Monday, 13 October 2014

Putting some 'Punk' into Steampunk

I expect anyone reading this right now already has a pretty good idea what steampunk is. For those that don't here's a quick and fairly brief explanation.

It is generally considered to be a sub-genre of science fiction which typically features steam powered machinery, usually incorporating a Victorian aesthetic. It also often utilises futuristic technology envisioned as being powered by steam engines. Some of the usual tropes of steampunk are airships, goggles, and twist on the Victorian fashion style.

A few examples of the genre at work come from some of the great science fiction authors of the past. Jules Verne for instance, with his portrayal of a submarine long before they had been conceived or invented, and of course H.G. Wells and his time machine and Martian invaders.

This is as far as most people get, and that's fine; unfortunately, it's forgetting an important part of the genre: the 'punk' element. There is a very good reason punk is used there, and it's because there is an idealogical and political focus to the genre, that in my mind is just as relevant as the other elements.

Punk culture is generally looked at as one of rebellion, personal and social freedoms, and of course, anti-establishment ideals. Unfortunately, this aspect is usually forgotten when most people think of steampunk. Or perhaps overlooked in favour of the more visual and stylised elements.

To me, the 'punk' is just as important as the 'steam', and it's that focus which has been a big influence in my current trilogy of books. A running theme throughout the series is one of revolution, where a small group of idealistic freedom fighters struggle against an oppressive regime in an effort to change their culture and society. My aim was to get across the sense of rebellion, idealism and struggle for personal freedoms. I'm not sure how successful that has been, but I hope it at least shines through in some way. I guess time will tell.

Of course, that's not to say that I don't love the steam element just as much. There is something aesthetically pleasing about mixing the modern and the old that I find fascinating and exciting. Whatever else you might think about them, the Victorians had a certain style which can be very appealing.

Saturday, 4 October 2014


One odd thing that I have noticed since starting this journey, is that ideas have been flowing far more frequently and more freely than they ever did before. I had been wondering why this might be; I hadn't been thinking any differently, as far as I was aware, nor had I been doing things in a different manner. So why the new ideas? Then it suddenly hit me.

The idea of being published has been at the back of my mind for a long time, years in fact. Up until recently, the options were fairly limited. Basically, they were restricted to finding an agent and hoping they get you a publisher. Or skip the agent and go straight to the publishing houses (even less of a chance than the former).

The problem here was that whenever I would think about writing something, I was not thinking about writing for the audience, I was thinking about writing for a publisher. In other words, any idea I could come up with had to be something that I felt would be suitable to submit to what I imagined as being grim-faced, red-pen-wielding monsters who delighted in rejecting anything outside of what they considered to be marketable and capable of selling. Of course, with this in mind, my stock of ideas rapidly dwindled.

As you can imagine, having this self-imposed restriction, however subconscious it was, would have a negative effect. I found my ideas growing more stale and less interesting as time went by. They had to appeal to a broad audience, which meant they could not be too niche or too narrowly focused. The characters too had to have a broad appeal; that meant they could not be too quirky, so as not to alienate the less flamboyantly inclined.

One has to wonder why you would want to write at all, given those circumstances.

Then along came self-publishing. Suddenly gone was the need to sell an idea to a publisher. Instead, I could write in any genre I wanted, to as narrow a field as I wanted, and there was nobody to tell me otherwise. Granted, there's still possibility that they won't do well, but that is beside the point. Now I was free of those horrible, stifling restrictions. The possibilities were almost endless.

This, I realised, was why the ideas had begun to flow again.

It must be rather a common problem I imagine, this mental block on the imagination. Whenever you stop writing for yourself, and by association, your audience, you restrict yourself needlessly, and that is a mistake. Stifling creativity is a terrible thing, especially when it is your own creativity.

Well, happily I no longer need to worry about it. I can write what I want, when I want.

And I am so much happier for it.