A Life Of Fiction CCVIII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Writing quickly. While it can be important to craft your writing, spending as much time as needed on each draft, sometimes it is useful just to get some words down on paper. If you feel an urge to write then just write. Let the words flow out of you. You can always adjust and edit them at a later date.

A lot of my early stuff I wrote at a rush, as though I was scared that I was going to run out of life. The Impossibilities was written longhand, very quickly, in a lot of A5 notebooks with red covers. I must have filled at least ten of those notebooks before the novel was completed. I did not even pause for capital letters at the beginning of sentences. I just wanted to get the words out of me, and down onto the paper.

I have slowed up a lot since then. It takes me all day to write what I used to write in a couple of hours. But, sometimes, when I am on a project which fills me with excitement, the words will still flow out of me, almost faster than I can type (I am a hunt and peck typist). This should not be resisted. You can always tidy up spelling and grammar in second drafts. But quick writing can have an urgency and immediacy which you don’t get if everything is planned down to the last sentence.

There is no reason why you cannot experiment with writing quickly, scribbling down the words as soon as they form in your head. It is possible that they will not be any good, and that you will reject what you have written. But you never know. Sometimes you will surprise yourself. Give it a go and see what transpires.

This poem is kind of related to writing quickly. It is called The Flow, and is a Naga-Uta, which is a Japanese verse form.

The Flow

There’s a flow to words

As though they have their own tides;

In, out, with the moon,

A high tide to the margins,

And then blank white space.

Are these circadian rhythms?

A writer’s heartbeat?

Or just his soul, steeped in ink.

Scratched out like spiders,

Or tapped out on grey keyboards?

Still the words flow out,

Just like all those thoughts flow in,

One’s inspiration,

That great and elusive muse.

Sometimes they won’t flow;

The sea is shallow and far;

But, at other times,

You feel like you’re almost swamped,

Scribbling like crazy

To catch them before they’re lost,

Just in case, one day,

You find that the seas have gone.

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A Life Of Fiction CCVII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

The last bit of fiction: This is the last bit of fiction (I think) from elsewhere which I will be putting on here. It is another short story which has appeared on the Brass Goggles website.

If I find any other vignettes, from Steampunk Empire or elsewhere, then I will stick them on here.

Don’t Go Out On The Moors

This story was written for the Brass Goggles steampunk website, for a post on Steampunk and / or Victorian urban legends.

Don’t Go Out On The Moors

Don’t go out on the moors.” the publican said, as he put my pint of ale on the worn wooden counter in front of him.

Staying off the moors was something which I did not intend to do, as I had come down to Devonshire, in the year 189-, upon the recommendation of my doctor that I take a break from my work, and have a few weeks convalescing in England’s green and pleasant land. a few gentle strolls across the moors had been exactly what I planned to do.

Why ever not, sir?” I asked, as I reached into my pocket for a couple of pennies for the veer. I could not begin to imagine why I should not go out onto the moors, unless this barman considered it a possibility that a city gentleman such as myself might, perchance, get lost in such unfamiliar terrain.

Perhaps he was considering offering some relative as a guide. I had been warned, before leaving London, not to let any of these country folk attempt to gull me.

It’s not safe – not for the loiks of you.”

Perhaps this barman feared that I might wander into some mire, and be sucked down into some marsh, never again to see the light of day. Well, I might have spent most of my life in more genteel surroundings, but I did not consider myself to be some Tom Fool. I had a stout walking stick with me, which I intended to use to test any suspect ground before treading on it.

Because of the wolf.” the man said.

Sir, that is ridiculous.” said I. “The last wolf in Britain was shot more than a hundred years ago. I am in no more danger from wolves in Britain than I am from pirates.”

Don’t say that I did not warn you.” the barman said. But I had ceased to listen to his fanciful notions. I took my pint of beer and made my way to a free table at the back of this inn.

An inn I call it, and an inn it was, the sign outside declaring it to be the Coach and Horses. Obviously it had once been a coaching inn, before the railways had done for that trade.

I had already arranged with Tavison, the innkeeper, that I would lodge here for the next five days. The rates would have been more than reasonable in London – but we were not in London, and I believed that mein host had charged me above the rate. Still, though, it was not as though I could not afford it. But such matters did not influence me to listen to any ridiculous warnings.

I sat at the back of the inn and drank my beer. It was slightly stronger than I was used to. At least I knew that Tavison did not water the ale.

