Decapod distractions

No, I’ve not been obsessed with lobsters for a whole month. But it is a full four weeks since I have been able to put any time into Steam Highwayman IV: Princes of the West, currently in draft. Since Delemand the Bull, I’ve been busy with my other work, ministering at church, raising my family and taking some holiday.

But today I’m back with a vengeance. A rest is good: by the end of March I was getting dry and rather frustrated with the difficulties of structuring a project as large as Steam Highwayman IV. A view weeks without directly thinking about it has allowed some things to rise to the surface – and one of those is lobster-potting.

Steam Highwayman was never meant to be simply a combat-based robbery simulator: the name was the best fit for an adventure within a realist Steampunk world. Originally I planned parallel tracks, a la Fabled Lands, for your main character: you could be a gambler, a rat-catcher, a chimney-sweep, a detective etc… In the end, each of these has become a minor quest within the Steam Highwayman world – and to be honest, I doubt Steam Ratcatcher would have grabbed as committed an audience or proven to be as sustainable a project.

But Cornwall isn’t Cornwall without the coast, and the coast isn’t the coast without fishing. Or lobsters. Taking Steam Highwayman to sea, not just along a river, like in the first three books, will prove to be a big piece of work. Fabled Lands and Legendary Kingdoms have both done it, with varied success – some of which I mean to mimic. But unless the Steam Highwayman can skipper a craft out beyond (or below…?) the Imperial blockade and bring back contraband, I’ll miss the greatest opportunity of a Cornish gamebook: smuggling. And the flipside of smuggling is fishing.

So lobster-potting – which is a little more about patience, rather more static, and certainly as luck-based – is my starting place. And to be honest, isn’t there something very steampunk about lobsters? I just read The Swordfish and the Star here in the library, which was really a sort of third-person collected memoir of Cornish life, and a great deal of it was about the hard lives of western Cornish fishermen.

It’s also been a bit of time to take stock. My self-built website shop, the Highwayman’s Hamper, has begun to make profit, and I’ve been sending off the remaining copies of the Gormley-Watt Touring Guide. I’ve invested some of those takings (each sale makes me double what an Amazon or bookshop sale makes me) into a trader’s spot at the upcoming Fighting Fantasy Fest 5 in Ealing, hosted by Jon Green. At this rate, I might not have too many remaining Touring Guides to sell, but I have a lot of loose maps, and it’s always great to be present in person at this event: it is really the only convention for gamebooks anywhere. Two years ago, I was bringing samples of Saga… Back at Fighting Fantasy Fest 2, my first, I was dropping flyers for the Kickstarter for Steam Highwayman: Smog & Ambuscade and giving free samples to influencers…! I’m very grateful to Jon for all he’s done to keep the flame burning in the recent decades, as he bridged the gap between the first golden age of gamebooks and the current renaissance, as well as running the convention.

In fact, if you fancy supporting him and the subject takes your fancy, he is currently kickstarting the most recent in his series of Ace Gamebooks: Shakespeare Vs Cthulu: What Dreams May Come.

But I’ve got to get back to lobsters before I can get onto Kickstarter again. I love running a crowd-funding project – I’ve discovered that they’re a part of this career of being an independent author that I actually really enjoy – and I’d love to get SH4 up there before the end of the year… So I’d better finish with the lobster-potting, the smuggling, the ambushes, the main quest, the inter-book links, the beer descriptions, the illustration briefs, the cover illustration brief, the marketing preparations, the playtesting, the issuing to playtesters, the editing and correcting…