SH2: Highways and Holloways Draft Complete

Calling a piece of writing ‘finished’ is not something I like doing… but I’d better get better at doing it.

This evening, after a marathon 7000+ word day, I finished the second volume of Steam Highwayman.  Highways and Holloways allows you to continue the open-world Steampunk journey that began in Steam Highwayman: Smog and Ambuscade.  But it also stands alone, bigger, better, badder.

I’ve written nearly 140,000 words of content.  There are well over a hundred quests and adventures, repeatable events, double- and multiple-entry plotlines, re-occuring characters, strongly-defined and engaging factions, a vast map of road, river and sky.  Five separate airship adventures layer on top of the adventure of robbery and escape, which has been redesigned to make the Constables a more challenging and reactive threat.

There are 1481 passages of interactive text.  This number will almost certainly round to 1500 during my editing process.  You’ll visit some of them many times, but there are some you’d better hope you never read.  There is calamity, tragedy and terror in these pages – as well as intrigue, wealth, surprise, adventure, sky-piracy, sous-cheffery, archaeology, arson, politics, woodsmanship, poaching, exorcism, angling, burglary and croquet.

This is the kind of book I always wanted gamebooks to be.

Ben is hard at work on a new cover for this followup to Steam Highwayman I.  So far, we’ve got all sorts of plans to make this a worthy successor – to match and surpass the first volume.

My plan is to launch a kickstarter later this summer to fund a full illustration and the best editing process that I can.  With the magic of print-on-demand and the wind in my sales, this could be the second Steampunk Adventure Gamebook in the series available this year.

 

Steam Highwayman II Nearing Completion

That’s right.  If you’ve been following my Twitter updates or returning to look at the natty graph below, you’ve now that Steam Highwayman II: Highways and Holloways passed 1000 passages in draft a short while ago and has been accelerating onward.

I’m not planning on going on forever – in fact I mean to complete a few large quests that will help tie the whole book together and then call this draft finished.

What does that mean?  Well, I’ll be putting the book through an editing, proofing and checking process after that and then proceed to lay out the book interior – one of the jobs I enjoyed the most during SH1.  I’ve also been discussing and commissioning a cover design with Ben and have seen his first sketches.

A lot of what I used to get Steam Highwayman 1 published is still standing: I even have an ISBN number reserved for SH2.  Today I’ve been going over the numbers to plan a second Steam Highwayman Kickstarter to run during this summer.  Exactly when… will depend.

The Kickstarter will run much like the previous one, allowing keen backers to help contribute to the costs of the project, receive a written acknowledgement in the book and a copy ahead of general release.  However, I am discussing extra reward levels with Ben and am hoping to be able to reveal a particularly exciting way you could play a part in the book quite soon.  If there are things you’d like to see as part of the campaign, please let me know.

I’m hoping that a good proportion of my backers from KS1 will be keen to fund the sequel so they can expand their adventure, but I’m also hoping to broaden Steam Highwayman’s appeal to new readers, who will be able to receive copies of both books as rewards.

I received a nice message recently from a member of the online gamebook community who has been on a bit of a spree and bought SH1 online: his picture of Smog and Ambuscade and his comments really made my day.  If you’ve enjoyed volume 1 – and particularly if you bought it online – please recommend it with Amazon’s review system.  You don’t have to write a lot and you don’t have to have bought it through their shop, but online reviews are a really crucial part of increasing the project’s visibility.

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.

Steam Highwayman I Live on Amazon

Writing this is a watershed moment for me. The process of writing and self-publishing a book has changed my self-perception significantly. I love to try new things, to start projects and to come up with ideas – but pushing on through the delivery of long projects has always tested me. Today I can say that I have brought an entirely self-supported project to completion: from an idea I had in 2010, through refining my intention in 2016, writing the book in early 2017, finding and collaborating with an excellent illustrator in Ben May, managing and completing a Kickstarter campaign in September 2017, marketing and promoting the project through the autumn and winter, editing and proofing and finally to organising the printing and worldwide distribution of my book, I have had to motivate and organise myself as never before. Nobody has given me a deadline and no-one else has stood between me and my mistakes: I have learnt to persist in pressing on to achieve my own intention.

Of course I’ve had a lot of help. The Lord, first of all, has answered every prayer – sometimes quite miraculously. My wife Cheryl has constantly encouraged me to continue and to believe in myself as she believes in me. The generous and trusting attitude of almost two hundred Kickstarter backers gave me the capital I needed to produce a high-quality gamebook. The interest and support of many in the online and real-world gamebook and steampunk communities has kept me motivated and allowed the project to grow.

So now I go to work on the next part of the journey: a book which will develop and respond to the best things and the difficulties of writing Smog and Ambuscade. I’m tweaking my writing method, the mechanics of the gamebook and my marketing strategies. I’m investing time and energy in face-to-face meetings and maintaining a strong online presence. And I’m allowing my imagination to take wings… Or rather, to build pressure. Steam Highwayman II: Highways and Holloways will be a new challenge, but I know this for sure: the heavy machine has begun to move. I am no longer stationary and I am picking up speed!

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.

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!