I observed the other patrons of this bar. Tavison’s customers numbered no more than six. None of them looked as though they had ever gone beyond Devonshire – they were all dressed in what I consider to be rural clothes, the uniform of farmers and the like. They had to have come here from the few houses which I had observed on my journey to this place.

None of them bothered to engage me in conversation. But that did nit bother me. I doubted if any of these men would have anything to say to an eminent banker from the City of London.

I drank my beer, and then enquired about food for the evening, as Tavison had promised a stew. This was duly served, while I had a half pint of the local ale. The stew appeared to be mutton and vegetables, and had the virtue of being piping hot, but little else to recommend it.

Once I had eaten I retired to my room for the evening, as the journey from London had tired me out – and I was supposed to be at ease for these days, if I was to obey the instructions of my doctor.

The room was small but not squalid. A fire had been made up in the small hearth to the side of the single bed. There was a washbasin, with a small round mirror above it. While the washbasin drained away, this place appeared not to have much in the way of plumbing, for there were no taps. There was a tall pewter ewer with water in it beneath the basin, for the purpose of washing. There was a small table beside the bed, with a small gas-lamp responsible for providing light.

There was nothing else in the room, unless one counted the cobwebs hanging from the sloping ceiling. It did not even have a gasogene. But I supposed that I could endure the lack of luxury, as I would only be here for five days, and as I did not intend to spend that much time in this bedroom of the inn.

I read a little, but found that I could not concentrate so, with nothing else to do, I turned out the gas-lamp and went to sleep.

The next morning was misty, with a light fog lying on the ground. I could see no further than a hundred yards at the very most.

Yet, despite the fog around the inn, I decided that I would walk on the moor to the north of the Coach and Horses. I rejected the warning from Tavison, as being nothing more than superstition at the very best.

I had obtained a map of the area, and I had purchased a compass, as well. With my stout walking stick, and my coat, I felt that I had all that I needed.

So, after a less than hearty breakfast, I set out from the tavern, ignoring a final warning from Tavison concerning the ridiculous notion that the moor might contain some wolf. It was a little after eleven of the morning. I thought that I would walk for a couple of hours, before returning to the Coach and Horses. That would be a goodly constitutional, as far as I was concerned. It should also serve to whet my appetite, for whatever food Tavison could prepare for a late lunch.

I crossed the road from the inn. The inn was some miles distant from the nearest town and railway station, with only a few scattered cottages and smallholdings being in the area. The moor began directly to the north of the road; and it had been one of the reasons why I had decided to stay at such an isolated hostelry. I could think of few places further from the hustle and bustle of high finance in the City.

I paused at the far side of the road, and glanced back towards the inn. I was surprised to see, through the mist, that Tavison had come to the door of his establishment, and was shaking his head as he looked at me.

I had had enough of such rural nonsense. I got my compass out, holding it firmly in my left palm, and proceeded to walk directly north, testing the ground with my walking stick as I went. I ventured no further glances back at the old coaching inn.

I found it pleasant to walk across the rolling landscape of the moors, even if my field of vision was limited by the persistent mist. I could see not more than a couple of hundred yards at the most, and soon I would not have been able to see the road or the inn, if I had bothered to look back in their direction. But that did not bother me. I was a man of remarkable intellect and I had my compass, to which I regularly referred. Thus equipped, and with such precautions, I did not see how I could get lost.

I did not walk fast. I saw no need to exhaust myself, as this trip had been about recuperation, not exercise. So I strolled through the moors, taking my time, and enjoying the atmosphere.

The air was certainly different than the city which I had left behind. I had noticed it on the hansom ride from the local train station to the Coach and Horses. It had nothing of the smoke of London. It tasted of growing things, such as the heather of the moor. It was clean, I supposed. But it would still take some time to get used to.

I walked along almost as though I was in a dream, with the mist around me. I do not think that I thought of anything at all, as I strolled across the moor, in the mist, and all of my worries faded away, at least for a while. This was why I had left London, after all, to be delivered from the pressures of high finance. I was sure that after five days of such pacific surroundings.

I continued onwards, occasionally testing the ground with my good walking stick, although from the way that the moor undulated I was sure that I was not in any danger of walking into some bottomless marsh. For a while there seemed to be nothing which could disturb such a tranquil scene.

Then I heard a howl, coming from somewhere ahead of me, in the fog. I ceased my perambulations across the moor.

It could not be a wolf, I told myself. It had to be the dog of somebody. But I did not even want to encounter somebody’s pet hound in such circumstances.

I looked down at the compass in the palm of my hand. According to the device I had been heading due north. To retrace my steps all that I would have to do was to turn around and go die south. That should take me directly to the doors of the Coach and Horses.

I checked my fob watch, and was surprised to see that it had already passed one o’clock. I had intended to head back an hour ago. Walking through the foggy landscape I had seemingly lost all sense of time.

Well.” I said to myself. “You will have missed lunch by the time that you get back, old thing. But maybe you will be able to talk Tavison into preparing some cold cuts for you.”

I turned around and began walking back towards the inn, as I had intended to be back in the inn by now. I wondered if, perhaps, I should have heeded the warning of Mr Tavison not to go out on the moor. Yet I had expected that the mist would melt away, once the sun was high in the sky; whereas, if anything, the fog had thickened since I had begun my walk.

Then, after a few minutes, I heard the howling coming from in front of me, to the south. I stopped walking, not wanting to run into some dog which some fool had let loose on the moors.

I thought about going to the left and to the right, but I considered that to be a foolish action, and one which might indeed cause me to become lost, as I only had my compass to guide me back to the inn. I could not deviate from my southerly course.

I waited, forcing myself to count up to one thousand. I hoped that, by then, the hound would have moved on, and that the way back to the inn would be clear.

I walked on, moving slowly, and listening out for any strange sound, once I had counted to one thousand. I moved slowly, holding my walking stick ready to use in a defensive manner, should some dog come running towards me.

It was as I was proceeding in such a manner that I saw one of the most terrifying things in my life, and one which I will remember until my dying day. I saw a wolf coming towards me. One glance told me that it was a wolf, even though I had never seen a wolf before. But it was like no wolf which ever had lived, surely, for the monster stood for and a half feet tall at the shoulder.

It had yellow eyes which seemed to glow with a soulless evil, and light up the mist which it stalked through. Its huge jaws were open wide, and I could see saliva dripping from its sharp teeth. I could see the muscles ripple beneath its dark grey fur. But the worst thing, in my opinion, was that the monster appeared to have no feet – its legs faded into the mist which it stalked through. This was no living creature, but the ghost of some giant, dire wolf.

It was daylight, yet I could see the spectre, as clearly as I could see my own feet. I did not stop to wonder about such an event. I turned around and ran, back towards the north. My only thoughts were to escape this demon before it attacked me.

I ran as I had not run since I had been a child, growing up in Richmond. My lungs felt as though they would burst; and I thought that my heart would fail me, it was beating so fast.

Suddenly I found that I was running uphill. I continued upwards, the slop making me slow sown, until I found myself in front of some rocky tor. This stony outcrop, I saw, was above the level of the mist. It was like I was on an island, in a sea of fog.

I knew that I was safe while I was next to that tor. That spectre which I had seen was a monster of the mist, and I believed that it could not leave the fog.

I waited for the mist to dissipate. Above me I could see the sun, and the mist should have melted away. But it gave no indication that it was inclined to do so. It appeared that the mist would stay all day, and I wondered if, perhaps, that ghostly wolf which I had seen somehow controlled the mist, causing it to remain.

I waited for hours on that tor, until I felt that I could wait no longer. Then I began to head back. But I had not gone far when I heard growling in front of me. I could not see the terror, but I did not need to see it to know that it was still there.

Twice more I waited, and tried to make my way back to the inn. But on the second attempt I was turned back again, hearing the growling, once more, of that terrific spectre. It was only on the third attempt to return to the inn that I did not hear or see anything other than the mist.

That walk back through the mist was, I think, the longest walk of my life; or, at least, that was the way that it seemed to me. I kept thinking that, at any moment, that spectral wolf might lurch towards me from out of the mist, and tear me apart with its unholy teeth. But I did not see the wolf, or hear it, and I somehow made it off the moor.

The road was in front of me, going to both my left and my right. There was no sign of the hostelry where I was lodging; and no sign of any people on the road.

I wondered which way I should go.

I heard another howl. It was off, in the distance, in the heart of that desolate moor. But the thought of that horrible spectre spurred me to action once more. I went to the right, hoping that I had chosen the correct direction.

I could see that it was beginning to get dark. I looked at my fob watch, thinking that it could not possibly be that late. But I had been out on the moors all day, and it was now evening.

I did not want to be out after the sun had set. The ghost of the wolf had been bad enough by the light of day, when one is not supposed to be able to witness such spectres. I feared what it might be like when it was fully dark. I chose the left, and hurried along in that direction. Thankfully I did not have far to go before I saw some hope before me.

I saw a patch of darkness looming out of the fog, the mist still thick so that I could not see where the building joined the earth. But it was a building! I had never been so glad to see such an edifice in my life before.

I ran towards it, keen to get out of the fog, and leave behind all of the ghostly monsters which it might hide. I did not go into the bar area straight away, but upstairs, to the room which had been prepared for me.

A fire had been lit in the grate at some stage, and was burning low. But that did not interest me. It was the mirror over the washbasin which I desired, for I felt that I had been changed by what I had seen.

I stood there, and stared into the small, round mirror, provided for gentlemen wishing to shave. My face was lined more than it had been when I had set out. It was something which I would have been prepared to swear to in a court of law.

Yet it was not my face which was so shocking to me, but my hair. My hair may have been grey, before, having lost most of its original brown colour, with the passage of the years, but now it was purest white. The site of that spectre had turned it the colour of freshly fallen snow.

I sat down on the bed in that room. My body shook, with realisation that I had come close to some sort of supernatural tragedy. It was a good half an hour before I had recovered enough to consider going to the bar below.

I brought myself under control, eventually, and went down to the bar. I needed a strong whisky to steady myself. I had come out to Devonshire with the intent of relaxation, but I had suffered the opposite.

I walked up to the counter. Tavison stared at me, as I asked for a small Scotch.

I told you, didn’t I?” he said. “Don’t go out on the moors.”

A Life Of Fiction CCVI

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Another vignette. This one was for Brass Goggles. But I thought that, as I have been collecting a lot of stories on here, that I might as well include it.

Lost (A Cautionary Tale)

We were lost. There was no other possibility. The road which we were going down in my Stanley Steamer did not correspond with any of the roads on the map which Edwards held. Edwards, my faithful manservant, had proved not to be the best navigator in the world. Or it was possible that the map was at fault.

We were somewhere in Yorkshire, in the East Riding. The sun had long set; and, by now, I had hoped that we would be in some hostelry, enjoying some good Yorkshire food, on this tour of the north of England. It seemed to be ages since we had last passed a signpost; and I had come to the conclusion that the signpost had been wrong, anyway.

I had halted the automobile to allow Edwards to see if he could find our location. But trying to read it by the light of the moon was not ideal.

I think that we are on the correct route.” Edwards muttered. “We should be on the correct route. Forge onwards, sir.”

Wait, look.” said I. I pointed ahead of us, down the rutted road. Edwards looked, staring into the darkness.

I see nothing, sir.” Edwards said.

Look again. There is a man there, walking towards us. Perhaps he can advise us of where we might be.”

Ah, yes, I see him now.”

I could not yet see the man, apart from the fact that he was a man, and not a woman. It was only when he neared my automobile that I was able to see some details. The moon came out from behind the clouds and I glimpsed this Yorkshireman.

The stranger was of average height, at best. He was a stocky chap, and I though that he had already seen the best years of his life. As he neared us I got a better look at this individual. I could see that he was balding, and dressed in the way that I imagined some farmer to dress: cotton trews, rather than trousers; a cotton smock; and rough leather boots. His belt was of string rather than leather. He had a single strand of straw in his mouth. He was balding, and his few strands of grey hair did not stop the moon from shining on his balding pate.

The man walked along the road as though he had done it a thousand miles before. It was clear to me that he must know the area well.

Excuse me, but may I ask you a question?” said I.

The man halted next to my automobile.

Speak, sir.” said he. His voice was surprisingly frail, considering how stocky his frame was. It was barely more than a whisper, and I had to lean towards him to catch everything which he said.

We appear to be lost.” I said, throwing a glance at Edwards. “I was trying to find a place called Larmby, where we intended to stay for the night. Do you happen to know if we are headed in the correct direction?”

Well, you can get to Larmby this way around.” said he. “But this would be the long way round. It might be quicker if you turned your horseless carriage back around and went back to the last crossroads.”

I knew that we had taken the wrong turning.” said I. Edwards did not say anything. “Sir, can you show me on the map which route we should pursue?”

Nay, I’m no good with maps.” the man whispered. “But I could show you, if you want me to ride on your contraption.”

Sir, I do not like him.” Edwards whispered in my ear. “There is something wrong about this individual. Can you not feel it?”

Now that Edwards mentioned it, it was a little odd to find some farmer walking along on his own in such a manner; and there was some other oddness – which I could not name – about this individual. Yet I was so annoyed about the fact that Edwards had got us lost that I chose to ignore any misgivings which I might have about this individual.

