Tag Archives: steampunk

A new Spoonwalker in the family

The continuing adventures of the spoonwalker hereby commence!

I got a message from Gregg McNeill (Yes, that’s the same Gregg from Darkbox Photography and the film project. Well done for keeping up!) asking to borrow my Spoonwalker as he wanted to do a photographic print of a Spoonwalker in a bell jar. I was thrilled at the idea! Then I had a closer look at the Spoonwalker I had made and realised he would never survive the trip through the post. He’s made of air dry clay and wire (and spoons, obviously). I then remembered that I was owed a favour by a well known maker and creator of wonders. None other than Herr Döktor! I contacted him at his lair of strange and sometimes dangerous things and asked if the favour I owed him would  equate to something like a Spoonwalker. As it turned out, it did! (or near enough!) So we now have a new Spoonwalker in the family. Here we see a progress shot and the little bloke himself  and a charming rampage in the garden. There are plans for a Spoonwalker II now, who might be cast so that more of the charming (and slightly unsettling) little creatures might be unleashed on a now vaguely suspecting world. The one you see here, will now be sent to Gregg so that he might be the subject of an utterly splendid photographic print using vintage processes.

 

The film story – going public

For some weeks now I’ve been telling the story of the Hopeless Maine film project, how it got started and what’s happened along the way. The decision to go public with it as a process came some way into the journey.

Normally films turn up in the world as finished items. We may have had some teasers along the way – usually around casting, but the process remains largely hidden. This is fine when you have a massive budget to make a film and another massive budget to promote it. We started with only our own money. We aren’t a studio, none of us are famous enough that our names guarantee the project success. We can’t whip out a Hopeless Maine film from nowhere and expect many people to care.

The two main considerations were, how we fund the film and how we find an audience. So, it made sense to go public as a way of tackling those specific issues. We’ve started crowdsourcing to fund the puppets, which means we can get started there and hopefully the progress we make will enthuse people and build interest around the project as a whole.

There are also a lot of other, less businesslike reasons for doing it this way. We’re a team of steampunks, for the greater part. We belong to a community and we met each other through those community spaces. The desire to feed back to said community is strong. We want to bring people with us because we feel there are a lot of people who are our people, and who are a key part of the context in which this is all happening. And we want to give back by sharing what we’re doing.

Hopeless Maine was always intended to be a community project. Tom has brought all sorts of people into it in different ways over the years. Not all of them stuck around, some of us did. I’m not his first author, but I am the one it’s been hardest to get rid of! As Hopeless lays its various strange eggs in other people’s minds, we want to say yes to that, to open up space for other people and other visions.

Also, this is the bit that I can do. I can tell you the story of what happened. I’m the least experienced team member, the one with the fewest relevant skills. It is incredibly exciting watching what everyone else is doing with this and seeing how amazing the team are. But from here, I will mostly be loitering at the edges, because there’s not much I can usefully do. Hold the odd puppet maybe.

I’m telling the story of the project as it unfolds because that lets me feel like I’m still involved, which is nice. Thank you for giving me that space.

Steampunks in Space

Back in November, Tom and I went to Steampunks in Space, in Leicester. It turned out to be another key point in the development of the film. We were a few tables along from Gregg McNeill, so were able to spend a lot of time talking about what had happened, what could happen, and the sorts of things we needed to think about. Being in the same place is powerful, creatively, but with Gregg in Scotland and us in Gloucestershire, we hadn’t had much scope.

Also at Steampunks in Space, was John Naylor, who is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to all things Steampunk. He was there selling hats. John is the man with the vision behind Asylum and the Ministry of Steampunk. Thanks to him, Abbey Masahiro was in Lincoln last summer and we were able to get a book to him (see this post for more backstory). So, I took the opportunity to update John on how this had all gone, and to thank him for once again being a source of magic. He has a rare talent for creating spaces in which amazing things happen.

After that conversation I had one of those double take moments of realising I had made a serious mistake. I went back and asked John if he wanted to be in the film project, and he very generously said yes. It’s all too easy to lose track of what people do in their day jobs. John does film and television work professionally, with more knowledge and skills than you might want to try and shake a stick at. He can also do fight choreography.

