This Intriguing Cornish Cove Inspires Underwater Steampunk Adventure…

How was that for a clickbait title? Did I do it right? Ridiculous headlines are everywhere now – A Peaceful Town Just 1hr 30mins from London Where Every House is Grade II Listed. Are these generated for us? Do the ones you get suggested look anything like that? Similar grammatical structure and differing content?

I saw a meme the other day that contrasted Google, the search engine of the noughties, which presented the contents of the internet, with the modern Google experience, that offers you some sponsored content, some where-to-purchase options, a ‘personalised’ suggestion and then finally what can actually be found out here on the internet. And it has contributed to a feeling I have that the internet is like this generation’s Tower of Babel… An almighty achievement of humanity striving to be like gods, communicating effortlessly together to do business and build to great heights.

But you know how that story ended. And I wonder if we’re on the cusp of something catastrophic, when all that we have begun to take for granted – functional supply lines, and a network of energy and information and commerce – gets tangled up by the complexity of the very system we have collectively created. The internet is chaotic and all the systems of distribution and communication that depend on it are efforts to impose order where there is no real underlying order. Like waves on a vast ocean – patterns that exist when you look for them, but overlaid on a mass of movement in a thousand directions.

But that wasn’t what the title of this post led you to think about, was it? That was merely my slightly gloomy musings on late-stage capitalism expressed. Because I also have to admit that the internet makes my career as a writer possible. Clearly, I can write and publish on a website and you can read this – and remote print-on-demand and storefront services get my books manifested from digital to physical and in your hands. But also in the actual writing stage. It looks a bit like this.

Here’s Roward’s Quay, just north of Chapel Point, south of St Austell on the south Cornish Coast. Months and months ago, when I was building a coastal map that would allow the diversification of the Steam Highwayman’s portfolio to include smuggling, I came across this tiny inlet with an intriguing name on the 1892-1914 OS 25inch series published by the National Library of Scotland. If you’re a regular reader, you know how much I love these. So I thought, yes, why not? Most of my interaction are small towns and fishing ports, but I’m going to need some interesting coves and cliffs for putting illegal cargo ashore. Roward’s Quay is in!

Fast forward to today, when I’ve been writing in East Ham Library and set myself the theoretical target of completing Barnstaple – the town in north Devon I’ve been populating with quests, sub-locations and so on. But something drew me to fill in a gap as I scrolled through my draft – this happens a lot – and I decided I’d visit Roward’s Quay.

The power of the internet is that not only can I access vintage maps, but modern ones – including satellite imagery like this drawn from Google. There are houses on Roward’s Point now – but you can see that little rectangular cove there still, isolated and perfect for a small boat putting contraband ashore. I wonder if anyone has posted any photographs?

Here’s Chapel Point from the South-West path, just north of Roward’s Quay. Hmm. Enchance 203 to 608.

Aha. Deckard, eat your heart out. Mr Darren Walden posted this image of seals hauled out on the shingle in February this year – 2024. Quite a fresh picture by Google Photos’ standard. And not only can I see the cove and better imagine exactly what it might be like to come ashore at the dark of the moon, but also I’ve got a brand new piece of information: seals like to haul out here! I think these might be Grey seals – but I am far from an expert. They look like nice content. Perhaps their barking could give you away to the Constables? Perhaps you could hunt them for their skins… Or is that simply a leftover piece of Saga I feel compelled to include.

Hang on. I’ve actually got two sea maps to write for Princes of the West. One on the surface and one… underwater. I’m unsure if this is going to make it into the final edit and I might actually hold it back as a stretch goal for the Kickstarter. But steampunk = submarines and has ever since Monsieur Verne… I recently gave Nemo’s Fury a read and was certainly prompted to try my own version of a submarine – or ‘nethundical’ adventure.

So what will you do at Roward’s Quay underwater… Imagining that the sea is clear enough to see through. I’d better include two new items (oh no! Not more items!): a diving suit and a harpoon. Excellent.

Perhaps this is classic feature creep, but I’ve also learned over the process of writing Steam Highwayman that I have to indulge my imagination at times: these can be some of the most fun-to-write and most original sections in my gamebooks. Readers like the random stuff – I had feedback a while ago about someone enjoying becoming a sky-high sous-chef in Highways & Holloways. And I need to write it, not simply the mechanical stuff that is more about balanced gameplay, to ensure I still enjoy myself doing this.

So I’m thinking that the undersea section of Princes of the West might total around 200 passages and they have some neat mechanics just for them. That makes about 25 pages or 20,000 words, which . A gamebook of 1522 passages or 276 pages (like The Reeking Metropolis) costs £6.46 to print at present. 1722 passages or just under 300 pages increases the print cost by 5.9% to £6.84 – but not shipping or handling fees. Seems like a classic case of increasing the core product’s value to all backers – something that good crowdfunding campaigns need to focus on, rather than adding on extras that only work to sap energy from the main outcome.

What do you think? Risky? Perhaps I’ll write a few underwater passages, plan a network and leave most blank. Then backers can also suggest content, if they really want to get deeply involved. I can think of at least one who would – Mr Sennet? Or is this a distraction?

Current progress is around 700 passages completed, by the way.