Tag Archives: Steampunk Novel

Looking for a great Steampunk read?

The Epiphany Club

The Epiphany Club


I’m always on the lookout for great Steampunk books. Andrew Knighton also write short stories in the Steampunk genre.


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Filed under Andrew Knighton, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Writer

Guest Post by Karen Carlisle

The Department of Curiosities: The Aussie Connection

Karen Carlisle


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.

Image supplied by Karen Carlisle

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.

Imaged supplied by Karen Carlisle

“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.

Image supplied by Karen Carlisle

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Filed under Australian Author, Australian Steampunk Author, Karen Carlisle, Steampunk, Steampunk Aesthetic, Steampunk Author, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized

Steampunk Gadgets – a video by yours truly

panel-for-backgroundSteampunk Gadgets

The link takes you to a Youtube video, with Cogpunk Steamscribe (in her Steampunk Sunday persona) discussing the delightful gadgets of the Steampunk cosplayer.


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Filed under Celebrating 30 years of Steampunk, Gadgets, Steampunk, Steampunk Cosplay, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Sunday, Steampunk Technology, Steampunk Themes

How Setting and Plot can affect Characterisation


My main character of my Steampunk novel is a seventeen year old girl called Alice. She is a polymath, and finds it difficult to gain respect and recognition for her inventions and education in the male-dominated field of science in Britain, in the 1870s. How you build a character should link back to your setting and plot. I am going to run though how Professor Alice was developed.

When I first had my idea for the novel, I knew it was going to be about a woman fighting against the established patriarchal restrictions built into the scientific society of Victorian England. So the fact she was female was a given. And she had to be tough and resilient.

She also needed to be rich. Alas, but only the daughters of the wealthy usually had access to a proper scientific education. A poor girl would be lucky to scrape enough education to read, write, and do figures. I made both her parents well educated, so that it was more likely that Alice would receive a better education than watercolours and piano playing. By making them minor nobility, it also gave me the opportunity to explore the class system of the Victorian era.

Now to pile on the negatives and increase her struggle. Red hair was NOT a fashionable colour in the 1870s, and was associated with prostitution and the lower classes. I didn’t want Alice to be a conventionally pretty woman. As well, I made her tall, in an era when small women were favoured over tall women (and I suffer from height envy – if I can’t be tall, I can at least write about tall women). In this way, she is visually striking without being considered beautiful, so that her looks would create uncertainty in social occasions. No hiding away like a wallflower for my Alice.

She was going to be having a lot of adventures, so she had to be fit and active. As well, she doesn’t wear corsets or skirts on a daily basis, because they restrict her movements and bustle skirts are simply dangerous in a laboratory. This would also add to the perception of her unnaturalness or Otherness in society.

When you look at characters in books, don’t assume that their appearance was just a random choice by the author. A small, brown-haired Alice with no money or education would not have been able to function within my plot.

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Filed under Alice, Characterization, Plot, Setting, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Uncategorized

The Editing Blues

This post was inspired by a discussion with author, Kara Jorgensen.



I’ve discovered the biggest difference (for me) between writing and editing. The more I write, the easier it becomes to write. However, it never works that way with editing. *sigh* I get to a point where the manuscript I’m editing no longer makes any sense. Sometimes I have to step away to ‘freshen my brain’. I think of it as the Editing Blues or Editing Burnout. (This is why I use beta readers. Sometimes, I just get blind to the problems.)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate editing. It just makes me want to add more, polish more, and fiddle with structure. It tends to become a never-ending process. The more I edit, the more I can see where I can add more details to help refine the plot, or highlight the importance of the setting, or to intensify characterisation. I want to make my Steampunk manuscript absolutely perfect.

In the past, I’ve been able to sit down and write a novel from start to end, and some of these novels haven’t needed that much polishing. I suspect this is because I am not so emotionally invested in these stories as I am in others. Some projects seem to require more attention than others. I suspect my expectations are higher. It is like expecting a pass mark for Phys. Ed. and a top mark in English; I am just better at some things and it is easier to put in the extra effort for a good mark. Maybe that isn’t the best analogy.

A mother shouldn’t like some of her children better than the others … but I do. My Steampunk novel has to be utterly perfect before I send it off. I want the plot to be convoluted by still logical and easy to follow; I want the characters to be fully realised and unforgettable; and I want the settings to act as framing devices par excellence, full of metaphor, resonance, and meaning. I want the prose to sing! To make my readers remember part for weeks after they have read the book, and smile to themselves. I wasn’t to see online discussions of who would play which character if a movie or television show was made based on the book. This book should bring as much joy to my readers as other books have thrilled and enchanted me.


That kind of perfection takes work. Sometimes, it seems like too much work and I am overwhelmed by my own vision.

This is when the skills of learnt as a writer kicks in. Take it one page at a time. It kind of reminds me of that old adage: looks after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. Get one page right, and then the next page, and so on … and one day the editing will be finished. It takes time and dedication to climb a mountain.

In other news, I’ve received another rejection; my story wasn’t long enough and they felt I overestimated age of the suitable audience. This is great feedback, because now I know to re-target my submission list for this manuscript. I am well on track to get 100 rejections in this financial year!



Filed under Editing, Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Writer, The Writing Life

Green Freckles – a possible scene from my Steampunk Work-In-Progress

This is how Alice should look.