That weekend felt like a tremendous consolidation of the project. Adding John Naylor to the team massively expanded the capabilities in the mix. It continues to amaze and delight me that all these highly talented, dedicated, serious and professional people are looking at this madcap thing and wanting in. Thanks to their amazingness, we get to turn a bit of lunatic ‘what if’ into something that really could work.

New light on suspicious deaths!

Following on from Mithra Stubbs Item in the paper yesterday, New Evidence has been found that may (or may not) shed new light on the case. You will have to read the note that has been found and come to your own conclusions.
TO BE READ IN THE EVENT OF MY UNTIMELY DEMISE A ‘head injury’ the papers said. My darling Fiona no more died from a head injury than from a broken finger nail. I know this fact because I was able to carefully examine her head at around 09:30 as she lay on the ground under Evangeline Plumage’s sewing machine, still wearing the chartreuse-coloured wig that she had been given by another of Evangeline’s clients, not five minutes later. The client in question was Marine Molly, taxidermist in waiting to the village aquarium, one of the region’s foremost photographers of sewers and Frampton Jones’ half-sister. The broken finger nail in question was really no more than a scratch in the shellac, but it was nevertheless clear evidence that a struggle had taken place, most likely a struggle between Fiona and Molly. After checking for signs of physical injury (of which there were none other than the scratched nail) I carefully stepped into the handbag that Fiona had been carrying and soon discovered that Molly had made away with the bronze key to Fiona’s shoe room. I hastened back to the room myself, entering through the secret staircase from the laundry chute, where I found fourteen pairs of almost identical black court shoes, one pair on each step. When I reached the shoe room I found further evidence of a struggle, this time seven pairs of green court shoes along with four dresses, two pairs of trousers and three skirts; Fiona had clearly been in a hurry to get dressed that morning. The broken clock on the floor suggested she had still been getting dressed at 10:30. I returned to Evangeline’s sewing room (via the Black Swan Bakery for a light breakfast), arriving around 9:15. As the sound of Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony from Testimony Albatross’s fish organ filled the air from the nearby church and as the village clock struck 9:00, I became acutely aware of a metallic taste in my mouth and I started to feel unsteady. Tumbling forwards, I pricked my finger on Evangeline’s sewing needle before grabbing a lock of the chartreuse wig on my fall to the carpet. Desperate circumstances call for desperate measures. I must find out the true cause of and hopefully prevent Fiona’s demise, to which end am going back to my workshop to continue work on my time travelling shoe machine. To date I have succeeded only in travelling back from an F fitting to an E fitting. If I can travel back from a size eleven to a size ten and a half, then the future of the island will surely lie in my hands. Should my own life come to an apparent end in the pursuit of this objective I implore the finder of this note to seek out the toxicology report on the chartreuse hair and I bequeath my collection of tintype portraits of cats, ferrets and subterranean clowns to the village museum. NR
If you are wondering why the mortality rate on the island is so dreadfully high at present, it is because Nimue has offered to write one hundred obituaries for the early birds from our kickstarter campaign to launch a new line of Hopeless, Maine illustrated fiction. It is ongoing, and can be found here.

Ghost in the Machine?

I have no idea how the phonograph survived the storm and subsequent shipwreck – but survive it did. This was, unfortunately, more than could be said for the captain and crew of the ‘Golden Cross’, the merchantman that had set out with the honourable intention of ferrying the new-fangled Edison-Bell machine across an inhospitable ocean to England, only to flounder early on in its journey. It would be not unreasonable to suppose that the fogbank that suddenly loomed in her wake was the downfall of the ‘Golden Cross’, concealing as it did – and still does – the treacherous rocks and unnamed terrors lurking in the waters surrounding the island of Hopeless, Maine.

The crate had looked promising, sitting foursquare on the beach. An address label revealed that the intended consignee was the recently founded Gramophone Company, of Maiden Lane, London, England. This gave no clue whatsoever regarding the contents of the crate to the Nailsworthy brothers, twin boys who had never heard of a gramophone, London or, indeed, England. Despite this, they carried it with great care and not a little difficulty back to the Common, wary not to disobey the large, red stencilled letters, which advised ‘This Way Up’ and ‘Do Not Drop – Fragile’.

