Deepest Desire, or, How I Found Steampunk

Many, many months ago, a challenge went out for stories based on a steampunk theme. I’d always loved Jules Verne and the stories written at the end of the nineteenth century, full of lost worlds and strange sciences, but I never thought I would be able to write them. I am not very good at science. I always have to ask either my brother (big chemistry and general science nerd) or my son (who actually seems to pay attention in science lessons). So when I saw the call, I thought about it and then rejected the idea. I could never write anything like that. I should have known myself better, and, besides, it’s always about the story.

I finished Deepest Desire about four hours before the deadline. The idea had ambushed me a few days earlier and so I went for it with gusto. Things changed a little after the call but it eventually ended up as the sparkling Crowns Cogs and Carriages that I reviewed here. For various reasons, mine wasn’t included, partly because I was already mentally tied up with Out of the London Mist and I didn’t want things to get confused.

Out of the London Mist was accepted by Three Furies Press and is coming out soon (as I may have mentioned a gazillion times) and I didn’t know what to do with the short story. Yesterday I made a decision, swore, muttered, grumbled, converted files, created a book cover and published Deepest Desire on Amazon. It’s not a very long read, and I put it at the lowest price I could, so the equivalent of 99c in Amazon. However, if you want to save some money you can register at Booksprout where I have listed it as an ARC (Advanced Review Copy). This is where you have access to free copies of books in return for a review, either on Amazon or similar places like Goodreads, and the link is here I’m not stressing about reviews, just trying to make sure people get access.

Deepest Desire is my first attempt at steampunk, and is a dashing tale about a gallant aether pilot, John Farnley, who flies an expedition to the Balkans near the edge of the Ottoman Empire to uncover a potential archaeological site. His passengers are the coolly capable Miss Sylvia Armley and the erudite Professor Entwistle, but things are not exactly all that they seem and a forced and bumpy landing is just the start of his problems.

I hope that people have as much fun reading this as I have had writing it as I had a blast! If you have any questions or suggestions, or any thoughts, please leave a comment. I love hearing from people.

Author Interview: Lyssa Medana

Out of the London Mist is now available to pre-order at Amazon

Three Furies Press: Now I get to introduce a super sweet and amazing person. Lyssa Medana. Lyssa writes in different genres, so I will let her go ahead and introduce herself and tell us about what she writes. 

Lyssa: Hi, I’m Lyssa, and I’m a wife and mother based in Yorkshire, UK. I have far too much fun writing, which is a nice change from a fairly uneventful life. I don’t really have one type of genre. I have an idea for a good story, and then I go for it! I think the most important part is the story. Though I admit, vampires seem to appear whether I mean to add them or not!

TFP: So you do some horror writing then, but your new book is a steampunk genre. How was that different to write? What did you keep in mind when tackling this new genre?

Lyssa: I found it a challenge. I had never really written steampunk, it was something that looked amazing, but wasn’t something I thought I would be able to write. I read a lot of Jules Verne when I was young, which I think is a steampunk foundation, but up until now I stuck a lot to the horror and fantasy stuff where I felt safer. Then I saw a prompt for a steampunk story. I thought I couldn’t possibly write that, then I thought some more, and the next thing I had eight thousand words that were completely steampunk (look out for the novella Deepest Desire coming soon). I then found I had more of the story to tell.

The most important thing to me about steampunk is the sense that problems can be solved. If you read Jules Verne, or even some of the Tarzan of the Apes books, there is an incredible sense of people triumphing because of ingenuity and determination, that people can survive, succeed and flourish against all odds. I also thought it was important to keep a good atmosphere, with plenty of detail. 

TFP: This is so true, aesthetic is important in the steampunk genre. I would have never guessed you weren’t old hat at writing steampunk. One thing I wondered, was where the idea for aethers came from?

Lyssa: Embarrassing confession—I have no idea where the idea came from. I think there were some memories of reading ‘First Man on the Moon’ and similar, but I was just going about my business, wondering what I could possibly contribute to steampunk, and it hit me. I think it’s a good metaphor for the discoveries that were being made in science at the time, which were changing the way people were thinking. It’s like a new world opened up to them with powered flight and radio. Perhaps the aether stands in for that (in a very elegant casing!)

