As I write this we are engaged in the process of a Kickstarter campaign to fund the new US edition of Personal Demons and also the new Hopeless, Maine Role Playing Game written by Keith Healing and powered by Alan Bahr’s innovative Tombpunk system. Here are some examples of the interior artwork I have done for the game.
This is the culmination of several years’ work (and dark incantations) so I very much hope you will join us.
I hope you will join us too in supporting and celebrating two fellow travellers who are bringing their projects to life by crowdfunding. Chandra Free is bringing us a new and shockingly deluxe version of The God Machine (Originally released by the same publisher and about the same time as the first release of Personal Demons) and also Boston Metaphysical Society: The Book of Demons by Madeleine Holly-Rosing. Boston Metaphysical is a fellow traveller and exactly the sort of unspeakably cool steampunk with supernatural elements and heart we want to see more of in the world. So, please become part of these campaigns too if you can!
I hope, as always, this finds you well, inspired and thriving.
I was much relieved when the skyskiff made landfall on Hopeless. I understood that the crew needed to feed their families. If anyone was to blame for the barbarous slaughter I had witnessed, it was rich fools seeking to enhance their natural virility by means of make-believe magic, regardless of the tragic implications. Nonetheless, after having seen the crew unrestrained by any civility whatsoever, gleefully enjoying their brutal work even, I was eager to be rid of them.
“This hee-ah is Lowuh Hopeless, which you’ve been wantin’ to see so badly,” the skipper told me. “We’ll be back in seven days. We’ll wait an ho-uh at the most. In case you decide not to go native, and be wantin’ to retuh-n to the civilised wahld.”
Mewton? I restrained the grin that wanted to form on my face, but thanked him instead, trying to sound as sincere as I could.
The skyskiff had landed in what seemed the middle of a vast plain of mud, with tufts of sickly green vegetation dotted around. Vague shadows in the distance gave promise of higher, more solid ground, supporting far more vegetation.
The air was disconcerting. It was tense, like the sky at home before a thunderstorm, laden with ominous promise, daylight transformed into a weird, gloomy glow – though still brighter than the sky here in Hopeless, which mostly resembled a discoloured twilight.
To my left, I could see people, tiny in the distance, crawling over the carcass of a wingless kyte, – most likely the one we had hunted – like ants scrambling over a juicy caterpillar. They were far away though, and I had my fill of dead and dying kytes for the day, so I opted to head for that promise of mainland up ahead. I could always intercept the inhabitants of Hopeless there, I reckoned, for surely those Hopeless folks would be heading that way too, to get back to wherever they lived.
There was another reason for my choice. Even though Ole Ted had said that a high tide was a rarity here, growing up along the Sussex coast had given me a very healthy respect for tidal movements. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to arrive at just such a rare moment that the tide did come in, and a child could see that a sudden surge of the sea in the middle of this muddy vastness could easily be lethal.
Every step was a struggle, my boots sinking deep into the soggy underground, sometimes submerging altogether, leaving me knee-deep in the muck. Upon retraction, a foul decomposing smell would be released. The mud seemed to be toying with me, pulling and tugging me down, changing consistency, giving false impressions of shallow semi-solidity, only to then open up and inhale me into its suffocating depths.
Keep moving. Don’t stop moving.
Several times I had to retrace part of my path to more agreeable depths of mud, to seek a route less likely to see me drowned in mud.
I paid little heed to the wildlife, mostly small and buzzing, much as I would expect in any bog back home. I was alarmed several times, when I felt movement below the mud, something long and scaly briefly rubbing past my boots. Twice, fortunately at some distance, I saw thick limbs or tentacles emerge from bog pools for a brief instance, before silently slithering back beneath the surface. Once, I had to use my suitcase to swat something resembling a giant dragonfly, the length of a man’s leg, with rows of shark-like teeth between powerful jaws.
All in all though, my attention was focused on the need to keep on moving. It was disheartening to see that I barely seemed to be making progress towards that higher ground. At times it even seemed further away. My logic overrode the sense of panic at that. I recalled the low tide flats of Camber Sands at home, where your eyes play tricks on you regarding distance. Whether it appeared that way or not, I told myself, I am advancing, slowly but surely.
Battling the mud was exhausting, and at long last I gave in to the overwhelming urge to rest for a moment, just to catch my breath.
It didn’t take me long to begin to learn the mistake of this. A mere thirty seconds after coming to a halt, my skin crawled when I sensed movements around my boots, a great many worm-like tendrils circling, and then spiralling up my legs. I jerked a leg upwards, to see a tangle of greenish, snakelike vegetation slithering up and around my boot. A few kicks shook most of them loose, just in time to change footing, for the other boot, having been stationary all the longer, began to tighten around my calf and foot, squeezed by the mass of slithering strands.
