t sure how curious the Department was, and how exhaustively they would search.
(Until this time, most of the story is told in Tillie’s POV, and she wouldn’t notice her accent, would she?)
As we move through the story, there are more hints of Australian accents and connections, including The Department of Curiosities itself! Various discoveries suggest Tillie will find answers to her father’s secrets in Australia. This leads our heroine and her companions on a voyage to the other side of the world to Adelaide, South Australia. Much of the second book in the series will be set here.
In my steampunk/alternative history world, the word ‘mechanicals’ is used to describe any technology such as gadgets, contraptions, steam powered machines, clockwork machines. The use and ownership of mechanicals is regulated by Royal decree as Queen Victoria feels it isn’t in the Empire’s interest for the population to have access to such potentially dangerous items.
When Tillie arrives in South Australia, she discovers South Australia is a ‘new world’, full of gadgets, mechanicals, and few restrictions on their use and ownership. It’s home to The Conceptualisation Co-operative – a sort of think tank for ideas and inventions – attracting inventors, engineers and creators from all over the world. (We’ll find out more about this in the next book.)
And of course, the photographic work for the cover, social media cards and book trailers are all shot in and around Adelaide, including historical buildings such as The Largs Pier Hotel, who let us roam around their halls for a day of filming.
I keep a monthly submissions diary. Currently, for the month of April, I have more acceptances – and I’m including conditional acceptances – than rejections. This is a first for me.
I will have been working my own submission strategies for two years this July. These strategies include aiming for 100 rejections a year, and being more active in the writing community. Without acceptances, these are still paying off for me by improving my writing style and creating a valuable support network.
The start of the year has had more than its fair share of real life issues – but I’m still on track with the writing.
Even among the high quality of Australian Steampunk Authors. Karen Carlisle is a standout. She is an expert cosplayer, Steampunk crafter, Vlogger, as well as an author. She is currently having a blog tour, and this blog is part of her tour.
All of the Viola Stewart narratives are excellent, but I wanted to review the first in the series, Doctor Jack. This is the story that intoduces the series protagonist, Viola, and when what an introduction it is. Viola is not your typical Victorian woman. She like cars and wants one of her own. She breaks off her relationship with an abusive beau – though his behaviour would not have been considered out of place in the era. Best of all, she is active and curious without being ‘feisty’, and a woman of science with a medical background. She is also disabled, because she is missing an eye, but she never lets that slow her down.
The antagonist is her ex-beau, Doctor Jack, a cad and a bounder, and a member of the Men In Grey (I can’t say anymore in case of spoilers). Her actual romantic interest is Doctor Collins, who is rather dashing and interesting, but personally I think Viola could do better. It isn’t that Collins isn’t lovely. But Viola would lose so many of her rights if she ever got married.
The actual story for this book is excellent … a mystery and a thriller. Viola has a talent for finding trouble. It isn’t that she is a meddling busybody. Her active lifestyle means that she knows a lot of interesting people and attends many events, and things happen. She doesn’t faint at the thought of danger and her skills set as a detective means that she is often the best person to investigate the occurrence. Men often try to protect her – both literally and figuratively – but she is quite cabable of looking after herself and rescuing the men, if needs be.
However, she is sensible enough to accpet help when she needs it.
Viola grabbed the door handle. It jiggled/rattled in her hand, refusing to turn. That would have been too easy.
Doctor Collins joined her on the low step. He motioned, with a quick flick of his head. “Keep watch.”
Viola turned, then scanned the street. The sun was almost directly above them, shrinking the long shadows. Only fine wisps of mist lingered now. The street was deserted.
The handle rattled behind her. There was a loud click. Viola turned to face her friend. He stood in the open doorway.
Viola stared at him. “How did you…?”
“With all of your detectiving, I had to find a way to keep up with you.” He raised his eyebrows and grinned.
That is one of the reasons I like Viola Stewart. She gives credit when credit is due. She doesn’t need to be in charge, but she isn’t scared of taking charge if she has to. She gets things done without making a big fuss. However, if a big fuss is needed, she is quite ready and capable of kicking one up.
I would recommend Karen’s books to anyone who enjoys reading in the Steampunk genre, but I think they would appeal to any keen reader.
Viola has gone on to have further adventures. They are available here for purchase:
Karen Carlisle does more than write. She is a keen cosplayer and an active member of the Steampunk Community in Adelaide. She is a keen vlogger, see Karen J Carlisle on Youtube
Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, Hunted, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.
Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.
She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea. She has a compeition running every day this week, so visit her website after reading this article!
Where to find Karen:
For info on where to buy Karen’s books: www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop
As an added bonus – an excerpt from the novella, ‘From the Depths’
© 2017 Karen J Carlisle
A shriek pierced the air. Viola flinched. Brine filled her mouth and rushed up her nostrils. She spluttered, thrust her legs downward into the deep chilly water and kicked to keep her head above water.
