Cogs, Crowns and Carriages is a sparkling Steampunk anthology collection of a dozen stirring tales. As a newcomer to the Steampunk genre, I was excited to dip in to a great selection. The thing about Steampunk is that it is gloriously undefined and wonderfully varied, so I really looked forward to getting stuck into this.
The collection starts with an intricate and intriguing story of pirates steering airships through uncharted seas. Then there is the wonderful vampiric inventor written with a lovely light touch, the ghost powered machines and an amazing, delicate story with a Japanese background that resonates so much with the interweaving and contending cultures of today.
There is a wonderful clash with a sea-monster that is only pushed back by the ingenuity of the characters, a tale of silken bowers framed by mechanical wonders and a tense, layered story set in an alternate timeline. Then a rollicking western-style story of monsters and wrong doing followed by an exquisitely crafted gothic story of colour and loss which is followed by a dark, psychological horror.
Finally there is a beautiful story of transcending the horror of war and a last, piratical yarn of derring do in airships wheeling above the Spanish Main.
It is a wonderful, glorious, vivid collection of stories and I sincerely recommend it.
I am sooooo thrilled. This is the first of my books published by a proper publisher instead of being dragged together by me, and it’s available for pre-order! I’ve never worked out how to do ‘pre-orders’ before. It’s been a journey.
I submitted my manuscript to the Three Furies Press at the beginning of the year and they were kind enough to accept. It took me around three days to calm down, I was so thrilled. I knew the people involved, and knew that they are awesome, so I felt incredibly privileged. And I felt a lot safer. I had no idea about what was involved in traditional printing. Up til now it had been a case of checking for spelling mistakes, hoping I hadn’t missed a name and harsh language while I pressed ‘self publish’. Now I was involved with professionals who had more at stake than me playing around.
My first surprise was the ‘developmental editing’ process. I thought I would have an email telling me things like, ‘You have got this scene wrong. Correct it!’ Instead I had lovely Rebekah Jonesy tactfully point out where I could perhaps do better. I felt hugged as we worked through the sticking points in the manuscript. I felt my story grow and blossom through this.
Then there was the line editing. This was where the whole language stuff was cleared up. I was very nervous about this, because I don’t really understand punctuation. I do my best, but there may have been an issue with commas. I’ve never really mastered the tricky things, and I was expecting the worst. However the editors were very sweet and even arranged a conference call between me, Julia Jinkyong Allen and Emily Fisher where they very patiently explained to me how to punctuate speech – without making me feel like an idiot! Which was incredibly lovely as I am a complete doofus on punctuation.
In the few months since I submitted my manuscript, I have had such wonderful support and advice and I am incredibly grateful. My writing is already so much improved because of their kindness and generosity. And now I am on a learning curve for a book launch.
I loathed shopping with my Aunt Harriet. She always wanted a bargain and she always wanted the best of everything. I had flinched as she swept into the secondhand bookshop. I knew what was coming.
“I’m only interested in First Editions,” she announced. “Of good, classic works.”
“I do have a few select copies.” The bookseller led the way to the back of the shop. I could see him mentally adding a ‘difficult customer’ surcharge. “Perhaps madam would be interested in this? It’s a first edition copy of An Expedition to Patagonia. The illustrations are exquisite.”
I glanced over Aunt Harriet’s shoulder. The faded line drawings and water colours looked insipid, but I never claimed to be a judge. “It’s very nice.”
“It’s a find my dear.” Aunt Harriet announced. “So many of these have been sadly pulled apart and the illustrations sold separately as prints for profit.”
“Indeed,” the bookseller agreed, resigned to the fate of the book.
“But these marks are unacceptable,” Aunt Harriet said. “I was looking for an elegant copy.”
“Marks occur on books of that age,” the bookseller said. “It is a natural process.”
I wandered away towards the bargain bin. I didn’t want to be drawn into Aunt Harriet’s haggling. There were the usual contents. I found a copy of the Da Vinci Code, a battered cookbook with the soup section missing, a very dated road atlas and – a treasure.
I checked and checked again. It was Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier and perhaps my favourite book in all the libraries. The price was pencilled on the inside. My hands shook and I had to check yet again. I glanced across at the bookseller who was holding his own against Aunt Hattie and keeping the price firm. I looked again. This was a first edition and he only wanted ‘Clearance 50p’. I’d seen it online for hundreds of pounds.
