And here is Russ’s rendition of that wonder of nineteenth-century prefabrication, Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, which housed the Great Exhibition. Not bad for a gardener from Derbyshire, eh? Paxton, not Russ. Russ is Scottish. And not a gardener. Not primarily, anyway.
I’ve just posted my fifteenth fortnightly update for the Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis Kickstarter, in which I describe my recent writing efforts, give some sneak peeks at maps and mention what’s next in the plan!
And this is my best attempt yet at drawing out a legible, useful and atmospheric map for The Reeking Metropolis – out by the end of the year.
One thing I love about maps is the density of information – but that is also one of the things that makes them hard to create! This is very heavily based on the Ordnance Survey 1885-1900 One Inch map of London, available online courtesy of the National Library of Scotland. It’s not a copy or a screenshot, but a digital tracing, with my own exaggeration of the most important routes through the city for a desperate velosteamer.
It also includes my first attempt at using icons for several of the most important locations. Yes, I did begin with the pubs (which are almost completely written).
I had made a few prior attempts, but this seems to work because of the negative space around the irregular city ‘blocks’, which indicates the main roads and gives an impression of a much more complex city. Once again, like with every volume I’ve written so far, I’ve realised that I could have chosen a much smaller area for the reader to explore and still had a jam-packed book. So be it: I guess everyone writing open-world gamebooks (all 2/3 of us currently?) must feel like this. @Paul Gresty? @Oliver Hulme?
Anyway, I’d love some feedback from readers of Steam Highwayman. What works for you with the current maps in Smog and Ambuscade and Highways and Holloways? I’ve received some criticisms that these need more labels. Do you agree? Does every location – small and large – need to be identified on the map? Is that what you want in a map? And then, if you’re a backer who pledged for the large maps, do you feel the same? Please give me your views. Perhaps you have some specific critiques of the map above – or something that you think has to be included?
You’re not the only seeker of adventure to find your way into the Reeking Metropolis. That rascally lady of the burnt rose is back to stir up trouble among the wealthy… and she has her eyes on the greatest treasure in the capital. Will you become partners in crime or rivals? Will you earn her respect and friendship, or will the bump on your head from Cliveden Ball remind you of your grudge?
Something I’ve always wanted to do is to explicitly celebrate the pubs of Steam Highwayman. Every one featured in the series is based on – and usually, named directly after – a real, visitable pub in our very own timeline. And now that the Kickstarter for Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis has raised an incredible £10,000 in pledges, I’ll be producing a trio of special maps and a printed guide to the regions, which will feature reviews of every single pub.
The page above is my first attempt at a mockup, and it has its own story to tell. The image is my own pen and ink, but heavily inspired by a certain poster I once saw in an Oxford bookshop…
When I was still in the process of writing Steam Highwayman I: Smog and Ambuscade, before had any experience of publishing or working with an illustrator, I was looking for someone to draw my world and the pictures for my gamebook. I knew a few illustrators and I had received some help refining exactly what I was looking for and writing a brief, but I had no strong leads. The people I knew weren’t about to jump into a new project, or to draw what I was looking for: monochrome, classic, pen and ink, with an exciting sense of movement and a realistic take on steampunk. Where to find such an illustrator.
One evening as I was praying on the balcony of our flat, I distinctly heard the word ‘Oxford’ in my mind’s ear. It popped into my head accompanied by a sudden sense of peace and a release from the worry I’d been accumulating about how I would ever find myself a collaborator. So the very next day, I drove to Oxford.
I didn’t have a particular plan or destination, but reached Oxford around lunchtime. I walked around for a short time and entered Blackwell’s art shop. There, just inside the door, was a fine poster of the pubs of Oxford, drawn in pen and ink, in a fine, confident style.
It took me a little while to work out what I should do, but I eventually plucked up the courage to speak to the person behind the desk and to ask if the illustrator of the poster was local, and if they knew how I could contact them.
“This poster?” asked the young man behind the counter.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’m the artist,” he said.
And that’s how I met Ben May, who designed the Ferguson velosteam and illustrated the first two volumes of my adventure: the power of prayer and a good pub drawing.
Russ has sent me a finished version of his first illustration for Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis, and I love it! From the fancy footwork to the flying gobbets of blood, the leashed dog and the multitude of hats.
I’ve also released another five slots at the SPONSOR A LIKENESS pledge level in the Kickstarter Campaign: that’s five more lucky backers who can be drawn into the final book by Russ.
It’s not a simple question: there are as many different definitions of steampunk is as there are steampunks – plus a few more. Then, the way this idea translates to the hypothetical, allohistorical building of a city as iconic as London could be interpreted in as many ways. For Steam Highwayman, set in something like our 1860s but following countless minor (and a few major) divergences, that means I fancy a heavily realist steampunk – Marco Omnigamer called it a ‘light fantasy’ and wished for a few more aliens and mad scientists. This is largely because of my original inspiration born from Keith Roberts’ Pavane, but also due to some of the tools I’ve used since then to help build my world, chief among them the historical OS maps available through the National Library of Scotland.
With this in mind, I’ve been keen to push some of the more fantastic elements of my world, so working and talking with Russ has been a great shove. I have to make real effort to prevent my adventures becoming too mundane and realistic – a recent criticism I’m mulling over – so I don’t want the illustrations for Steam Highwayman III to have the same problem.
So what do you think the Steam Highwayman’s London looks like? One faithful backer recently sent me a collection of images and suggestions, expressing exactly this. We discussed the problem of the cliche of steampunk London, which uses buildings like ‘Big Ben’ (the Victoria Tower) and Tower Bridge as international shorthand for London, irrespective of the sense of them appearing in an alternate timeline. Neither have been – or will be – built in the Steam Highwayman’s world, but St Paul’s cathedral has been, so that can stay on the skyline. Maybe a world with less dominant railways might not build the Midland Hotel… but perhaps a similar building was built for other purposes? Are there other architectural landmarks that you think should feature in the illustrations? Let me know and some of them may well end up, thanks to Russ, in the book.