Back in the early 70’s, I told an acquaintance I wanted to buy a motorcycle because I couldn’t afford a car. Their response was: “Girls aren’t supposed to ride motorcycles.” That was the absolute wrong thing to say, because here’s a picture of me a couple of years later on my trusty Honda CB400F, en route to a campsite in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges.
Rest assured that was not dangerously flowing water, but just a big puddle left over from seasonal rain. Also, excuse the blurriness, the photo was taken with an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera.
Over the next six years, I managed to clock up tens of thousands of kilometres on motorcycles, and had a few close calls that still send shivers up and down my spine just thinking about. Fortunately, my single (minor) concussion came from ploughing into a hole obscured by bulldust on a 600 km stretch of unsealed road between Broome and Port Headland in outback Western Australia. There were no mobile phones back then, and even if there were, there’d be no coverage. My partner was riding way ahead. He didn’t see me fall.
After I woke up, I had to bend the front of my bike back into shape, then ride it to the nearest roadhouse where I spoke to the flying doctor who advised I rest for a few days before continuing on.
What do you notice that’s different about the above two photos?
Picture One: Jeans and ski jacket. Clearly female.
Picture Two: Full length, padded leathers.
The leathers were great. They saved me from gravel rash when I fell. They also hid my gender because, when riding on country roads by myself, I did so because I wanted to be alone. Why? Well, my gender sometimes attracted unwanted attention. If I refused to “cooperate” I’d be left feeling unsafe.
Yes. More unsafe than being on a two wheeled vehicle with only a crash helmet, jeans, ski jacket and a pair of army-disposal flying boots between me and the road!
A friend once told me of how she was approached by another motorcyclist who planted himself in front of her, complimented her Moto Guzzi 750 and asked for a date. “Sorry, I already have a boyfriend,” she said. After she took off, he proceeded to follow her, right up close, taking every turn she took, matching her speed, even when she deliberately slowed down to let him pass. Luckily it was in the city, so she managed to lose him.
I myself had a similar experience from a car driver at a petrol bowser, though fortunately I wasn’t followed. Instead, I was spat at, for not responding to a wolf whistle.
“Snobby bitch,” he said. For a long moment, I almost believed I’d deserved it. Hence the leathers.
My grandmother was born in 1898, and when she talked about a woman she disliked, she’d finish her complaint with a sexist insult. I don’t believe she specifically hated women, but when she grew up, sexism went mostly unchallenged.
“It’s a man’s world,” she used to say. On some days she’d sound like a feminist. On others she’d sound as if she hated feminism, and on others as if she’d given up.
My experiences as a motorcyclist — and also of hearing misogynistic comments from women who themselves suffered prejudice — have all contributed to the ways in which I represent misogyny in fiction. In the 19th century world of THE ETERNAL MACHINE, misogyny turns up a handful of times, but only from the mouths of narrow-minded servants (not all of my servant characters are narrow minded, BTW), and also from a heat-of-the-moment insult uttered by my novel’s antagonist, Sir Ambrus, a wealthy, narcissistic sociopath (not all my wealthy characters are narcissistic sociopaths, either). Later, after a brief and rare moment of honest self-reflection, he concedes that an original judgement was wrong, and the woman in question was:
“…simply a woman who understood how her uniqueness brought censure. Much like himself, he mused. An undeserving outcast, unfairly judged.”
No doubt that piece of dialogue comes from life. But more importantly I wrote it in solidarity with every non-conforming woman who has been criticized, slut-shamed and punished for standing against oppression. I see it as my own personal choice, ie, the choice of a woman who has both faced and observed misogyny in its many forms. It was part of my past. Part of all women’s pasts, regardless of their race, class, culture and sexual orientations. Sadly, it is part of our present and futures too. If I were to pretend it didn’t happen, I’d be as good as gaslighting myself, rewriting my own history, dismissing all the slurs I was taught to ignore in my younger days to avoid arguments, but now speak up about and call out.
Back in the computer age, people had time to read books.
