Feed those birds, Steam Highwayman

Smell the oil, the coal-gas and the hot metal once more: the Steam Highwayman is heading for the Reeking Metropolis itself – London.

I’ve been working on the navigational network that underlies Steam Highwayman III. I drafted a map and began on numbering it some time before Christmas, but now I’ve started the dog-work of creating the passages and links that tie all that movement together. Creating an explorable city is very different to adapting the country lanes and villages of Buckinghamshire for a map. Some areas need to feel like dense networks of streets, but I don’t want the reader’s journey through them to feel slow or boring, so there have to be some short-cuts, timesavers and asymmetrical routes to keep the movement interesting.

I’m using the excellent National Library of Scotland’s georeferenced archive of OS maps that I’ve blogged about previously, but I’m imagining some differences due to the departure point c.1785. For a start, ‘Regent’s’ Park is right out. Queen Maria’s Park seems a better fit for this timeline.

But what these maps really offer is the detailed alternate world of a London that has almost disappeared. Mews, old watercourses, slums and old bridges… The site of the London stocks (that’ll come in handy) and old Devonshire House…

Some of it is unchanged, of course. So as I was detailing a movement along Upper Thames Street from London Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge, not only did I realise that I should include a quest engaging with the Royal College of Arms, but that I also needed to give St Paul’s its place.

There’s only one melody that says ‘St Paul’s Cathedral’ to me. Not ‘Zadok the Priest’, not even ‘Jerusalem’, but the Sherman brothers’ ‘Feed the Birds‘.

Now what sort of self-respecting Steampunk would miss the chance to check on that old birdwoman and buy a bag full of crumbs?

Well, at this rate it’s going to be a long, detailed and intensely-researched book.

Great.

Tomorrow at Dragonmeet

Tomorrow I’ll be at Dragonmeet in Hammersmith, selling and signing Steam Highwayman: Smog and Ambuscade, as well as accepting pre-orders for Highways and Holloways and Write Your Own Adventure.  Dragonmeet has got a reputation as a really lively, friendly convention, so I’ll be spending some time a-wandering around as well as meeting people on my author stall.

I’ll be with several other authors in the demonstration room (first floor), rather than in the trade hall. Will I still be able to make sales?  Who knows!  I’ve only got 13 paper copies of SH1 in stock currently, so I’ve created some nice paper order forms for buyers to purchase copies once these run out – or pre-order copies of SH2 and WYOA.

I know that several other Gamebook Authors are going to be there, including Jon Green and Ian Livingstone, downstairs in the trade hall.  I’ll also be keeping an eye open for others drifting around and plenty of the region’s board game developers are booked in to.  Watch out for a couple of Facebook Live sessions as I keep myself entertained…

Lines on Highbury Field

The pace of circling runners has now stopped,

Their anticlockwise ringing of the hill

Completed for another Saturday.

Instead the calls of coaches to their boys,

By name, by numbers printed bright

On neon jackets, home strips, away strips

And the thud of leather on leather, the thud

Of childish pleasure in the swinging foot,

The leaping leg, the spring, the catch, the cry,

And sliding tackles scuff the turf with scars,

The boyish shallow trenches of the wars

They live to fight.  For disappointment lasts

But fragments of a minute, not so long

To sour a day as it can do for men.

Instead, with every burst of rivalry,

Each charge up the touchline, each desperate chance,

The game stays living, changing, bright and sweet

Like May sun out from cloud and in again.

‘Come in now, please,’ he calls, the giant there,

A man and half a man to eight-year-olds,

The beauty of his giving as they shoot,

He crouches in the belly of the goal,

The little, four-foot goal, and bids them try

To pass him, knock it in the net and score,

And they begin to learn themselves and find

The pleasure of that leather-smacking thud,

The swinging foot, the leaping leg, the spring,

His catch and cry the affirmation of

Each boy’s good value, his name, his number.

Sometimes spoken – ‘Diego!’  Ringing out loud,

The passers-by and balconeers all share

The pleasure of a boy’s attempt on goal.

Sometimes unspoken – just that look or pat

As Mitchell sidesteps, taps it in the net,

Arry nutmegs coach and all the eight-year-olds

Cheer both.  The older group have finished now

And moved to dribbling, easing bright blue globes

Against the gentle slope of the park’s lie

Upon the hill, up to the cones, then down,

Stretching slightly to keep up with them.

Beyond, a trainer spars and kickboxes

With today’s customer, who wants to learn

For stage, or screen, or just simple fun

Of throwing punches in the morning air.

This richness, more than leisure, more than just

An occupation for the weekend hours,

How we enjoy it, but to tell the truth

It’s undervalued.  God gives peace to men

And all these boys not marching, trained to die,

Assume this is normality.  Not so,

In history, how rare this chance to play.

And I can see it as a prophecy

Of dwelling in the Kingdom without end.