A Thing in Tring – Gamesfest Report

Tring is one of those little market towns you see on a map – one of hundreds across England – that might never attract a visit in its own right.  A funny name, an old church, a bit of twentieth-century expansion, a victorian satellite railway hamlet with a hotel two miles down the road, a nearby canal.

England.

Steam Highwayman country.

My country.

But Tring also hosts the annual Gamesfest, attracting hobbyists and role-players from London and the Home Counties.  And this year, the Steam Highwayman made an appearance too.

It was a very pleasant day, introducing hardened DnDers to a solo, steampunk roleplaying experience, spending time with some faithful backers, including Colin Oaten, SH2 Backer 12, who lost himself in the proofing version of SH2 for over an hour, preying on the locobuses near Woodcote and failing to smooth-talk his way into Wallingford.  I also met – in the flesh – several members of the gamebook community, including Sam Iacob, author of the Sword of the Bastard Elf and Scott Lloyd of Gamebooks himself.

But perhaps the highlight of the day was when two boys, Sam and his friend Shaun, aged 10 and 13 respectively, wandered in with their step-dad in the misguided hope of finding some X-Box gaming.  Initial disappointment gave way to the enchantment of first-time gamebook experiences.  In they dived, rolling to fight their duels, snatching coins from pleading nobility, upgrading their velosteam.  I guided them in to begin with and them left them playing.  After forty minutes, Sam looked up.  “Can we buy this?” he asked.

It wasn’t the sale that excited me as much as knowing I’d passed something on.  Passing the book over in a bag, I asked them how they’d be spending the rest of the day.  “Reading this,” they both answered.

Where will it lead?  Will they get bored, tired of the mental energy it requires to imagine and read, leaving the book closed in a pile before the week is out?  Or will they press on, pursuing and adventure and gaining an education in choice-based fiction in the process?  Will I hear from you again, Sam and Shaun?

And that wasn’t all.  I also had an unexpected visitor – a distant cousin – another Nou(t)ch who had hunted me down and dropped in to introduce himself, handing me a scroll of part of our family tree just like a quest-giving shady figure in Pirates! Gold.

I’m finalising my other events coming up – it looks like it should be December when I’ll next have the chance to lay out my wares – and busy with Write Your Own Adventure, but I’ll be back in Tring, for sure.

Where next? Gamesfest!

A short while ago I was asked by fellow gamebook enthusiast Lloyd of Gamebooks whether I would be attending Gamesfest or Dragonmeet this year…  And after a little rustling around, it looks like I’ll be at both!  I’m keen to share Steam Highwayman with game enthusiasts as well as steampunk, so friendly and welcoming events like these seem just the place.  I have been organising and hope to perform an interactive reading at Gamesfest, so if you’ll be attending, please let me know so that I can include you!  I’ll also be posting a write-up here in a couple of weeks.

My currently booked event schedule for Steam Highwayman appearances and sales looks like this:

  • 20th October – Gamesfest, Tring
  • 1st December – Dragonmeet, Hammersmith
  • 8-9th December – Steampunkalia, Nottingham

If there’s an event you know of – particularly during November – that you think would be improved by the sudden and terrifying appearance of the Steam Highwayman, please suggest away!

 

Essextraordinaire IV

I had a great day in great company at the Maldon Museum of Power yesterday at the fourth Steampunk Essextraordinaire!  Hosted by Paul Adams and the League of Essextraordinary Gentlemen, I had the privilege of sharing my work alongside other steampunk authors, performing an interactive reading and spreading the legend of the Steam Highwayman even further afield.

This was a special day for me because exactly a year ago I attended the Essextraordinaire III in faith, with Steam Highwayman I: Smog and Ambuscade still crowdfunding on Kickstarter.  Without any book to hand I was invited onto the writer’s panel alongside Toby Frost and Jon Green and had the chance to tell everyone about the project.  To return with the book itself – and the promise of a second to come – has given a massive boost to my confidence and self-belief.

Another time I’ll give a write-up of Toby’s work, the Space Captain Smith series, but having bought, read and given the first book away last year, I invested some of my hard-earned takings into a full, signed set of Mr Frost’s comic adventures.  If I’m quiet in the next few days, it’s probably because my head is in a steampunk space helmet fighting the Lemming Men…

The event reminded me how much I enjoy reading from Steam Highwayman and how well it influences my sales at any event.  Honestly I’d say that despite the small audience, I gave one of my most engaging performances – but then the bar was very high, with Helen Bruce of Solstice Storytelling telling her steampunk’d traditional tales and Darren Gooding performing his excellent verse and one-man, three-charactered theatrical extracts.