Steampunk is a genre of subversion, not only due to the actions of its characters but also for the ways its writers play with reality, creating imagined histories and technologies of science and fantasy. Inspiration can be drawn from both science fictional histories and contemporary histories. For example, in Morlock Night K.W. Jeter draws on aspects of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. In The Difference Engine William Gibson and Bruce Sterling create an alternate history where Charles Babbage’s original invention of the same name is mass produced to kickstart the age of computers.
At first sight, the anachronisms of steampunk appear to be little more than the curious gimmicks of an aesthetic that is widely believed to be over and done with. Back in 2008 when I decided to write my first novel in the genre, people would say, “Steampunk? What’s that?” Five years later when I tried to sell it, a revival had not only spiked but also petered out. The common response became, “Steampunk? Not again!” Having said that, new titles continue to be published, such as James P Blaylock’s The Steampunk Adventures of Langdon St. Ives, Gail Carriger’s Defy and Defend, and Phil Foglio & Kaja Foglio’s Agatha H and the Siege of Mechanicsburg (Girl Genius #4).
Furthermore, you can find a decent list of new works at Rising Shadow.
Perhaps another revival will happen again soon. After all, that’s how fashions roll.
But why steampunk? And why is the nineteenth century the perfect era to set it in? Is it simply a nostalgic return to the past? Or is it more than that?
Back in 2013 when I completed my PhD, I argued that steampunk was a historical narrative set in the past “seen through a speculative fictional lens that has been both irreverently tampered with and ingeniously enhanced with the benefit of hindsight.”
Similarly, Bowser and Croxall assert,
“Like most science fiction, it [steampunk] takes us out of our present moment; but instead of giving us a recognisably futuristic setting, complete with futuristic technology, steampunk provides us with anachronism: a past that is borrowing from the future or a future borrowing from the past.” (“Introduction: Industrial Evolution”. NeoVictorian Studies3:1 2010).
In this way, the kinds of technologies that many people take for granted become defamiliarised, or in other words, the familiar is made strange and at the same time illuminated. Eric Rabkin states:
“If we know the world to which a reader escapes, then we know the world from which he comes” (The Fantastic in Literature, 1976 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977): p. 73.
The anachronisms of steampunk can also be seen as a form of subversion because they are an intentional and playful revision of accepted history. Early examples include the sentient robots of K.W. Jeter’s, Infernal Devices and the 19th Century nuclear device in Ronald W Clarke’s Queen Victoria’s Bomb. Books such as these work particularly well in a nineteenth century setting because the Victorians were similar to us in many ways. They saw the establishment of the empirical sciences, the industrial revolution, the first wave of feminism, the rise of imperialism and colonialism, all of which are still relevant in today’s society. Steffen Hantke argues:
“What makes the Victorian past so fascinating is its unique historical ability to reflect the present moment.” (Difference Engines and Other Infernal Devices: History According to Steampunk. Extrapolation 40:3 (1999): pp. 244-254)
For us, the nineteenth century represents a turning point – a time where things could have happened differently in ways we can only imagine with the benefit of hindsight. Peter Nicholls writes,
“Victorian London has come to stand for one of those turning points in history where things can go one way or the other, a turning point peculiarly relevant to sf itself. It was a city of industry, science and technology where the modern world was being born, and a claustrophobic city of nightmare where the cost of this growth was registered in filth and squalor. Dickens – the great original Steampunk writer who, though he did not write sf himself, stands at the head of several sf traditions – knew all this.” (John Clute & Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, 1993 (London: Orbit, 1999): p. 1161).
I loved reading Dickens even before reaching my teens. By the time I sat down to write THE ETERNAL MACHINE, I’d read most of his novels at least once.
Two or three years ago, a little before I decided to get THE ETERNAL MACHINE professionally edited, I wanted to do something different with the genre. One of my early drafts was set in an unnamed fantasy world, but the worldbuilding was lacking, so I decided to flesh it out by moving it to an alternate reality in Sydney, Australia. I decided it needed a recognisable landmark, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge immediately sprang to mind. Yep, I know the bridge wasn’t built until the early 20th Century, but Steampunk is a genre of anachronisms, and in my novel, magic and science are equally valid disciplines. This made a very corrupted version of the bridge not only recognisable but also possible.