Please hop aboard.” I said to the farmer. He climbed into the back. He moved so softly that I did not even feel the Stanley move, and I had to look over my shoulder to check that the farmer had got on. But he was there.

The farmer whispered his instructions as I drove along. He did not seem to be bothered that I was driving him along in the opposite direction to that in which he had been heading.

We turned left at the next intersection, and then left again. A few minutes later and I could see lights on in buildings ahead of us, and I knew that we had found the small hamlet of Larmby, where Edwards and I would be staying, this moonlit night.

It’s just along here.” the farmer whispered in my ear. “That was where the cart ran me down and killed me.”

I stopped the automobile and turned around to look at my passenger. But he had gone, although there was nowhere where he could have gone to, so quickly. I felt the hair on my head rise up.

He’s gone.” Edwards said. “He’s gone.”

Suddenly I had no desire to be out on the road, and every desire to be in some inn among other living people. At some haste I drove my Stanley along to the Red Lion public house, where we had arranged to stay the night. I felt safe only when Edwards and I had gone through the doors of that establishment.

I thought that you had got lost.” the owner said, when I introduced myself.

We had.” I said, as I threw a glance in the direction of my navigator. “But we were shown the correct route by some farmer. It was a most unusual occurrence, however, as on arriving at the outskirts of Larmby he claimed that he was run down by a cart and killed; whereupon he managed to run off so quickly that I did not see him go.”

I laughed, hoping that there was some earthly explanation as to hat had occurred, and that the farm had only been playing some prank on Edwards and I. But my host did not laugh.

That was Legg who you saw.” my host said, looking into my eyes. “He was knocked down by a runaway cart and killed not ten years ago, and now his phantom walks the roads around Larmby. You’re not the first to see him, and you won’t be the last.”

It was only then that it was confirmed that I had given a ride to a ghost. Well, I had the light on in my room all that night; and I resolved to be more careful as to whom I gave a lift to in the future. Next time I would make sure that they were alive, for I have no desire to find myself in the company of the dead.

A Life Of Fiction CCV

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Another tale: What can I say? This is another vignette.

The Waves

This was for a writing challenge, for a steampunk story around the theme of water. I chose to set the story in my gas-lamp fantasy world. But this story is not part of the canon, but a What If? What if Briggs and Prenderghast had not defeated Rex Mundi in the novel of that name, and he had begun a war intended to engulf the entire world?

The Waves

The armada of iron ships cut through the waves of the North Sea. Night covered their passage, as they sailed west, full steam ahead.

There was an occasional clanking emanating from below decks; and steam trailed up into the night sky, from the various funnels of the ships. On the decks the soldiers paid attention to neither. They muttered in German to each other, wondering if they would have as much success in the invasion of Britain as they had had in the conquest of France, where they had been led to victory after victory by their dictator, Rex Mundi. His airships had dropped Phlogiston bombs on the cities of France. His land ironclads, with their deadly Gauss cannons, had reduced the French defences to ash and dust. It had been a reversal of the disaster at Sedan, a quarter of a century beforehand, when Jules Verne’s war machines had given the Prussians a bloody nose.

The ships were heavily laden with as many war machines as could be put aboard. They were all low down in the water, weighed down at the materiel on them. Sometimes the soldiers would mutter something about the waves being dangerously high.

The captain of the fleet stared down at the dark waves of the North Sea. He should have been filled with joy at the fact that the military campaign of Rex Mundi was going so well. Even as this invasion fleet sailed for England the Prussian airships should be dropping bombs on London, while Rex Mundi flew in between them in his ornithopter, dictating the destruction which was raining down on London.

The captain, though, was filled with a feeling if foreboding, even though his armada seemed to have the North Sea to itself. He could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. but there was not another ship to be seen. The much vaunted British navy had not dared to come out to engage them. There were no airships in the moonless sky. There were only the dark waves of the sea.

The waves looked black, almost as though the water was ink. What were they writing? Victory for Prussia, as Rex Mundi continued his intended conquest of the world? Or did they have something else in mind?

Fall into those waves and you would sink, down to the bottom of the sea. The captain doubted if many of his soldiers could swim. And the ships were dangerously low in the water. But he tried to tell himself that his misgivings had no basis in fact, and that soon they would be nearing the English coast. Prussia would win.

