Talking about the steam, smoke & mirrors set-up at the lincoln asylum steampunk festival
THE LINCOLN ASYLUM STEAMPUNK FESTIVAL 2019
It’s the biggest annual Steampunk event in Europe and the highlight of the Steampunk calendar, with more than 60,000 Steampunks and visitors entirely occupying the beautiful city of Lincoln.
And the Steam, Smoke & Mirrors stand was set up in the marquee within the Castle...
…just beside the 1820 purpose built ‘Lincoln Lunatic Asylum’
– they said it like it was in those days. And the stage was set.
Unfortunately, the SS&M stall wasn’t.
Here's what we started with…
…which progressed to this…
…until our publishers, Natalie and Darren Laws arrived to add the final flourish.
With a bit of pointing...
…and a bit of scheming…
…and the author, Colin Edmonds, stopping to pose for the camera (no change there) while his publisher busily gets on with it…
The final result was this! Exactly the look we were going for.
A Steampunk Library/Study.
Here’s a candid behind-the-scenes snack-break snap, before the castle gates were thrown open.
Here’s the latest addition to the SS&M display: may I present Mr Hatty.
A present from our lovely friend SteampunKimPerman.
On the first day, we revealed the front cover of the latest SS&M
- The Nostradamus Curiosity -
which will be published on 31st October.
Meanwhile, here’s a splendid Anime interpretation by my good friend, the brilliant Japanese film producer Abbey Masahiro!
Against their better judgement, a surprising number of Steampunks came over to say hello.
If I could grow a beard, I’d have it like this. And a fully functioning telescope!
And with five of the most magnificently dressed ladies at the Festival. Here are two of them. Please excuse the flagrant photobomber over to right.
Among them SS&M readers Becky and Richard aka
The Ring-Mistress and her trusty Henchmen.
With my good friends Myk and his Missus! Plus their tiny friend!
And here are the other three. Please excuse, what appears to be, my weird lighting rig hat.
Shooting a scene with model maker extraordinaire Pete Walton for Gary Nicholls’ The Imaginarium Trilogy - Vol. 2 “Robbie Pertwee” which will be out soon.
Onlookers were heard to be whispering:
“Why is the tall one wearing the mask when it’s the bald bloke who needs to?”
My personal highlight! With one of my genius Steampunk heroes. The greatly gifted and truly dapper Ian Crichton – aka the very famous Herr Doktor!
Finally, my thanks to the real brains of the outfit, the long-suffering and highly-supportive Kathryn Edmonds…
…and my publishers at Caffeine Nights, Natalie and Darren Laws – who all find drinking heroic quantities of strong coffee is the only thing that sustains them throughout the Asylum weekend when working with me. The SS&M Lincoln DreamSteamTeam.
Also, to everyone who agreed to allow their photos to appear - thank you, my friends. You helped make this year’s Lincoln Asylum Steampunk Festival
a tremendous success. I look forward to seeing you again.
Roll on Lincoln 2020!
THE PREPARATION FOR ASYLUM STEAMPUNK FESTIVAL 2019
AT LINCOLN BEGINS WITH MR SKULLY
About five years ago I bought a white plastic skull from a local Party Shop for about £5. I liked his startled look and at the flick of a switch his eyes flashed changing colours. The fact he still had his eyeballs intact made me smile as well.
Immediately he was given the name Skully for the simple reason that one day I plan to make a flesh decaying head, so then I could call them ‘Moulder & Skully’ – purely for my own amusement and very likely nobody else’s.
Shop-bought Skully looked fine in his own right but I wanted to press my not very good maker skills into service and drag him into the future past. Give him a kind of quasi Steampunk-Victorian-created-by-a-mad-scientist look. And thus the ‘crack on without a real plan’ began by aging the white plastic so it looked more like something the resurrectionists might have dug up from an Edinburgh graveyard. I also gave the old boy golden teeth, for no apparent reason, and highlighted his skull bone sutures.
Next he was adorned with various plumbing fitting and coggery I had lying about. My dad was a plumber, so the boxes of bits he left me are now enjoying a very useful second life. As you can see, rather than simply hang a pair of goggles on his face – which with no ears or a nose would have proved a problem – I thought I’d give one eye a more practical, industrialised look.
