Monday 31 March 2014

Airships seen in Bristol

Airships seen in Bristol

On Saturday evening we all put on our best Steampunk finery and went down to the Folk House in Bristol for "The best book launch I've ever been to" (said an attending author). There was a Victorian picnic, with cucumber sandwiches &cake and royal Kir & homemade lemonade and a tentacle cake kindly baked by Pat Haws-Reed.

There were radio-play style adaptions of Brass & Bone by Jo Hall - she likes to call it “The Six Million Guinea Woman” story. My own story Artifice Perdu was also adapted brilliantly by Roz Clarke & seemed to be well received by the audience. Many thanks to Scott Lewis, Ken Shinn, Claire M Hutt & Duncan Thow for stepping up to play parts.

There was also a band, Cauda Pavonis: who were really rather good, it was their first ever acoustic set apparently! They sang about Weyland \Smithy, Vampires, Carnivals and the Morrigan. Splendid stuff, seek them out.

Our first lines winner is Ambly Robustus with the line:

Above the clouds the 'Homeward Bound' floated steadily through the moonlit air-scape , a night sky like black silk, diamond-glitter with millions of stars.
Congratulations! A signed Hardback & bottle of Sutton's Writers Unblock will be winging their way to you soon.
I asked some of the contributors (the ones I could track down and corner, not letting them go until they answered my questions) a set of questions:
Cheryl Morgan (publisher & author of the story "Something in the water")

What inspired you to publish this collection?
We wanted to do something with a strong local theme. Bristol has a huge amount of history in the Victorian era, so steampunk was a natural. Also I get very irritated with the people who dismiss all
steampunk on the grounds that, being set in Victorian times, it must be sexist, racist, homophobic and so on. I wanted to challenge the writers to think about these issues and produce stories at address them.
What did you learn about writing whilst writing your story?
That the history of Egyptian archaeology in the UK is heavily dependent on a lesbian woman who lived in Bristol. And that the Nubian pharaohs were impressive people.
In one sentence what is your best advice for new writers?
Read, read more, study what you read, there is so much you can learn from other writers.

Cheryl's mewsing on the Ball here:
Joanne Hall (Editor and author of the story £Brass & Bone)
(Jo performing Brass & Bone - she's the one in the cloak on the right)
What inspired you to  to edit this collection?
Mainly it was Roz's enthusiasm that pulled me along, but I have had stories in a couple of Bristol-themed SF anthologies before (Dark Spires and Future Bristol) which were both edited by Colin Harvey. We knew there was plenty of scope for fantasy and SF set in Bristol, and after Colin died we decided we'd try and carry on his legacy by doing more anthologies in the spirit of the ones he had edited. The idea for it being specifically steampunk came from the history of engineering that Bristol is famous for.

What did you learn about writing whilst writing your story?
The importance of proper research - when writing a story in a real place, it helps to go out and see and feel and smell the place it's set in. Even if you go back and slightly fudge the geography, if you're writing a story set, for example, on the Suspension Bridge it really helps to go up there and get a feel for it. I am guilty of sometimes being a keyboard warrior, and it's made me realise I should get out more!
In one sentence what is your best advice for new writers?
Your writing will get better with practice, don't give up on it, read everything you can and write every day (and if people offer you advice, take it on board, pick out the parts that apply to you, and file away the rest!)
Ian Millstead (author of "The Traveller's apprentice")
What inspired you to write your story?
I was inspired by the Bristol setting, which was further encouraged by Eugene Byrne’s talk about possible prompts for stories, and by the challenge of writing in the steampunk sub-genre which I’d not tried before. I also have a lot of trust in Roz and Jo as editors.
What did you learn about writing whilst writing your story?
The characters don’t always do what the author is trying to get them to do.

In one sentence what is your best advice for new writers?
Write and have good characters to write about.
Ken Shinn (author of "Case of the Vapours")
(Ken performing Brass & Bone with some fine dramatics - also in the picture Myfanwy Rodman and Desiree Fischer)
What inspired you to write your story?

