Buzz!

Something has changed about my Steam Highwayman project.  For several years, it was an idea in my head that I occasionally mentioned to my brother or sister, or toyed with on my laptop.  Then I saw other people standing up and making a success out of their writing, using their brains and passion to push something from their imagination into reality.  80 Days, by Inkle, wasn’t a commission.  Nobody asked for it or told Jon Ingold, Joe Humfrey and Meg Jayanth to write it: they chose to and made it work.

So in September 2016 I changed my attitude about my writing: I was unlikely ever to meet a patron who would sponsor me in comfort and style to create something with the perfect brief, giving me creative control but enough direction to get going.  I had to make it work.

I chose to work on Steam Highwayman because, unlike my efforts in writing novels, I had good example for a printed, multi-volume gamebook in Morris and Thomson’s Fabled Lands.  I also believed that I could produce something with a limited, defined scale of success.  I recognised that, despite my inherent need to develop and surpass any model, I needed to choose a ceiling to bump up against.

So I began writing, first using Twine to create something that could be made available to modern readers on their phones, but soon changed to focus on producing something I have a much stronger understanding of: a printed book.

And then at Christmas 2016 I had to defend my decision to my dad.

It was great: he grilled me in front of my family and my wife and I had enough answers.  Not every answer, but enough.  He was a self-employed multi-discipline artist/manager/technician at an architect for a quarter century and knows a thing or two about breaking ground, managing yourself and finishing projects.  And about making it happen.

I think that was the beginning of the buzz.  When I began to see that Steam Highwayman, if successful, would become much bigger than I could imagine – that people would discuss it without me being directly involved in the discussion – that it would be strong enough for me to not have to defend it or explain it.

So now it has all changed.  This weekend I promoted the project with a live reading at a Steampunk event in Surrey.  Before the end of the afternoon, there were several dozen people talking to each other about this character, the Steam Highwayman.  THE Steam Highwayman – as if he or she had an independent existence.  At one exciting moment, I was introduced as the Steam Highwayman, but when I demurred and asked ‘Who is the Steam Highwayman?’ I was met with the ringing reply, as my friend pointed to those around, ‘You are the Steam Highwayman!’

Last night I dreamed I was travelling along a dusty road and, stopping to refuel at a petrol station, overheard two strangers discussing what they had been reading.  You guessed it: in my dreams, unconnected randomers are discussing Steam Highwayman.

Then in the last few days I’ve been privileged to have the support of several volunteer proof-readers, a few of whom are close friends or family, but more are people I would have never known before pushing this idea into reality.  And then there’s Ben, who has been so inspiring to work with as an illustrator.  Somewhere out there tonight, in the US, the UK and New Zealand, there are people reading extracts of the adventures of the Steam Highwayman – an invented character in an invented world that had no previous existence until I began to share it.  Elsewhere there is a man who is devoting his time to visualising a story that is entirely made-up – but he wants to get it right and do it justice.

I’m a little bit mind-blown.

Steam Highwayman at 200%!

With three more backers overnight, we reached exactly 200% early this morning!  This is a real celebration moment: I always felt £2000 and 100 backers was a small target, but I had to admit that I really wasn’t sure that we could double that.

Jane on the left here, with the tray of knitted Cthulus at the Crossness Engines Steampunk Convivial

But here we are!  Generous pledges have boosted us up towards the milestone, but three more backers have each ordered their book bringing the total to exactly £4000 pledged towards the project.

Our Double Funding Backer is Jane Darnbrough of Bromley!

If you are in need of a decapod
Of a stripy or spotty or a checkered god
Then ask smiling Jane
Who remains cheerfully sane
While secretly celebrating all that’s odd.

Spartacus Soundtrack

I love film music.  Let’s just get that right: I love big orchestras telling grand stories with memorable, hummable melodies.  Not just ‘mood music’, but story music.