“I’ll just get this,” I called over to Aunt Harriet.
Aunt Harriet ignored me and pointed to an infinitesimal mark on the spine. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that were mildew. I don’t know how you could charge so much for a damaged copy.”
“It’s described as ‘slightly foxed’ in the catalogues and there has been some interest from abroad.” The bookseller was refusing to budge on the price.
I edged across and tried to play it cool as the assistant rang up the find, too distracted by Aunt Harriet’s antics to pay much attention. “I’m sorry about my aunt,” I said. “She likes a good haggle.”
The assistant grinned. “It’s great seeing my boss finally meet his match.” He looked over to the combatants. “It looks like they may be some time.”
I called over. “I’ll just wait in the coffee shop across the road.” And, leaving my aunt engrossed in her bargaining, I escaped with my prize.
Clare looked at her aunt. “I told you, I’m starting a new job next week. I’ll be able to help out on weekends, but I need the money.”
Sheila shook her head. “I know I didn’t pay you a full wage. But this business will be yours one day.”
“What about your kids?” Clare thought about her cousins. It seemed unfair that they should be left out. They worked just as hard as her, and she had long suspected that they had been given the same promises.
“They have their own lives,” Sheila said quickly. “Come and have a look at this. I thought we could open for the breakfast crowd. It wouldn’t be too much extra effort.” She thrust a large basket of lemons into Clara’s hands. “Bring these with you.”
It wouldn’t be too much extra effort for her, Clara thought resentfully as she trailed after her aunt. “I’ve promised them I’ll start on Monday, and I’m looking forward to it. I know it’s just a receptionist’s job, but…” Clara trailed off. “What is this?”
“It’s a concept.” Sheila said. “Look!” She flung open the door to the tables with a flourish.
“What is this?” Clara stared at the assortment of ingredients on the tables.”
“Like I said, it’s a concept.” Sheila looked smug. “Assemble your own breakfast, or have it created for you for a nominal extra charge.”
Clara’s heart sank. “What are the lemons for?”
“We can’t have Eggs Benedict without hollandaise sauce, and you’ll need lemons for that.”
Clara stared at the scattered assortment on the tables. When she had been unwillingly dragged into this business, her aunt had served bacon butties and strong tea. It had been Clara’s hard work that had added fresh baked cakes and proper fry ups to the menu, with some decent home made soups and more than just tea on the drinks board. It had given Clara immense satisfaction and she had thought for so long that if they just turned a corner, if they just got the extra tables, if they just opened a few hours more then she would get her reward. She turned and looked at her aunt who was watching her with a calculating eye. Life was giving her lemons, and she was damned if she was going to make hollandaise sauce at 6.30am with them. “I’m not coming back,” she said softly. “Goodbye.” She picked up some lemons on the way out, ignoring her aunt’s outraged protests. When life gives you lemons, you make lemon meringue pie.
“I’m not convinced I need to be here.” Darren hunched into his leather jacket and tried to ignore the trickle of rain down his neck.
Lord Marius lounged casually against the traffic light. “Of course it’s a ghost,” he said. “Bad people were buried at crossroads. What else could it be?”
Darren looked at him for a moment. “Let’s look at the facts. There’s a higher than average death count at this junction. It’s mainly motorbikes, but a few cars have crashed with fatalities. It could be a bad road layout, difficult local conditions, mis-timed light changes, local kids messing with the signals, poor road condition, demographic of drivers, location of nearest pub – all sorts of stuff.”
“There have been strange stories from survivors,” Lord Marius said. “And talk of a grey figure appearing without warning.”
“There are always strange stories from survivors.” Darren said. “At least, strange stories that are supposed to come from survivors but have nothing to do with it. And some of the stories may be strange, and may be actually told by a survivor but are more to do with trying to hide that they were driving under the influence. And a strange figure jumping out could just be a local nutter.”
“This is a very old road,” Lord Marius said. “I remember it being built.”
Darren knew he was being baited, but it passed the time. “What do you mean, it’s an old road. If it’s that old, it wasn’t built.”
“I mean, I remember the legions building it.” Lord Marius said. “The bend over there is because there was once swamp and mire.”