Men shouted, their cries unintelligible through water-logged eardrums. The other bathing machine thundered into life. Chains rattled, the engine strained. Frenzied splashes of water accompanied its retreat.
The water trembled around her, pounding on her chest. Viola gasped for air. A new undercurrent tugged at her legs. She rubbed the salt from her eyes and searched the surrounding water. Nothing.
Bubbles tickled her body and erupted on the surface. Something solid grazed her calf. Viola’s heart jumped. The Lurker? Goosebumps crawled over her skin.
There’s no such thing as monsters.
Water rumbled and churned. Waves sloshed against her torso. She jerked her knees up to her chest, struggling to untangle her limbs from the snarl of the heavy woollen skirt of her bathing costume.
There’s no such thing as monsters. There’s no such thing as monsters.
Viola shivered. She had drifted further from the bathing machine than she had thought; the candy-striped change box was nearly eighty yards away, the shore even more distant.
A crowd was gathering on the shoreline, waving their arms and shouting.
“Get out of the water!”
Two men swam toward her. Another bathing machine trundled in their wake. The sea hissed. Too close.
Spurts of water burst from the surface. A large shadow lurked beneath her.
Viola’s heart raced, her breathing shallow. She wanted to run, to flee, to swim to the safety of the change box, but her arms refused to move.
There’s no such thing as monsters.
The shadow turned and glided southward towards the headland. A trace of bubbles marked its course, fading as the shadow disappeared into deeper waters.
The two men splashed closer. Uncomfortably close. Their bare arms glowed white against the dark water.
“Get out of the water!”
Viola spun to face them. The weight of her water-logged pantaloons dragged her downward, slowing her movement. Her skirt swirled up in the current, floating up around her thighs. Balloons of fabric surfaced on the water, leaving her legs exposed…
Viola pulled the skirt below the water, yanking low to cover her legs and cursed under her breath. Big mistake; salty water caught in her throat. She sputtered and caught her breath and swam hastily back to the bathing machine. She dove headlong onto the steps and dragged herself into the change box. The skirt clung to her legs; her loose hair wrapped around her neck like tentacles.
The splashing outside stopped. The walls shook with a thud. Viola jumped, skidded in the growing puddle on the floor. She grabbed the hook, draped with her stockings.
“Are you all right, Miss?” The voice was deep, and close to the doorway.
Viola steadied herself. “Yes, I am well.” Her voice was a bit shakier than expected.
“You’re not injured?”
“Did you see it?” asked a second, reedier voice.
“The Lurker? It was right under you.” There was a pause. “Did you see the monster, Miss?”
“Shut it, William,” replied the deep voice. “We don’t want to scare the lassie any more.”
There was a shadow on the step.
Viola snatched her robe and flung it around her shoulders. “What monster?” she asked, as she peeked through the doorway.
A tall redheaded man stared back at her. Deep furrows etched his forehead. A sandy-haired man appeared at the bottom step. His eyes widened. His gaze lingered on Viola, tracked down a drenched tendril of hair, fell to the puddle at her stockingless feet, and flicked back to the dark water surrounding the change box. His cheeks reddened.
Viola pulled her robe tight.
“You’re a long way from shore, Miss,” said the sandy-headed man. “Do you not know of the legend of The Lurker?”
“Willam!” The redheaded man’s deep voice echoed through the change box.
“There’s no such thing as monsters.” Viola cleared her throat. “It’s just a story to titillate the tourists.”
“If you say so, Miss.” William scoffed. “Come on, Mr Fraser. We know when we’re not wanted.”
Fraser nudged William and lowered his voice. “Perhaps it is time to return to shore, Miss?”
Viola stared down at the water. Ripples formed a few hundred yards away. Something glinted just above the surface. A dark hump broke the waterline, turned seaward and slipped back under the surface.
As soon as I read the first paragraph, I knew that Mr Baxter wasn’t going to pull any punches in his novella The Book Club. Without giving too much away, this is the story of man whose wife disappears on the way home from her weekly book club meeting, written from his perspective. It could be classed as a horror, or a paranormal thriller, but the main character isn’t hard-bitten or cynical or a terrified teenager as you might expect, instead he is a husband and father caught up in the nightmare of not knowing what has happened – or might be happening – to be wife.
I liked Jason, the protagonist, immediately. He wasn’t too perfect, but his love of his family shone through everything he said or did. He did a few dumb things, but why he did them was believable. Unlike other books I’ve read in this genre, at no point did I feel like yelling at Jason for doing something obviously insane or against his motivations. Nothing annoys me more than a character who is doing things because the author wants the plot to move along.