As much as anything, to be a slightly awkward sod! The title summoned up so many images of airships, zeppelins, flying machines soaring above...all of which can provide great stories, but just made me feel a bit cussed. As a result, I decided to get my story RIGHT down to ground level, and focus it on the lowliest members of Society in alternate Bristol.
What did you learn about writing whilst writing your story?

 To never be afraid to ask (politely) for help about what you don't know. Whether it was Eugene Byrne kindly pointing me in the direction of fruitful areas of research, or close friends with editorial experience casting their eye over the story as it developed, a lot of good was done for the story by others than the author. However, the other side of that coin is that one should always write, first and foremost, to enjoy onesself. To paraphrase Joe Lansdale, "if you think that writing is such a pain, why the hell not do something else that you might like?"

In one sentence what is your best advice for new writers?

Just write what you want to, don't worry about whether the theme is original or the prose is up to scratch at first...concentrate on writing something that feels right to you, something that gives you some pleasure to read back - THEN and only then start worrying about whether it'll appeal to others!
Deborah Walker (author of "The lesser men have no language")
What inspired you to write your story?
As soon as I saw the call I had the gut  feeling that I wanted to write about the Victorian fern craze. Ferns naturally led to pod people.  And given Bristol's historical links with the slave trade, I wanted to explore that issue.  But as my main character developed another aspect became apparent. I'll not spoil it for the readers. But it's true to say that my story had a lot of different inspirations.

What did you learn about writing whilst writing your story?
I learnt something about point of view. As I edited, I rewrote the story from third to first person. First person made the main character more understandable/likeable for the reader, in this particular story I think.
I also learnt a lot about the fern craze. (I even bought a book about it.)

In one sentence what is your best advice for new writers?
Set yourself targets. I set weekly and monthly targets for finished words and for number of submissions. Targets really keep me on track.  
John Hawks-Reed (author of "Miss Butler and the Handlander process")
(John pointing to the elephant just off-screen)
What inspired you to write your story?
A picture of my grandmother and her five sisters that's on the wall of my aunt's house in deepest Worcestershire.
The notion of 'steam elephants' had been in my head for a while, but I had no idea how a story with/about/near them would work. As is the way of these things, it's not actually about the elephants any more. Although I still have the sheet of paper crammed with intricate writing about the organisation, disposition and logistics of a steam elephant brigade that I was given by an only mildly scary friend.
What did you learn about writing whilst writing your story?
More and more often, I think the direction of the story is going one way, when in fact the characters are beetling off at a tangent and I'm (metaphorically) chasing after them going 'Hoi! Over here!'
In one sentence what is your best advice for new writers?
Writing and improv comedy seem closely linked - go with the suggestions offered by your characters.

