Ghosts by Gaslight!

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Richard says:

Just received some great news from my French publisher. They want me to go over for the Montreuil Book Fair, plus some bookshop signings and schools. They’ll fly me over at the end of November and rent an apartment for two weeks in Paris for Aileen and me. Formidable!!

And …

Whoo! The Ghosts by Gaslight anthology just came out from Harper Voyager in the US—and I’m in it! A very special moment for me, to be in the company of names like Robert Silverberg, Gene Wolfe, Peter S. Beagle, James Morrow and Jeffrey Ford!

I think it was at the Melbourne Worldcon when Jack Dann said he’d like a story from me for a collection he was editing with Nick Gevers, a collection that combined supernatural with steampunk with Victoriana. Right down my alley! He mentioned other potential contributors he was going to invite, like Gene Wolfe and Robert Silverberg, Garth Nix and Sean Williams, and I remember thinking, well, it would be nice if just a few of them accepted. In fact, the final roll-call turned out way way better than Jack ever hinted. So many of my all-time favourite authors, including our very own Margo from ROR,with a very good ghost story called “The Proving of Smollet Standforth”.

I took it as my role to be a strong steampunk representative, since that’s what I’m known for nowadays. And the basic idea for my story had been lurking in my mind for a long time.  It tied in with the first memory that I’m sure is my own real memory—and not recreated from what adults told me—which is when I was about our or five. We were on holiday in the seaside town of Fleetwood, in Lancashire, England, and looking at Fleetwood pier, which had been recently destroyed by fire. It stuck far out into the sea, a wreckage of tangled, twisted girders, and not just tangled, not just twisted, but racked and contorted like an expression of agony, a frozen shriek of pain. That was the seed for “Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism”.

It’s sort of supernatural, but it’s also very definitely steampunk, with steam-age machinery at the centre of the story. Late nineteenth century research into electro-therapy is also involved, as carried out by such pioneer brain-scientists as Eduardo Hitzig, Sir David Ferrier and Friedrich Goltz. Although there are ghosts in the story, these are not ghosts as we have known them!

“Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism” was an amazingly difficult story to write, because I couldn’t get the voice I needed. I started to write in First Person, re-wrote in Third Person, tried again with a different-sounding First Person, another go at Third Person, and finally—phew! gasp!—hit upon a First Person voice that sounded just right. I guess the problem was the contradiction between using formal vocabulary and long sentences, necessary to get the 19th century feel, but also conveying intense emotion and an underlying thrill of horror. My lifeline was Edgar Allan Poe—I confess, I actually read a Poe short story every morning before starting work on “Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism”. I’ve never put myself  deliberately under an influence in that way before, but it worked!

Any questions on writing steampunk?

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2 Responses to Ghosts by Gaslight!

  1. Louise Curtis says:

    Ooh! I have a question. I’ve recently finished and polished the first book of a YA steampunk trilogy. In your opinion, am I more likely to sell it in the USA or Australia?

    I vote America, and then hopefully the Australian market will follow (not just this book, but the whole steampunk trend). So far I’ve passed a few hurdles with 2 different USA agents, so that’s a good start.

    It’s set in Australia (mainly; it starts in London). I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing in America.

    Louise Curtis

  2. Richard says:

    Hi Louise,

    Steampunk is bigger in America so far, but that also means there are more writers who’ve got into the field already. Much more competitive! If it’s set in Australia – and unless you have special contacts in the US – then an Australian publisher has to be your best bet.

    Cheers
    Richard

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