Sometimes a great soundtrack can get me writing when I’m stuck for ideas: it can stir up emotions that find their way into my stories or make me long for a better world.  So, in a complete change to my recent focus on Steam Highwayman, let me tell you about a piece of music I love.

Alex North’s soundtrack to Spartacus is a powerful thing.  It merges one of the most beautiful love-themes with clever orchestration and Roman brutality and imagines a world different to our own.  The love theme has been adapted and even become a part of the jazz repertoire, but it’s in the context of the movie that it means the most.  You first hear it when the bitter gladiator Spartacus sees a beautiful slave-girl, Virinia, and first begins to dream that life could be different to anything he’s ever known.  They enjoy an all-too-brief relationship with a beautiful blossoming of tenderness and freedom before Spartacus is defeated and crucified, along with his rebels.  In the final scene, the love theme struggles to make itself heard again beneath the Roman cymbals and horns, as Virinia introduces her lover to his baby son – who has been born free.

It makes me cry.  This might be just a film from sixty years ago, with dated performances and dated production values, but that melody can’t get old.  It communicates something awful and wonderful – that people have died and are dying to see their children free to live freely.

After all that music, it’s the swell at 2:29 that brings tears to my eyes, just before the Roman theme stomps in.

Real sacrifice like this is both tragic and beautiful: it’s there when an economic migrant makes the journey to Europe in an attempt to provide for his family back in Somalia, or Sudan, or Syria.  It’s there when those with the ability to leave a war-torn city stay for the sake of those who can’t leave.  In the movie, the character of Spartacus dreams longingly of a God for the downtrodden: a ‘God for slaves’, and prays that his son one day will be born free.  By the end of the film, that’s what the music means: that his prayer has not been in vain and that despite his sacrifice, he has not been ignored.

One day I want music like this to accompany my stories.

150 Backers!

The 150th Backer of Steam Highwayman is Mr Jared Foley.  In honour of his participation, I have composed this short clerihew:

Jared Foley
Made his decisions carefully, not, whatever they said, slowly.
His intentions were creative
His manner thoughtful and certainly contemplative.

Thanks Jared!  We met and made friends at the Crossness Engines Steampunk Convivial on Saturday, when I also had the honour of meeting Mrs Marian Foley.  I’m very pleased to be able to offer a little something in return.  He is the esteemed Chief Buccaneer of the London Steampunk and Dieselpunk Society as well as a patron of the arts.

[Edit 12.10.17 – Unfortunately I was forced to remove the handsome photograph of Mr Foley: for some reason it had become a spam-bait, attracting around 500 spam comments over 3 days, largely from bots wanting to sell me medication or discuss the Prince of Persia.  If anyone can enlighten me on this, please comment – but be sure to write something that indicates you’re real.]

150 Facebook Likes!

That’s right!  Earlier today we bust this target at last, due to an influx of Facebook Steampunks hooked over the weekend.  So at last I can legitimately share this: Designing the Velosteam.

 

What I did at the weekend!

Essentially, I was very busy!  I visited the Crossness Engines Steampunk Convivial and the Steampunk Essextraordinaire III at the Museum of Power near Maldon.

You can see some nice photos from each even here and here.

It was great to meet Steampunks from across the region, very exciting to publicise my project and an honour to be invited – last minute – to join established (and, note, published) authors Jonathan Green and Toby Frost on the writer’s panel.  Praise God!

Livestreaming is great!

Well, that went well.  I really enjoyed my first live-streaming experience on Kickstarter last night – and learnt a lot too.  It was great to have a few watchers live, but also it’s been fantastic that people have continued to watch after the event.  I even managed to gain 3 more backers from the experience – hooray for Harold, Emily and Josh!

If you missed it, I largely chuntered on about the roots of the project, featuring The Emerald of Wolla-Wolla and telling the story that you’ll also find here on the making of page.  But I also spoke a little about how running the project had been and gave a shout-out to the first 50 backers.