The secondary characters also had more depth than the average thriller. Alan Baxter made sure than all his ‘cast’ were ambiguous in some way. The police helping him hunt for his wife weren’t angels in blue and weren’t heartless drones. The crew of antagonists weren’t even mildly evil, though they did do some morally and ethically bad acts to protect their reputations. The one person who was poison mean and deliberately cruel was also given believable motivations, even if they were twisted and strange.
The only unexplained phenomena are the supernatural elements. In the context of the story, this makes sense and is even utilised as a major plot point. The supernatural elements don’t dominate the plot; the story is about Jason’s journey and we only see those elements that relate directly to him and his missing wife. My one real problem with The Book Club is that this supernatural element isn’t explored more. I came away with a feeling that the events pertaining to the supernatural elements hadn’t been ‘tidied away’. This might have been a deliberate move by Alan Baxter to heighten the horror, but I still would have liked to have seen more repercussions from Jason’s encounters with the weird and dangerous.
Alan Baxter tends to write dark urban fantasy. In his books I have read, his protagonists have been tough and confident men and women who know how to handle themselves in a rough situation. The Book Club surprised me with both his flawed human protagonist and with the unusual plot twists that the novella took. I would recommend it to the same people who read and enjoy Charles De Lint and Angela Slatter.
You might think the easy answer is because I am Australian. But that is only a very small part of the complete answer. I don’t think there is another writing community in the entire world that is as supportive – for both successful writers, emerging writers, baby writers and wannabees – as the Australian writing community. It isn’t a network of competing, parochial individuals, it is a proper community that opens its arms to anyone with a love of books and authors.
I personally know of many successful Australian authors who bend over backwards to be helpful and encouraging to the newbies. Of course, many writers hold courses or offer services for which you pay cash; writers need to eat and pay rent. And yet, I can’t think of the number of times some lovely person has given me advice or support just because they are kind and thoughtful: Jennifer Fallon, Angela Slatter, Michael Pryor, Ged Maybury, Richard Harland, Gillian Polack, Pamela Freeman, Jason Nahrung, Kylie Chan, Marianne de Pierres, Michael Gerard Bauer, Trent Jamieson, Scott Westerfeld, and the list could go on and on. There are just too many people to mention … isn’t that a lovely thought.
Australian authors write some of the most beautiful books, the best books, the books that linger in your heart and mind years after you have read them. The books you reread to visit with old friends. The books you read to make your heart beat faster and bring a chill to your spine. Books with memorable characters that make you laugh and cry. These authors, in any other country, would be too famous to mingle with us lesser mortals. (Have I mentioned I nearly had kittens the first time I met Jack Dann?) In Australia, they sit down and chat over a coffee.
Remember to appreciate Australian writers and authors. Respect them for the treasures they truly are. Buy their books, for yourself or as presents. Recommend their books to friends. Because that is exactly what they are doing!
The first novel published in Australia was a crime novel, Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence by Henry Savery. It was published in Hobart in 1831.
Henry Savery was born in Somerset, England on the 4th of August, 1791. His father was a successful banker. He grew up to be an unsuccessful businessman … so unsuccessful, that he resorted to forging bills of credit. These bills eventually amounted to over £30,000. He tried to flee to America with 1500 pounds of his partner’s money, but was caught after a rather dramatic arrest. He jumped from the boat that was to take him to America in an attempt to escape the police. He was originally sentenced to hang, but his influential family and friends managed to have that commuted to transportation. He arrived in Australia in 1825.
After his arrival in Hobart, Savery was retained in government service and worked for the Colonial Treasurer. In 1828, his wife and son came to the colony, and arguments between the husband and wife culminated in Mr Savery’s attempted suicide. Soon after the arrival of his family, Savery was again imprisoned for debt. That was the final straw for his wife. She took their son back England within three months. This was the last Savery was ever to see of his wife.
However, it was while in prison that Savery took to writing. After his release, he was given the position of manager of Lawn Farm in New Norfolk. Quintus Servinton: A Tale founded upon Incidents of Real Occurrence was published anonymously in 1831 to reasonably good reviews from the colonial press. However, he couldn’t stay out of trouble. He managed to have his ticket of leave revoked for tarnishing the reputation of Governor Arthur in the newspapers. He gained a reputation for alcoholism and tried his old trick of forging bills to cover his debts. He was sent to Port Arthur, where he died on the 6th of February, 1842. There is some indication he may have taken his own life – after all, he had attempted suicide before.
It is generally agreed that his writing is more important for its historical value than its literary merit. – Wikipedia
The original edition of Quintus Servinton is extremely rare, with only three copies being listed in Ferguson’s Bibliography. These are held by Dr. W. Crowther, the Mitchell Library, and the Public Library of Tasmania. The book itself is of limited literary merit, but it was the very first Australian novel, and part of the action did take place in ‘The Colony’. For that alone, we should be grateful to Henry Savery.