Regular readers will know that The Common is home to a small community, originally descended from some of the earliest settlers on the island. These are called Commoners. They are recognised by all on Hopeless for their homely disposition, scavenging prowess and no small amount of inbreeding.

A crowd had gathered, anxious to see the wonder that had been revealed, once an inordinate quantity of packaging and padding had been removed from the crate. What could it be? A polished wooden box with a big brass horn and a handle that seemed to do nothing in particular. This was certainly a conundrum that confounded the brains of the brightest of the Commoners. Although it made no sense, the strange item was treated with a certain amount of awe and reverence; after all, they reasoned, anything that had required such delicacy to transport must be a treasure of some worth. In view of this, the phonograph was set up with great ceremony in the middle of their meeting hall.

It was a week or so later that Philomena Bucket chanced to call by. As ever, Drury, the skeletal dog, was scampering along beside her, rattling happily and attempting to mark his progress with phantom micturitions.

No sooner had she set foot upon the Common than the Nailsworthy brothers appeared and ran excitedly to her.

“Miss Philomena, come and see. Come and see what we’ve found.”

Before Philomena could protest the boys dragged her to the meeting hall and proudly pointed to the mysterious machine.

“Why, it’s a phonograph” she said. “I haven’t seen one of those for ages. I wonder if it still works?”

“D’you know what it does? Can you make it work? Can you… can you? ”  asked Hubert and Osbert Nailsworthy excitedly. “Show us, miss Philomena – pleeease…”

“I think so,” Philomena smiled. “But I need to find some things first. I’ll come back this afternoon.”

It took no time for the word to get around that Philomena Bucket was going to make the machine do something quite wonderful, though no one knew quite what that would be. This did not prevent Gwydion Bagpath, the self-styled elder of the Commoners, speaking knowledgably on the subject, having gleaned whatever information he could from the Nailsworthy boys.

“It is as I guessed,” he said with an air of importance, “I recognised it immediately, of course. It’s called a um… called a…”

Gwydion racked his brain to recall what the boys had said it was.

“Ah yes, it’s called a pornograph I believe”.

Morning wore into afternoon and the excitement in the air was almost palpable as the Commoners waited impatiently for Philomena to return. She, in the meantime, had been ransacking the storeroom of the ‘Squid and Teapot’, looking through the spoils that had been salvaged from the wreck of the ‘Hetty Pegler’, the ship that had brought her to the island several years earlier.

The ship’s skipper, Captain Longdown, had possessed a phonograph exactly like the one salvaged by the Commoners. While Longdown’s phonograph had not survived, some of its cylinders had. Without a phonograph, however, they were quite useless but, thanks to the ‘waste nothing’ philosophy of the island, they had been squirreled away just in case they might come in handy for something one day.

A reverential hush descended upon the meeting hall as Philomena, with Drury at her feet, wound the handle of the spring-gear that powered the machine. She fixed a cylinder in place, positioned the horn for best effect and gently lowered the circular brass reproducer, with its sapphire needle, on to the cylinder’s surface. This began to turn and suddenly, from the depths of the horn, there arose the tinny but unmistakable warblings of a strangulated Irish tenor, who was professing his love for a girl with a wheelbarrow; a girl who apparently sold sea-food.

Philomena gazed wistfully at the Phonograph, her mind transported back to the land of her birth. Her reverie, however, was rudely interrupted by the screams of panic as her audience lapsed into mass-hysteria, believing themselves to have been subjected to all sorts of diabolical witchcraft. Unfazed, Philomena replaced the cylinder with one that played only music. It was Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’, a tune beloved by every manufacturer of music-boxes, pretty much since the day that the old boy wrote it. Music-boxes were something that the Commoners could understand. They had seen them before. They knew how they worked. It was generally accepted, by one and all, that music-boxes were definitely not at all diabolical.