A couple of hefty springs on either side of his jaw gave him the suggestion of robotic mouth movement, and a decorated top hat lent him the hideous stage machine look I was hoping for.
Further fiddling gave his ‘good’ eye a mechanical look, and it was this version of Mr Skully we displayed for a couple of years at Comic Cons, the Manchester Timequake and the 2018 Lincoln Steampunk festival. Also, at some angles, the top hat makes him look thinner-in-the-face. Like he cares.
But most people who visit the Steam, Smoke & Mirrors stand have seen him now, so for the 2019 Lincoln gathering I thought Mr Skull could use a makeover. Rather than tinker with him – even a skull can’t handle too much plastic surgery – I decided to give his display a new look. What powers his flashing eyes? I mounted him on a more substantial oak-stained wooden plinth, and rigged him up via coiled copper wire to a couple of industrial-looking connecters and a Nik Tesla type mini-Aethyr generator.
With the advice and loan of stuff from the SS&M maker-consultant Barry Down, we dressed the corners with brassy angle brackets secured with slotted screws – always used slotted screws for period detail – and by mounting a decorative strip along the front of the plinth I hope we now give Mr Skully a more satisfying museum exhibit feel. And after all his makeovers he still only cost £5.
He’ll be flashing away on the SS&M stand in the marquee on the lawn at Lincoln Castle 24-26 August 2019. I’ll be there too. Do come over and say hello.
to dublin, in pursuit of bram stoker
In “The Lazarus Curiosity”, while following a line of enquiry into the black magic “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn”, Michael and Phoebe go backstage at London’s Lyceum Theatre to consult the great Bram Stoker.
Okay, I will concede Mr Stoker is possibly better known as the author of 13 novels, the most familiar being his 1903 curse of the mummy story, “The Jewel of the Seven Stars” which inspired the 1971 Hammer Film Production of “Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb”; along with his 1911 chiller “The Lair of the White Worm”, filmed 77 years later by Ken Russell; and his famous-the-world-over 1897 Gothic horror classic, “Dracula”.
The first edition of
on display in the Dublin Writers Museum.
Bram was a Dubliner, born in Clontarf on the northern outskirts of the city, so it was across the Irish Sea we traipsed to walk in the revered footsteps of an internationally renowned writer whose elegant vampire Count begat an entire creative industry.
Our first stop was the magnificent Dublin Writers Museum on the north side of Parnell Square.
Here Bram’s memory is celebrated alongside other great Irish literary heroes including Nobel laureates: Samuel Beckett and W. B. Yeats, along with Oscar Wilde, Dean Jonathan Swift and James Joyce.
The museum displays a first edition of “Dracula” (above), which is exhibited alongside a splendid bronze bust of Bram Stoker, seen here without a photobombing attention seeker...
...and which was sponsored by an incredible list of luminaries.
In 1876, after Bram published a favourable Dublin Evening Mail review of Henry Irving’s performance as Hamlet, Britain’s leading actor invited the writer to dinner at the magnificent Shelbourne Hotel.
The meeting began a lifelong friendship, with Bram agreeing to move to London and the Lyceum Theatre where, it’s generally believed, Henry Irving became the inspiration for Count Dracula.
“Ah. Welcome, Mr Stoker. Mr Irving is expecting you…”
One of the Dublin addresses at which Bram lived has become a place of pilgrimage for Stoker admirers – 30 Kildare Street.
With Dublin host, James Firm.
“Wait. I think we should lose the coat and the bag…”
Finally. A very happy Bram Stoker fan.
mcm comic con london
The May Bank Holiday weekend was spent helping Gary Nicholls on the Imaginarium stand at MCM Comic Con at the ExCel Convention Centre in London’s docklands.
Although SS&M did have a presence and, by the end of the weekend, made a very pleasing number of sales.