What would that captain have said if he had seen London, though, where the great buildings of the capital still stood? Where the airships lay in ruins on the approach to the capital, next to the crashed remains of an ornithopter, its commander dead?

And what would the captain have said if he could have looked beneath the surface of the dark waves of the North Sea where, at that moment, an underwater armada of British submersibles closed on his position…

A Life Of Fiction CCIV

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

Another very short story: Here is another very short story which I wrote for Steampunk Empire. I think that I have only a few of these to go. Then I guess that I will have to find something else about which to write. But something will come to me – eventually.

Plans

This is my attempt for the writing challenge, involving the words terrific, gasogene, hurtling and cigar. This is only a short vignette, but it is one which I may add to in the future, possibly in other writing challenges, if I can get the words to fit.

The characters Professor Meerschaum and Jackson come from my novels The Mole Machine, Beneath The Ocean Waves and Into The Ether. This snippet is entirely new, and does not come from any of those works.

I was originally going to do a Sherlock Holmes vignette, as there is a gasogene in 221B Baker Street. But this tale is fractionally more steampunk.

Plans

The sound of Ride of the Valkyrie was heard throughout the converted church where Professor Meerschaum lived, as somebody pulled the bell pull at the front door. Sighing, the long-suffering Jackson – Meerschaum’s manservant – went to see who was there.

It was a tall and smartly dressed man. He was around sixty years old, but still looked to be healthy enough.

Lord Lytton.” the man said, giving his card to Jackson. “Meerschaum is expecting me.”

Jackson took the man’s hat and overcoat, and then showed Lord Lytton in, to where Meerschaum was, in his sitting room. Jackson feared that this visit by a man of money presaged some wild and dangerous adventure, as, in the past, a similar visit by a peer had led to their first adventure involving a mole machine, when they had tunnelled down into the hidden subterranean realm of Agartha. That, though, had only been the first of many adventures, ones which included a submarine voyage where they had ended up prisoners of the New Lemurians; a rocket trip through the ether to Venus where they had ended up prisoners of the Venusians, and an eventual return to Earth where they had ended up prisoners of the Kingdom of Saguenay. Jackson was tired of being a prisoner.

Ah, you must be Lord Lytton.” Meerschaum, the elderly academic, said when he saw his visitor. Lytton nodded, as the peer took out a cigar from the inner pocket of his jacket.

Jackson, get our guest a drink.” Meerschaum said, nodding towards the gasogene. It was the professor’s new toy, and he lost no opportunity to show it off.

No, thank you.” Lord Lytton said, as he used some minute clippers to remove the end of his cigar. “But might I trouble you for a light?”

Jackson? I know that you still occasionally smoke.”

Jackson produced a box of lucifers out of one of his pockets and lit Lord Lytton’s cigar.

You may leave us now, Jackson.” Meerschaum said, as he pushed his spectacles back up his nose. Jackson left the room. He did not even bother to eavesdrop from behind the door.

Lord Lytton stayed about half an hour. When Jackson was summoned to show the peer out, Meerschaum instructed him to come up to the studio, the room where Meerschaum designed his inventions.

With a heavy heart Jackson showed Lord Lytton out. Jackson then walked up to the studio, as Meerschaum referred to the room. It was the room where Meerschaum had designed the Mole Machine; a submersible; and the rocket which had taken the two of them to the planet Venus.

Jackson knocked on the door and entered.

Jackson could see a new set of blueprints on the professor’s drawing board. Jackson was sure that he had not seen them before. For one thing, the craft in the blueprint appeared to have wings.

Jackson, after twice being in a rocket, had come to distrust heavier-than-air craft. They had a tendency to crash dangerously into the ground.

What is that, professor?” Jackson asked.

That, Jackson, is my greatest invention yet.” the professor said, triumphantly, raising one hand above his head. “I was reading through a work on Nature when I cam across the curious case of the flying fish…”

Flying fish? Wings? Already, Jackson did nit like the way that this was going. He had a vision of some terrific adventure, in some craft with wings, which would end with the strange craft (on the drawing board) hurtling out of the sky to its destruction…

I have never designed an ornithopter before.” the professor mused. “I know that heavier-than-air crafts have a bad reputation, and that it is airships which rule the skies. But I have never designed an ornithopter, have I? So I was looking through a book on the natural world for how animals are designed when I happened on the curious case of the flying fish. A fish which glides! And the penguin is a bird which swims! It occurred to me then, Jackson, that wings need not only be for flight.

