I’m always on the lookout for great Steampunk books. Andrew Knighton also write short stories in the Steampunk genre.
I’m always on the lookout for great Steampunk books. Andrew Knighton also write short stories in the Steampunk genre.
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.
The link takes you to a Youtube video, with Cogpunk Steamscribe (in her Steampunk Sunday persona) discussing the delightful gadgets of the Steampunk cosplayer.
You can’t have Steampunk without Science … it would be like trying to build a locomotive without cogs! You could do it with great difficulty, but is the result worth the effort? And is it in a recognisable form? Do the wheels fall off when you try to run with it? I have read Science Fiction stories that claim to have no science, but it sneaks in under the door like smoke from a coal fire. After all, you can’t have a coal fire without coal!
This week is World Science Week, celebrating all the various fields of science from the so-called ‘soft sciences’ like Sociology and Anthropology all the way through to the diamond-hard sciences involving Physics. (Personally, I find this sort of description of the fields of science rather judgemental and divisive, and pretty damn useless.) In Brisbane, the majority of the festivities are taking place in and around the Cultural Precinct. You can find a description of the events here: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com.au/
I attended a Science Writing workshop that was one of the events to kick off the celebrations. I wondered if I should attend, since I have considered myself a science writer for over fifteen years, but curiosity and interest got me there in the end. I am endlessly fascinated by how other writers work. It was a well run and very useful workshop, and I always gain insights into my own process as well as garnering some very good tips.
What I did notice was that most of Science Writers mentioned in the course were men, while at the same time, only one man attended the workshop; the rest were women (including me). Several of the women attendees were already working as science writers or scientists (or both). I wonder if this a sign that things are about the change in the field of Science Writing, to reflect the increase of women working in the STEM fields. As well, the workshop didn’t mention too much about blogging, which is a growing arena for science writing. My favourite female science blogger is the SciBabe: http://scibabe.com/
So, as more women find their feet in the various fields of science, gain respect, and go on to have stellar careers … so should the women science writers … as should the female writers in the Steampunk genre. There is a knock-on effect.
There are certain sayings and phrases in English that refer purely to women. The ones I am going to discuss today are “She’s the cat’s mother”, “A woman’s place is in the home”, “A Scarlet Woman”,”A woman’s work is never done”, and “Don’t teach your grandma to suck eggs”. I have picked these because there is no equivalent sayings that refer to men. These are not the only examples, I could have included “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” or “the little woman”, but those I picked cover the most common discourses that entagle women in their daily lives.
She’s the cat’s mother:
I’ve never heard anyone correct someone using ‘he’ by saying ‘He’s the cat’s father’. For some reason, women are held to a higher standard of grammatical English than men. Women aren’t supposed to swear; our language is meant to be lady-like. This is reflected in sayings like this, with the underlying discourse that women are more polite and speak correctly – this was pointed out in Robin Lakoff’s Language and Woman’s Place. Reading this book was a revelation to me, particularly as I was only just learning how gendered English was as a language.
A woman’s place is in the home:
Aspects of form, topic, content, and use
of spoken language have been identified as
sex associated. – Adelaide Haas
I am imagining a lot of people frowning at their computer screens as they read that idiom. Until recently, that was the argument everyone used when women tried to enter the public sphere. It was the greatest argument used against the suffragists and suffragettes in the Victorian era. You don’t hear of where a man’s place is supposed to be; but the inference is the woman should be cooking him dinner and caring for his house & children. A woman is NOT a refrigerator, and a wife is not another item of white goods.
A Scarlet Woman:
This is the old double standard; a man who plays the field is sewing his wild oats, whereas a young woman doing the same thing is a slut. This is an underlying assumption built into the very foundations of our language. Ponder the difference between the concepts of a male ‘pro’ and a female ‘pro’, or a ‘master’ and a ‘mistress’. That status of women in our culture is reflected in our language. We need to start redefining these terms to take away the negative implications. Women can be assertive without being aggressive, and talk loudly without being shrill.
A Woman’s Work is Never Done:
This saying is actually part of a couplet: A man he works from sun to sun (sunrise to sunset), but a woman’s work is never done. This saying originated in the days when women were unable to go out into the workforce in the public area, and were basically unpaid slaves. This perception of unending tasks was because of nature of the unpaid labour done by a wife and mother, which involved caring and feeding for the said ‘man’ and their mutual children, as well as cleaning the house and doing the laundry (and possibly caring for the garden as well). If the woman had actually been paid for this work, no one would have been able to afford her salary.
Now that women can go out to work, the burden of domestic labour still falls on the shoulder of women. This happens even if both partners work full time.
It is frustrating that our language and culture still encapsulates this discourse. Who does the Christmas shopping in your house, as an example?
Don’t Teach Your Grandma to Suck Eggs:
For those who haven’t come across this say, it means that inexperienced people should try not to give advice to experts in their fields. However, the depreciating humour in this idiom never pokes fun at Grandpa. And sucking eggs sounds disgusting.
I went away to spend some time with my parents.I was away from my computer … but took plenty of pens and paper with me. I often do my ‘chunking’ exercises with pen and paper. ‘Chunking’ is when you write out your idea, as it comes to you in chunks and pieces; this is what my first year lecturer called the process. You might call it something else. It doesn’t matter what it is called, it is just the very first step – after thinking – towards writing a story.
I thought I was in holiday mode. My muse disagreed.
I came up with three solid ideas for short stories, including the ‘Dissected Graces’ story based on the artistic anatomical models. I finally have got a handle on the (hopefully final) structural edit to my Steampunk novel; I will have to kill quite a few of my darlings in the process. I also wrote five individual timelines for characters within the novel, which support the structure and at the same time give them all logical stories of their own that don’t conflict with their characterisations or motivations.
I even came up with a strategy for the structural edit that doesn’t make me too fearful of messing up. I am going to write up the new timeline I came up with, and copy and paste into it. In this way, I keep the original draft ‘pristine’ in case I do stuff things up. I’ve been trying to make better sense of my story and plot for a couple of months, so I am very pleased to be moving forward again.
Writers don’t really get proper holidays, because you can never predict when a great idea is going to strike. The muse can’t be ignored. So, I might not have done much in the way of writing on my computer, but I was certainly doing a lot of writing by hand. I was gone for five days, and I have over 13 pages of notes and observations, timelines and research plans. Some of this stuff is pure gold.
Sometimes, getting out of your familiar work routines kick-starts a new train of thought. That is what happened to me. So I am adding this to my writer’s toolkit.
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