Gary Nicholls, lurking behind one of his magnificent props. https://g-n-p.co.uk/gary-nicholls/
In the Steampunk Emporium area, John Naylor’s magnificent ‘Fallout’ exhibits…
With one of the Fallout ‘Brotherhood of Steel’…
Up close and personal with a ‘Brotherhood of Steel’ helmet…
Comic Con always guarantees a meet up with stunning cosplay friends, old and new…
Rachel and Ben Knox…
Family members, before they changed into their costumes…
Elise and Stuart Simmonds…
“Steampunk Avengers Assemble!”
With the Wasp…
With Ant Man…
Trying to channel Robert Downey Jnr
And abjectly failing…
Two days of relentless standing and chatting can have this effect on an author…
Until the next time.
THE ‘STEAM, SMOKE & MIRRORS WHODUNNIT’ CURIOSITY
A visit to Chard Library in Somerset – 16th May 2019
It began with a conversation at Lincoln’s Steampunk Festival over the August Bank Holiday 2018. Steampunk fan Jo Portway, who was standing in a long queue, past the SS&M stand, for the stall next door (!), introduced herself as the head librarian at Chard Library, and asked if I gave ‘library talks’.
Because I owe such a massive debt of gratitude to libraries – I wouldn’t be typing this now if it hadn’t been for the Kensal Rise Library in north-west London, shaping my passion for books at a very early age – I happily agreed to visit Chard. I’m always keen to visit libraries, to bang on about their importance and field questions from the audience.
Photo ©Jo Portway
The stage is set…
Thanks to the creative industry of Jo and Debbie Grabham Ingham, the ‘library talk’ evolved into a ‘Steam, Smoke & Mirrors Murder Mystery Evening’, written by Jo and Debbie, with the proceeds going to the development of the library’s Wellbeing Zone.
Despite my advertised attendance, a capacity crowd of 60 citizens of Chard and the surrounding area packed into the library to polish their magnifying glasses, don their deerstalkers, and try to figure out ‘whodunnit’.
With Debbie Grabham Ingham and the cast.
With me playing Professor Artemus More, it was fascinating to watch the glorious cast, in full Steampunk outfits, embracing the characters and offering full-on performances.
Five sleuths correctly deduced the murderer, but only one named the killer and his motive for committing the foul crime.
A fun night with lovely people. Thank you Jo and the people of Chard.
It was a cold and wet Wednesday morning at the end of November in Chesham when the Steam, Smoke & Mirrors roadshow rolled in.
Okay, not so much a roadshow, more some man dressed as a steampunk Music Hall magician with a few props and some notes, along with hot coffee and cakes, hoping to pass a really splendid hour with 25 readers at Chesham Library.
The Chesham Library’s foyer display cabinet before we dressed it with eye-catching props.
The Chesham Library’s foyer cabinet after we packed it with eye-catching props.
Some people said they preferred the cabinet when it was empty.
In truth, the 48 glorious cupcakes, kindly baked by my associate Angela, proved to be a far greater incentive for people to come in.
The audience heard about my first job working on kids’ comic books, my years as a joke writer and then my latest incarnation as an author of detective mystery novels with a heavy Steampunk vibe.
They also learned of my huge passion for, and enormous gratitude to libraries. If it wasn’t for my local library fuelling my love of reading as a child, I would never have been inspired to attempt the career I’ve enjoyed for four decades.
Additionally, the crowd was subjected to my impersonations of performers of yesteryear.
“Ohh, ’ere, no, listen!”
“Well, I don’t really know, Vera!”
At the end of the talk we held a free raffle. Whoever’s name was drawn out of the top hat would have a character named after them in
“Steam, Smoke & Mirrors III – The Nostradamus Curiosity”
which will be published in 2019.
And the winner was:
Well done, Nigel.
Afterwards, apparently most of the people who came along later said it was ‘best chat by an author they’d heard at the Library’. (What they really said was ‘the best chat by an author they’d heard at the Library that day’)
A disgruntled visitor tries to make off with Mr. Garrideb.
While the author is caught outside trying to steal the sign.
Sincere thanks to everyone who came along to Chesham Library, to Library Manager Sally for taking a gamble and letting me loose on her readers and of course to Library Assistant Alice who organised and staged the event.
There are more library talks planned for next year.
But most importantly, please support your local library!
visit to the toothsome chocolate emporium
& savoury feast kitchen
…where the vivacious and glamorous hostess Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome and her Steampunk sidekick robot Jacques, having heard about SS&M and knowing we were in the area, invited us along.
With Professor Penelope and Steampunk robot Jacques. I’m used to people pointing and laughing…
Situated on City Walk at Universal Studios, Orlando, the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen (sic) has one of the longest possible names for an eaterie, but is a nifty description of what to expect.
You can’t miss the clanking cogs and soaring chimneys which dominate the exterior of the Emporium.
The Emporium offers what it calls “an array of gourmet-level chocolates and desserts
– all in a highly themed, unique environment”.
But if an orgy of sweet-stuff is not for you, the full-service restaurant lists a good range salads and vegetarian dishes, as well high-end starters and entrees.
Commercial, obviously, but I thought the Emporium was faithful to, and respectful of, the Steampunk genre. The staff fully embrace the concept with enthusiasm…
With my good friend Qasim!
… the design is stunning, the furnishings authentic – and if the venue inspires greater interest in Steampunk, then so much the better.
The attention to detail is impressive, the shelves are stacked with purpose-built gadgets and gizmos and the venue offers the only Steampunk giftshop in mid-Florida. And now, Steam, Smoke & Mirrors is there too.
Chocolate and Steampunk – what’s not to love?
6000 Universal Blvd., Orlando, FL 32819, USA
the construction of the ss&m stand hoarding
The Steam, Smoke and Mirrors stand for events and exhibitions continues as a work in progress. I wish I could devote a whole lot more time to building and designing which is great fun (until it goes wrong and then the cursing starts) but writing book 3 “The Nostradamus Curiosity” and other commissions – amazingly I still sometimes occasionally get ’em – have to take priority.
Anyway, for this year’s Lincoln Steampunk event I really wanted to build some kind of signage to run across the front of the stand. And I realise you’ll only see the sign from a distance, anyone standing close up will never notice it’s there, but the thinking was to maximise interest in the stand with something visual that was relevant to the genre.
Having put together a sign displaying the name of my publisher Caffeine Nights for the 2017 Manchester Timequake event, the natural progression was to depict the words ‘Steam, Smoke & Mirrors’ in the same copper-pipe way. The C.N. sign, constructed in copper pipe and pinned to a wooden backboard, looked okay but weighed a ton.
If I was going to take on the SS&M signage I needed to address two transportation problems. Size and weight.
I was discussing this with my construction advice guru, Barry Down, and he suggested plastic pipe. Particularly 15-millimetre plastic irrigation tubing. Light as a feather and far easier to cut to size. And guess what. Barry had a coil of the stuff he could give me.
I’d still need to use copper elbows and tees to form the letters and maintain rigidity, but clipping the predominantly plastic words to a hardboard background would give me a hoarding with more letters than the C.N. sign but which came in at a quarter of the tonnage.
The first job was to measure and plan out the letters on paper to see how they’d shape up and centralise on the board. You can see here on my template I’d got the shape of the letter ‘e’ wrong. Twice.
Then it was a case of measuring and cutting the lengths of plastic pipe to size, for each letter. And as you may know, measuring and me are never happy bedfellows.
Next, with all the letters formed and fixed into place using builder’s silicon, I laid them in the paint tray and gently sprayed each shape a golden copper colour, along with a bunch of rivet-shaped buttons for a bit of additional decoration. Rivets figure frequently in the Vernian/ Harper Goff/Victorian world of Steampunk construction. And this time I wasn’t planning on going overboard with the green verdigris – I’m not convinced it came out terribly well on the C.N. sign project.
The plain, flat hardboard/MDF back plate hoarding on which I’d mount the letters threatened to look a little dull, so for added interest, I used four boards 915mm x 610mm (3’ x 2’). Out of two I jigsaw-ed a framing shape which when glued onto the baseplates of the two remaining sheets gave both halves of the hoarding a kind of 3-D effect.
With the glue dry and the backboards sprayed matt black, it was ‘just’ a case of laying out the letters and fixing them in place using regular pipe clips. The dot (called a ‘tittle’, apparently) placed over the ‘i’ was a gold sprayed cog.