Next I needed a magic system that was not entirely smoke and mirrors. I already had the bare bones, but I wanted something inextricably linked to character and based on as much history as imagination. Therefore I put on my subversive writer’s hat. Or perhaps took a wild risk, because instead of basing my magic on science fictional history or folk magic or myth, I chose to playfully base it on a real life obscure metaphysical theory — The Monadology — devised in 1690 (published 1714) by the philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. This theory has more recently been argued by Eric Steinhart to be a description of virtual reality.
What I ended up with was an anachronism within an anachronism, or in other words, a 17th Century theory that describes a 20th Century concept set in a 19th Century alternate reality. I’m not going to try and explain it all here — and I’ll blog about it later — but the challenge was to cherry pick enough of the theory to eliminate the need for more than a few sentences of explanation, which I drip fed where the plot demanded.
Using this idea quickly became fun and most probably irreverent. If Leibniz or any professional philosophers would ever read it, I suspect they’d either be annoyed or amused 😉
The truth is: I discovered the Monadology twenty years ago, and have enjoyed reading about it ever since. Even papers that discredit its logic. After all, arguments for and against an idea are fodder for the muse, especially if that idea is controversial.
My second to last proofread has arrived, and after combing through it, I was delighted to find my proofreader found only a single typo I hadn’t already found myself. I’ve still got a month until release date and I’m not going to sit back and believe there aren’t any errors left because I’m sure typo gremlins live inside my keyboard. If I slack off now, they might start self-replicating 😉 Fortunately I have one more proofread yet to arrive from a friend who also edits for a living. It’s taking a while but it will be worth it. Only then will I believe my job is done, and can then dedicate more time to writing novel number two.
Just for fun, here are some of the things I’ve had to fix:
The usual spelling errors and missed words. Not that many, fortunately, but they’re gone now.
A few missed quotation marks
Appraised instead of apprised Wretched instead of retched Torturous instead of tortuous
Argh! Why doesn’t my brain see these when I write them? I asked a couple of other writers around my age and they confirmed this is something that gets worse as people get older. Not happy about that. At least I know now, and will triple check next time.
While I was proofreading I also tweaked a handful of sentences that still felt a bit clunky. To be honest, I could probably keep doing that for the next 10 years, but now it’s time to stop.
Lastly, I’ve been checking and double checking my layouts. Six months ago, I purchased Vellum, and it was expensive and only works on a Mac (which fortunately I have). It was easy to learn and certainly a worthwhile investment. Ebooks and Print layouts look way more professional than I could have done myself, and these are made within seconds with just a single keystroke.
Here are some examples of how my novel is going to look:
The beauty of doing the formatting myself with Vellum is that if I need to do any changes I can just get in there and do it and everything still looks great. It also does Nook, Kobo, Google and Generic.
Six weeks until my novel is released and despite hours and hours spent proofreading I’m still finding typos. Not many, fortunately; just the rare missed word such as ‘to’ or ‘the’, a couple of ridiculous misspellings, a misplaced comma and quotation mark, and most annoyingly, a couple of pesky malapropisms…
I have no idea why I wrote “wretched” instead of “retched” Or “appraised” instead of “apprised”? My brain knows the difference, but my keyboard and/or typing fingers do not seem to care.
Just as unforgivable, I found two instances of “it’s” being used in the possessive sense. How even? Surely it’s easier to leave out that apostrophe than it is to put it in.
Not that I’m proofreading on my own. My manuscript is having a final check by a couple of friends who have been through the whole process with their own work. Meanwhile, I’m double and triple checking, over and over, and still not satisfied.
Of course, MS Word’s spellchecker helps, but it’s not perfect. I type on a Mac, and follow up with the spell checker in Pages which seems to be a little more thorough. Both are good for spelling errors, but Pages seems to be better at picking up malapropisms. Even so, not everything gets caught.
Missed words are harder to see: eg, “how do” instead of “how to do”. And all because the human brain – and apparently computer brains – are great at filling in gaps. Or maybe I’ve been staring at the screen for too long, and when the grammar checker flags an absent word, I miss that as well.
