Category Archives: Steampunk Work-in-Progress

Feeding the Muse


I have been working on the end to my Steampunk Work-in-Progress (yep, I’m WiP-ped). In the past week, some serious thinking and research helped me come up with the logical progression for constructing the ending. This will mean more re-writes, but not huge structural edits.


I see research as part of the process of feeding the muse. My main problem is that I can never predict what is going to inspire a good (or even great) idea. So, I do a lot of research. I read news stories, science articles, textbooks, anything and everything gets fed into the files for the muse to sort through. Sometimes I wish I could just click my fingers and the best idea would swim to the front of the pile, but that isn’t how it work.

Sorry, but feeding the muse takes effort, just like anything else. This is why I am a little cynical when I hear a writer claim that he/she doesn’t do any reading.

aggressive muse

The muse is unforgiving. It just ins’t a case of ‘Garbage in, garbage out’. No fuel, and the flame splutters out entirely.

Currently, I am reading up on Victorian-era model villages. These were both a great concept and a really bad idea, depending on who was in charge. On one hand, these were developed to create ideal living conditions for a planned community. creating comfort for families and a guaranteed population base for businesses. On the dark side, these were nearly gulags for imprisoning a workforce to labour under unpleasant and dangerous conditions. What a perfect setting for both a hero or a villain!


This is the last piece I need for the puzzle that is my book. It is almost a frightening thought.  I’ve worked with these characters for so long, that I will miss them once the book is complete. However, I’ve been through this ‘breaking up’ period a few times now, when you have to distance yourself from your creations. The best solution is have a new project in the wings, a shiny new toy for the muse to play with.

outsidethebox muse.jpg



Filed under Steampunk, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, the Muse, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing

The Brick-wall Happy Ending: a Steampunk Perspective

mmeteor1_roman fortress in Bulgaria

When I imagine changing places with her I get the feeling I do on finishing a novel with a brick-wall happy ending – I mean the kind of ending when you never think any more about the characters . . .

Dodie Smith; I Capture the Castle

I am currently rereading I Capture the Castle. It is one of those novels that always reveals something new when you read it. This time round, I can see where, on page 324, the author, Dodie Smith, is foreshadowing to the audience exactly how she will be ending her book. In case you’ve never read it (and why not?), it doesn’t have a ‘brick-wall happy ending’. She wanted her audience to think about the characters after the book has finished, and this has contributed to the continuing popularity of the novel.

Why am I bring this up?

I am rather terrible at writing endings.


I’ve never been a woman able to write a brick-wall happy ending, where they “all lived happily ever after.” Is this because I don’t like ending the story and leaving my characters behind? Is it because real life never has a neat and tidy ending? Is it because an ending is sort of sad and melancholy, and I am avoiding those feelings? It is probably a mixture of these reasons, among others. Endings are complex.

What makes a good ending? Tidying away all the plots and subplots satisfactorily? Vanquishing the villain and leaving the protagonist victorious? A slap-up feast with a roast boar and gallons of ginger-ale? Do you prefer a tragedy; seeing everyone sitting in the ruins of their lives? Or – like me – do you prefer a drawn line in the sand, with the expectation that the characters still have an important part of their lives to go on with?


I prefer being able to peep over the wall, rather than slamming up against it. Yet this means that I have to make hard decisions about where to leave things for the characters. I do tend to punish my villains and antagonists, but I am less inclined to ‘reward’ my protagonists with a tidy ending. I prefer to infer they go on to have further adventures.

There is plenty of time to rest after you are dead. Who wants to laze around for the rest of their life? Where is the fun in that? It is fine to take a breather and relax after an adventure, but no one really wants the adventure to end.

In I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith ends the book well before the ‘happily ever after’. It is left up to the reader to decide whether or not the protagonist and the romantic lead end up together. I’ve spent many a happy daydream giving them a range of happy endings, and wondering which one is the correct one (from Dodie Smith’s hints throughout the text).