Hopping from foot to foot, kicking wildly to escape the snare of Hopeless flora, I failed to see that tiny shoots of the stuff had appeared from the mud, to spiral upwards and then form a web around the bottom of my suitcase. Looking that way when the stuff began to tug at my suitcase hard enough for me to feel it, I saw thicker tentacles reaching up to get a firmer grasp on the suitcase. What followed would have seemed to any spectator as an absurd tug-of-war. Continuing to change my footing to kick away the relentless entanglement of my feet, I pulled at one half of the suitcase, sometimes winning, and sometimes losing the struggle with a local plant.
Whilst the thicker strands were engaged in our jester-esque tug-of-war, the smaller tendrils continued to explore their intended prize. Displaying far more intelligence than any species of vegetation known to me, they worked out how to unspring the clasps of my suitcase, and it snapped open, its contents scattering towards the ground. Immediately, all the plant’s tendrils and tentacles released whatever they were clinging onto, to all dive onto the loose items of clothing and toiletries, the separate elements of the plant wrestling with each other in their haste to lay claim to my belongings.
My boots and legs thus released, I beat a hasty retreat. I chanced one quick backward look to see that all trace of my belongings was gone, apart from my suitcase, but that was being pulled beneath the mud before my very eyes. I wondered – with a wry smile – what need a mud plant had for men’s shirts, or my pyjama bottoms. However, the thought of my razor in the grip of those persistent – and apparently intelligent – tendrils, was less cause for amusement.
This time I kept moving – beyond pain and back again –, until I had reached the higher grounds, where the ground’s consistency resembled the resistance of a wet sponge, and how mightily solid that felt!
The Skyskiff was much the same as Free Traders use back in Sussex. It was open to the elements, barring the small engine house at the stern, with two small funnels rising from its low roof. The steam engine within powered the propellers, one each attached to outriggers on either side of the stern. An oblong inflatable was rigged to two low masts, and there were dorsal, caudal and pectoral sails attached to booms operated from the deck.
The craft was crewed by six men, all wearing oiled canvas breeches and anoraks. After hauling aboard my suitcase and a knapsack, which the innkeeper had kindly filled with ample provisions, I was kitted out in one of the protective suits as well.
“Expecting rough weather?” I asked.
I got the village-idiot-said-something-numb look, which the locals seem to reserve for outlanders – or flatlanders as they call them.
“Expectin’ wildlife,” the skipper told me, with a knowing grin.
“I see,” I said, not understanding at all.
I waved at Ole Ted as we took to the sky, engine thudding erratically, propellers whirring, and plumes of smoke spitting from the funnels.
“He’s something else,” the skipper said. “Ole Ted is.”
“How did he lose his eye? And leg?”
The skipper chuckled. “Old Ted was a kyte huntah, just like us. Best skippah in Mewton by fah. Then one of the kytes he netted put up a scrid of strugglin’.”
It began to dawn on me that the skies over Hopeless might be fraught with potential hazards, and I hoped that the skyskiff crew would descend to the safety of the ground within a reasonable time. Whatever they were up to high over Hopeless wasn’t really any of my business. I needed to find Salamandra, and as far as I knew, she was mostly groundbound.
§ § § § §
The sky was clear, apart from that strange cloud formation I had noted the day before. The dark band hadn’t shifted an inch since then, it appeared to be oddly stationary. When the skyskiff headed straight towards the murky mass, I began to wonder if the dirt-coloured gloom was somehow related to Hopeless…
§ § § § §
The crew seemed content to ignore me, and I was familiar enough with skirring a skyskiff to know how to stay out of their way. Leaning over the railing, happy to rediscover the sheer thrill of riding the wind, I hummed a song from home.
Oh my love, you have a cosy bed
Cattle you have ten
You can live a lawful life
And live with lawful men
I must make do with nothing
While there’s foreign gear so fine
Must I drink but water
When France is full of wine?
As we approached the band, it began to assume a more distinctive shape, it’s upper half forming expansive landscapes, the dark clouds billowing up to form high ridges and towering peaks, between which were broad valleys, glens, or ravines. Ere long we were skirring through this surreal scenery, the helmsman taking care to stay clear of the various cloud formations. It all looked remarkably solid, even though I knew the mighty mountain ranges were naught but unsubstantial illusions.
The skipper joined me. “This hee-ah, is Uppah Hopeless.”
“Upper Hopeless! So the island lies below?” I asked eagerly.
One of the crewmen quipped: “You can tell the scribblah is a smaht fellah. I’d have nevah guessed that.”
“Well it ain’t Japan or Iceland below our keel,” the skipper said. “That should be about as cleah as the cause for yellah snow.”
I watched a creature emerge from behind a foul cloud. A bulbous head the size of our skyskiff, with multiple eyes so large they should have been terrifying to behold, but there was a merry twinkle to them, and they conveyed so much amiable warmth that it made the creature appear endearing, like an old childhood friend come out to play. I felt an urge to get nearer, to reach out for it, and stroke its salmon coloured skin.
I pointed. “Is that a kyte?”