One by one the audience drifted back in and Philomena was eventually able to convince even the most sceptical that there was no imp or ghost singing, no demonic voice to ensnare them. Hopeless had its fair share of terrors, this was not one of them. Gingerly, Philomena wound the handle, put the  ‘Molly Malone’ cylinder back on and sang along, her sweet soprano voice mingling with that of the tremulous tenor. Gwydion Bagpath tentatively joined in with the chorus, then, following his lead, another voice picked it up, then another and another until the meeting hall rang with the strains of

‘Alive, alive oh,

Alive, alive oh,

Crying cockles and mussels,

Alive, alive oh.’

By common request the handle was wound and ‘Molly Malone’ was played over and over, more times than anyone could count, until Philomena, quite frankly, felt that she would be happy if she never had to hear the song ever again. Drury, however, was more than content to sit in front of the phonograph’s horn, his head cocked to one side, enjoying every moment. Alive, alive, oh – it was a good thing to be.

Story by Martin Pearson-Art by Tom Brown

 

The Case of Good Fortune

Hello people! (and others)

We have a special Vendetta post today (or whenever you are reading this, naturally) This post highlights a box of wonders created by one of the finest and most creative makers in all of steampunk, in my experience. We came across this because Salamandra’s key was to be incorporated in it, but this had lead me to find the rest of his work and costuming. Here is a mind that embraces sheer childlike creative glee and combines it with great skill, craftsmanship and keen intellect. So, without further ado (hoping that was sufficient ado, for you) we bring you, The Case of Good Fortune and what its creator had to say about it!

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It’s in the second drawer down on the left, along with the Key of Erebor, the Key to Davy Jones’ locker, a complete set of Wills ‘Lucky Charms’ cigarette cards and an authentic signature from Van Kleist.

What is?

Salamandra’s key.

This is one of eight drawers in a wooden box that has seen better days. The drawers contain a number of seemingly random objects, like a sample of Holy Water, a bezoar, four baculums and a small pot of soot. These treasures are all part of the ‘Case of Good Fortune’, a Compendium of Good Fortune for the Discerning Traveler compiled by my grandfather in 1916.

The collection was put together as a means of harnessing the certainty of good outcomes that invariably follows the expert use of the right combination of good fortune charms. The power of this collection above any other, however, is the inclusion of a scientifically proven electrical system which directs the user to the optimal set of charms to use in any particular scenario by way of a series of knobs and flickering lights.

Hence when seeking good fortune with respect to wealth the user may be directed to a device that accurately predicts forthcoming lottery numbers, or when seeking fame the user might be directed to a pair of aurodium plated gold dice.

A special switch in the control panel allows the user to choose whether to accept good luck charms which rely on the placebo effect or not. The case has a mind of its own, however, and it sometimes knows better than the user.

Two particular points merit further mention. One is that the case includes a number of artefacts (including samples of hair, a wand, a tintype and a signature) from well known members of the UK Steampunk scene. There is also a sample of ore from the Spiffing-cum-Lightly tin mine. Together with Salamanda’s key it is expected that the inclusion of these charms (including Rapunzel’s hair and the Thestral tail hair) will enhance the power of the case when its contents are used within the Steampunk community.

The second point is that subsequent to its completion in 1916 a number of items in the case have found their way into later works of fiction including books and film, such as Felix Felicis (Harry Potter), Mr Pointy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the moustache curlers (Hercule Poirot) and the Tibetan thunderbolt (The Imaginarium).

The outside of the box is decorated with a number of tatty maps of The World, Great Britain, Morecambe and Madison Wisconsin as well as the route of the Orient Express. Having won the UK heat of the Steampunk World Suitcase Challenge at Morecambe the box will be (at least figuratively) off to Teslacon at Madison Wisconsin for the world final in November 2019.

The theme of Teslacon this year will be Murder on the Orient Express. The key fob belonging to compartment 66 is to be found in the third drawer down on the left. But will Salamandra’s key fit the lock?

Nimrod Lancaster III”

No photo description available.

No photo description available.

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Is that not a thing of joy??  We are desperately proud to have been in any way associated with this artefact. The Key was made by the equally amazing Mat Inkel of the Arcane Armoury. (whom we hope to work with again, as he is just generally wonderful) If you would like a key of your very own, you would be well advised to click on the following highlighted word. For more information on Sal’s key and the making of it, we did a post, which can be found here.

