London did not make itself an easy city to love; Christina knew that better than most. Keeping her eyes fixed to the cobbles underfoot she forced herself to ignore the flood of people crowding into the streets, focusing on her path instead. The in between ran across the bridges of London. It was the area where the nobility ventured out, wanting to gawk at the poor worthless people who fell into the wrong side of London.
Pulling the rim of her hat lower over her eyes she shrugged past the well dressed nobility, slipping into the maze of narrow alleyways and filthy terraces. Sidestepping the beggars who huddled in doorways with outstretched palms she gripped onto her collar, hiding behind the discoloured leather. Here was where the unsavoury were kept out of sight, laws set out by men like Christina’s father forbidding those ‘of less than pleasing appearance’ to step out into the main streets of London. Their presence was deemed too distressing for the general public, and in the interest of social wellbeing, the poor was swept underneath the carpet.[i]
It was the artwork that had me falling in love with Steampunk and sparked off the inspiration for my novel ‘The Lady Winters’. After joining Deviant Art[ii] I would spend hours scrolling though artists’ groups devoted to the creation of Steampunk imagery and the galleries of photos from conventions were people created these amazing costumes for the genre. After stumbling upon one particular drawing[iii] I came up with the character Lady Christina Winters and decided I wanted to write about her, leading the ‘Dirt Beneath The Cobbles’ which was a short story. It seemed to go down well with the Deviant Art Steampunkers and I decided to extend the story, turning ‘Dirt Beneath The Cobbles’[iv] into ‘The Lady Winters’ for Nanowrimo 2012.[v] Over a year later I’m still slogging my way through the manuscript trying to finish a first draft and spending more time bouncing my head off the keyboard than writing.
Fantasy has always been my genre of refuge but I had never really read that much directly related to Steampunk. Now when I pick up a book straight from the Steampunk universe I spend more time comparing it to my work then I do enjoying the book. I haven’t got enough fantastic inventions; my characters feel too twenty-first century and setting the book in London was a huge mistake. All I could think was that my book was nowhere near Steampunk enough and I was failing at this writing malarkey.
Steampunk is not an alternative past, it’s an alternative future. Steampunk doesn’t have to be based in Victorian Europe, it doesn’t have to include as many technological oddities as can be crammed into a page, Steampunk is alternative. It is the characters created to deal with changing worlds, industrial revolution and the dangers and opportunities that come along with technological advances. Of course a lot of influence is taken from the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century but current Steampunk work should be treated as a prompt rather than the guidelines to writing your own. Industrial revolution is about moving forward and technology advancing, so push the characters to think beyond what has already been written to what else could be discovered in the genre.
This made me feel just a tiny bit better about my story. It helped me to worry less about fitting into a genre and focus on doing justice to the story I was trying to tell.
Using my maps of Victorian London, I’ve completely changed the entirety of South London for the sake of the story. I’m still trying to create the feel of Victorian London within my novel even though I’ve decided not to worry about time or place too much. If my novel is to be set in London, it will be a London of my creation. Why not? I’m writing fiction. I’m not asking anyone to believe that my novel shows a historically accurate city. What’s more, I stopped worrying about if my novel is Steampunk enough. The levels of whatchamathings still seem to border on the low side and my characters are stuck with horse and carriage instead of motorcycles running off steam or power charged diamonds. Instead I’ve decided to focus on the strengths of my characters and what they have the ability to create and design. If anything ‘The Lady Winters’ will be Steampunk due the last few chapters than because of the whole storyline.
I’m still in love with the genre no doubt, but I’ve had to make it work for me. Hiding it away in the plotline so that the characters discover its elements gives me the opportunity to put my inexperience to use. In a way my characters find comprehension and understanding just as I do. I’ve given up trying to write the next ‘Leviathan’ [Scott Westerfeld], and until I’ve finished ‘The Lady Winters’, I’ve given up trying to read ‘Leviathan’.
I’m sure that all writers go through growing pains when traversing into different genres and these just happen to be mine. No doubt if I was to decide to write a historical fiction I’d been having similar issues with construction. Striking out into a new genre requires a set of strong characters to back you up. It always comes down to your characters in the end. If they are unable to stand alone from any genre or plotline then you have no hope of creating a strong book, but if they can make themselves interesting to you as people then you might just have a chance.
Currently studying history and Bath Spa University in the U.K, Carol J Forrester is a twenty year old aspiring writing from the rural county of Shropshire. After falling in love with writing at a very young age she spread out into as many of its possibilities as possible, writing and performing poetry, and entering script writing competitions, dabbling in short stories, blogging and attempting the author’s mountain that is a novel. With more enthusiasm than sense she intends to conquer that mountain and beware all who dare question the improbability. No matter what they say she will have already thought it herself.
[i] From the original short story ‘Dirt Beneath The Cobbles’