This is why I get up and go for a brief walk around the garden every 15 mins. It wakes me up, forces me to refocus.
Another way to catch missing words is to read and listen at the same time. My version of MS word is the cheapest you can get, so it doesn’t read aloud, but I’ve found a couple of apps online which serve the purpose. I’m currently using Speakline which is pretty basic, but has a number of speeds and voices, is free and works on Macs and PCs.
Finally, as for clunky sentences, listening to Speakline helps with those as well, but fortunately, all but a couple were fixed by my line editor and copyeditor. Money well spent. Having professional advice not only helped polish my manuscript, but also felt like taking a masterclass with my own work as the focus.
But editing is expensive and with good reason: it takes a lot of concentration, many hours of work and training. Sadly, by the time I reached the final proofreading stage, my budget was blown.
So this is where I am now. Proofing and reproofing, pulling out typos with the same grudging dedication as pulling out weeds.
I have six weeks left and I plan to catch them all.
Here’s a sneak preview of my upcoming novel’s first chapter. I’ll post some more chapters later in the week. Hope you enjoy…
Common magic (skin magic) is absorbed by the skin directly from the atmosphere. On its own, it forms a weak echo of heart magic, producing light and a sense of wellbeing. Collectively, it will provide sufficient power to advance our industrial revolution.
~ SIR AMBRUS GRINDLE, PRODUCTIVITY & INDUSTRY
The line of workers stretched all the way from Rhodens Lane to the powerhouse. Here amongst the factories, there was no sunlight to warm people’s faces and little hope of bringing it back. Those who made it past the door now filtered into a basement crammed with chairs.
“I’m regretting this already,” Em muttered, shuffling along a row within sight of the exit. She contemplated retracing her steps, but too many people blocked her escape.
“Your first time, eh?” asked an old woman seated at the row’s end.
Em paused at the chair next to her, frowned at its wooden seat and splintery backrest.
“First time’s always the worst.” The old woman chuckled. Her breath smelled of gin, and her patchwork coat cut a bright contrast against her faded hair. “Don’t fret, my dear.” The woman chuckled again. “Your magic’ll be pulled out of you in no time and then you’ll get paid and forget all about bein’ scared. As sure as my name’s Rosie J, I’ll see you next week when you’re hankerin’ for more.
” Em let out a deep, shaky breath and sat. She looked to Lucien as he sank into the chair on her other side, the pewter charms in his shoulder length hair jingling.
“So this is it,” he said, voice laced with contempt. “The worker’s gold mine?” He grimaced at the gas lamps hanging by chains from the rafters. “They look like eyes. Of automatons. Crouched and ready to chew everyone up.”
“Lucien, please,” Em said. “You didn’t have to come.”
“Yes, yes, I know. But you’re not facing this alone. Besides…” He gave a hint of a smile. “Double our coins, double our savings.”
Em swallowed, mouth dry. She wished she’d not told Lucien of her plans to spend the evening under extraction. Endangering herself was one thing. Endangering the man she loved was unforgivable.
“You two had better get your boots off,” Rosie said. “Here comes the attendant.”
Em did as asked, then rolled up her leggings. As she straightened, she noticed a previous occupant had carved the words ‘Fate Damns’ into one of the armrests. She wondered if she could get away with adding something equally subversive, such as ‘Fate Exploits’, when a lad with tobacco-stained fingers prodded her forearm. “Get a move on, missy. If you’ve changed your mind, you know where the door is.”
Em froze, part panicked and part unsure what she was supposed to do.
“Roll up your sleeves unless you want the mages to come over and make a display of you.” The attendant pointed his chin at two men reclining in armchairs up the front. Their hands were white-gloved and gentlemanly, rumoured to be charged with enough magic to knock a room full of workers senseless.
The attendant wound the electrodes around Em’s wrists and ankles. He fastened straps around her forehead, pinning her head to the back of the chair. “Quicker than lacing a corset, eh?” He patted her knee. “But not as titillating.”
Lucien grunted. “Keep your hands on the job, lackey boy, or you’ll go blind.”
Old Rosie cackled. “Couldn’t have said it better m’self.”