We travelled as far as India in the submersible, Jackson, but we never made it to the Pacific. It would have taken too long. But in my Flying Fish machine we will be able to fly there at a hundred miles an hour or more! And Lord Lytton has just agreed to finance building such a machine!”

Jackson sighed. There was another adventure coming up. It seemed that they were destined to risk their lives yet again…

A Life Of Fiction CCIII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

More vignettes: There were a few other vignettes which I did for the Steampunk Empire which I don’t think that I’ve put on this site. If I have, then apologies for repeating myself. Anyway, this little vignette is called Tuesday Night.

Tuesday Night

An explanation: Blackchapel, referred to in this tale, is the Whitechapel of my Victorian gas-lamp fantasy world. The reason for the difference in name is too long winded to go into here.

Tuesday Night

It was raining. That meant that Tuesday was bath night, as rain was the only water that some of the denizens of Blackchapel ever saw on their faces.

Here and there, on the streets of this most deprived area of London, there was the odd hawker trying to sell his wares: a man with a brazier selling hot cooked potatoes; a match girl; and a man who, despite looking like a vagabond, would show you the silver cutlery which he had hidden beneath his coat.

There were streetwalkers just coming out for the evening, and those who had a few pennies to their name going in search of an evening’s drinking at the dim, dingy places which called themselves public houses. There was even a brave policeman on patrol. But he made sure that he had his truncheon in his hands, just in case.

And, on a street corner, three ne’er-do-wells were planning their latest job…

Don’t mollycoddle the lad. He’s got to learn.” Barker said. Barker looked left and right. He felt nervous. He’d rather hang out with Smudge, than these amateurs (in Barker’s opinion). But he had not seen Smudge for weeks. The man had seemingly disappeared off the fact of the planet.

The lad on question was Bill Macker. His fourteenth birthday had just come and gone. His acne, though, was more profuse than ever. At fourteen he was considered to be a man, at least in this place, where the average age which somebody lived to was the early twenties. This was to be his first job.

The third member of this less than holy trinity was the lad’s father, Jack Macker. Well, Jack thought that he was the lad’s father. But there were times when he was not entirely sure. It was the fact that Bill had an unruly auburn mop, unlike either Jack or the lad’s mother. But she swore that Bill was his.

Jack was a rough customer. He was the sort of person of whom you did not want to get on the wrong side; and he did not care who knew that.

Come on, let’s go.” Barker muttered. He did not like hanging around on street corners. Not in some little group like this. People tended to pay attention to little groups.

Where are we going?” Macker senior asked.

I’ve been casing a house in Belgravia.” Barker said. “I think that the owners ‘ave to be away, ‘cause it’s dark at night.”

It’s a bit far.” Macker senior said. He hardly ever ventured out of the Blackchapel and Spitalfields area. That was the London he knew; and that was where he felt safe.

You’re not going to get good stuff around ‘ere.” Barker said. He could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered to be an intelligent criminal. But even he knew that everybody else in the Blackchapel area were either as poor as he was, or they were the sort of person who you really did not want to mess with.

Barker led the other two to Belgravia, walking by the shortest possible route. He only stopped the others once, when he saw a copper on patrol walking down the road. But the policeman was walking away from them. All that those three villains had to do was to wait.

Once the copper was out of sight Barker continued, taking them into the heart of Belgravia.

Barker led the way to the back door of the house. He had a few tools to pick the lock. But one look at the door told him that it would not be necessary. It was obvious to anybody looking closely at the door that the door had been forced at some time in the past. The lock was broken.

Looks like somebody’s been here before us.” Macker senior said.

Barker cursed under his breath. It looked like he had spent too long casing the house. He should just have gone in by himself. But he didn’t like doing things by himself. He got scared. Whenever he had pulled a job in the past it had always been with somebody else. Usually it had been Smudge. But Smudge could not be found.

There might be somethin’ left.” Barker said. He had not come all this way to go home empty-handed. He had to get something, as he literally did not have a penny to his name at the moment. If he had thought that somebody else was going to burgle the house then he would have put more of a rush on.

Macker the elder got out a small, hand-held torch from under his dirty clothes. He flicked the light on.

Oi, put that out, you fool.” Barker whispered. It was the loudest whisper a person could make. “Somebody will see. Do you want us all to go into the clink? I don’t want to be up before the beak again. He warned me last time that if I got into any trouble that he would lock me up and throw away the key.”

Can’t see a thing.” Macker senior muttered. But he put the torch out.

Moon’s out tonight.” Barker said. “Give it a minute and she’ll shine from behind the clouds.”

