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Category Archives: Australian Steampunk 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.
Authors are: Aiki Flintheart (also editor in charge), Megan Badger, Ted Johnson, DA Kelly, Caitlyn McPherson, Jo Seysener, Belinda Messer, Geogia Willis, Melanie Sienkiewicz, Susan Ruth, Jo Sparrow, and yours truly.
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.
Steampunk Author, Karen Carlilse tagged me into answering a series of questions about time travel and books.
See her original post at:
What is your favourite historical setting for a book?
This is a bit like being asked who your favourite child is. At the moment, I would have to say 1871, in England and Australia, since that is the setting for my current work-in-progress. However, I would have to say my next favourites would be Edo-period Japan and Medieval China. I love the religion and mythology underlying these cultures.
What writers would you like to travel back in time to meet?
Oh, can I make a comprehensive list?
Isaac Asimov straight up. Mary Shelley. Mary Somerville. Charles Dickens. Kipling. H G Wells. Jules Verne. J M Barrie. Diana Wynne Jones. Terry Pratchett (though I have met him). I could go on and on.
What books would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
So, what age is my younger self? Can I give twelve year old me my entire library I have now? If I have to pick just a few: The Willow Tree’s Daughter by Pamela Freeman, all of Barry Hughart’s books, The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, everything Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman ever wrote, everything by Angela Slatter, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and a list of recommendations for future purchases.
What book would you travel forward in time and give your older self?
Dear me. I’d rather my older self travel back and give me her list of reading recommendations.
What is your favourite futuristic setting for a book?
Pern, created by Anne McCaffrey.
What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
I will never be limited to just one book. Dodger, by Terry Pratchett, set in Victorian England, or any of the Barry Hughart books set in historical China.
Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book to see what happens?
Sometimes. Mainly if the book is a little dull or confusing, and I need to see if the journey is worth it. Infrequently, because I am too terrified and I need to see if the book has a happy ending.
If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
I would go back to meet the Three Marys: Mary Somerville, Mary Shelley, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and Ada Lovelace/Charles Babbage.
Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods.
The Time Machine by H G Wells is original and best! Though I am also a big fan of Doctor Who books. (Well, Doctor Who anything really. I run Osgood LIVES on Facebook).
What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett (because that would mean Terry Pratchett would be still alive).
This post is dedicated to a writing friend of mine, Ged Maybury. I recently read this post on his blog:
Ged is one of the most talented men I know. He writes, is an artist, has been an architect, and is a genius designer and maker of Steampunk cosplay outfits and gadgets. And yet his post was a bucket of cold reality for writers, newbies or otherwise.
Writing rarely pays a living wage. This is what happens when you work in creative industries in Australia in the Twentyteens. You often have to make the choice between surviving and writing. Or have a spouse who is prepared to support you, which is unfair pressure on them even when they have faith in you. You have become used to budgeting and doing without.
And yet … writing has allowed me to become friends with some of the most interesting and talented people in the world. Most of the rewarding moments in my life – apart from time spent with my family – are due to my writing obsession. I am not living a beige life. Fewer regrets. Greater joys. Brighter colours. I wouldn’t have that if I wasn’t writing.
I know there are a LOT of writing-related blogs. But I see this blog, my cheery, cheeky little blog, as a way of paying it forward. So many greater writers than I – Ged among them – have shown me great kindness and encouragement. I want to emulate them. This blog also lets me feel more connected to the worldwide writing community, and the the worldwide Steampunk community. I hope people read it to be entertained and educated.
Ged is correct. A writing career isn’t for everyone. But I will persist in calling myself a writer,and trying to get published. And I hope most of you will too. Because – as Neil Gaiman said:
“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.”
What was your introduction to the Steampunk genre?
My introduction to steampunk was a slow process. The seeds were planted early on, after re- reading a few classic Victorian science fiction stories and new ‘alternate history’ science fiction books, intertwining two of my passions – historical fantasy and science fiction. A run of steampunk inspired movies followed, in the early 2000s, fed a growing curiosity and intrigued my inner costumer. I started collecting bits to assemble my own costume. By 2006, my obsession had bloomed with my first steampunk costume – an explorer. I literally had a ball (at the annual Australian Costumers’ Guild Ball). I could indulge in my love of research, creating accurate period costumes, and let my imagination run wild with the fantasy elements.
What inspires you to write in the Steampunk genre?
I could never decide which genre I preferred – in costuming or reading. Now I get to mash them all up – fantasy, science fiction and history – in one fell swoop. How exciting! I can play with a familiar setting, create my own alternate world and posit what if with historical events. What is there not to love?
Did you set out to write Steampunk, or did it just happen?
I started out writing a fantasy story and got side tracked by several other (steampunk) ideas. My first series, The Adventures of Viola Stewart, is more gaslamp fantasy, than pure steampunk. The original fantasy story is just biding its time…
Do you write in other genres? If so, what attracted you to those genres?
I also write fantasy and gaslamp. There is even a science fiction-comedy manuscript hidden away somewhere…
How did you come to choose your protagonist and antagonist?
They found me.
In 2013, I was having issues with work stress. I decided to rekindle my dream of writing, and use it as a cathartic exercise. I got told: ‘Write what you know’. Viola became a nineteenth century optician, frustrated with being unable to follow her chosen career path. My latest antagonist, Doctor Jack, was inspired by a documentary. I disagreed with some of the reasoning behind their suspect choice. I researched other options and thought:
What if it was all planned? Who would have planned it? Who would they get to perpetrate such deeds, and why would someone agree to such an undertaking? Doctor Jack was born
Do you write backstories for your characters?
