Steam Highwayman II

I’ve been working on Steam Highwayman II since November 2017, during the first lull presented by the SH1 Kickstarter. However, in the last few weeks I’ve been progressing through my draft of the sequel gamebook and enjoying myself developing new plots, new games and new mechanics.

The blue line is the important part at the moment: the closer it gets to the purple, the happier I’ll be. But will I need to extend the passage-count for SH2? My current estimations make me think that this book, Highways and Holloways, may be 150-160% of the length of SH1: Smog and Ambuscade.  I may be suffering from feature creep or perhaps the map I drafted back in November was simply too ambitious…  Either way, I plan on learning a lot from this process!

I’m hoping that this graph will remain live as I update my master spreadsheet.  Yummy.  So check back in here if you want to know where I am!  Don’t forget that you Steam Highwayman I: Smog and Ambuscade on Amazon now, too!

The Highwayman Afloat

Why does Steam Highwayman feature a parallel, water-borne adventure?  In Book 1, Smog and Ambuscade, around 150 passages out of the total 1017 are devoted to your options to take to the River Thames and captain your own steam barge, shipping freight and discovering unique adventures.

Because I love narrowboats.  I love everything about them and their history, their lore, the short-lived and much-romaticised ‘traditional’ life of the bargee families.  When I was designing my alternate but plausible steampunk past, I could not see how a Britain dependent upon steam power but lacking large railways (one of my premises) would work without some reference to the canal network at least.  In out timeline, water-borne freight on the Thames has always remained competitive with the railways, and to some extent, the roads.  Boats still lug building materials, hardcore, sewage and waste up and down the old river daily.

One of my regularly re-read books is LTC Rolt’s Narrow Boat.  Essentially, he was the first canal tourist and also responsible for a lot of our modern romanticised view of the canals, but he was also a writer with a real interest in the genuine traditions of the canal people.  I bought this some time back in 2010, I think, on a canal holiday with a good friend and his family.

When I lived in Marlow, between 2008 and 20012, I got to know the reach between Maidenhead and Henley very well.  I had only been afloat on it a handful of times, but I was fascinated by the boathouses and bridges and could see how a highwayman adventuring back and forth across this great boundary would have to interact with its people and way of life.  I had walked the towpath between Marlow and Henley in sun, rain and the dead of night.

Writing a continuation and development of the river into Book 2, Highways and Holloways, I’ve had to make some decisions.  I’m currently trying to smooth out the reader’s journey to include fewer repetitions and more story.  There should still be the opportunity to trade, investing relatively large amounts of capital to make good returns, all in the name of that retirement bank account at Coulters!  After all, trading (and defeating pirates) by sea in Fabled Lands was always the best way to get your hands on a pile of cash.

But I know the reach between Henley and Oxford less well.  So I’ll be depending on the good old OS171, Chris Cove-Smith’s The River Thames Book and lots of googlemaps.  Nothing can replace the insight you gain from the locations themselves however and since a very large part of my pleasure in writing the Steam Highwayman series is to share my love of the parts of these parts of the world, I think I’ve got a good excuse to take an extended walk along the Thames pretty soon.

I still live by the Thames, but much further east and I see the Thames Barrier out of window and enjoy the tides defining the rhythm of the day.  Regular shipments of estuary and Dogger-dredged aggregates are unloaded opposite our tower at Angerstein wharf – the largest gravel and sand unloading wharf of its kind Europe.  The walks along the river here are quite different – and a good subject for another time, or another book.

Two other fluvial reads I’ll recommend here are the hilarious JK Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, which furnished me with the minimum of an amusing encounter in Smog and RL Stevenson’s An Inland Voyage.  Three Men has still got plenty to give, so I’ll be mining it in the next fortnight, whereas the Stevenson is much more down-to-earth.  I might borrow some of his cold and damp.

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.

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!