Daisy jumped up on the board to inspect – and was not entirely impressed.
With the ‘rivets’ drilled and glued in position I added an array of large cogs in the yawning spaces at either end, for additional interest.
Then, with the project all but complete, I had to endure a final inspection from Cat Critic, who turned her nose up at the whole thing.
Despite Daisy’s reaction, this is the finished project with a just a suggestion of verdigris added here and there…
…and in mid set-up at our first Lincoln location, here’s the “Steam Smoke & Mirrors” signage set in place, with me clearly unable to comprehend where the camera is.
A splendid day out
…was really a Splendid Weekend, a gathering of hundreds of Steampunk enthusiasts and fascinated visitors from all over Britain and abroad. Rose, Ian and Rob who curate the event, invited us to be part of their Steampunk Arts & Literary Festival, “The Arts of Steam”.
We were very flattered, of course, but did wonder if my presence at a ‘Literary’ Festival would contravene the 1968 Trades Descriptions Act.
The venue for The Arts of Steam was the iconic Winter Gardens Theatre, on Morecambe’s Marine Road Central.
Built in 1897 as the Victoria Pavilion – designed by Mangall and Littlewood with help from our hero and the Professor’s good friend Frank Matcham – the theatre was an extension of the existing Winter Gardens entertainment complex, which comprised a ballroom, an aquarium, open air bathing pools and several drinking dens.
© Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust
In fact, Michael Magister played the Victoria Pavilion not long after it opened, which is something I must mention in the next book. Laurel and Hardy, Wilson Keppel & Betty, Sir Edward Elgar, Dame Shirley Bassey and Sir Ken Dodd are just some of the performers who’ve trodden those hallowed boards.
The Winter Gardens closed in 1977 and the ballroom building was pulled down five years later. Mercifully, the theatre was listed as a Grade II building "representing a significant aspect of Morecambe's entertainment industry" and escaped demolition. 12 years ago, the now crumbling property was bought by The Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust and their tremendous work, with the help of passionate volunteers, restoring what’s left of the magnificent Victorian infrastructure has progressed since then. Once again, The Winter Gardens is a working venue.
You can learn more about the theatre and how to support the continuing renovations and up-keep here:
The surviving original Victorian features are stunning.
Rare bow-fronted box office stalls.
Stunning stained glass designs.
Externally, the exquisite iron work on the canopy and gates.
This is the view of the stage from the audience's point of view…
…and the auditorium from a performer’s perspective.
Here’s the sparse Steam, Smoke & Mirrors stand before we set up.
And here it is after.
The copper pipe proscenium-effect lighting rig is an experimental new addition to the stand.
A young member of the SS&M team rehearses her: “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him before he ran out of steam...” soliloquy.
This was the programme of Steampunk events over the weekend
– entertaining and extensive.
I know. Not only did Gary Nicholls and I somehow find ourselves on the same bill as brilliant Steampunk writers Rosie Garland, Andy Frazer, and from America David Lee – but we were following the legendary author and Steampunk God – K W Jeter!
Here’s the great man on stage at the Winter Gardens, Morecambe, reading an extract from his Steampunk classic novel “Infernal Devices”.
And here’s Gary Nicholls and me strutting our stuff to a packed audience of enthralled fans…who, in all honesty, probably only came over for a sit down.
To see Gary’s excellent work, take a look at: http://www.imaginariumtrilogy.co.uk/
The highlight of the weekend, and it rarely gets better than this: me with K W Jeter, the man who in 1987 originated the expression 'Steampunk'.
Date for diary – “A Splendid Day Out” returns to Morecambe in October.
The Bank Holiday weekend at London’s MCM Comic Con at the ExCel Convention Centre in Docklands was, as ever, a great occasion and a triumph for not only everyone who came along in their finest cosplay outfits, but also for book sales. Steam, Smoke & Mirrors sold out completely and The Lazarus Curiosity was left with two copies remaining. Everyone said, “How did that happen?”
This time I was situated within the Steampunk Emporium, the very heart of the country’s, probably the world’s, greatest Steampunk creative community.