In my Steampunk work-in-progress, I’ve got two areas in the timeline when I could end the story. Neither will provide me with a neat and tidy ending, but one of them is ‘tidier’ than the other. However, that ending also brings a better resolution to the end of the adventure. At one point, I was tempted to end the story sooner, and that second ending was going to be a whole new book. The problem was … there wasn’t really enough story left to write a whole new book, at least, not without adding in more subplots. I prefer not to add subplots for the sake of adding to the word length. It feels like you are trying to stuff more clothes into drawers that are already full, and just makes everything cramped and crushed and creased.

I think too much of my current story to do that.

But it still leaves me with the problem of how I am going to end my story in a satisfactory manner.

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Filed under Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, Steampunk Writer, The End, The Writing Life, Writing Style

Fainting and Swooning – the Degrees of Syncope in the Victorian Era; a Steampunk Feminist Perspective


The Victorian era Fainting Couch

Fainting and swooning were more prevalent in the Victorian era, to the point that they created a piece of furniture for use when feeling weak and dizzy. It was mostlywomen who fainted. There are many reasons behind this cultural phenomenon; I favour the tightness of corsets, the overabundance of clothes worn by women, and Patriarchal society’s expectation that women were ‘weak’ and easily overcome by strong emotions. So, fainting could be put down to both physical and cultural pressures.

(c) Frank Julian Bayes; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Woman Reclining on a Couch, by Walter Bayes.


The medical term for fainting is syncope. It is a short loss of consciousness. Just before a faint, symptoms may include feeling lightheaded, sweating and trembling, clammy and pale skin, blurred vision, among others symptoms. A true faint has a fast onset, a short duration, and spontaneous recovery. It is due to a sudden decrease in blood flow to the entire brain, usually caused by low blood pressure brought on by a physical or emotional shock. A person who has fainted needs to be checked out by a doctor, as a faint can be a sign of underlying medical problems.


Abandoned, by James Tissot, 1882

In literature, there is a difference between a faint and a swoon. A faint is something that occurs when a person gets a terrible shock – a mother reading of the death of her child – or the person is suffering from blood loss – a wounded gentleman can faint and not seem unmanly. Women swoon. They see an old lover … and swoons. A rogue tries to make love to them … and they swoon. Their father asked them a hard question … and they swoon. A swoon seems to be more ‘convenient’.

'Fainting By Numbers' (Victorian book).

A swoon involves fluttering eyelashes and an elegant collapse over a waiting arm or onto a couch. A true faint doesn’t allow for grace, the individual keels over and if they are lucky there is someone to catch them. I swoon online quite frequently … I don’t faint.

In most Victorian era novels, there are faints and swoons. It is gender specific. Fainting women outnumber fainting men by twenty to one, if not more. I could not find ONE Victorian era image of a fainting man. The best I could do was a still from a silent film.


I suspect this may be a swoon…

In my current Steampunk work-in-progress, I have no one fainting or swooning. It isn’t that none of my characters have shocks. It is just that I feel that swooning contributes to a stereotype. The women and men in my novel are too busy to have the time to faint. However, they are overcome with chloroform once or twice. Does that count?


Young Woman Reclining In Spanish Costume by Edouard Manet, 1883. “There will be no damn swooning when I look this good in Capri pants.”


Filed under Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, Uncategorized, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion

Just how is my Steampunk novel progressing?

You might be wondering what has been happening, since I have been ‘missing in action’ for most of this month. The start of the year was made more interesting by a family emergency, with me toddling off to the family compound along with most of my close family. The second half of January was spent looking for a new rental home, and then moving. We picked the hottest week of the year (so far) to move.

With moving, we must play the ‘will we have an Internet connection?’ bingo. It took us two weeks to get reconnected this time, because we moved into a brand spanking new house and switches needed permission to be flicked. So, when we got our connection on Monday, I was excited. However, for the week leading up to reconnection, I spent time editing and pruning my Steampunk novel (and playing a game of Solitaire or two).
I’ve had a change of heart with one of my antagonists. He is going to be more of an ambiguous villain, wanting to follow the master plan, but also wanting to please and impress my protagonist, Alice. I know, I know, I seem to keep changing major part of the novel and it seems to be dragging on forever. After all, I am not aiming to write great ‘L’ Literature; instead, I want to supply a decent Steampunk read. It is just that I really do want this novel to be the very best that it can be.