They gave it a minute, and the three busters slowly made their way through the silent house, through the back hall, and the kitchen, and then into the rest of the house. The only sounds in the house were the ticking of a grandfather clock in the front hall, and Barker and the others occasionally bumping into bits of furniture.

They came into the front hall. Stairs led up to the first floor. Moonlight shining in through am arched window above the front door illuminated the scene to a certain extent, and it was clear that whoever had broken into the house had certainly not cleared it out.

There was a marble statuette of some topless woman, on a plinth near the bottom of the stairs, but the statuette was far too big for Barker and the others to take with them. There were paintings on the walls, most of them being of rural scenes, although it was hard to tell in the dark.

Should we take the paintings?” Barker wondered. They had to be worth something. Smudge would have known.

Nah. You’ll never fence those. We need something that can’t be traced by the bluebottles.”

They searched the downstairs rooms, going quickly, wanting to snatch what they could, and then get out of there. Macker junior found a couple of pound notes in a drawer in one of the rooms. Whoever had cracked this crib had missed that money.

They went upstairs. There had to be more stuff which the previous thief had missed. On the upstairs landing Macker junior pointed at a bedroom door. The door was partially open, because it looked like it had been forced with no small amount of strength.

Yeah, we’ll try that first.” Barker muttered. Finding those pound notes had fed his greed, and he was not leaving this toffken until he had got his rewards.

Barker pushed open the door to the bedroom and went in.

The first thing that he noticed was an old gentlemen lying dead on the floor. The man was around sixty years old, and he was only wearing a nightshirt. The angle of his neck made it obvious to even somebody as stupid as Barker that the man’s neck had been broken.

There was some strange metal statue standing next to the dead body. Moonlight glinted off the steel of what looked like a metal man. There were little in the way of details, though – it was a rough humanoid shape, but whatever artist had created it had only bothered with a few details, such as eyes (closed) and strange round blocks where its ears should have been. It had no representations of clothing or details of the human form, with the exception of fully articulated joints.

As the two Mackers entered the room the ‘statue’ turned its head to face Barker. It opened its eyes. They gleamed redly in the darkness of the room…

A Life of Fiction CCII

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

The First Novel: The first novel is always the hardest to write. But, conversely, in some ways it is also the easiest as well, because the foolish and budding author does not yet fully realise the hours of work ahead of him (or her). You will have to put in hundreds of hours of work – and that is just for the first draft.

My first novel was the Absinthe Club. It has sold a few copies on the Amazon Kindle store (and by a few I do mean a handful). I first conceived of it a long time ago, maybe a decade and a half ago or more, back when I was still working on the railway. I wrote it long hand, on sheets of A4 paper. I was able to roughly estimate how much I had written because my illegible, spidery writing produces around three hundred and thirty words per sheet of A4. That means, very roughly, for each three sides of A4 I write around a thousand words (I don’t work in such a manner any more). For an eighty thousand word novel that means that you have to produce around 240 sides of A4. That is a lot of writing.

There was something which drove me on. There was a need to create something which I felt was of value (and I had given up on art a long, long time ago).

The beginning of your first novel is easy. I am certain that there are many, many people who have the first ten thousand words of the greatest literary work since War and Peace (or whatever you think has literary merit) buried in the depths of the sock drawer. What is hard, and what you must do, is to carry on when that first heady rush of authorial energy has fizzled out. You have to complete the novel. Nobody else is going to do it for you. Having a splendid idea is not good enough.

Thus begins the hard slog of your first novel – the section from around ten thousand words up to around forty thousand (presuming that you are writing a novel of around eighty thousand words – adjust the numbers as appropriate).

When you get around halfway through your novel, though, a curious thing happens. You have reached the top of the “hill.” You have written one half of the book, and, if you do that, then you can write the other half. You begin idling down the other side of the hill, word after word, sentence after sentence. As forty thousand words become forty-five thousand become fifty thousand you begin to pick up speed again. You suddenly realise that you can do this.

You accelerate as you approach the end of the novel (of the first draft, anyway). Suddenly the finish line is in sight. And when, finally, you pass it, it feels glorious. It is almost better than sex. Almost.

It is a high which you will want to feel again. I guess that it is why people keep writing novels – to try and feel that incredible high over and over again. But a word of warning – although it always feels good to finish a novel, no time feels as good as the first time. Sorry.

So, if you have finished your first novel, and you feel like a million books. Now you have to do the second draft…