And, the inspired genius I am honoured to call a friend, Gary Nicholls, the concept artist, photographer and author of “The Imaginarium" generously invited me to share some of his space...
...which meant I could enjoy the visual splendour of some of Gary’s stunning photographic scenes as a back drop.
To learn more about “Eva’s Story”, book one in Gary’s magnificent Dickensian-Hogarthian Steampunk epic, I urge you to go to:
...and be ready to be blown away!
© Gary Nicholls Photography
Minor in comparison, but a talking point among Steampunk enthusiasts nevertheless, was the Spectrascope, about more of which you can find on the Props Workshop page.
Steampunk fan Sacha
Oleen and Robert
Steampunk fan Chelsea
As always, the Steampunk community came dressed to impress.
Steampunk enthusiast Nasrieen
A big surprise was being hunted down by ‘The Walking Dead’ expert (no irony there) Jack Longbon, whose mum Pauline was a great friend and work colleague back in my early days on comics at IPC Magazines, what, forty-odd years ago. I knew Jack when his mum was carrying him. Naturally, he afforded the budding Steampunk author the kind of respect he deserved…
An essential part of any Steampunk gathering is the presence of my good friend, top man, Jos…
…and his beloved, Dee – genius style gurus both, and who have started to advise me on what to wear at Steampunk conventions – no, more importantly – what not to wear!
And! And! For me, no Comic Con would be complete without catching up with two of the most knowledgeable Dr. Who experts I know, my friends, Will Reverend-Magister Reid and Daniel Brown, here with the Tardis, constructed by the brilliant Professor Tinker. The Clockwork Droid photobombing the shot was beautifully made by Elsie Tinker.
Will and Danny
And on the subject of photobombers, the SS&M director of photography, Stephen Smith, clearly felt I was beginning to indulge myself far too much with shaky or out of focus selfies. But clearly drink had been taken.
But after three busy, full-on days of Comic Con; chatting, selling and spending time with the nicest people you could ever wish to meet, you still tend to finish up looking like this.
But roll on the next one!
bardaid literary festival 2018
On Saturday 12th May, I was invited to mooch along to the Victory Hall in the beautiful village of Long Marston in Buckinghamshire to help support The Bardaid Literary Festival 2018.
Bardaid is a terrific charity run by Donna Daniels-Moss and Paul Eccentric aka one half of the punk poetry duo ‘The Antipoet’, which raises funds to buy books from independent writers to donate to cash-strapped school libraries, or to create libraries where none currently exist. Their latest project is to convert a dilapidated stable block at Animal Antiks School, a place of learning on a farm for young adults and special needs children, into the eagerly anticipated Stable Library.
Paul Eccentric flourishing the Festival poster
Last year Bardaid bought the decommissioned, faded-red village telephone box in Long Marston, and after much renovation converted the old eyesore into a new community library.
A previous project was to build a library in the only place with space at a special measures school – the broom cupboard. The books-in-the-broom-cupboard was such an inspirational hit that the library has now found its own dedicated room and the brooms have got their cupboard back.
You can find out more about Bardaid here: https://www.rrrants.com
As you know, my passion for libraries stems from childhood and if it hadn’t been for Kensal Rise Library firing my passion for books and reading, I wouldn’t be sitting here now typing this missive.
The Authors’ Panel fielding questions from right to left: playwright Dave Florez; Sunday Times best-seller Carole Matthews; crime novelist Dave Sivers; punk academic and writer Helen McCookerybook; Dr. Who and fantasy author Paul Magrs; and stuck on the end, some bald bloke.
Here's what the local press had to say:
The day was a triumph, much cash was raised and it was terrific, for me, to meet and enjoy the company of such a diverse range of talented writers.
And if Donna and Paul were to invite me back, I’d not only be amazed but, I’d drop everything to be at the Bardaid Literary Festival 2019!
WHERE THE SUB-PLOT THICKENS
Early doors in The Lazarus Curiosity, Scotland Yard’s Head of Special Branch, Superintendent William Melville, cajoles Michael and Phoebe into London for a top secret, late night assignation.