“Mind your manners.” The lad turned his sneer to Lucien. “An’ as for you: them foreigner words aren’t welcome here.
” Em couldn’t move her head to see Lucien, but knew he would be fuming. Foreigner indeed! He may not talk like a local, but he knew the city well enough to belong. Biting her tongue, she fixed her gaze on the two mages, hating them for docking everyone’s pay merely to force them here.
She counted to thirty, willed herself to relax. All too soon an attendant announced the final seat had filled. Other attendants took their places in the aisles.
The hall quietened.
Someone hummed a dirge.
“Get it over with,” Rosie grumbled. “If you take all day, I’ll be wettin’ me knickers.
” Nervous laughter rippled from chair to chair. Em’s electrodes grew cold. In a gut-churning rush, her skin magic surged through them, paralysing her limbs from wrists to shoulders, ankles to hips. The ceiling vibrated. Dust and the occasional cobweb drifted onto heads, faces, shoulders and toes. In the factory above, machines rumbled and whined as they devoured the skin magic of two hundred workers.
Minutes stretched into an hour. A dull cramp spread up Em’s backbone, through her shoulders. Every little whimper, cough or sigh from those around her echoed. Even Old Rosie’s barely audible groan.
There came the sound of water trickling, and the stench of freshly voided pee. At first, Em felt sorry for the poor woman. Then she imagined a puddle spreading between the chairs and reaching her feet. Pee contained salt. Salt conducted magic. Uncontrolled magic sparked.
“Lucien,” she whispered.
“Silence,” an attendant growled.
“It’s Rosie,” Em said aloud. “I think she—”
Em gritted her teeth, closed her eyes, breathed deep and slow. She longed to stretch her muscles, wriggle her toes, flex her fingers. Afternoon stretched into evening. Her discomforts became aches, and her aches pushed her into a sullen, unthinking trance.
At last, the electrodes warmed. Her arms and legs thawed. Not wanting to be pawed again, she wriggled herself free.
“Don’t you be breaking anything, missy,” said the attendant, “or the mages’ll be billing you.
” Ignoring him, she turned to Rosie. The crone should have unstrapped by now. If she were anything like Papa, she’d be keen for a post-extraction tipple.
For a single choked breath, Em tried to convince herself the old woman had fallen asleep, that the puddle beneath her chair meant she’d started the day with too much gin. But Rosie’s blank, staring eyes told a terrible truth.
“You drained her!” Em spat at the attendant. “You should have been watching. You knew her magic was weak so you took every last drop.”
“She was old. Gonna die anyway,” the attendant said. Em’s voice rose.
“How dare you say that!”
“Hush!” Lucien took her arm. “There’s a mage watching.”
Em pulled away.
“This is their plan, isn’t it? Kill the elderly, cull the weak.”
“Not now.” Lucien drew her against him, held her tight. He was shaking as much as she, his face clammy. “As I recall, I tried to convince you to give this a miss.”
She ducked aside, pulled on her socks and boots, hurried to the end of the row, legs quivering. She wanted to curse and cry and rage all at once. She wanted to grab the attendant’s weedy shoulders and shake him until he saw sense.
Up at the front, the two mages remained seated, bored and complacent.
“They’re murderers,” Em said, no longer caring who heard.
“Hush.” Lucien steered her to the exit. “Don’t give them an excuse to punish you.”
On the street outside, a night bird shrieked, irate in the slash of night between buildings. Never in her life had Em felt so tired. It was as if the electrodes had taken not only her magic but a piece of herself. As she dodged potholes, wheel ruts and other workers, she wondered if her legs would make it home. Even the shiny new coins in her pocket felt tainted. Probably cursed.
The air shuddered with the clunk-clunking of conveyor belts snaking down from windows six storeys above. Human-shaped automatons stood as tall as lamp posts, inspecting boxes being dropped into lorries. Smoke hissed and plumed from their neck vents, staining the mist dark.
“Nothing like a breath of sooty air to get the muscles pumping,” Lucien said dryly.
As he passed beneath a streetlight, his eyes looked sunken, deprived of sleep.