It was so much fun that I immediately scheduled another livestream: Monday 25th, 8.30pm.  I guess it’ll probably be another 30 minute long sort of thing, but I’m anticipating sharing more about meeting and marketing…  I’ve also discovered there is a Beta test option to simultaneously stream to Facebook – which I will DEFINITELY employ.  I can see that stream getting even more interest.

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Anyway, between now and then I am going to try and do some old-fashioned face-to-face marketing.  I still have 500 flyers advertising the project and this weekend there are two Steampunk Convivials (that’s the name steampunks give to their meetups/conventions/festivals) at locations withing striking distance.  The Crossness Engines Steampunk Convivial is going to be held just south and along the river from where we live – at the fascinating Gothic Revival Palace of Sanitation that is the Crossness Pumping Station.  I discovered the place a few months ago on a long riverside walk (from Woolwich to Erith).  It is one of several incredible late victorian buildings that housed massive steam engines to pump sewage through Bazalgette’s ground-breaking sewer system.  And they still have their MASSIVE BEAM ENGINES, apparently in working, restored condition.  So what an opportunity to see inside, as well as to meet up with a good proportion of my target audience…

Then on Sunday there’s a similar event, the Essextraordinaire III, at Maldon, at the Museum of Power, which hosts another working steam engine.  If I manage to get to both I’ll be very pleased with them, but I’m stirred to try and do it.  That means a bit of a push for me since although I’m fine starting conversations, I get very English and ‘over-polite’ about trying to sell people something / ask for something.  Personal growth and publishing at the same time – wooh!

Livestream on Kickstarter – Tomorrow 7pm

I’ll be going live tomorrow evening at 7pm through Kickstarter’s inbuilt livestream feature.  This is a new feature and I haven’t seen many projects using it yet, as well as being a first for me.  Come and join in.

All questions gladly received – otherwise I’ll just be rattling on about the things I want to talk about:

– How I got the idea for the book
– The processes of planning and writing an open-world gamebook
– How the project has succeeded so far
– Shoutout for backers!

Kickstarter: 15 Days Gone, 15 to Go!

15 days gone in the Steam Highwayman Kickstarter! We’re currently camped at 166% percent funding – no mean feat – so let me run through a few details to let you know about the workings of the campaign. I’m really excited that in a couple of weeks I’ll have the funds that allow me to complete this project and get the gamebook into your hands. Thankyou.

Kickstarter tracks how backers found the project – in a rough, mechanical way. I’ve added onto this by asking you, particularly if we’ve never met previously, a brief question in my welcome message.

31 of the 128 pledges have come from what Kickstarter calls direct traffic. This is the largest single group of supporters and this is directly due to everybody who has shared a direct link to the project – thankyou!

23 of the pledges have come straight from Facebook. Thanks to everybody who has shared the funding news, the Steam Highwayman page and the information about the project even before it began!

A combination of Kickstarter’s own messaging and publicity materials have attracted 36 pledges. These are some of the most exciting, because they indicate people with whom I have no prior connection, but who have chosen to support the project purely on its own merit.

As you can see from this little graph, we had a strong start, with 26 and 30 supporters pledging in the first two days respectively. The last week has been quiet overall, so I’m planning to do everything I can to see those green bars back up in the second half of the project. If you have any suggestions or ideas for me, please get in contact.

Finally, the Steam Highwayman page on Facebook is approaching the 150 likes target that will allow me to unlock the Velosteam Development log – which I’m really excited to share with you. If you haven’t yet liked the page, please take a couple of clicks to push us on towards the target!

The Spenser Cup – An Audio Adventure

Steam Highwayman now has an interactive Audio Adventure!  One of the most popular adventures within Smog and Ambuscade was the Spenser Cup, in which you must race a high-powered steam car, making tactical decisions as you ride.  I’ve narrated the sections and organised them so that your choices can string the events together into one story.  A different take on the ‘gamebook’ format: I’ve created the ‘gameaudiobook’.