With a severe editing, I have 118000 words approximately. This is excellent, since I was aiming for a 120,000 word length. I don’t think I need to add much more to the body of the story, only to the final couple of chapters. I can see where I have a few more scenes that I need to cull. It is starting to look close to a final draft.
The plot and characters and settings are all complementing each other, without one aspect overpowering the others. The story has a good balance between action, dialogue and narration. I’ve worked hard to make my characters interesting and relatable. There is lots of shiny, shiny science. (So SHINY!) I’ve worked hard to stay away from stereotypes and clichés.
As well, in the past month I had a very kind rejection of my nonfiction book (too intellectual for their target audience!). So now it gets another polish and sent off to market again.
   So … did you miss me?


Filed under Personal experience, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, Uncategorized

Being Productive whilst on Holidays; Flights of Fancy


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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Filed under Editing, Personal experience, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, the Muse, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Career

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker – a member of the X Club

 [Reproduction of a portrait of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, director of Kew Gardens] [picture]

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker – as well as being a member of the X Club – was one of the greatest British botanists and explorers of the Victorian era. He is considered by historians to be Charles Darwin’s closest friend. He was Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, for twenty years, in succession to his father, William Jackson Hooker. Alas, unlike the other members of the X Club, he was not a supporter of women’s rights, particularly in regard to his beloved Kew Gardens; there were no women employed as gardeners or scientists during his directorship and few women scholars were awarded permission to use the facilities. To be fair, he did employ botanical artist, Matilda Smith, for 43 years from 1878.

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker

Joseph Dalton Hooker as a young man and a bit of a dish.

It is hard to pick just one or two adventures from Hooker’s explorations, but most interesting to me as an Australian was his attendance on an expedition to Antarctica, since he spent time in both Australia and New Zealand. He also explored the Himalayas, India, Morocco, Palestine, and the Americas, and worked extensively in Great Britain as a palaeobotanist. But I find the “Ayrton Controversy” to be of the most interest, particularly as it occurred at the same time as I have set my Steampunk novel, the early 1870s.

One of the rare days Kew Gardens was open to the public in the 1870s.

Quote: [Ayton’s] appointment as First Commissioner of Works by Gladstone in 1869 was greeted in The Times with the prophecy that it would prove “another instance of Mr. Ayrton’s unfortunate tendency to carry out what he thinks right in as unpleasant a manner as possible”.

Acton Smee Ayrton

Acton Smee Ayrton was an unscrupulous British politician with a chip on his shoulder. (And I was thrilled to find Smee was a real name! I can’t help but wonder if J M Barrie was thinking of this case while writing Peter Pan, with the resemblance of the names to that of Captain Hook and his bosun, Smee.) He made a concerted effort to have Kew Gardens taken away from Hooker so that the funding for Kew Gardens could be diverted to other projects. Ayrton approached Hooker’s colleagues and employees behind his back, with the aim of getting Hooker to resign. Ayrton actually took the making of staff appointments out of Hooker’s hands.

Ayrton didn’t value the scientific work taking place in the botanical sciences, and planned to convert Kew Gardens into just another park. He kept up a constant barrage of petty attacks on Hooker and his reputation, and on the reputation of his father, Sir William Jackson Hooker, Regius Professor of Botany, who had also been a Director of Kew Gardens. This pressure was kept up for over two years, driving Hooker to despair.