“I’m sorry,” Em said. “I had no idea it would be that bad. But how else are we going to save up for—”
A mage in white breeches and swallowtail jacket veered past them, his fingers sending ribbons of light onto the path ahead. Lucien poked his thumb towards the mage’s retreating back. “Look at him, flaunting his magic. Smells like a powerhouse owner. I’d like to see how long he’d last in electrodes.
” Footsteps of passers-by clattered on the cobbles. “My love,” Lucien began, “there’s something—”
“Em, Lucien, wait!” The voice belonged to a woman, calling out from behind them.
Em turned her head to see an acquaintance, Solly Flood, running to catch up.
“How are you keeping?” Solly asked, falling into step beside Em. “After I quit the workshop, I hadn’t meant to lose touch. Are you and Lucien still there? At Grindle’s?”
In no mood to chat, Em let Solly’s words hang between them.
“I was just passing the powerhouse when I happened to notice you leaving,” Solly said.
“You didn’t submit?”
“Tried it once. Never again. Besides, what do we get but a handful of copper? Meanwhile our magic earns mages truck-loads of gold.” She looked behind, checked both sides, lowered her voice. “What else can we do except fight them?”
Em glanced at Lucien who was now staring pointedly ahead, clearly as eager to get home as she was.
“Fight mages?” he asked. “Who’d stand a chance against them?
Solly continued on in silence. When they rounded a corner, she said, “Mages are a minority. If we workers rise up, we’d have a chance.”
Lucien sneered. “Workers untrained in magic? Facing mages who have it all?”
“Supposing mages don’t have it all,” Solly said. “Supposing some workers have the potential to be trained?”
“Trained for what? Prison?” Lucien paused, considering something.
“What is it?” Em asked, almost tripping over her own feet.
He nodded towards Solly. “You must excuse me. I have business.” He met Em’s gaze and gave a tight, twisted smile. “Sorry, I’ll explain later.”
“Lucien?” Em stared open-mouthed as his lean silhouette merged into the darkness of an alley. She huddled into her coat, thought about setting out after him but did not relish a chase through the streets at this late hour. Instead, she continued towards home, intending to pick up her pace but couldn’t find the strength.
“Remember three summers ago?” Solly asked. “That time we all went down to the park to dance? Before the powerhouses? Back when everyone had skin magic enough to light their way? I remember how you lit yourself up all over. You were the brightest one there.”
“Listen,” Em interrupted, “tonight I heard a woman die. I just want to go home.”
Solly mumbled a curse. “That’s the second I’ve heard of this week. We have to fight. It has to be stopped.”
Em shrugged. Solly was right, but talk was cheap and actions amounted to nothing.
“Āiyā,” Solly hissed, impatiently. “No one should be treated like we are. There are ways to avoid the powerhouses.”
Given that those who refused to submit had little chance of making a decent living, Solly did look surprisingly well. Although her hand-made coat hung as shapeless as a horse blanket, the set of her shoulders and the russet shine in her bobbed hair suggested a robust constitution.
An old man approaching them stumbled. Solly steadied him.
“How am I supposed to see where I’m going without skin magic?” he growled.
“Fate protect you,” Solly said.
“Fate send you home safe.”
As the man continued on, Solly looked to Em. “One day, that will be all of us. First, they’ll steal our skin magic, then later our very last breath. Damn mages. May their greed be the death of them.”
Em raised her eyebrows but said nothing. The air thrummed with the sound of ever-churning foundries upriver. A whiff of burned lard swirled in coal smoke from the tenements and factories not yet fuelled by a powerhouse.
“I know your magic is strong,” Solly said, her voice low. “Way too strong than is lawful for a commoner.”
Em kept walking, refusing to react despite how her stomach tensed.
“Think back to that festival,” Solly persisted in a voice so low that Em could barely hear. “The way you danced. So much light. Suddenly you ran to your father. Your fingers sparked.”
The back of Em’s neck prickled. “No. That wasn’t me.”
“You were lucky no one else saw.”
“It wasn’t me.”
“The truth is,” Solly added, “there are more like us than you realise. One in fifty can channel enough magic to spark. One in a hundred can light a taper. One in a thousand have enough to fight.”
Em blinked. Us?