Darren walked slowly up to the very edge of the pavement and looked both ways. The road was remarkably straight for this part of the country. “This was a Roman road?”
“The legions built it first,” Lord Marius said. “I watched them for hours as they worked so hard. The road crossing is later.” He waved an expansive hand. “But I know of several suicides that were buried here.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Darren said. “Besides, ghosts usually attached to their place of death. It’s probably something that’s more your territory.” He stretched. “And we’ve probably frightened off anything that’s hanging around.”
“Do you really think I’d allow us to be noticed,” Lord Marius said smoothly. “That would defeat the purpose of bringing you here.”
Darren glared at him. “You have cast an enchantment on me?”
Lord Marius paused. “I should have asked first?”
“Damn right you should have asked.” Darren snapped. “Who the hell do you think you are? I am not one of your subjects, I’m doing you a favour by turning out on a night like this and you throw enchantments at me?” He advanced slowly towards Lord Marius. “Get the enchantment off me now!”
Lord Marius flinched. “Please accept my many apologies, Reverend Darren King, I merely thought that I was making suitable preparations. I also have food and drink with me.”
“Do you honestly think I’d accept food or drink from an elfen?” Darren paced around in fury.
“There is a candidate coming.” Lord Marius lost interest in Darren’s fury as he heard the deep roar of an engine approaching.
A motorbike was racing down the road, taking the bend far too fast. Darren knew the signs. It was a kid, barely legal to drive, without a helmet or decent gear. There was nothing to protect him in an accident. The rider wobbled, frantically trying to hold it together as the bike, far too big for him, swayed and bucked at the curve.
“No you don’t!” Lord Marius called.
Darren spun around as a grey-cloaked figure loomed out of the shadows and shambled towards the road. Lord Marius grabbed it, then ducked as the figure swung a knife at him. Darren tried to assess what was happening as the bike’s brakes squealed behind him as the kid finally got some control. What was this creature? It sliced forward with the knife and Lord Marius leapt back quickly, stumbling on the uneven path. The creature followed its advantage and punched at Lord Marius, missing his head but catching him on the shoulder, spinning him around and sending him staggering. Lord Marius punched it hard, frantically trying to buy some time, and it slammed back into the pole. As whatever it was pushed back towards Lord Marius, Darren saw a visible dent in the pole, but no singe marks or frost. It was probably safe to hit. He kicked hard at the hand holding the knife, watching the multicoloured traffic lights gleam on it as it jerked, but it wasn’t dropped. Darren’s heart sank, not an easy opponent. He feinted another kick and then hit it hard on the back of its head. Lord Marius followed up and punched the creature hard in the stomach and it dropped, retching.
“My apologies.” Lord Marius bent forward, backhanded the creature and then pulled back the hood. “You were correct, Minister Darren King. It is an elfen. A very unimportant elfen who is very, very sorry.”
“They stopped tying flowers.” The elfen wore a glamour like an older woman with disarranged silver curls and smudged, old-fashioned makeup. She looked furtively between the two standing over her. “When someone dies, people tie bunches of flowers to the poles. I like the flowers.” She rubbed wrinkled and arthritic hands together. “So I made sure there was always a reason to tie the flowers.”
Darren checked the road. The kid and his motorbike had long gone and the road was empty. “Remove the enchantment, Lord Marius.”
“Of course.” Lord Marius waved a hand. “And once again my apologies. Thank you for your aid.”
“We probably won’t be able to prove anything in a court of law.” Darren said, working his hand. The elfen kneeling in front of him had a skull like iron.
“Do not worry.” Lord Marius smiled maliciously. “I will educate this creature to the error of her ways. It may take some time.” The kneeling elfen flinched.
“Thanks.” Darren straightened his jacket.
“I am extremely grateful for the aid,” Lord Marius said. “I was taken by surprise at the attack. I feel I owe you a minor debt of honour.”
“Don’t worry about the attack,” Darren said. “If you take this off the streets then we’re even. But I won’t forget about the enchantment.” He turned and strode down the hill towards his car.
Lord Marius looked after him thoughtfully. “I wonder if I shall regret that enchantment.” He paused for a moment, then kicked the kneeling elfen hard in the head. “No matter, I shall concentrate on the matter in hand.”