Yes. Some are detailed, with family trees and detailed major events in their lives. Other character backgrounds start out with just the basics required for the plot. It is organic. It grows as the characters introduce themselves – sometimes becoming epic. (Not that you get to see all of it)
Are you a ‘planner’ or a ‘winger’ when it comes to plotting your narratives?
I am mostly a ‘winger’ (or ‘pantser’) – at least at the start. As the story unfolds, I need to start planning. Initially, I used to plan the ending (or a major turning point) and only one or two chapters ahead. I recently did a writing course on plot and writing. I plan a lot more now. My costume cupboard door is sometimes covered in sticky notes. But, whether I plan or not, the stories always change. They are fluid, always changing as my imagination and characters take over. So really, I am still winging it really, but I now I often have a contingency plan for when I get sidetracked.
If you are a planner, do you stick strictly to your plan?
Heck, no! I am always being side-tracked.
What is more important to you: that the characters conform to your plot, or that the plot grows naturally out of the characters?
Technically characters are more important in any story. They need to be believable. But in reality, which comes first will depend on my muse. Sometimes I have an idea for a story, often a scene; sometimes just a feeling. Characters then introduce themselves, but not always when I want nor who I want. At other times, the characters present me with their story and challenge me to write it. They can be wilful.
Do you set time aside to write every day?
Yes. When I started on this journey, I fell back on my training and did the scientific thing. I researched what I needed to do to give myself the best chance of success. Early on, I read some advice: Read or write 1500 words a day. It has served me well.
I try to write at least five days a week. For the first twelve months, I entered competitions regularly. The deadlines helped create a habit of regular writing. Now I have set writing times, usually between 10am-2.30pm. Sometimes the muse attacks me late at night, so I keep a notebook by the bed.
Do you set yourself a word length to write every day?
If I have a deadline, yes. I have found NaNoWriMo to be helpful in pushing me to increase my daily word count. I have an ideal but find 1000 words a day is a comfortable stretch.
However, as a general rule, I try to complete a set writing task – a specific scene or solve a specific problem.
Do you write with a word length in mind, or do you let the story dictate the length?
The story dictates it. Doctor Jack was supposed to be a short story of about 10,000 words. As I developed the characters, I found the story demanded more and ended up at 36,000 words. The Department of Curiosities was originally projected to be roughly 80,000 words but will most likely end up being possibly 85,000. If I was a better planner, I could possibly control word count more accurately. Or so I am told.
How important is research to you and your Steampunk Narratives?
I am a research fiend. I research historical events, characters, science, costume. And not just for the sake of constructive procrastination. I love learning new things. It gives me ideas (and is great for quiz nights). I have maps of 19th century London, photos of houses and portraits of people. I have found original period scientific papers presented to the Royal Society (of Science). I have at least one box of notes per story/series.
For The Adventures of Viola Stewart, I have researched dirigibles, the colour of gases under electricity, colours of smoke produced by various explosives and optograms. I attended a museum lecture on Daguerreotypes and Victorian Post-Mortem Photography, and have delved into the world of Jack the Ripper, and even walked the virtual streets of London via Google Earth.
Did I mention I love research?
Do you use online resources to help you write and research? Can you make recommendations of any websites you find particularly helpful?
Here are just a few:
- 189 Census: http://www.census1891.com/viewhouse.php
- Boothes poverty map: http://www.umich.edu/~risotto/partialzooms/ne/50neg56.html and http://phone.booth.lse.ac.uk/
- Casebook: Jack the Ripper: http://www.casebook.org/intro.html
- Google maps: https://www.google.com.au/maps/
- Guttenberg Project – facsimiles of historic books: https://www.gutenberg.org/
- Victoria Research Web: http://victorianresearch.org/archive.html
- Victorian slang: http://www.tlucretius.net/Sophie/Castle/victorian_slang.html
Do you have any favourite Steampunk authors?
Gail Carriger. I am also waiting (not so patiently) for Jim Butcher’s upcoming Steampunk novel.
Do you have any favourite Steampunk movies?
Movie? Hard decision. I do love the television series Murdoch Mysteries. It has a Steampunk flavour in many of its stories.
Are you part of a Steampunk community? If so, do they inspire your writing in any way?
Steampunk SA – costumers, some of who have given their time and enthusiasm as beta readers, cover and book trailer models and loaned out their costumes. Steampunk Empire: There is a writers group in SE- all very supportive denizens.
I know you cosplay Steampunk outfits. Was this a conscious decision or did it grow out of your enthusiasm for the Steampunk Literary Genre?
I was cosplaying Steampunk-inspired outfits before I really knew it was called Steampunk. Next the house redecorated with the Steampunk Aesthetic, and then – finally – there came the Steampunk genre writing.
Tell us about your current Steampunk Book.
My first novella, Doctor Jack, is coming out as ebook, following after three short stories. A compilation paperback is due out at the end of the month. The Adventures of Viola Stewart Journal #1: Doctor Jack and Other Tales.
I am just finishing up the first draft of my first novel-length story, The Department of Curiosities, hopefully out at end of the year. Just in time for Christmas!
Do you have an online presence?
- website and blog: htt://karencarlisle.purplefiles.net
mirror website on WordPress: https://karenjcarlisle.wordpress.com/blog/
- twitter: @kjcarlisle
- goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13806701.Karen_J_Carlisle
- tumblr: http://karen-carlisle-off-the-artboard.tumblr.com/
- facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle
- pinterest: http://pinterest.com/riverkat42/
- google +
- You can also find me lurking in several steampunk forums.