While working on her Green Man, Alice pondered the issue of photosynthesis. It seemed rather unfair that plants could make their own food using sunshine, whereas any lengthy time out in the sun just gave her freckles. What evolutionary use were freckles? They certainly didn’t mottle the skin enough to create good camouflage.

She could understand why a furry animal would be unable to use photosynthesis. Hairs were basically dead, and would be unable to transfer any benefits if the hair was green with chlorophyll. (Alice didn’t know about the special transparent hairs of polar bears, which transfer sunlight to the skin of the bear; she was a botanist, not a zoologist.) But the bare skin of a human being would be perfect for such a process.

Think of how mankind would benefit from such an adaptation. No person need ever suffer from starvation, due to poverty or a crop failure. And even the wildlife and the wild plants would benefit, because there wouldn’t need to be so much clearing of forest for fields. Animals like pigs could be converted over to photosynthetic feeding, and how happy would the farmers be when they could fatten their baconers simply by taking them for a walk in the sunshine?

If you wanted to lose weight, you would simply wear more clothes and a hat and carry a parasol!

If you were feeling peaky, you would go for a sun bath. You wouldn’t need chicken soup; which would make the chickens much happier.

Of course, people would still eat for pleasure, and they would still need to drink just as much. As well, the human digestive system would still need a certain amount of daily roughage to keep things moving along, as it were.

With all this to consider, Alice was still intrigued by the idea of having the ability to photosynthesise. So she experimented on a few lizards and naked mole rats until she was certain she had got her methodology under control. And then she tried it out.

Alice developed a process that converted the melatonin in your skin to chlorophyll, and turned it onto a symbiote, in the same way that lichen was a symbiotic life form created from fungi and algae. However, where the fungis couldn’t live without the algae and visa versa, Alice was quite capable of living without her symbiote if the experiment wasn’t a success.

Alice went to bed wondering if her experiment was going to work. She expected to wake up in the morning a pale shade of green, too pale for anyone to notice.  Things didn’t go quite to plan. When she woke up in the morning, her smattering of freckles had turned a rich shade of blue-tinged green, while her skin remained cream.

“Oh dear,” said Alice, when she caught sight of her image in her bathroom mirror. The effect wasn’t unattractive, but it was startling. Her skin looked like moss quartz or milk opal.

Her godmother dropped her spoon with a clatter when Alice sat across from her at breakfast.

“Mon Dieu! Have you caught the green measles?” Amélie exclaimed. “Are you contagious? Should I send for a doctor?”

“No. I am afraid I did this to myself,” said Alice. “I was attempting to give myself the ability to photosynthesise, like plants.”

“Oh Alice! How  could you be so foolish? You have a hard enough time gaining acceptance in society as it is, without green freckles.” Then another thought struck. “Is this permanent?” asked her godmother, with growing horror.

“I’m not certain,” said Alice. “Though I theorise that if I refrain from going out into the sun, I imagine the chlorophyll organelles with perish, or at least atrophy.”

“Do you have any idea how long that might take?”

“No. But it is such a pretty green. It goes nicely with my eyes and hair. Can’t we pretend it is some new French fashion? After all, there was a fashion for beauty marks for a time.”

Amélie looked thoughtful. “We can try. The only other option is for you to become a recluse and hope the green fades away enough to be unnoticeable.”

One of the side effects that Alice hadn’t counted on was that photosynthesis creates oxygen and uses up carbon dioxide. It meant that she tired less, and she wasn’t as easily winded. And for a time, it did become fashionable to have green skin or green freckles. Fashionable women dyed their skins or painted themselves with green dots. It looked fine on the redheads and the brunettes, but the blonde girls had to keep the green pale so as not to look rather strange.

Even fashionable men took up the practice. Several dandies went so far as to dye their beards and moustaches green, since they didn’t have enough facial skin showing. It started quite the Green Man fashion movement.

Felix was one of those who took to painting green freckles on his face. He didn’t go overboard. He just dabbed a light scattering of freckles over his nose, and made sure he always wore a matching handkerchief in the exact same colour. Sometime he wore a green matching carnation in his lapel as well. He started a fad among the Aesthetic Movement for wearing a boutonnière.

Alice was relieved to find that the green freckles did die off over time, even if they weren’t starved of sunlight. She liked the idea that she could have green freckles, but she didn’t enjoy the thought of having them forever, like a tattoo.  It was fun to look a little different when you wanted to, but there were times when you just wanted to fit in.

Being tall and a redhead made that hard enough. And there were times when you wanted to wear something other than green…


Filed under Editing, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, writing

Richard Harland: Australian Steampunk Author

With Richard Harland 2012 Supanova Gold Coast

Richard Harland wrote the first Australian Steampunk novel I recognised as being part of the Steampunk genre: The Black Crusade. We met at a Freecon in Sydney, where I was enchanted by both Richard and his book. Since then, he has gone on to write the Worldshaker series, also in the Steampunk genre. We meet up once in a while at various conferences, usually Supanova. Richard has two of my favourite Steampunk accessories, his hat and his guitar. Like Michael Pryor, he is very approachable and a charming man.

The Black Crusade is both a comedy and a horror story, as well as having the best Steampunk gadgets. It certainly has Absurdist overtones, with some really lurid, technicolour adventures. One of the main characters in the book is Volusia, aka ‘the Australian Songbird’, so there is a strong Australian connection. Though an Englishman by birth, Mr Harland has lived in Australia since 1970.

His website is at: http://www.richardharland.net/

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Filed under Australian Steampunk Author, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre