NaNoWriMo: planning for the writing fest

‘Its the most wonderful time of the year…’

No not the one in December…

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us, and if you are planning to participate this year, you may be plotting already, even if your plotting to take the fly by the seat of your pants route, you’re probably scribbling down a few idea’s to set yourself up for the annual festival of writing. Of course it’s always possible you have no idea what i am talking about. Or you know what I am talking about and are planning to flee for the hills. But for some of us, me included despite having a fairly disastrous run at it last year, November means National Novel Writing Month, or to be more exact as this month long festival of writing is some what ubiquitous, International Novel Writing Month. Though InNoWriMo has never caught on as a hash-tag…

nano calider

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is based on a simple premise. The challenge is to write a 50000 word first draft novel over the course of November. Which works out at around 1667 words a day. The focus is not on creating a finely crafted work of art, but on getting words down on a page. The theory been that the first draft is the hardest part, and its in a way a collective effort, the NaNoWriMo organisation will point you in the direction of local groups of writers and forums with whom you can chat, and encourage each other and on occasion have someone to vent to about how your main character is utterly ignoring the plot you scribbled down on the back of a fag packet… For what is always an ostensibly introvert activity, the NaNoWriMo community is very supportive and inclusive and often just plain fun.

No one is going to judge your work. There is a participation trophy is you register with the NaNoWriMo website, and manage to hit the target. But ultimately the quality of the work is not a matter of question, or indeed the point. To paraphrase Stephen King , ‘To be a writer you need to write’ which is the point. NaNoWriMo encourages writing. Many NaNoWriMo writers never publish their work, or ever intend to. Some will put out their completed novels to the community via websites. And some will take what they wrote in the mad festival of literary insanity and polish or complete them and eventually they may well become published novels. Certainly that is the case with my first novel ‘Cider Lane’ for which the first draft was a NaNoWriMo project. And while none of my other novels started out as NaNoWriMo projects as such, there have been ideas, characters and whole sections of my NaNoWriMo projects which have. Mainly though, I start this every year for nothing more than fun. Though I tend to use it to work out some ideas or perhaps string out a first draft of something.

I have talked about NaNoWriMo before in far more detail in previous years, with plenty of bits of advice and suggestions, hence all the links below, I also attempted to blog about the whole thing on a day by day basis last year which went really well… Until it didn’t, but as I say last years run turned into a bit of a disaster.

NaNoWriMo Stuff

Last year I worked on a fresh story with a working title of  ‘The elf kings thingy’ but real work which had a busy period as it often does in november due to the industry I work in, and a whole bunch of other things combined to scupper that novel before it got beyond 20k words. that and blogging each day which had seemed such a good idea…

This year my plan is to use NaNoWriMo to try and finish a first draft of Maybe’s Daughter. Which is cheating to an extent, as currently that first draft is about 28000 words, but as my plot notes and planning for that novel means I expect it to run to about 80k, I have 50k words to play with. It been sat waiting for me to pick it up again for a couple of years now while the first two Hannibal novels were written, and as I plan to start the third Hannibal novel in earnest in the new year, maybe would continue to sit about waiting to be written otherwise. So this is a marriage of convenience for NaNoWriMo.

So that’s my plan, to get back to Maybe, Gothe and Benjamin West. I need to do some prep, I was halfway through an editing sweep of Maybe’s Daughter when I last picked at the manuscript, which needs to be finished before the 1st of November, then its tally ho and off we go for 50000 words of first drafting goodness…

To anyone else already planning for NaNoWriMo I wish you luck and good writing… To anyone inspired to give it a go for the first time , ‘welcome to the party punk’  enjoy


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Harvey The Third…

One of the most exciting things I have been involved in over the last year and a bit has been Sixth Element Publishing the Harvey Duckman Presents anthology’s. From it’s inception (reputably over a few beers in a pub one night) it has been a project which has grow and taken on a life of it’s own. I was lucky enough to be ask to contribute to the first volume before it even had a name, and having never been asked to write a short story for an anthology before I leapt at the chance.

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I had just released ‘A Scar of Avarice’ at the time, had a finished working draft of ‘A Spider In The Eye’ sitting with my friend and editor, who happens to be C G Hatton the editor in chief and driving force (along with Andy) behind 6E’s Harvey Anthologies. Back then however this was still an unnamed idea, and no one I believe really envisaged what it was to become. All the same with my usual mixture of naive enthusiasm, and coffee driven insomnia I decided to write a Hannibal Smyth story for the anthology, because I had a Hannibal novel that would be out in a month or two, building on a silly idea I’d flirted with about a younger Hannibal getting drawn into a dual over a slice of cheese cake while off his head on LSD.

It was of course six months before the Hannibal novel finally arrived, not two, and the anthology idea took longer still to come to fruition. Indeed I had sort of forgotten all about it  and ‘The Cheesecake Dichotomy’ slipped off my radar for a while, because these things take time, and if getting myself organised takes a while, imagine how much effort, time and sheer willpower it takes to get fifteen writers all corralled up and release an anthology… Frankly I remain amazed that 6E managed to pull off not only that first volume which was released at Scarborough Scifi convention back in at the beginning of April, but the second volume which came out in time for Kapow in Stockton a mere three months later.

For that second volume I wrote ‘The Strontium Thing’ a story based on all those scifi and fantasy heroes that litter both genre’s who lose the odd body part and have it replaced with something else, be it cybernetics or some alien body part or other. (trust me there are more of these than you might think), an idea I took to a logical if mildly extreme and frankly ridiculous extent… But then there is no much but strontium in the waste lads of Ka, so what else could they use…

The next few months were problematic for Harvey, as sometimes things crop up you can’t account for, occasionally some people are idiots, and I know due to one idiot it was tough going for a while for the 6E team. Frankly they could have walked away from the project and I for one would not have blamed them. I had a rant about it at the time, and while I could point you to that rant I won’t because its now in the past thankfully, and after delays and a lot of soul searching Harvey is back with a third volume to be released on the eve of all hallows, and the kindle version is available for pre-order right now. It packed with story’s by a host of talented new voices in speculative fiction, including both established authors many of whom have written guest posts for this blog and or been featured within its pages before, as well as  some previous contributors and as usual a few previously unpublished writers, just waiting for readers to discover them.

Harvey is a fabulous ride, and I remain proud to be a part of it and to that I keep been asked to contribute stories to the anthologies, long may it run and go from strength to strength, news on future volumes will be coming soon , but for right now, I’ll stick with volume three which I look forward to reading myself.

Volume 3 includes stories by: Peter James Martin, Ben McQueeney, A.L. Buxton, R. Bruce Connelly, Phoebe Darqueling, Melissa Wuidart Phillips, Marios Eracleous, Nate Connor, James Porter, Joseph Carrabis, Cheryllynn Dyess, Erudessa Gentian, Liz Tuckwell, JL Walton and Amy Wilson, and me. It also has a foreword by the esteemed man of fictitious scribbling Craig Hallam.

It is once again edited by the ever wonderful C.G. Hatton, and I offer my thanks (and probably another bottle for rum) to her and Andy Hatton, without whom none of this would be possible and the world would be a poorer place…

harvey 3

Click on this book cover to go to amazon, treat yourself  and pre-order a copy

This time round, I should probably mention, I have a story, that is a story within a story, a biography of sorts, the tale of how the idea of the Harvey Duckman Anthologies first came into being. It is of course entirely accurate and 100% the true story of how Harvey came up with the idea in the first place… Well some-where and some-when in the multiverse anyway, there maybe a monochrome individual, a doorman who drinks brandy the correct way, and a multidimensional entity who is occasionally a cat or a piano bar and grill or both involved, but that would be telling…

Adios for now


PS. I got through all that and utterly failed to mention that Book tow of Hannibal Smyths Misadventures, ‘From Russia With Tassels’ is now available on kindle and in paperback. Really I am rubbish at this self-publicity lark…  Click on the banner below , go on do it you know you want to….

hannibal new banner


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A Sense Of Wonder: Indie October guest post by Karen J Carlisle

indie october 10

Bear with me, Dear Reader.

I’m about to tell you a tale –one that will offer you a glimpse into the circuitous route to my present mindset and how steampunk has made my life better by restoring a sense of wonder to my life.

I’m a research addict. I crave it. I accumulate it. I hoard it. You can often find me spiralling down endless rabbit holes, in search of that one elusive fact, that last piece of a puzzle I’ve been chasing. The one thing that makes everything fall into place. It’s the curse of a writer (or scientist, or quiz night-o’holic, or…).

But there’s more to it than that.

Imagine you’re an explorer of uncharted lands:

Dust whips your face, lodging in your nostrils, scratching your eyes. You dig your fingers into the rock, ignoring the stinging pain as blood beads on your palm. You drag yourself up the precipice, thrust your arm over the crest of the mountain and spy the wonders of an undiscovered landscape.

Imagine the pure delight of such endless new discoveries. Researching my books is not unlike being an explorer. It starts me on my journey, inspires the landscape (setting) and encourages me to explore for new worlds, complete with wondrous gadgets for my characters to discover.


But there’s still more.

It seems Sir Francis Bacon predicted our future: Knowledge is power(Meditationes Sacrae and Human Philosophy,1597) . Everyone wants a bit of the action. No one is willing to share.

Let’s face it. Life can be a grind: Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Sleep. Repeat.(Though waking up can be optional). Endless days of monotony, in a seemingly uncaring world where we are either invisible and insignificant or vying for control.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Empire may have wanted to plunder the spoils of exploration but we – the explorers – can revel in the pursuit of knowledge. We can search for understanding and inspire wonder for others. We can trek into the unknown, searching for the wonder and mystery of life, of people, of experiences. And we can share them.


So how has steampunk made my life better?

It has inspired my research beyond the confines of my writer’s chair, beyond the internet, beyond the library. It has encouraged me to discover the wonders of a community of supportive people. It has inspired me to explore the wonders of my world – past and present. It has given me the courage to wrench myself (sometimes literally), from the safety of my comfort zone onto that mountain side, defying my anxiety – to try new things, a new career and to experience life as I search for the hidden wonders in our broken but beautiful world.


Two years after writing this original post, (Originally posted for STEAMPUNK HANDS AROUND THE WORLD, 2017) the wonder has not ceased. I’m creating and expanding new worlds in my writing, with the latest (book 5) being ‘The Department of Curiosities’.

Photos copyright Karen J Carlisle.

Definitions of Wonder(Oxford Dictionary):

  • A feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.
  • A thing or a quality of something that causes wonder.
  • A surprising event or situation
  • Having remarkable properties or abilities.A Sense Of Wonder

About Karen J Carlisle

karenKaren J Carlisle is a writer and illustrator of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition. Her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, was published in 2015 and her short stories have featured in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’, and the ‘Where’s Holmes’ and ‘Deadsteam’ anthologies.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat. She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.


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Them That Ask No Questions…

Readers are seldom aware of just how much research can go into writing a novel. It’s a neat trick of smoke and mirrors most writers perform, in that the research gets hidden beyond plain sight, so the reader never see the depth of the research that has gone into a book. Nor indeed should they, generally at least, not unless they sit and think about it for a while. A good book should draw you into the narratives world, the characters stories should take you through those worlds. Just like those Hollywood back-lot western towns that seem so real in the movies, you need to see the saloon, and the jail house, the brothel and the livery stables, what you don’t need to see is the work of the carpenters  round the back, the scaffolds that the one-sided facades of the street are hung upon. The magic lays in the lighting and camera angles.

That’s what a well written novel is like, a literary movie for the reader. They don’t see the research that is the scaffolding on which the story is hung. As a writer myself I think I’m more adept than most at spotting the scaffolding, but that is because I can’t help but go looking for it. That is to say I can spot good research. It doesn’t mean that when I do so it detracts from a story. Quite the opposite in fact, because I appreciate good research, and in all honesty I am a sucker for the ‘behind the scenes documentaries’ extra’s on DVD’s when it comes to movies, and ‘about this story’ extras in a book. Not least because I know just how much research goes into my own novels, even the entirely made up world of Hannibal Smyth that diverged from our own history around 1870, has had far more research involved that anyone who is not a writer could probably countenance, hopefully to the good of those novels. Even if Hannibal has a habit of giving his own twist on everything, the truth behind his corruption of that truth has to be based on solid ground to start with. I may not want the reader to see the scaffold, but it still needs to be there to start with…

Now this may seem a bit of random wittering on my part, but mention of all this brings me to talk about an utterly charming Sunday evening I just spent in the company of  a young Alice Kittyhawk, aka Alice Gunn, aka Liss Hawkeye, NIls Nisse Visser’s heroine from his Sussex Steampunk tales. More specifically an evening spent reading his latest Novella ‘Them That Ask No Questions’.

I make no apologise for being a fan of Nils work, he has a gift for story telling, and a gift for language. Both his character and the narration of his tales use words of Sussex dialect which should seem alien to those not raised within the folds of that county, yet within a few pages those odd words and strange expressions just slip over you and feel right. Drawing you further into his Sussex world of smugglers, pickpockets, and free traders. Its a neat trick when the reader (like myself) is not from anywhere near Sussex, and probably couldn’t pick a Sussex accent out from any other southern dialect, because somehow those words echo in your mind as you read and the characters voices just feel right. Those voices and the sense of place is beautifully drawn within this novella, just as it was in the first of this series The Rottingdean Rhyme which I reviewed earlier this year.

But there is more to Nils stories than just good story telling, they are researched impeccably. The Sussex of his stories lives and breaths, despite airships and questionable fashions among the wealthy, because it is the very real Brighton and Sussex coast of the 1870’s that is the canvas upon which it is pasted. Alice lives in ‘The Lanes’ a slum district of tenements, alleyways or ‘Twittens’ and yards or ‘Mews’, scratching out a living on the grey side of the law in order to keep her and her mother clear of brooding spectre of the workhouse. All the while avoiding being nabbed by the ‘Rozzers’, or being pawed at by any ‘gentlemen gone a slumming’ who might take a fancy to a young girl, and taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves despite draconian vagrancy laws (which are  still on the statute I was appalled to learn) The Brighton slums are not a place for faint hearts, ingrained as they are with the nastier side of Victorian society, something other steampunk writers occasionally gloss over in favour of tales of the moneyed classes which have a more romanticised appeal. This is a dirty, nasty little world, but despite this and perhaps because of it the heroes of this world are those trying to make it a little better despite everything stacked up against the poor and disenfranchised who inhabit the slums, which makes it a rather uplifting tale and well as just a damn fine read.

kick off add VERSION TWO

The bonus tale at the end of this novella (which is wonderfully grim, twisted and yet entirely believable), and the behind the scenes extras in which Nils gives the reader a mere glimpse of the studious research that has gone into this story,  adds an extra dimension to this novella that just add to the joy of reading this novella.

I find myself now waiting in some anticipation for the third of these novella, due later in the year, ‘Fair Weather For Foul Folk’. Not least because Nils gives me some small credit for the inspiration behind it due to my review of the first. Though I doubt any such credit is due, it is still nice to believe it maybe, and if so I point out that review was inspired by the first novella to start. Nils wrote a guest post for this blog last week on that very subject as you may be aware, but if not give it a read… 

As for ‘Them That Ask No Questions’, clicking on the picture below might just take you to it, as if by magic…


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Fact or Fiction? : Indie October Guest Post From Kate Baucherel

ind oct gp 8

What were the earliest things you learned from reading fiction?

These are some of my memories. Aged six, I discovered that scientists could accelerate atomic particles in a cyclotron – for what purpose I had no idea – thanks to the Target novelisation of Dr Who and the Cave Monsters, which I was caught reading under the desk in Year 2. Aged eleven, my history teacher was impressed by my knowledge of the panoply of Egyptian gods, gleaned entirely from Dr Who and the Pyramids of Mars (there’s a theme here). My love of history flourished thanks to more conventional historical novels ranging from The Wool Pack, laying out the intricacies of the Cotswolds medieval wool trade, to Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King, the tale of Louis XIV which was on my A-level reading list. Whenever I sweep the floor, unbidden into my head comes the voice of Ma Ingalls. “Draw the broom, Laura, don’t flip it; that raises the dust.”  I learned snippets of Morse code from a tale of space hostages, and I still watch the movement of the ailerons on an aircraft wing thanks to a passing fascination with the Jungle Run flying adventures as a teenager.

Along the way, I have had to employ a certain amount of critical thinking, of course. There are no dinosaurs in caves under the Peak District and I’m unlikely to be kidnapped by top secret spacecraft any time soon, more’s the pity. But for me, the presentation of facts in fiction makes them come to life.

In 2016 I met an IT and cybersecurity practitioner with a message to communicate. He had a title for a book in mind: ‘Don’t panic: it’s too late for that’. I liked it. He had the knowledge, and I could write: it seemed like a good idea at the time. About three lunches and four coffees in, though, he suggested that the book should be fiction. Don’t be silly, I said. I can’t write fiction.

For the next eight months, he continued to nudge, and I resisted. Then one day, an idea hit me. I wrote three hundred words. “Keep writing,” said my friend. I did, and the rest is history. Since then, the SimCavalier tales of Cameron, Ross and their team have taken on a life of their own. There are two novels and a short story out in the wild and a third tale on the drawing board. I’m tapping a rich seam of real-life cybercrime and the plots themselves come straight from my fevered imagination.

The somewhat utopian world that my unconscious mind has constructed for the SimCavalier is not dissimilar to our own. I pushed the timeline forward by thirty years, allowing drones to deliver the shopping and autonomous vehicles to whizz around the streets, and I’ve flooded large swathes of low-lying Britain, just for fun. I’ve extrapolated today’s emerging technologies to a point where they reach daily utility but come with their own annoyances and vulnerabilities. Characters struggle with misfiring chip implants and faulty smart door locks while our hero turns to physical, unhackable means of security. Drones drop deliveries with all the finesse of a gig economy driver, squashing the morning muffins and spilling goods down the street. Advertising hoardings tailor their message to each passing individual, a creepy invasion of privacy become normality. Additive manufacturing – the 3D printing of components – provides the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle for the manned Mars mission, but also opens new cans of cybersecurity worms.

At the core of the plots lies the human factor, mistakes we can all make. People fail to update their passwords. Stolen login details change hands in shady dark web marketplaces. Faked public wifi networks trap the unwary. Ransomware exploits legacy software systems which are no longer supported by the developers but are clung to like security blankets by people who should know better. The need to stay on top of an ever-evolving cybercrime landscape keeps our heroes busy, but more importantly underlines the fact that there is an astonishing volume of malware circulating in the real world, like sharks around a stricken lifeboat.

Why do good stories make a difference? Research shows that people learn and retain facts easily from stories – including facts which are misrepresented or untrue. When test subjects in a 2003 study[1] responded to a general knowledge quiz, they used the facts they had learned from stories given to them as part of the study, regardless of whether those facts were correct or not. Stories can provide a base layer of understanding in a way which can and does influence behaviour. Sadly, sci fi was one of the genres picked out by the researchers as potentially unreliable, particularly in the way that science is represented. I hope in a small way I have contributed to the reliable side of the equation.

Ultimately, it’s the quality of the story, not the quality of the fact, which makes the impact. I believe that authors of fiction have a duty of care to get the basic facts right. It is said that a lie can travel around the world faster than the truth can get its boots on, and it is only a passing consolation that this quote is probably not by Mark Twain.

[1] E.J. Marsh et al. “Learning Facts from Fiction” Journal of Memory and Language 49 (2003) 519–536

About Kate Baucherel

kateKate Baucherel is a digital strategist, a writer of both non-fiction and cyber-crime sci-fi (the third SimCaviler novel is much anticipated next year), a Blockchain consultant, the COO of City Web Consultants, an occasional guest lecturer at universities, panellist and speaker at technology conferences around the world, Jackie Carlton once bought her a drink,  has been known to dress up as Han Solo at Halloween (or whenever else she can get away with it probably), and if all that is not intimidating enough, is a 2rd Dan black-belt…


Kate Baucherel’s SimCaviler Novels: Cyber crime and cyber crime fighters in the not so far off future


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Creative Osmosis: Indie October Guest Post By Nils Nisse Visser

ind oct gp 9

Please don’t get me wrong on this. I receive short book reviews with fierce and joyous exclamations that will startle the cats into a sulk. I’m at the self-publishing Indie stage where reviews, rather than the occasional sale, are the measure of success.

From that perspective, the length and complexity of a review is irrelevant. “I liked this book” is enough. Some of my favourite reviews are thunderous in their brevity. “Insanely well-written” for Escape from Neverland, and – I suspect by the same reviewer – “KICKS ASS” for Dance into the Wyrd. What more do you need to know? Plus, it’s pretty clear to me that the reviewer has read the books. J

I probably risk undermining the message that ‘any sort of review will do’ by gushing over longer and more comprehensive ones, but those longer ones do something entirely different. In their own way they’re as priceless as “KICKS ASS” and “Insanely Well-Written.”

Apart from the sheer magic of realising that there’s someone out there who has demonstrably grasped the essence of a story, and their generous allocation of time in digesting a story comprehensively, it’s also awfully kind of them to formulate that essence in a manner which I could never do myself. I can write a book, but please – OH HORROR – don’t ask me to describe it.

I can get as far as saying, “Look, I did a thing, where before there was nothing, kinda neat, isn’t it?” If you respond, “Yeah, cool, what’s the story about?” (like a normal human being showing interest would), I withdraw back into my shell. “Erm…ah…nothing much…I dunno…you probably shouldn’t bother…”

Every now and then a reviewer manages to phrase what the story is about with such eloquence that it not only leaves me stunned, but also arms me with an answer to that “what’s the story about” question. I can now answer, “Well, so and so says…” Somehow that is easier.

 Every now and then, a review is so sirageously awesome, that the aftershocks of sheer jubilation transform into renewed inspiration for stories.

I have been fortunate enough to receive two of these reviews recently, for the novella Rottingdean Rhyme. One by Nimue Brown and one by Mark Hayes. I’m profoundly grateful for these reviews, more than they will ever know, so have no hesitation to gush wildly about these two reviewers, and their skills in unravelling aspects of Rottingdean Rhyme.

Through these reviews, both Nimue and Mark have, unwittingly, made a big mark on the two novellas which complete this mini-series regarding the childhood years of Alice Kittyhawk, protagonist of Time Flight Chronicles Book 1: Amster Damned.

Nimue for Them that Ask No Questions (just published), and Mark for Fair Weather for Foul Folk, still in progress.

I’m not entirely sure they’ll be pleased to have been allocated parental responsibility for the stories, so will have to turn to you, the jury, to demonstrate that their creative DNA, strands of their own writerliness as it were, have been woven into the stories about Alice.  I’ll do this in two parts (sharing this same introduction), covering Them that Ask No Questions on Nimue’s blog Druidlife, and Fair Weather for Foul Folk on Mark’s Passing Place blog.

(note the post on Druid life can be found here   )



In his ‘Smugglers of Sussex’ blog ( Mark reviews Rottingdean Rhyme, which he describes as a “wonderfully rich and vibrant novella,” as well as noting that my take on Steampunk has been to weave it into local Sussex smuggling lore.

He points out that smuggler’s tales can be found along most of Britain’s coastline, that local smugglers tend to be revered and/or romanticized by the natives, holding a special place in their hearts. Mark also rightly identifies that many of these smuggler’s tales have a lot of common denominators, storytelling traditions as it were. Whilst recognising these roots in Rottingdean Rhyme, he’s also kind enough to point out that I’ve taken old folk tales to fuse them into something new.

I had been thinking along similar lines for the third novella: Fair Weather for Foul Folk. None of the previous stories had an actual smuggling run in them, they were described from afar, because I was gambling that most people are familiar enough with smuggler’s tales to be able to fill in the blanks by themselves, leaving me to concentrate on the airships my Sussex smugglers employ for their business of Free Trading, and character development.

Yet…yet…I wanted a proper smuggler’s yarn for Alice, involve her in a run, bringing a crop from A to B, chased by Customs & Excise or the Royal Aero Fleet.

Mark’s review spurred me to make this wish a reality, to delve deeply into local traditions once again and steal everything that wasn’t nailed down be inspired by all I found.

I had already identified a setting. Until now the stories were set in Rottingdean and nearby Brighton. I wanted to expand farther along the Sussex Coast and knew exactly where.

I have spent many hours exploring the maze of Hasting’s Old Town, as well as the St Clements smugglers caves. One could not wish for more, but Hastings has another historical gem, one of those factual, historically accurate anomalies that sounds so far-fetched that readers will think I’ve gone mad expecting them to believe it. Well, believe it or not, there’s a small area of Hastings which declared de facto independence from the United Kingdom, back in the early nineteenth century. They build a palisade around their settlement, and raised the Stars and Stripes, as well as electing a governor. He read the American Declaration of Independence out loud and proclaimed the small stretch of shingle beach (1500 yards long, 500 yards wide) as a territorial component of the young United States of America. This within living memory of the American Revolution. What’s even more astonishing, is that records indicate this small corner of the United States, right on England’s doorstep, managed to sustain independence for a good 35 years, possibly longer. This stuff is just too good to ignore, so if I were to stretch that independence by another quarter of a century, I could have Alice pay a visit to the America Ground, as the place was called.

As for tales, I was lucky enough to get my grubby hands on a copy of a rare book written by a Hastings local who was a young lad when smugglers were still active (Reminiscences of Smugglers and Smuggling by John Banks, published in 1873).

I could simply incorporate some of these historical accounts and give them a little twist of my own.

Visiting the small town of Rye, further east along the Sussex Coast, was another eye-opener. There’s a small museum in Ypres Tower, the small castle overlooking Romney Marsh, which has devoted considerable attention to local smuggling history. To top my visit off, when I was by the old-lookout point, atop of the former city walls, I was approached by an old-timer, silver beard and all. I’d told no one about the reasons for my visit, and didn’t ask, but he went straight into yarning away about smuggling. He described how a fog would drift in over the marshes from the sea, and how that would intertwine with the mist rising from the gullies, ditches, and tide channels in the marsh, to form a thick blanket over the marsh, to which he added, “and folk would say: Tis fair weather for foul men.”

As you may imagine, I was in full Jake Blues ‘I have seen the Light!’ mode, furiously scribbling down notes, and you may recognise the origin of the title of this novella.

As for tales, Rye is rich in them. There are accounts of members of the notorious Hawkhurst gang drinking at the Mermaid Inn, guns and cutlasses openly on their tables and boasting of their exploits. Furthermore, the Inn itself has smuggler’s tunnels, priest holes, and many reputed ghosts (of smugglers!). Naturally, I went for a pint in the taproom (scribbling more notes all the while).

Rye was also home to John Ryan, the creator of Captain Pugwash, a popular children’s series about pirates. I didn’t know this when I arrived in town but was delighted, as I couldn’t get enough of Captain Pugwash when I was a kid. As a matter of fact, it was those stories that inspired my lifelong ambition to become a pirate when I grow up (some day). I also discovered a new story, Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward. Set in the town of ‘Sinkport’ (which has exactly the same streets and buildings as Rye), it sees Captain Pugwash’s involvement in local smuggling. Obviously, I can’t steal Ryan’s characters and stick them in a Sussex Steampunk Tale, but I did want to reflect some of the sheer fun of Ryan’s stories in Fair Weather for Foul Folk.

As if that wasn’t enough, Rye identifies strongly with Russel Thorndyke’s Dr Syn stories, also made into movies, tv series, plays, audio adaptations, and comics. These stories are set in Dymchurch, Kent, but both Rye (in Sussex) and Dymchurch are part of Romney Marsh. Outsiders may draw a county border through the marsh, but marsh-folk are marsh-folk and will stick together.

The fictional Dr Syn was a vicar who doubled as a smuggler, known as “The Scarecrow” (and disguised as such), as well as leader of a smuggling gang called The Hell Riders of Romney Marsh. Unfortunately, Thorndyke sold the copyright to Disney, and Disney is a terrible foe to have if they perceive anyone to be meddling with their rights (is there anything they don’t own?). So, no Dr Syn, Scarecrow, or Hell Riders, and probably best to stay away from Dymchurch. That isn’t really a big problem, because the most fascinating feature of Dr Syn was the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde aspect of his dual personality. Syn was gentle, compassionate, intelligent, and well-mannered. The Scarecrow a rogue capable of being utterly ruthless.

Outsmarting the Queen’s Men is a universal theme in smuggler’s tales, so definitely not exclusively Dr Syn. Neither is the dual personality, as the reference to Jekyll and Hyde already suggests. So that will be the way to go, watch out for two characters, in Rye, Sussex (not Dymchurch, Kent) who may well be the same person.

Each setting will introduce new characters, semi-historical and some partially based on local Steampunks and Pyrates who have volunteered to crew despite the risks (I am disturbingly fond of killing characters off, especially if they are likeable). Those who survive, will accompany Alice to the next lot of books, novels this time, which deal with her teenage years.

So, there you have it, most of the ingredients required for a ripping yarn, like the ones they used to tell in taverns up and down the coast. Deeply rooted in folk traditions, but hopefully renewed for modern audiences, Steampunks or not. I’ve already progressed quite a bit and hope to publish before Christmas. If I pull it off, Mark can claim some credit. If I don’t, we’d best delete this guest-blog and nary a word will be spoken of it forever and longer.

The novellas are set up as stand-alone stories, so can be read in any order you please, but they also form a series. If I’ve whetted your appetite for Fair Weather for Foul Folk, and you don’t want to wait, do consider giving Rottingdean Rhyme or Them that Ask no Questions a try. The Kindle versions are cheaper than contraband brought ashore on a dark and moonless night.

Fair Winds!


About Nils Nisse Visser

nilNils is a free-lance writer, occasional poet, archer, Homelessness activist, who was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 1970 (which was the best year ever to be born *Mark), he grew up in the Netherlands, Thailand, Nepal, Oklahoma, Tanzania, England, Egypt and France. Taught English at various Dutch secondary schools for 18 years, but his firm belief that education is most effective when it is fun raised a few eyebrows. Having been told too often that he lived in his imagination, he took the hint and moved there on a full-time basis. He currently lives in Brighton in the county of Sussex in England. 

Rather confusingly he sometimes writes as Nils Visser, Nisse Visser or Nils Nisse Visser. For which he apologies.

His latest Novella ‘Them That Ask No Questions was released a few days ago, clicking on the picture below might just take you to it, as if by magic…

kick off add VERSION TWO



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Writing Without Time: Indie October Guest Post by Meredith Debonnaire

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WRITING WITHOUT TIME: Being a poor indie writer trying to write while juggling with two-and-a-half jobs and the electrified zombie of your social life.

I often see advice for writers along the lines of “Write every day” and “set aside two hours every day” and “have a writing room”, and while none of this is necessarily bad advice, it’s not precisely helpful to those of us who don’t have a lot of money or time. This kind of advice can be very pervasive, to the point I’ve seen big name authors say things along the lines of “if you don’t write every day then you aren’t a writer” and “you must have a dedicated writing space” and none of this takes into account that most of us are poor, okay? We’re poor. You might live with your family and not have your own room. You might be sleeping on a friend’s sofa. You might have children or be working a lot of jobs, and you probably can’t afford that super special Author’s Pen. And all the above can make it feel as though you are an imposter: I know it did me.

The only time I’ve managed to have time dedicated to writing every single day was when I was 17 and my dad was supporting me financially. I wrote a novel featuring nihilistic vampires who locked each other in volcanoes and werewolves who worked in the A and E department. Everything since then has been fitted in around all the stuff I have to do in order to support my “Being an alive and fed human being” habit. So here are some odds and ends of advice about writing without time, which may or may not be helpful. Hopefully they’ll at least give you a laugh.

Dedicated writing space is a shiny added extra, but sometimes your best work is going to happen on the aeroplane home from a funeral while sitting next to a screaming five-year-old.