TFP: It’s a great analogy to our science as you say. In what ways would you say the London Peculiar, or the mist, plays a part in your story? It’s almost another character the way it’s written.

Lyssa: I think it plays a vital role. I hope I’m not sounding too deep, but the London Peculiar is almost symbolic. In our world, the smogs killed thousands of people, but were finally banished from London and other British cities by the Clean Air Act, which was made possible by a change in how we heated our homes. We were using natural gas or electric instead of coal inside the home, and the smog just faded away. In our story, the aether power could potentially replace coal and strip away the smog. 

TFP: And the mist has an important role to play in the story as well as being a cautionary tale and bit of history about clean air.

Lyssa: As a writer, I was very glad of the London Peculiar as it allowed me to hide some dreadful deeds in the East End of London. 

TFP: It was an important plot device. Were you aware of the different devices you were using? Like using the mist to hide some of the nefariousness that was going on?

Lyssa: I wish I could claim that I planned it, but it sort of evolved. I didn’t realise how important the mist would be until I got a little way in. I did some research, and it really was a corrosive, creeping hazard.

TFP: And the perfect way to hide things. We won’t give away any details, don’t want to ruin the story, but there’s a reason it’s titled Out of the London Mist! We really love this novel here at TFP and can’t wait to read more from this steampunk world. Thanks for joining us today, Lyssa! Where can we find you online?

Lyssa: It’s been a pleasure, thank you for inviting me. You can find me mainly on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LMedana/ and I have a blog with regular flash fiction, writing challenges and the occasional book review, Always Another Chapter, which is here https://alwaysanotherchapter.co.uk/ I love getting feedback from readers, and it’s great to chat.

TFP: Thanks again for joining us! Readers, be sure to check out more from Lyssa Medana!

Writing Challenge 29th June 2020

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

blue and white wooden staircase
Image from Unsplash, taken by Stefano Zocca

When you reach for the stars, you may not get them, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.

Leo Burnett

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!

Book Review: Cogs, Crowns and Carriages, a Steampunk Anthology

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.

Out of the London Mist: Pre-order available!

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.

As I gear up for Out of the London Mist to go live on 23 July 2020, I’m soooo thrilled to share that the pre-order is not only available on Amazon here, but you can also find links to the pre-order on Apple, Nook, Kobo, 24 Symbols and Angust & Robertson

Watch this space. Now I feel like a really real author and I’ll be posting more as I get the hang of my new path.

Hugs and good health to all.

The Find

library with books
Image from Unsplash, taken by Stanislav Kondratiev

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.

Writing Challenge 22nd June 2020

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

It is like a finger pointing toward the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.

Bruce Lee

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!

Writing Challenge 15th June 2020

The reason I’m posting this prompt because I like writing a little flash fiction. It’s something I treat as going to the gym for my writing muscles. If you want to join in, that’s brilliant, but there’s no pressure. If you want to leave a comment with a link, that’s great, but if you don’t feel ready to share yet, that’s also great. Or you could decide that you had a good session at the ‘gym’ and want to submit it somewhere, or use it as the basis for other work, which would be amazing. It’s up to you how you use this prompt. The only thing I would like to insist on is that you enjoy yourself.

Here is a picture and a quotation. The challenge is to write something that is sparked off by one or both of them. It doesn’t have to be directly related to either, just the story you hear when you see them. It’s limited to 500 words (or less, lots less if you need to, or a little more, and I don’t check), and you should try and finish it by next week. It can be prose, poetry, fact or fiction – just have fun.

blue and yellow abstract painting
Image from Unsplash taken by chuttersnap

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is the noblets; second, by imitation, which is the easiest, and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.

Confucius

If you wish, leave a link in the comments and I will drop in, read and comment, and I encourage everyone to do the same. I’ll also be sharing stuff on Facebook and wherever else I can think of. There are no prizes and no end goal, unless it is to have fun writing. I hope I get to see some awesome stuff sparked by this. Good luck!

Lemons

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.   

Crossroads

red and black traffic light
Image from Unsplash taken by Oleksii S

“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.”