From Wikipedia: Finally, Hooker asked to be put in communication with Gladstone’s private secretary, Algernon West. A full statement was drawn up over the signatures of Darwin, Lyell, Huxley, Tyndall, Bentham and others. It was laid before Parliament by John Lubbock, and additional papers laid before the House of Lords. Lord Derby called for all the correspondence on the matter. The Treasury supported Hooker and criticised Ayrton’s behaviour.
One extraordinary fact emerged. There had been an official report on Kew which had not previously been seen in public. Ayrton had caused this to be written by Richard Owen. Hooker had not seen it, and so had not been given right of reply. However, the report was amongst the papers laid before Parliament, and it contained the most unscrupulous attack on both the Hookers, and suggested (amongst much else) that they had mismanaged the care of their trees, and that their systematic botany was nothing more than “attaching barbarous binomials to foreign weeds”. The discovery of this report no doubt helped to sway opinion in favour of Hooker and Kew (there was debate in the press as well as Parliament). Hooker replied to the Owen report point by point in a factual manner, and his reply placed with the other papers on the case. When Ayrton was questioned about it in the debate led by Lubbock, he replied that “Hooker was too low an official to raise questions of matter with a Minister of the Crown”.
The outcome was not a vote in the Commons, but a kind of truce until, in August 1874, Gladstone transferred Ayrton from the Board of Works to the office of Judge Advocate-General, just before his government fell. Ayrton failed to get re-elected to Parliament. From that moment to this, the value of the Botanic Gardens has never been seriously questioned. In the midst of his troubles, Hooker was elected as President of the Royal Society in 1873. This showed publicly the high regard which Hooker’s fellow scientists had for him, and the great importance they attached to his work.

Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker.jpg

Wasn’t Ayrton a cockroach! As it was, Hooker overcame this sneak attack on his reputation. He remained friends with Darwin, and was one of the people who supported his theories both publically and privately. He has a small cameo role in my Steampunk narrative, where he comes off as rather too busy to be concerned with my protagonist’s wish for a scholar’s pass to the gardens. And now we all know why…

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, The X Club, Uncategorized

Son of a Famous Father: A Steampunk Writer’s Perspective

George Darwin

George Darwin is the son of a famous father, which means that the fame of Charles Darwin overshadows George’s accomplishments. In other circumstances, it would have been George who brought recognition and honour to the Darwin name, for he was an accomplished mathematician and astronomer, and he formulated the fission theory of Moon formation.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

One of the first attempts to explain the varying composition of the Earth and its Moon was George Darwin’s Fission Theory. George theorized the proto-Moon was flung from Earth’s crust by centrifugal force and the action of the solar tidal forces. However, this theory has been disproven as it would require too great an initial spin of the Earth, so fast that the Earth would disintegrate. It was a valid theory in its day, and was the starting point for further investigation into how the Earth/Moon double planet was formed.

Charles G. Darwin, Bain News Service photo portrait.jpg

Charles Galton Darwin – Charles Darwin’s grandson

George Darwin’s major fields of study were the three-body problem in the case of the orbits of the Sun-Earth-Moon system and the stability of rotating fluids. His interest in fluids was inspired by his interest Fission Theory. His conclusions that a pear-shaped rotating mass is stable are today thought to be incorrect. Despite the fact both his theories are probably incorrect, George Darwin was and is important in being the first to apply mathematical techniques to study the evolution of the Sun-Earth-Moon system.


Thomas Huxley – Darwin’s Bulldog

On a side note, he is the father of the physicist, Charles Darwin (named for his illustrious grandfather), who was the father of George Pember Darwin. This great-grandson of the family patriarch marred the great-granddaughter of Thomas Huxley, ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’, the greatest supporter of the theory of evolution. This fulfils my storytelling twitch most satisfactorily.

George Darwin sepia tone.jpg

Silver Fox!

George has a more active part to play in my Steampunk novel than his father because he is a vigorous twenty-six at the time of my setting. It doesn’t hurt that he was rather good-looking either. His brother Francis, the botanist, also has a role in the novel, but will be the topic of another blog post. In fact, three of Darwin’s sons went on to be scientists; intelligence, curiosity, and a hunger to know the truth was obviously a family trait. His daughter Henrietta (Etty) helped him with his research, and married another scholar and mathematician, Richard Litchfield.

Etty Darwin

Wouldn’t you have loved to attended those family gatherings? As a writer, I am inspired by the concept of a family of such genius.

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Filed under Characterization, Science, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Work-in-Progress

Making Sense: Using All Five Senses in Characterization

Professor Alice in modern era

Thought Experiment: Your character has smelly feet. What image sprung to mind?

What was their gender?
What was their age?
What kind of personal hygiene did you assume?

