Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is Steampunk writer Nils Nisse Visser, author of Amster Damned! Good morning Nils, thank you so much for coming to help me in the kitchen today!
An absolute pleasure!
Oh and who is this magnificent gentleman you have with you?
I’ve brought Fiveways Wilf, an extraordinarily adventurous ginger Persian cat from Brighton. Fiveways Wilf is extremely sociable to both the delight and despair of the humans he owns (Staff#1 and Staff#2) as he’s an incorrigible jailbreaker and forever devising new ways to go for a saunter around the Fiveways area of Brighton, visiting friends, strolling into shops and generally just about owning the whole neighbourhood. Fiveways Wilf has become quite a local celebrity and generously uses that fame to raise funds for less fortunate felines (http://www.lostcatsbrighton.org.uk/). Naturally I was delighted when Fiveways Wilf agreed to star in the Time Flight Chronicles where he appears as himself, albeit simply called Fiveways. All the payment he asked for was for me to help him support Lost Cats Brighton and I added the City Cat Shelter to that list of my own accord. My protagonist Alice Kittyhawk has a soft spot for cats you see…..when she retires she’ll probably become a crazy cat lady.
Well there is certainly nothing wrong with that, I have rather a soft spot for cats myself – except the clockwork kind, of course! And is that your sky-skiff double parked outside, Dear? I wouldn’t leave it there too long you know, the local law enforcement are inconveniently vigilant at this time of year.
Yarr, Alice lent me The Liddle Mew, her own skyskiff, which means ‘Little Seagull’ in Sussex dialect. I’ve checked your local Lancaster parking regulations and they are fairly detailed on wheeled vehicles and air ships, but there’s nothing about leaving a fishing boat on the street, so I reckon that leaves me covered.
Oh splendid, well done for checking that! But how was your journey here from your own dimension? I hope you didn’t run into any rogues en route?
As for the journey, we had a brisk spectral wind at our back. Apart from having to evade a few critters and an Aero Fleet patrol it was pretty uneventful. All in day’s work.
For you perhaps! Goodness me I have never taken much to flying, not that I have done much of it I confess but my one impromptu airborne adventure was enough to last me a lifetime I assure you! Mmm, but something smells delicious! Have you brought some soup with you today to share with the orphans?
Sussex Fish Stew, a local speciality. Leek, fennel, bay leaves, rosemary, parsley, ground pepper, homemade fish stock, cider, a few taters, some sour cream and a dash of double cream as well as filleted cod and haddock. The secret ingredient is the cider, which goes into both the fish stock and the soup itself, it has to be unpasteurised Sussex cider, so none of your supermarket stuff. Proper cider does the trick.
Oh how wonderful! That certainly sounds delicious – and thankyou so much for bringing the cream, we are spoiled for fish here at the docks but since The Good Folk have stepped up their patrols I cannot risk having any contraband in the house! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t we have a seat by the fire and I will put the kettle on, and you can tell the orphans here all about your book, Amster Damned…
There are a number of themes in the story. One is the notion that girls can’t do some things because only boys can do them. That is absolutely ridiculous. Girls can do anything they want, they are just as clever, just as resourceful and just as capable as boys. So my main character, Alice, is a young woman doing what people in her time considered a man’s job, and she is very good at it. Some of her friends are the same, there’s a female Admiral in the story and the engineer of the airship The Centennial Kestrel is a woman too, and both of them are very friendly, intelligent and capable. The Minister of Lost & Found is a woman as well, but although she is very clever and cunning she isn’t such a nice person. Anyhow, none of these women, nice or not, stand around waiting for men to rescue them or tell them what to do or how to think, and that’s how it should be, don’t you think so?
Oh yes indeed! I’m sure we all agree with that!
Another theme is one you might know well children. Maybe you’ve been told before by adults that you can’t read certain books or find out about certain things because you’re not old enough. Well, in the story some people, the powerful ones, have taken that a step further and made very long lists of books people of all ages aren’t allowed to read or ideas people aren’t allowed to think about. Adults can be just like children and when they are told not to find out or think about some things that’s exactly what they do. That includes Alice. She is an avid reader of books and she spends a lot of time finding books she’s not allowed to read.
Well here in Ire we can all identify with the notion of having others control what we can or can’t read, think, say and even eat! But Alice is a wonderful character isn’t she!
Then there are a lot of interesting characters, many of those really exist. I don’t know them myself but a good friend of mine, Corin Spinks, is an excellent photographer and takes their photographs at steampunk gatherings, sends them to me and I then make up a story about them and put them into my stories.
Last but not least, there is a fabulous airship, because……well, you know, because: Airships.
Yes of course, airships are beautiful things indeed, although, as I said, I think I prefer to keep my feet firmly on the ground! Oh lovely, I see you have brought a copy of your book with you to show the children?
That is marvellous. Now then, the theme of smuggling crops up rather a lot, are you a smuggler yourself , Dear?
We prefer to use the term ‘free trader’ in Sussex.
Oh dear, I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to cause offence!
It’s been my professional ambition to become a fully-fledged pirate since I was a little lad. As I got older I was often told that wasn’t realistic or mature which only made my determination stronger, being an irrationally stubborn person (or so I am told – I don’t believe a word of it myself of course). I was absolutely delighted when I moved to Sussex and discovered a very rich smuggling heritage, moreover, one of which the locals are extremely proud. In Rottingdean, Hastings, Brighton and other places there are annual celebrations in which everybody dresses as a smuggler, pirate or mermaid. *glances at orphans* A lot of “Yo Ho Ho and bottle of sugar-free lemonade” going on on those days, savvy?
Oh yes I’m afraid we’re all a little more worldly wise than we ought to be around here… A-hem… Ah now the kettle is boiling! May I offer you a cup of tea? How do you take it?
With a dash of ru……a dash of milk and sprinkling of sugar please.
I quite understand, Dear. There you are. So what first attracted you to Steampunk, was it the tea?
The Nautilus. I was six or seven and my parents took me to a seaside town in the Netherlands with an unpronounceable name, Scheveningen. There’s a pier there and at that time within one of the pier buildings they had a life size scaled Nautilus submarine. I walked into that ship and was smitten. Gleaming pipes, fascinating instrument panels, portholes which offered a view of a sunken pirate treasure protected by a giant octopus waving its tentacles, schools of fish…..now those fish were paper mache dangling from strings but as a young child with an overactive imagination it was pure magic. The rest wanted to go to the beach, swim, eat ice cream and such stuff and I just wanted to stand behind the helm of the Nautilus and sail off into the unknown. They had to drag me out screaming and kicking in the end.
So it was love at first sight? What a splendid tale, and how have your own culture and experiences influenced your writing?
I define myself as a cultural chameleon. When I was a child I grew up in countries in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe, all over the place really. So I have passport which says I have a nationality but I feel transnational. I can identify with all the cultures I’ve lived in but also see the less positive sides. I hear a lot of people from different countries enthusiastically expounding on how their country is the greatest and best, but I don’t believe in all of that. All the countries I’ve visited or lived in have wonderful sides to them, and darker, far darker, sides to them as well. As a writer I feel that I’ve benefited greatly from the ability to view things from multiple perspectives. I am going to use The Time Flight Chronicles to revisit all of those places. We’ve had Amsterdam in Amster Damned, but in her attempt to find Dr Beesworth, Alice Kittyhawk will visit Brighton, Paris, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Dar-Es-Salaam, Zanzibar, Cairo and Oklahoma. I know all of these places, have vivid memories and my own unique insights, so the setting is pretty much sorted.
There is a lot of humour and warmth in your writing style which complements the serious issues you raise concerning prejudice, governmental control and oppression, both historically and today – do you think Steampunk is well placed to draw attention to important issues like these?
Thank you, that is a very thoughtful compliment and I’m glad you’ve picked up on that. That balance is very hard to achieve and you’re the first to suggest I’ve succeeded in it. I think Steampunk is ideally placed for this purpose, yes. The inclusion of ‘punk’ in the name suggests as much. I reckon Punks are meant to be hollering about something or other and definitely ought to be kicking against the walls of the establishment. So I remind people of Victorian realities, in which, for example, two adult ‘gentlemen’ tell a ten year old girl they’ll pay for her services in four, five years time when she is considered ‘ripe’. At that time their social status as rich and influential men and the child’s as a slum-girl meant they could get away with that kind of behaviour. The child is Alice, my protagonist. She’s far older in Amster Damned, around 25, but the incident left a deep impression on her, the notion that such a future was all she was deemed good enough for has fuelled her aspirations to reach to greater heights and make her own destiny.
I also think Steampunk can be used as a mirror to reflect on our own time, and you’ve noticed that because the attempts by TimePol to suppress all forms of fantasy fiction in my steampunk setting very much reflect the manner in which today’s global society sees increasing government and corporation control over every conceivable aspect of our lives. In Alice’s world, the powers that be have identified writers, readers and librarians as the enemy and are actively oppressing them. The current flow of international politics suggests that we might not be far off from such a moment. Freedom of speech is under threat when science and progressive thinking is debunked as fake news, experts are ridiculed and fantastical make-believe is presented as reality. As another Alice once famously said: “Curiouser and curiouser.”
Indeed! Do you think, there is sometimes a danger that Steampunk may be seen to glorify the blunders of the past rather than expose them?
No. One of the reasons that I really love this genre is that it affords me ultimate creative freedom, Steampunk is whatever I want it to be. In my case I have some limited talent in telling a story and in that I weave social and historical observations and try to kick the establishment a little. Somebody else may be 100% engaged with Steampunk purely because of the frocks and corsets or creating the perfect top hat, not ever having read a single word of Steampunk literature or caring much about the social inequality of the period. Who am I to say that what they are doing is not Steampunk and what I am doing is Steampunk? The moment I would do that I would try to impose rules on Steampunk. That leads to exclusion and dogmatism, moreover, it erodes the very core strength of Steampunk which is the freedom it affords.
Yes I see your point, there certainly is a strong argument for keeping things as rule-free and inclusive as possible. Now then, back to your own writing, do you have any new releases or projects brewing that we can get excited about?
Definitely. Time Flight Chronicles Book 2 is called Brightonesque and should be out within a year. Also, Writerpunk Press has recently published its fourth anthology, called What We’ve Unlearned: English Class goes Punk. I’ve got a novellette sized story in there called “The Rottingdean Rhyme” which is a stand-alone story and it’s about the friendship between a London poet and a Sussex smuggler called John Hawkeye, who happens to be Alice’s father. So Alice Kittyhawk features in that one as a six-year-old and as a nine-year-old, in the company of her childhood friend Brax Beesworth and Fitzsimmonds Noakes also makes an appearance. So if you simply cannot wait to read more about Alice, I’d very much recommend the anthology, it has really good stories in it from the other writers as well, a wonderful diversity of imaginative craftings. Seth features in another story in the Writerpunk Press anthology Merely this and Nothing More, as a side-character in my “The Oval Sky Room” story the main character in my “The Oval Sky Room” story is Alice’s childhood friend Lottie. As for the Wyrde Woods fans, my other main series (magical realism and dark urban fantasy), I haven’t forgotten about them. There will be a brand-new Wyrde Woods back story in a new Fantasy Anthology called Dreamtime Dragons, and I am determined to get on with Hidden Spring, the sequel to Forgotten Road. Also, back to Amster Damned, Alice was recently invited for an interview by The Protagonist Speaks. Being rather busy she sent Fitzsimmonds Noakes instead and you know what Captain Noakes is like, so prepare for a torrent of Victorian obscenities. That is scheduled to be released on October 6th.
Oh splendid, lots of things to look out for then! And where can we find your work online?
Well, there’s an Amster Damned teaser here: https://hubpages.com/literature/The-Yellow-Book-Chronicles-part-the-first
I’ve got a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NilsNisseVisser/
GoodReads works for an overall impression of all my books: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9843111.Nils_Nisse_Visser
Marvellous! Well now, it really has been so wonderful to chat to you today Nils, thankyou so much for coming to give me a hand in the kitchen! I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready so shall we start dishing it up?
The soup does smell delicious. Thank you very much for having me, it’s been a pleasure.
And thankyou all for joining us today! I hope you will all pop back again next week for some more splendid Steampunk and Soup, until then,
Blessings on your brew my dears!