I even bought a new waistcoat for my costume.  The first one had a lovely orangey colour to contrast with my blue coat, but it was always far too small and my hurried alterations have come apart in the last year…

So I’m fairly confident that I’ll be back in Maldon next September – and already looking forward to it.  How many books will I have on the stall by then?

The Return of Steam Highwayman FUNDED!

225 backers joined the campaign
£6395 pledged
322 books ordered
5 pieces of custom art commissioned
159% of the funding target reached

So that’s good news!  I’m particularly pleased that in the final day of the project, so many of my previous backers returned to pledge for the sequel to Smog and Ambuscade.  This means that 100 of the 186 backers of my previous campaign have returned – a figure to be proud of – but also that I have reached 125 new backers since then.  Wow!

The total copies of Steam Highwayman gamebooks printed until now number fewer than 300, so by fulfilling these pledges, I’ll be more than doubling the presence of Steam Highwayman on shelves and coffee tables across the world.

We’ve also seen backers from around the world playing a significant part.  Australians made a particularly big contribution this time, with 11 backers pledging – 8 of whom are new to the project.  At this rate I’ll expect to see a dusty Ferguson velosteam cosplayer in the outback any time now.

The campaign may be complete, but the publication process still has a way to go.  My jobs for the next months (Aug-Dec) look like this:

– Complete editing (asap)
– Complete first round proofreading (asap)
– Commission interior illustrations (Friday)
– Contact WANTED CRIMINALs for likenesses
– Plan for backer input into illustration
– Produce edited draft 2
– Distribute draft 2 in sections to volunteer/backer proofreaders
– Complete further edits
– Produce illustrated draft 3
– Order and evaluate proof copy
– Produce final printing edition
– Order copies for worldwide despatch from IngramSpark printing hubs

I’ll also be continuing to be promoting my books in person at Steampunk events through the autumn.  Watch out here to find out what, where and when – and you can even choose to subscribe to my blog if you’d like to be sure you don’t miss out.  Should be something over there on the right on the sidebar.

So I’d like to express my gratitude to all of my backers and supporters.  Your interest, your pledges and your comments all the way through the project make it possible for me to keep going – I’m a words of affirmation sort of person, as my wife will tell you.  So let me encourage you!  If you’re considering publishing a book or crowdfunding a passion project, don’t wait for it to be perfect or finished or even totally ready.  It’s simpler than it looks and once people get an idea of why you’re excited about it, they seem to get behind you.

After all, who is the Steam Highwayman?  YOU are the Steam Highwayman!

Last chance!

One day left in the Return of Steam Highwayman campaign and we’re approaching 150% funding.  Would a sensible stretch goal be helping at this point?  I’ve stayed away from them so far in the project, but I’m starting to think that SH3 might see a whole lot more…

Anyway, there’s been some great interaction over on the campaign in the last few hours, with new backers joining overnight, particularly from the US, Europe and Australia.  I’ve updated a few FAQs – because they’ve been asked once or twice, rather than frequently – and added more keen backers to a provisional proof-reading list.

Thanks to everyone who’s stayed with the campaign – particularly the 90 or so repeat backers who came with me from SH1 and the first-day crowd.  That’s been really encouraging.  I’ve got a busy day ahead of me, but expect an update tomorrow night on KS and here as well.

Who is the Steam Highwayman?  We, er, are the Steam Highway.  Mans.  And womens.  We are them…

Two days to go!

In two days time my second Kickstarter Campaign will be complete – and fully funded!  In fact, the campaign is currently at 137% and more backers are still trickling in.  Where will it all end?

And what have I been doing?  Well, my daily task has been manually checking the several thousand passage links in Highways and Holloways.  That looks like this…

The temptation to over-edit has to be fought.  I’ve re-arranged one knot of roads, simplifying it to make navigation quicker and more straightforward.  This was one of the few criticisms about Smog and Ambuscade and, honestly, one I can completely understand.  One of the tricky things is that, having created the maps, ridden the roads and spent months writing the adventures, I can no longer trust myself as a standard of reading the navigation.  I know exactly where places are and have, like a homing pigeon, a certain sense of direction, no matter what passage I am reading…  So I’ll be relying on my playtesters in the next weeks to help me with this.

Tick, tick, tick, tick, scratch, flip, tick, turn, tick, flip, double-check.  Why on earth did I allow the book to reach 1500 passages?

Immediately after the end of the campaign I’ll be heading to a meeting with Ben to make a full plan for the illustrations, and after that will come my backers’ chance to have a say in what gets drawn.  So, expect several more posts in the next few days!

Three days to go!

