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.