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.
Welcome to the Bloodletter’s Arms for our annual seasonal celebrations. Tonight I’d like to introduce you to our speciality house tipple, which has been fermented in oak coffins for the discerning taste of our gothic clientele. It’s red, bubbly and bursting with the taste of iron girders. We call this one, ‘Vlad to be here’. I propose a toast to you all, to an eternity of indifference and alternate reality. Here is my secret recipe.
(WARNING: This is not for the faint-hearted; children should not try this at home without adult supervision.)
- Take partially germinated human blood and mix with eggs to make a frothy mush. This process converts the human form into dust, which is used to re-group into a new species.
- The new species is drawn off once the dust is spent and boiled in a vat over an open fire.
- Separate new life form from the fire and cool in a blood bag labelled, ‘handle with care’.
- Water is then added to convert the life form into something you might not want to take home to meet the parents.
- It smells like a chundering traction gurney and spews heat like hell’s fire from the underground that fuels London.
- Suck it up quick before you gag and preferably not within sight of anyone in their right mind.
- Twelve hours later, your skull splits open and peels you from the inside out.
Some people feel slightly nauseous, but once this process is complete you’ll feel perfectly normal.
Silence. Whispers. Echoes in his head.
An abandoned kindergarten at Dalston Junction. All Hallows Eve. How apt.
Frederick, former teacher, now turned vampire hunter,
snapped the rusted chain with his bolt cutters and the gate screeched open.
Had to find her. Had to stop the menace, the cat-calling, for her mother’s sake, at least.
And there she was, small, shy, sly and bitten by evil itself.
Her gaunt, hollow cheeks sucked in at the sight of him
and her marbled veins pulsed with hunger. She smiled,
revealing a neat row of pointed teeth.
Unblinking eyes looked him up and down with dispassion.
Her puff-sleeved pinafore and high heeled boots belied her tender years,
but not the speed with which she shot out to meet Frederick,
leaving a trail of vapour in her wake.
Her touch was stone cold and froze his skin on point of contact,
‘till he screamed like he was set on fire.
With a gentle touch she leaned in to rest her teeth on his neck.
Her breath was like polo mints with a hint of ginger and a sub-layer of decay.
She buzzed like a humming bird; did she have wings now?
Or was that the venom taking effect on his consciousness?
Lulled to a sinking sleep, he slipped into her arms and fell,
drowning in her steely embrace.