“I must confess,” Solly continued. “You wouldn’t see me in a powerhouse if my life depended on it. Even so, I pass this way every week looking for people like you. It’s only a matter of time before your magic gets too strong. If you can’t hold it in, chances are you’ll do more than just spark. If you’re lucky enough to escape scalding yourself, one day the wrong person will see.
” Solly’s prying gave Em strength enough to lift her pace, determined to not show anything beyond detached endurance. As far as she knew, no one in her family had ever had that kind of magic. So why would she?
“I want to help,” Solly said. “I want to teach you how to use your power for the common good. Without hurting yourself.”
Solly gave a barely perceptible nod.
“What about Rosie? The woman I heard die. Why couldn’t you have helped her?”
“I wish I could have. Trouble is there are too many Rosies and too few of us.
” Em checked to ensure no one lingered within earshot. “You’re a Groundist,” she whispered.
The edges of Solly’s eyes crinkled with the beginnings of a smile.
“I’m saving up for a proper apprenticeship,” Em said. “I want to run my own workshop and design automata.” Her words fell flat, unconvincing.
“Thanks to mages, the likes of us can never own workshops. Even Lucien, with all his experience, has little chance of being anything other than a dogsbody. As for having more magic than we’re supposed to: where does that get us? Even if we try not to use it?”
Em nodded in reluctant agreement. The street took them past shops, tenements and food stalls, and Em was tempted to ask exactly what Groundists planned to do.
“How’s your father?” Solly asked gently. “Is he better?”
“I doubt he’ll ever be that.”
Em almost added, ‘not since Mama died’ but the memory made her throat ache.
Solly mumbled something Em did not hear and they continued in silence.
“I’m afraid this is where we must part,” Solly said, pausing at a ramshackle bakery. “If you want to pursue this further, return here any day before noon and wait. I’ll tell my scouts to alert me if they see anyone who matches your description. Don’t speak to them, though. And not even to Lucien.” She held Em’s gaze. “On second thoughts, if you took up my offer would Lucien accompany you?”
“He believes magic was created to heal not fight with. To be honest, I agree.”
“That’s all very well.” Solly’s tone suggested refusal would be disastrous. “Either continue as is and risk ending your life, or put up a fight and at least have a chance to live.”
Em closed her eyes. So much to think about and so much she didn’t know. Fates in Hell, she was tired. If her power was as strong as Solly suggested, then why did she feel so unbearably weak? Without thinking, she looked over at Solly and blurted, “Lucien and I plan to marry. Next year.
” Solly pursed her lips. “Will he take you away to Cornica?”
“I can’t go. My da’s too sick to spend all those weeks at sea. If I desert him now, he’ll end up dead in a powerhouse.”
“And so will you, if you allow it,” Solly said. “Then he will follow.”
Em’s head spun. She wanted nothing more than to sleep.
“You need to think hard about my offer,” Solly went on. “But don’t take too long.” Abruptly, she turned away and disappeared into the throng of workers merging with the shadows.
Alone at last, Em could not move, could not make up her mind as to which road to take. Solly’s or Lucien’s? Papa’s or her own? Everything Solly said had made sense despite it sounding too dangerous and too impossibly hard. Even so, the idea of joining the Groundists promised not only hope but a glimmer of excitement. The city needed change. Not the kind that mages were aiming for, but the kind that helped workers.
Don’t you just love these New Holland Honeyeaters? They are very common where I live. They especially like all the native plants I’m growing in my front and back yard. No lawn. Just trees, shrubs and ground cover. Two years ago it was bare sand. Now there are all kinds of creatures: birds, native bees with blue/green stripes and even little green frogs that sound like motorbike engines winding up. And almost as loud.
Anyhow, when I’m writing a first draft and can’t figure out where I want the narrative to go, I’ll step away from my computer screen and walk outside to check my garden. Sometimes an idea comes to me even before I reach the door, but I go for a walk anyway, just to see what’s new. This month, it’s grevilleas.
My first Advanced Reader Copy has arrived from Amazon, and finally this self-publishing gig is starting to feel real. For a few seconds I just stared at the envelope, afraid to open it in case I’d messed up the formatting or not centred the cover properly when I uploaded the PDF. I then bit the bullet and took a peek.
