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.

Writing to Music

I’ve been writing for hours at a time again and it can be difficult, some days, to turn my mind and focus on an imaginary world when there are so many things to keep me in the everyday world.  Having a piece of music playing can help.  By filling up my ears, it over-rides part of my consciousness – the ‘internal editor’ that is constantly correcting and improving before I’ve even drafted.  But getting the right album or long track is tricky.

Good writing music is melodic.  Some classical music does this, but film or game soundtrack is more reliable – the themes that repeat and develop are much easier to grasp.  Soundtracks are also explicitly written to create atmosphere, which is the other big reason for writing to music alongside focus.

When I’m writing cyberpunk – or gastropunk – I rely on Vangelis – either the extended Blade Runner soundtrack or his album The City.  Melody a-plenty, but I don’t get too distracted from what I’m writing because I know the pieces so well.

I’ve been focusing on Steam Highwayman II for the last week and so Blade Runner doesn’t match at all.  Following a few comments by Jonathan Green, who also writes to music, I discovered the soundtrack to Skyrim.  I only know the game through watching a few playthrough videos and (mercifully for my schedule) have never had a computer that could run a large CRPG, but I was really impressed both with the composition by Jeremy Soule and the simple arrangement into a long track by TheSagaris2.  This is perfect writing music – no jarring transitions, plenty of atmosphere, loads of melody, easy to get to know.

The sound might feel pretty open and natural, so it doesn’t fit the world of Steam Highwayman too well, but it certainly suits the writing of it.  I mean to post soon about my search for a ‘Steam Highwayman sound’ and what sort of music sounds steampunk to me.  Let me know if you’d be interested in reading that – or listening to a curated list.

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.

 

150% – and rising!

Steam Highwayman has now hit 150% funding over on Kickstarter and although the recent few days have seen fewer new backers, it’s still very encouraging to hear from keen gamebook and steampunk fans from all over the world.  Recently, Thailand appeared on my radar!

I’ve had a few days working on more mundane things, including laying a friend’s lawn, but I’ve also been preparing a parallel mini-project that I hope will attract even more backers.  I’ll be moving into a new social media platform as well as making more of Smog and Ambuscade available to, er, read…  So watch out for another announcement tomorrow!

Gamebook Page Mockup

I’ve been experimenting today with different styles of illustration and layout, using Microsoft Publisher and my own two hands (though mainly the right one). Result: a mockup that resembles a page of my finished gamebook.  Illustrations all my own, with Mitsubishi uniball micro.  Font is Georgia: nicely serifed, not too full-on.

A Whiff of the Workshop – Steam Highwayman

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You manage to haul the struggling engineer onto the back of your velosteam and ride off towards West Wycombe. She is not at all impressed when you unload her in front of Lord Dashwood, but despite herself she is fascinated by the steam carriage he is building. He has called it the Wagtail and its sleek aluminium lines are quite captivating.
Lord Dashwood takes you aside. “Good work,” he says, handing you a purse of guineas (1260d). “I knew she’d see sense.”
The three of you get to work on the engine, but after a week’s tinkering and tuning, involving many trial runs, Lalage Harris puts down her tools. “We need a stronger material for the shafts and cylinders. There’s a titanium alloy that people have been using that is what we need, but it’s not easy to get hold of.”
Lord Dashwood claps you on the shoulder. “If anyone can get hold of it, you can! I put prodigious faith in you. Bring me that alloy and you can name your price.”

Leave West Wycombe House…                                                  492

Here’s a single passage from my current Steam Highwayman gamebook.  It’s an open-world steampunk adventure set around Marlow, High Wycombe and Maidenhead.  Rob the wagons of Transport Guilds, intercept the telegrams of the Compact for Worker’s Rights, ride the midnight roads of Berkshire and find lasting fame – through ruthlessness or mercy!