I hope (as always) this finds you well, inspired and thriving.

 

 

Hopeless Mechanics

What is the relationship between Hopeless Maine and the rest of reality? It’s a question I’ve been asking on and off for about fourteen years, and neither Tom nor I has known the answer…. until now!

It came to us as we were discussing the stories Keith Errington has written for the island, and how his 19th century is so very different from the 19th century Martin Pearson depicts in his Squid and Teapot tales. At this point, the question of what gets to be ‘canon’ and what isn’t becomes really important. There are a lot of people playing with the island in different ways. Some of these explorations will be published, some will start to look more official than others.

Generally, when people get themselves and their stories to the island, it’s all fine. Hopeless talks to them – we’ve had to steer Martin away from important plot points he’d found without any input from us. Keith’s adventures took him into a space that no one has seen yet but that we’d already depicted for the next graphic novel. This happens a lot, and is why we’ve never felt much need to steer people around what they can and can’t do on the island. The island itself takes care of all that.

What’s tricky is where people launch from – their off-island reality. There’s no two ways about it, you don’t all come to Hopeless, Maine from the same time and place. The answer, clearly is to accept that and run with it.

My other fiction is full of unstable and shifting realities. I have decided they are all compatible, and the result goes like this…

Hopeless, Maine is a rare fixed point of stability in an unstable and shifting multiverse. It is thus easier to get in than get out, because if you try to get back and don’t connect with where you came from, there is resistance. Hopeless is, in its own funny way, pretty stable and there is consensus about what happens to new arrivals. And there is no consensus about where and when they came from and how historically accurate, or steampunk or other their starting point was, because they’ve all come from different points in that unstable and shifting universe.

It amuses me greatly to think of Hopeless as something solid and reliable.

I say Hopeless, you say Maine…

Druid Life

As I write this, I’m still recovering from a most amazing weekend. Stroud had its first Steampunk Weekend, run by John Bassett – he’s a very creative local chap and also an excellent organiser of things. When he expressed an interest in Steampunk last year, Tom and I were very excited and piled in as best we could to help. Tom was heavily implicated in sorting out the day program and we both did a fair amount of luring people in.

It was a touch surreal seeing people we normally have to travel to spend time with. It was also rather lovely getting people from afar who we really like and being able to share them with local friends. There’s a particular pleasure in watching people I like connecting with each other, and this is one of the things a Steampunk weekend can be counted on to do. Steampunk is…

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Lilly May

You’ll meet Lilly May in volume 3 of the Hopeless Maine series. She doesn’t have a big role in this book, but she’s an important part of the rest of the story, and you’ll be seeing a good deal more of her. As you can see from this image, she’s an inventor. This isn’t my colouring, this is an early version Tom did because we needed a coloured version for the Stroud Steampunk Weekend poster.

Lilly May also features significantly in a prose book I started writing last year and fell out of and may well go back to.

So here are some things about Lilly May that aren’t obvious in the next graphic novel.

She uses the walking chair because she had polio as a child and doesn’t have much lower body strength as a consequence. She can stand up and move short distances, but mostly she needs the chair to get around. The chair is of her own designing, she built it, and she maintains it herself.

Lilly May spent most of her childhood at the orphanage, and built her chair in what had been Owen’s workshop, using scrap he’d collected. She is entirely self taught. Owen has no idea she’s been using his workshop, which is probably as well because Lilly May does things with magic that would make Own uneasy.

This became apparent to me while Keith Healing was developing the Hopeless Maine role play game and put together some mechanics for demon devices – a means by which players can put demons in devices to get stuff done. I’ve not paid too much attention to the game mechanics while writing, but I liked the idea, so made off with it. Lilly May’s chair has an entity residing in it. A detail that isn’t in the game – demons often like to be warm. Hopeless is a cold, damp place and sometimes demons make pacts on the basis of spending their time very close to a warm, dry boiler. Perhaps these are old, tired demons. I’m not sure.

At fifteen, Lilly May is already heartily sick of how people respond to both her face and her chair. She has little time for anyone not smelling faintly of oil and metal, unless perhaps they can offer her something on the magical side.