Phew! It looked exactly how I wanted. The cover worried me at first, because on computer monitors it looks quite dark. In real life, however, it not only shines but also shows the mood I was aiming for. And beauty too, in a clockwork dragonfly and the face of the automaton. I’m hoping she looks like she’s plotting something that human minds would not want to know. The dragonfly is also a symbol of hope. Is hope possible in all that darkness? Some of my characters believe there can be, if they fight for it.
A few hours after my book arrived, the following review came in from Aussie steampunk author Richard Harland who had kindly read the mostly corrected epub version for me.
Here’s a screen shot of Chapter One. I’ll be posting some entire chapters closer to the launch date, when the final proofreading is has been completed.
Four years ago — and ten years after I started this novel — I finally had it to what I believed to be a publishable standard. Next came the job of writing the dreaded elevator pitch and synopsis. I must admit I did a terrible job of both. Although the elevator pitch had successfully reduced my plot to a single sentence, it was boring. As for my synopsis…
I knew I had to focus on the main narrative thread, but I just couldn’t get my head around doing that. As a result, my attempts were either too much or too little. In the end, I went for the middle road and unfortunately the result turned out to be as boring as my elevator pitch. Looking back, I imagine very few editors or agents got past the first paragraph.
My title didn’t do anything towards selling itself either…
Having said that, it suited my novel perfectly, but it was long and may well have put people off my submission without having to read further than the subject line of my email:
A TRUE HISTORY OF FORSHAM: LOVE & THE INDUSTRIALISATION OF MAGIC.
I still like that title. But unfortunately it was yet another one of those darlings that had to go.
Regardless, this time around I managed to get an expression of interest from a small press publisher, but after a two year wait, I realised this wasn’t going to happen, so I took it back. Life is tough in the publishing industry.
I tried a few more agents and received another piece of feedback: “It’s not quite ready.” And although I was marketing it as steampunk, the fact that one of my characters was a shapeshifter led the agent to categorise it as urban fantasy and they weren’t interested in representing that.
Time to take control, I decided. If I was to get this thing published, I needed to do it myself.
My first job was to get editor Pete Kempshall to do a structural edit. This ended up being money well spent because it not only fixed a lot of rookie errors but also taught me how to organise my ideas into a coherent plan. It was like having a master class with my novel as the focus. Once that was done, I sent it back for a line edit, and finally the novel was starting to look polished. Almost.
This was where Amanda J Spedding came in. As far as I could tell, I had fixed all the internal inconsistencies, eliminated clunky prose and repetitions, fixed grammatical errors; but in the process of doing so had probably created a few more. Not only that, I ended up rewriting two chapters completely, and knew they’d need yet another professional eye.
So that was it! Three edits, by two professionals. At last I felt confident enough to upload it to Amazon.
After much reading and rereading of my multi-rejected novel, I realised it was time to work out exactly what I wanted to do. Give up? Or punish myself further?
Before deciding, I combed through it for the umpteenth time, and gave it my most critical eye yet. There was one particular chapter in the first quarter that, in my mind, was the best I’d ever written. Everything about it seemed to shine: pace, character, world building, description; only to deliver a surprising twist at the end.
This chapter has to go, I decided. It obviously didn’t fit. Nevertheless, the thought of losing it made me not only sad, but increasingly apprehensive. Why discard something I loved? What could I do to make it work? Desperate, I reached for my box of editing patches – looking for any number of ploys to make the remainder of the novel match up.
I got to work, popping in a symbol here, adding a few allusions there. I made my character remember parts of that fabulous scene in dialogue, in flashback…
All quite useless really. After several thousand wasted words, and yet another string of rejections, it was time to face the truth, regardless of how difficult or unpalatable.
That darling had to go!
Fortunately truths aren’t always as black and white as they seem. In the end, I kept that chapter; then deleted the remainder of the novel instead.
So now, I had around 5,000 words of what used to be a 110,000 word manuscript. A good many months later, when the new draft took shape far better than expected, that darling chapter functioned in all the ways it was supposed to.