Three days to go on Steam Highwayman II Kickstarter!  The campaign is almost complete and has been a great development from last year’s campaign.  As I wrote previously, the project has now moved on to be mainly supported by readers and would-be-readers of the gamebook.  I still count a few faithful friends and family members amongst the 188 backers to date, but in fact I’m now making new friends through the readers of Steam Highwayman.  Gamebook collectors and enthusiasts like Ben Roberts, who seems to have developed a strange idea that the Steam Highwayman is really a gourmet in search of the perfect pork pie, and Stuart Lloyd, a critic, writer and fellow tutor who always provokes me to think about the boundaries between learning and play.  Then there’s Dave Morris, who twelve months ago was a distant and admired hero, but has now become a faithful supporter of the Steam Highwayman project, and Jon Ingold, whose 80 Days did so much to inspire me to get on and produce a text adventure.  At the Suffolk Steampunk Spectacular, hosted by the Long Shop Museum at Leiston, I was greeted by Dean Allen Jones, already familiar with my work and keen to buy another copy, having given his first away to a hungry nephew.

And that’s not all.  Do you like an occasional graph?  I like an occasional graph, but not too late in the evening as they keep me awake.  This colourful little google-powered histogram shows how the backers of The Return of Steam Highwayman are distributed around the world!  I’m looking forward to the completion so that, once I gather addresses, I can make myself a shaded world map (again, google-powered), but even now I am enthralled by the beauty of distribution.  If you’re canny, you’ll be able to identify your place in one of these bright bars: Ben Roberts, backer #1, you’ll be at the foot of the long blue one…

I did try creating a scattergraph which correlated repeat backer’s SH2 campaign backer number with their SH1 campaign backer number, just to see what sort of result I’d get.  Mark Lain managed to bag spot number 5 both times, which I know tickled us both, but otherwise there was no sort of pattern at all.  But that’s why you whack data into a graph, isn’t it?  To interpret bare facts into something for those visual processors we have.  I’ve always been a thinking-by-drawing sort of person – making maps, plans and designs was my idea of fun from childhood and if I could get away with doing it full time, you bet I would.

Enough rambling.  A big thanks to everyone who has joined the project in the last few weeks – you’re very welcome and I really look forward to getting to know you better as the books keep coming…

 

New heights!

Something fabulous has been happening over on Kickstarter…  My first publishing and gamebook project last year raised around £4700, partly thanks to the generosity of friends and family who wanted to see my work in print and several of whom gave far more than the suggested pledge.  In all, 189 supporters joined the project.

But this time, things have been different.  Around 85 of last year’s backers have returned to order the sequel and almost a hundred new backers have joined in – and with a far smaller number of family and friends, the project has now raised more than £5100 towards the publication.  This is very exciting for me as the project is really standing on its own merits now, appealing to readers on account of the recommendations of genuinely-interested advocates (which is why I prepared the new image above) and on the strength of Book I’s reputation.

This bodes really well for the ongoing project.  With each volume I write, there will be an increasing number of readers who return to see the next book published – I hope – and the work will increasingly do its own publicity…  Every now and then when I discover a mention of Steam Highwayman out in the wilds of the internet, my heart skips, like when I saw it on the front page of Demian Katz’s gamebooks.org – and if you haven’t visited that amazing labyrinth of dreams, head over there and find out about all the gamebooks you haven’t bought or read yet!  Demian is a librarian (I believe) and a backer of book 1 and has a lot to share with you about the workings of choice-based fiction.

SH2 Cover Reveal

It’s a great day here at Steam Highwayman tower: fully funded this afternoon and Ben delivered a finished cover too.  I’m really pleased with his work and very proud to be able to share it with my kickstarter backers.  It’s been a complex cycle of brief, editing and work-through, but I reflected earlier that without Ben, my own image of the Steam Highwayman, as well as the look of the whole project, would be entirely different.  I’m so grateful to be able to inject a fresh look into Steampunk by partnering with him, as well as receiving these excellent book covers that turn heads wherever they’re seen!

This is quite a turning point: as I update the Kickstarter campaign and Facebook pages, I hope that this cover will attract brand new readers, backers and fans.  I mean, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but we all do, and if it’s one of Ben’s, why worry?

SH2 Fully Funded

Yep – that’s right.  Steam Highwayman II: Highways and Holloways is now fully funded on Kickstarter.  It’s particularly to do with the generosity of four backers who have chosen to pledge to be drawn into the book as Wanted Criminals – watch out for these dangerous people and their wanted posters!  But of course, those four wouldn’t have been able to fund the thing entirely – I’m grateful to the 138 others – and families – who have chosen to pledge and contribute to the project.

In the meantime, I’ve been editing and working on smoothing out the playthrough.  This morning, though, I woke up with an idea and began sorting out some of the planning and links for SH3…  Perhaps that was a good way to be thinking!

There’ll be news soon about the cover and other illustrations, but for now, good news and thankyou!