The skipper’s eyes bulged. His mouth fell open in horror for a moment, before he regained his composure and shouted: “CHOUT! CHOUT!! SKYSTINGAH ON THE STAHBOAHD BOW. EVADE! NOW! NOW!”
“Evah-body HANG ON TIGHT!” the helmsman bellowed in response.
He spun the helm, and I clutched the railings tightly with both hands. The skyskiff lurched to port.
“FULL SPEED AHEAD!” The skipper hollered.
“Aye-Aye, Skippah! Full speed ahead!”
I looked astern, to see that the skystinger had now fully emerged from its cloudy concealment, revealing a long trail of pink tentacles, writhing in a most obscene manner. The creature’s giant eyes had lost all sense of implicated kindness, narrowing as they beheld our attempt to manoeuvre away, the look in them now one of chilling malevolence.
The skystinger followed us in pursuit, but to my relief, seemed unable to match our speed. One of the longer tentacles rose high in the air, before whipping in our direction. To my horror I realised that we were in reach of the tentacle’s furthest extremity.
“CHOUT!” a crewmember shouted. “INCOMING TENTACLE!’”
“SHIELD!” The skipper commanded. “SHIELD!”
“Aye-aye, Skippah! Shield!” The helmsman spun the helm again, and the skiff lurched once more, this time keeling over so far that we had to hang on for dear life.
The incoming tentacle now swept towards the copper-plated bottom of the hull. I braced for the shock of impact, but it never came. Instead, there was an insistent staccato, as of hail stones striking a window.
The skyskiff straightened out again, engine chugging at full speed, and fast moving away from the skystinger and its fearsome tail of tentacles, including the long one which had so nearly swept us all off the deck.
I rushed to the side and looked down along the hull. It was peppered with dart-like quills, the size of a porcupine’s, but far tougher because they had punched right through the copper sheeting. Most were firmly embedded, but a few hung partially loose, and I could make out ridges of vicious barbs.
I reached out for one of the quills, but a crewmember grabbed my arm.
“You don’t want to be doin’ that, Mistah,” he said. “They-ha’s poison in them barbs, one tiny scratch and you’s as dead as a Tommyknocker.”
I quickly drew my arm back up, feeling foolish and out of place. “I can’t wait to get to the ground, away from these confounded skies,” I confessed.
The crew man laughed. “Suh-ely somebody told you Uppah Hopeless is by fah the safest paht of the island?”
I stared at him. He laughed again. I recalled the haunting cries from the sanatorium the previous night, and for the first time, began to doubt the wisdom in seeking Hopeless.
Next to last in the series of These Our Revels, which started with a concept from Hopeless, Maine and has been brought into the world by a concerted creative effort lead by Fiona Sawle and Nimrod Lancaster. This stunning eerie photo was taken by Gregg McNeill of Darkbox Photography during the Sanctuary event.
Gregg has this to say about this plate-
” I love this plate. Exposure time was a trim 4 seconds because it was taken out doors, under a marquee, so lots of ambient soft UV light. It’s only the second time ever I’ve made portraits outside at an event. ”
There were additional challenges due to the weather conditions that day, and their Marquis nearly blew down overnight.
Steampunks in general, and our people in particular are absolutely bloody amazing.
Darkbox Photography have a patreon which can be found here. Please do support their work!
One of the amazing and inspiring aspects of steampunk is the collaborative energy and what can happen when creative people combine their passion and creativity to bring new things into the world.
This project started because we had long admired the outfits and creativity of Nimrod Lancaster and Fiona Sawle at steampunk events in the UK. We met them at Steampunks in Space (which happens here) and gave a print of this image to them in the hopes that they would adopt it as a costuming project.
They took the print away with them and soon we began getting photos like these…
John Naylor was brought in to assist with the masks . He introduced Nimrod to Fossshape and helped him make the rigid part of his mask.
This is the first part of a series on this stunning project and we will show more progress, the outfits and the unveiling at Sanctuary in the following posts…
Why yes, that is a very steampunk looking submarine, isn’t it? What would happen if some intrepid adventurer took a steampunk submarine into the troubled waters around the coast of Hopeless, Maine?
When Keith Errington first suggested the idea, we were slightly uneasy because one of the features of the island is that no one ever leaves (aside from Owen) and this device was so obviously designed the work around that premise. But, as we found out more about his mad scheme, we became ever more enchanted by it, and so, dear readers, we let him have his way.
The result of this, is the rather fabulous tale The Oddatsea – illustrated by Tom. Keith is a bit prone to the puns, so if the title gives you a small shiver of horror, the rest of the book will only prove worse. You were warned! More of it over here – https://hopeless-maine.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders
One of the things that is an ongoing joy around the Hopeless Maine project, is seeing what happens when other people get in to play with it. Keith Errington’s novella has been one of the more ambitious moves so far, alongside Keith Healing’s role play game. But, participating in Hopeless is not just for people called Keith and we are pretty much always open to suggestion!
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.
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.
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.
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.