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As well as discovering a rich backdrop of inspiration, I uncovered untapped memories of my own. When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to take me and my siblings to traction engine fairs. I remember the green fields and muddy tracks, bold red and green painted engines with huge wheels and pumping pistons. Most of all, I remember the noise and smell; the sudden whoosh as steam was released that made me leap behind the safety of my grandfather and set my heart hammering against my ribs. The grimy, oily scent would stay in my nostrils for days and linger on the periphery of my senses. I was barely the height of those massive cast-iron wheels and the engines terrified me, deeply embedding a sense of awe. It is that same sense of awe that drew me towards speculative fiction with its big question of ‘what if?’ and then steampunk fiction, drawing on a nostalgia that has sat in the back of my mind for most of my life. If science fiction deals with the ‘what if?’ of pure invention, then perhaps steampunk deals with the ‘what then?’ – a reimagining of what has already been discovered.
My aim was to write a piece of fiction using the city as a backdrop, evoking a strong sense of place. Victorian London has always been a classic backdrop for steampunk and because I know the city well, I felt able to feed on its nostalgia. I chose Paris because it fascinates me and the similarities and differences between the two cities was interesting to explore. So with the background suitably steampunk, I managed to get in a bit of steam-powered tech alongside the retro-futuristic inventions. The protagonist’s story itself attempts to subvert the norms of the historical times, simply by the fact she is female attempting to enter a male dominated profession. And of course, there have to be aliens involved somewhere.
Hope you enjoy it – published this week in Electric Spec.
Two for three pound from the Duracell man;
grey, weathered and running on borrowed time,
sells a packet from his suitcase; living proof.
Musty smell of fabric boxed up for too long,
waiting for its glorious Sunday release.
Teddies, clothes for tots and handbags,
watches lined up in rows of boxes,
crates and crates of pants and soxes.
A mountain of shoes piled high
like a lost shoe emporium.
Lookie, lookie, look; three a tenner
for souvenir London bric-a-brac.
Sunglasses and pocket watches
and racks of cheap schoolgirl overcoats,
Christmas jumpers and gold lamé leggings.
Barbecue chicken wafts across the
‘everything for fifty pee’ opposite
sparkly mobile phone cases in pink, white
and blue sky blue with slippers and crocs
sharing the same spot side by side.
Turn around and see the Gerkin
poking its obscene nose into London’s skyline.
‘Cockney Touch Clothing’ that sells only saris.
Then the Tikka…
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You might have guessed by now, my curious reader, that I am ever so slightly obsessed by the London Underground and in particular, stops on the Northern Line. This is a little bit of a cheat and a play on words, as was my previous story, Angel. Another departure from my usual SF/Fantasy, but one that explores family, loss and the hidden fire inside us all. One of the scenes in Burnt Oak is taken from a real story told to me second hand and another is lifted from my past and re-told in all its fiery glory. I’m not going to tell you which scenes they are. After all, where would be the fun in that?
This one’s for my brothers; Happy Birthday, Martin – I miss you. x
Many thanks to the Writers’ Hub, an interactive web portal from the Writing Programme at Birkbeck, University of London, for publishing my story.
Described as “London’s most vibrant venue for new theatre, comedy and cabaret”, the Soho Theatre is a creative hive for new writers, supporting their development in an increasingly competitive arena. According to Rebecca Gould, Creative Producer at the Soho Theatre and guest speaker on the MA Creative Writing at Westminster, the London theatre scene encourages an entrepreneurial approach to playwriting and theatre. Playwrights can no longer just write in isolation, send off their scripts and expect to get snapped up by producers. They need to be proactive and get involved in readings, performances and projects. Take a look at their website, and you’ll start to get the point. People from all walks of life can get involved in the theatre’s projects; from community projects, to Soho Young Playwrights project, to Comedy in Schools and Connections with the National Theatre. Rebecca talked about The Writers’ Centre at Soho Theatre, which…
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When my boys were young they wanted to play with guns. Being a conscientious mother, I steered them away from those plastic battle toys and harnessed their interest in puzzle solving, bubble blowing and Duplo bricks. One afternoon, I left them building towers in their room and returned some time later to discover they had built a veritable weapons store out of the Duplo and were in the middle of a game of shoot-em-up. It was then I realised that I was fighting the very forces of nature itself. Read the rest of this entry
Finally, I have put together a list of books that I have come across along the way, during the course of my research. Many of these have been recommended to me by other readers/writers, who have enjoyed steampunk. Others, have been cited as being influential to the development of the genre. My final piece of writing focuses on just a small number of these, but I only wish that I had been given more space to explore all of these texts. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but may provide you with a starting point for making your own explorations into this fantastic and remarkable genre of fiction. Enjoy…
Charles Dickens, The Mudfog Papers (1837-8)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Professor Challenger Series (1912-1928)
Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
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This week, I took time out to visit the house in Regent’s Park where H.G. Wells lived the final years of his life. H.G. Wells is a massive influence on Steampunk fiction, alongside other 19th Century greats such as, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens. It was curious emerging from Baker Street tube station, as I was confronted with a tall bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes with his deerstalker hat and smoking pipe.
Turning the corner, you could have been forgiven for missing the plaque on the wall commemorating H.G. Wells. Further up Baker Street, outside 221b, there was a crowd of tourists waiting to enter the Sherlock Holmes museum. It made me reflect on Arthur Conan Doyle, the 19th Century writer whose fictional detective has undergone somewhat of a Steampunk makeover in the recent films starring Robert Downey Jnr…
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