Even one small detail can affect characterization. As part of the ‘show, don’t tell’ goal of good writing, you shouldn’t neglect the opportunity to give insights into a character by tapping into the five senses. A woman with calluses on her hands could be a farmer or a sword-mistress. A man with silky soft skin is unlikely to work in harsh environments. A child using a loud voice may be excited, or live with a deaf relative. Using this technique, you can hint at their personality or identity without having to ‘spell it out’.

You can get stinky feet by walking in Wellington boots all day, even if your hygiene is excellent. But if your character has just taken off their shoes and you need to evacuate the house, they may have a medical problem. Depending on how likeable you want that character to be, I suggest that explain why their shoes stink so badly. In my Steampunk narrative, it isn’t the feet that stink, but the boots, as they are slowly dissolved by the chemicals used in the laboratory.


Filed under Characterization, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, Writing Style

Eat Your Vegetables: the vegetarians of Victorian England

Image from the Punch magazine – really taking ‘you are what you eat’ to the extreme.

While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth? – George Bernard Shaw

Vegetarianism is not a fashionable new lifestyle trend or hippy fad; it has been around for thousands of years and many religion practice it in some form or another. People become vegetarian for moral, religious, health, and ethical reasons … even for a matter of taste if they don’t like meaty flavours and textures. People who practice vegetarianism may be vegans, or still eat animals-based proteins like eggs and dairy, or even eat seafood and chicken (though I would count these last as omnivores). It is easy to be a vegetarian where I live, as there is a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables available all the year around. It wasn’t so easy in Victorian Britain.

It wasn’t just that fresh fruit and vegetables were seasonal and often hard to obtain. For some, being a vegetarian was a political statement and for others, it was an attempt to avoid many of the fatal diseases that plagued the population. The word ‘vegetarianism’ was coined in the 1850s, but the practice was well documented much earlier in the 19th century.

There is a Dickensian irony in the names of the vegetarian leaders of the early 1800s – Cowherd, Metcalfe, and Lambe all conjuring up visions of chops and roasts. – The Cambridge World History of Food

Reverend William Metacalfe

The three mentioned above were all christened with the personal name of William. Doctor William Lambe was the forefather of veganism. In the Victorian era, the word ‘vegetable’ in those days included all types of vegetation such as fruits, grains, nuts, beans and so on. Doctor Lambe became a vegan at 41 for health reasons and kept to his strictly vegetable/vegan diet for the rest of life. He was in his eighties when he died, so the diet worked for him. Reverend William Cowherd one of the philosophical forerunners of the Vegetarian Society founded in 1847, even though he had died in 1816. Cowherd advocated and encouraged members of his followers to abstain from the eating of meat as a form of temperance. The Reverend William Metcalfe took up his cause and carried it to America, when his family migrated in 1817. Metcalfe and his wife tried to teach their neighbours in Philadelphia about pacifism, temperance, abolitionism and vegetarianism. All three Williams gained attention and the practice of vegetarianism spread.

However, a bit like today, committed vegetarians were seen by crackpots by those people who ate meat. Punch was particularly fond of targeting vegetarians in their humour. This isn’t stop the opening of vegetarian restaurants, nor did it discourage famous followers of a vegetarian diet, such as the wrtiers and poets, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw and Percy Shelley. Henry Stephens Salt is probably the most famous vegetarian as he was also an animal rights activist, writer, socialist, pacifist, and so much more (I will be dedicating a post all to Henry Salt in the near future).

My protagonist in my Steampunk novel is a botanist and inventor, but she still eats meat. But her interest in plants means that she eats a broader range of plant-based foods than the average Victorian who wasn’t a vegetarian. And when she does encounter a true vegan, she isn’t judgemental of their diet. In fact, she wants to discuss nutrition and the health benefits with her…


Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Work-in-Progress

Napoleon Bonaparte’s flintlock pistol

As part of the characterization of my antagonist in my Steampunk novel, my villain is a huge fan of Napoleon. I think it would be quite in character for him to carry this little pistol. It suits the flamboyance and drama of his nature quite well.


Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Steampunk Work-in-Progress