by Melanie Page
When my elder son started swanning around in tight fitting pseudo-Victorian, Steampunk attire, wearing retro leather goggles, I hoped he was just going through a phase. Little did I imagine that, a few years later, I would be publishing a novel in the Steampunk genre.For the uninitiated, Steampunk is a relatively recent offshoot of the Sci-Fi branch of the literary family tree. It gets its name from the use of anachronistic, often steam powered technology that features prominently in it. It is a melange of speculative – or alternative – historical fiction, fantasy and others such as horror, romance or crime. The name was coined in the mid-eighties by a science fiction author who needed a way to distinguish works like his from those of traditional Victorian Era authors like Jules Verne.
When MC D’Alton and I set about writing Iron Heart, we didn’t just need characters and a plot, we needed to build a whole world, a steampunk world, for them to live in. That was, for me, the most fun. We looked on the internet, that cornucopia of knowledge for the fertile mind, and came up with some images which gave us a springboard.
One such element was the unicarriage. In the first scene, Galena Tindale, fleeing from the angry mob (sans pitchforks), is accidently hit by the hero in his unicarriage. We envisioned it as the body of a hansom cab, as one might find in Sherlock Holmes, with the head and neck of a brass horse as the cab, for the driver. The engine would be beneath it, steam powered of course, so he would need to top it up with water and slow burning fuel. Steam would pour artistically from the nostrils of the horse… We imagineered a single wheel in the middle of the front part with a dozen whirling hooves on it. That was awesome fun. There is such freedom in letting your imagination run away with you.
Of course, the main piece of retro-futuristic invention was the Iron (and later the other) Heart, but I would spoil MC’s fun by describing that. My other favourite invention was the Pocket Messenger. Just as today everyone would be lost without their smart phone, so in the Victorian Edinburgh of my fantasy, everyone has a small, elegant case, not much bigger than a cigarette case, into which one inserts a role of silvered paper. When the glass screen is inscribed using a black wax stylus, and the lid is closed, a chemical reaction, similar to old fashioned photography, instantly sends the writer’s message to the receiver. Simple, logical and oh, so cool.
And finally, there was the dirigible. They of course were and are quite real. But I did make a few changes. I used steam powered fans to propel them, making them more manoeuvrable and faster. They are also larger. Real dirigibles of the period would not carry my passengers in any kind of luxury.
Writing Iron Heart was the most fun I’ve had writing for a long time… And the nifty gadgets (worthy of James Bond’s Q, if I do say so myself) were largely responsible for that. If you happen to read Iron Heart, let me know what you think.