John's own blog about the ball is here:
Piotr Swietlik (author of "Flight of the Daedalus)
What inspired you to write your story?
A chance to get published. I also wanted to point out the general public lack of interest in space exploration. Not sure if that went well but hopefully will be more visible in the follow up story.
What did you learn about writing whilst writing your story?
Mainly I've learned that I actually can do it and that working from a prepared outline is way easier. I also learned that I still need to learn a lot.
In one sentence what is your best advice for new writers?
Write, write, write...
Jonathan L Howard (author of "The sound of gyroscopes")
What inspired you to write your story?
I didn’t even realise that I’d ever written any steampunk until reviews for Johannes Cabal the Detective started coming in. Several of these very reasonably pointed out that, as I’d created a pseudo-Victorian milieu (I’d actually made it a sort of more-or-less coherent mash up of elements dating from the 1870s to around 1950) with air transport provided by analogues of dirigibles (aeroships, heavier-than-air vehicles that use gyroscopic levitation for lift and etheric line guides for main power and forward motion) and helicopters (entomopters, which use the principles of wing motion employed by dragonflies and bees), that looked pretty steampunky to them.
Since I’d inadvertently created a steampunk world without meaning to, it seemed natural to return to it when Airship Shape & Bristol Fashion came along. Johannes Cabal the Detective features an interlude at a gentlemen’s club called Blakes, an archetype of the sort of club that featured so heavily in stories written in the Victorian and Edwardian period. It is a club that takes on almost exclusively professionals of assorted fields, with the gentry largely absent unless there’s something interesting about them beyond having an entry in Debrett’s. It is a club where stories are told, and these stories tend towards the unusual.
So, I had my setting, but what sort of story would be told there that specifically involved Bristol? The first thought that came to mind was the balloon festival; perhaps there was something I could do with that? But, I thought, in our world interest in balloons led to blimps and dirigibles, whereas in Cabal’s world they had aeroships. Surely balloons would undermine the line of technological development? That was the initiating spark. If hot air balloons led to dirigibles, what earlier technology led to the aeroships? So were born the gyrospheres; great, hot air balloon-sized rigid cages containing a fuel emulsion burner and engine to power the whirling armillary wheels of a giant gyroscope. Now I had an analogue to hot air balloons, a gyrosphere festival was the next step and that in turn was made a more dynamic undertaking by turning it into a race. The rest... well, you can read it for yourself.

What did you learn about writing whilst writing your story?

The main thing I learned was how surprisingly easy it was to slip back into writing about Blakes after four or five years. I’d often meant to write some short stories using the club as a device for the telling, but had never got around to it and thought that after such a long period I might have trouble recapturing the tone. But, no. It flowed easily and was fun to write. I think I’ll go back there again, but won’t leave it so long this time.

In one sentence what is your best advice for new writers?
One sentence be damned, I can say it in one word – Persevere.
And Myself? Should I turn those questions back onto me?
(Me (in red waistcoat & bowler hat) performing Artifice Perdu with Ken Shinn, Duncan Thow, Scott Lewis (author of The chronicles of Montague & Dalton) & Claire M Hutt)
What inspired me to write Artifice Perdu?
The gothic majesty of Bristol cathedral led naturally to Gothic fiction, the works of Victor Hugo and Richard A Kirk and The weird: A compendium of strange & dark stories by Ann VanderMeer. It's also, I guess, because I work for a French company, there's a deeper meaning there I'm sure....

What did I learn about writing whilst writing my story?
How important a good editor is. Roz & Jo deserve at least as much credit for my story as I do, they took a lump of prose with the hint of a good idea and through gentle prodding made me turn it into the story that it is now. I'm still not 100% happy with it and there are things I would change about it now ten or so months after it was first  written but I'm going to have inordinate fondness for it, warts and all, as my first professionally published piece. I learned that an interesting premise can't carry a story, you need characters.
I wrote the story in May last year and it was the eigth story I wrote after making the decision at the beginning of last year to start writing. I've had a vague idea that I'd like to write for a long time, I've always been interested in books and the publishing industry but I'd always prevaricated. Two things gave me the kick I needed. The first, and most important, was getting involved in organising Bristol Festival of Literature and meeting lots of authors and going to lots of "get writing" style events. I found that authors were just normal folk, something I should obviously have realised! and that although writing was a craft it is accessible to everyone. The second kick was meeting Barbara Turner- Vesselago at her book launch (for Writing without a parachute) and her publisher Sarah Bird (of Vala) who, in response to my "I'd like to write" said "Why don't you then, anyone can" which was the final push into putting pen to paper. It's been a strange journey since in which I've been commended in a competition and won another one and been published both online and in print.

In one sentence what is my best advice for new writers?
Write, read critically, persevere, write, read critically, persevere...
Many thanks to all the authors who answered the questions. If you've read Airship Shape why not leave a review online? Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything or even just here in the comments or mail me at BRSBKBLOG at GMAIL dot COM.



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