NaNoWriMo starts soon, the annual attempt to write 50,000 words in a month. I’ll be doing it for the fourth time. I’ve got my strategy worked out, I know the setting for my story and have a rough idea of the plot and where it might go. Although that may change as I write, very often, I find the story changing at the whim of the characters. I’ve learned to leave them to get on with it, in any event, the ending is usually a surprise to me, as much as I hope it will be to the reader.
I’m expanding a short story this year, a Steampunk adventure, inspired by a folklore tale from Victorian times. The working title is The Sensaurum and the Lexis. It’s not exactly Latin, after all, we are in an alternative universe, but probably close enough to let you work out what it’s about.
As some of you will know, I have form for expanding short stories, Andorra Pett started off as one and is now a series, who knows where this one might lead?
Why write Steampunk? There are lots of reasons, I remember listening to War of the Worlds, with Richard Burton narrating, it rekindled my interest in H.G.Wells. I loved films like Sky Captain, and I think the genre has such amazing possibilities. Starting from a point in real history, you can play around with things, and explore some of the ideas that we don’t pay much attention to in this reality. I’ve always had a fascination for what might have been. The direction that society could have taken if things had been different. The advances in different branches of science they might have, discoveries that we haven’t made, or the ones that we have, only done in another, slightly different way.
To get into the mood, I also try to write in the style of the late Victorian writer, such as H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, using the somewhat florid idiom of the time. I think it helps to immerse the reader in the world, emphasise its differences.
I’ve already written two Steampunk novels and a collection of short stories, which also means that I have a wealth of backstory and world-building that I can use.
While NaNo is in progress, I’ll be slightly busier than normal, so I’ve already written my Monday posts for the month. Every week, I’ll be posting extracts from my previous year’s NaNo efforts. The Showcase will carry on as usual.
Here’s the opening of the short story, the base for my novel, and a first look at the cover. It was a collaborative design, I found the graphics and my wife designed the layout and typography. With something that good, I’m under pressure to write a cracking story. I can’t give you the blurb yet, as I don’t know what will happen, I just know that it’s going to be a busy month. Prepare for adventure!
The older children and their gangs of sycophants generally did alright; it was the young and the weak that went hungry. Jack was not young but because he was polite and avoided picking on those smaller than him, he was seen as weak. In consequence, he was always hungry or bruised from his encounters with the bigger children; who were the only well-fed ones among the inmates. This mealtime had been the same; as soon as the gruel had been slopped into the bowls the bigger had descended and grabbed at the plates of the slowest.
Even so, life in the orphanage was better than a life on the streets. Thameside was not the safest place; there were dangers on every corner, from the machines in the factories to the new-fangled things that moved along the roads. And the people who preyed on their fellows, press-gangs, robbers, slave-masters and all sorts of felons. That was before the effects of the smoke and choking fumes from industry. At least here you were fed something and only had to do light work, picking oakum or cutting sailcloth for the Navy.
Jack did have an advantage though, unknown to the bullies he had been befriended by Mrs Grimble, the cook’s assistant, she had seen him share what little he had and had developed a soft spot for the lad.
“My boy Edgar was like you,” she would say as she smuggled him a treat, a biscuit rich with honey or a fruited bun from Mr Templestowe’s own table. “He went away with the army and never came back, lost in some foreign land he was, killed by savages and buried where he fell.”
Jack thought her simple in the head, for she said the same thing every time they met. But it would be foolish of him to mention it; the treats might well stop if he did. He may have been many things but he was not stupid.
So he merely pulled a sorrowful face and said, “how sad,” being careful not to show too much emotion. To be honest, he was not really interested in the tale, people died, that was the way it was. Whether you were dead in Thameside or dead in a foreign land it was all the same in the end.
Although he supposed, if you had to be dead, being dead in a foreign land had some attractions; at least you would have lived in bright sunshine and clean air for a while. And it was safe to assume that you were generally well fed in the army, or at least better fed than you were in the orphanage.
Jack’s stomach rumbled again and he sneaked away from the din of the common room towards the kitchen. At this time of the day Mrs Grimble would be there alone and that meant more chance of a treat. It was dark as he crossed the yard. A fine, misty rain fell, dragging the coal dust from the air, making the drops on his face feel coarse and gritty. His feet felt the wetness of the cobbles through the worn soles of his boots.
When he got to the kitchen doorway and peered around it, Mrs Grimble was absent, she must have gone home already, Jack thought. He ventured into the room; the hunger a real thing now, it felt like a worm writhing in his belly; perhaps some comestibles had been left out. If he searched he could maybe find a mouthful or two.
In the corner of the kitchen there was a large coal range, at least it was usually in the corner, now it seemed to be moved away from the wall into the middle of the room. Jack could see that it was mounted on wheels, together with its tiled surround. He had never noticed that before, the flue had been uncoupled and hung from the ceiling. There was a dark hole in the wall behind its place. He crept towards it, expecting all the time to hear a shout, he was poised to run and dodge the blow from a master’s swishing, stinging cane.
Reaching the hole, he saw the start of a flight of stone steps that led down. They were poorly lit by flickering gas lamps. The plain brick walls had dark lines of condensation staining their faces. It smelt faintly musty, like the crypt at the church they were forced to attend most days.
There were voices below, faint and indistinct. As he tentatively moved toward the top step, he kicked a solid object, it made a scraping noise as his foot moved it across the flags. The noise below stopped. Jack bent down; there was a pair of boots on the ground, stout boots with hobnailed soles, better than his boots which were more hole than sole. The tread had a strange pattern but Jack assumed that it was to enable a better grip on muddy paths.
He tried them on, below him, the muttering resumed. The boots fitted him perfectly and as he laced them he felt their robust construction. Standing upright, they felt strange, perhaps it was due to the thickness of the soles. He would soon get used to that.
There was an obstruction in each boot, a hard place by his big toe, like a stone. Apart from that, they were perfect. He had no qualms about taking them, as long as no one saw him do it.
He was more worried about how he could hide them from the attention of the others in his dormitory, more especially from Alyious, who was the biggest and worst of the bullies. Perhaps if he dirtied them so they looked less like a new pair, they might remain his for a while.
His attention had been distracted by the boots; he had not noticed the soft tread of the person who approached. The hand on his shoulder was totally unexpected. He tried to duck and spin away from the grip but the new boots let him down. Sparks flew from their nails as they slipped on the flags and his feet skidded for purchase.
His balance lost, he fell. He bounced off each step on the way down, landing in a bruised heap at the foot of the stairs.
What will happen next? Even I don’t know that, but I’m hoping to find out.
Join me for another Showcase on Thursday