Or in the launderette. I do good work in the launderette. It would be lovely to have a writing room, with a clear desk and a door and no interruptions. For a lot of us this is a dream that may never make it into reality. I’m here to say that you don’t need one. It’s harder, I won’t lie, but you can write on the bus, in the launderette, in bed, on your lunchbreak. It’s frustrating because it takes longer and it can feel like breathing in snatches, but it is possible and you are still a writer, I promise. Even without the special Author’s Pen and Mug. I wrote the beginning of The Life and Times of Angel Evans on loose paper ripped from the back of a diary. I wrote Tales From Tantamount while taking breaks from Tax Returns, in a doctor’s waiting room, and while off my face on out-of-date cough medicine on a friend’s sofa. You can do this, and, as long as you make sure you’ve got a pen and paper or a smartphone you can type notes on on your person, you can do this nearly anywhere.

You must suffer for your art, but only prettily!

This is a lie. You don’t have to suffer for your art. And not all of us can afford to have an aesthetically pleasing breakdown and retire to an attic studio in the countryside where we subsist on tea and biscuits and write our hallucinogenic memoir. That takes money. So, to reiterate, your mental health is important and you don’t have to suffer for your art. You have to work, yes, because writing is a skill that takes practice like any other skill, but you don’t need to suffer. Enjoy your art, celebrate your art, insist that you get paid for your art, and refuse to move into the haunted attic: that ghost isn’t going to split the bills with you.

Conversely, if you are suffering (for your art or otherwise) get help. Talk to friends. Talk to other writers. Talk to professionals if you can access them. Chat about your ideas and your writers block. It may cut into your preciously tiny amount of time for writing, but it will help. If you’re in a position where your livelihood is at stake, don’t feel guilty about putting your writing on hold while you deal with that. There will be no more art if you die. You can go back to writing once you’ve figured out how you’re living.

Write every day.

Look, I can see why this is popular, but personally all this one leads to is guilt. So for anyone who needs to hear it, you don’t need to write every day. Maybe today is the day you lost your job, your cat, your marbles. Maybe today the washing machine ate your knickers and you set the fire alarm off. Maybe today you did your accounts and all the bills are spread out on the floor and looking at them makes you want to cry or scream. You don’t have to write every day. You can take a day, a week, a month, and then come back to it knowing you’ll be fresher for the break. And very likely there are work/childcare/other logistical reasons that get in the way of writing every day, and that’s alright. You know your life best, and you’re going to know where the gaps are that writing will fit into best. And if that’s once a fortnight while you’re on the bus between work and picking up the kids, that’s okay. If that’s once a week when the insomnia really bites, that’s okay too. You’re still a writer.

You have to live alone with an insomniac cat and refuse social calls.

No. Remember the electrified zombie in the title? The one that is your social life? It’s very important. You need friends. You are a squishy mammal that needs other squishy mammals. Go outside and look at ducks on the canal. Go outside and sit in a park. Text a friend. Talk to people. You need to keep that zombie alive. For the sake of your mental health. And if that doesn’t work for you as a reason, frame it as gaining new stimulus for ideas for writing. Having a supportive network is really important for indie writers, because we are mostly  poor and we tend to be very busy and get caught up in ideas and forget to go foodshopping. We need people around who are going to gently check in on us and who we can tell our bonkers ideas to. Cultivate friends, because they are good. And get a cat if you actually want one.

So Meredith, tell us your writing techniques if you’re so wise!

I have a lot of writing techniques, but most of them boil down to desperately fitting in writing wherever I can around whatever part-time work I’m doing at the moment, and experimenting wildly. I write because I enjoy writing, and I think that’s the most important part. That you enjoy it, that even when you’re tearing your hair out because the characters have staged a rebellion and now the plot won’t work, you enjoy it. If you’re stuck, go back to what you love about it. If your current project just won’t fit in around your job, maybe put that project down for a bit and experiment with something else. If the short story is not progressing, give yourself a break and write a haiku instead. It doesn’t have to be good, just get it on the page and you can refine it later. Most of all, I think be compassionate to yourself. If other people are doing way better and you’re berating yourself about that, check in and see if they have access to resources you don’t. If someone else has a publicity team and inherited money and a partner with a stable income, they’re going to have more time and space than you. Go easy.

And most of all, keep that electrified zombie social life going! It’s very important.

About Meredith Debonnaire

merryMeredith Debonnaire is a writer of strange fantasy things(Tales From Tantamount and The Life and Times of Angel Evans being the big two). She also blogs book reviews and poetry, and is a professional proofreader.  She hoards shiny notebooks and writes stories on envelopes.


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