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

749

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!