Melville directs them to Maiden Lane, one of the oldest streets in London, which runs parallel with the Strand. Secrecy of paramount importance. Except Phoebe promptly duffs up a couple of abusive toffs while Michael is clocked and loudly greeted by comic actor Harry Nicholls, who happens to be standing on the other side of the lane, supping a post-show beverage outside The Peacock pub. So much for keeping a low profile.
By the way, The Peacock which had served foaming flagons of ale at 14 Maiden Lane since the 1830s is now a burger joint, but a photograph of how the pub used to be can be found here:
The Peacock stood a few doors down from the stage door of The Royal Adelphi Theatre, where Harry Nicholls was appearing in a show called “The Secret Service”. (It’s worth taking a look at the Deleted Scenes chapter on this website.)
Here’s Harry, pictured in his younger days when he was a stalwart of Theatre Royal, Drury Lane pantomimes before signing up in the mid 1890s for regular roles in all manner of Adelphi melodramas.
Okay, yes, it’s a bit late to announce that because the picture at the top of this piece is a giveaway, but after the dust-up and the shouting match Melville sneaks Michael and Phoebe into Rules: the oldest restaurant in London, opened first as an oyster bar by Thomas Rule in 1798.
The wall lamp found at Rules is certainly an original of the Victorian era, but historians and experts are divided about the security camera. It’s just a shame the Victorian photographer chopped the lid off the lamp.
Over the next century, Rules became one of the most significant restaurants in Britain, with famous faces becoming frequent diners.
Not being lazy, but quite honestly this close up of the sign outside sums up the history of the place far more succinctly than I ever could. You might have to squint a bit…
It was at Rules that Edward, the Prince of Wales, would meet with one of his most famous mistresses, the actress Lillie Langtry. To maintain the secrecy of their assignations and avoid recognition, the restaurant allowed Edward and Lillie to use a private side entrance. We were assured this was the door they used.
The haunting apparitions reflected in the glass are not the restless spirits of long dead Victorians but the haunting apparitions of the SS&M team.
In the novel, Michael and Phoebe are ushered through the door and up this flight of stairs…
...at the top, they are met by the Maitre d’…
… and then led into this private dining room where they encounter Lillie Langtry.
This is the actual room where Prince Edward and Lillie Langtry would meet for dinner…
In The Lazarus Curiosity, Lillie is found sitting at a table set for two in front of that leaded window. The shield wasn’t there at the time.
They are joined by the Prince of Wales, and the sub-plot of the black magic portrait and Michael and Phoebe’s encounters with Oscar Wilde and Aleister Crowley gets under way.
Without sounding too Trip Advisor, Rules is a wonder. History and atmosphere seep from the fabric of the unspoilt restaurant. Heroes of mine, Henry Irving, H G Wells, Chaplin, Keaton, Stan Laurel and more recently Ralph Fiennes playing M in ‘Spectre’, have all sampled the extensive menu. The walls are lined with apposite cartoons, photographs and portraits, historic and contemporary, of almost every famous face who came by in the last 200 years.
Sir John Betjamin, no slouch he when it came to lyrical appreciation of history and art, decreed that Rules was “unique and irreplaceable, and part of literary and theatrical London”.
And on the subject of literary stuff, a quick reminder that the plaque outside states that the restaurant “…has also appeared in novels by Rosamond Lehmann, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Dick Francis and Claire Rayner.”
As yet there’s no mention of “The Lazarus Curiosity” – but I’m not holding my breath. It’s enough that myself and the SS&M team got to enjoy the Rules experience. Sunday lunch, checking location details and channelling the world of Queen Victoria. A nice touch – the name of our charming and indefatigable waiter? Albert.
(With website Producer, Lady Angel A. Ryder, under the stern gaze of Lillie Langtry)
VW camper van
For me, one of the many highlights of the Time Quake Steampunk Convention held this Easter at the BEC Arena in Manchester was Steve Kay’s Steampunk’d VW Camper Van. It is a roadster of aesthetic beauty and utter genius.
I now wish I’d spent less time posing beside, and more time snapping photos to highlight the thousands of exquisite details to be seen inside.
But there’s an extensive collection of pictures I found on this website. https://survivor79.smugmug.com/STEAMPUNK/STEVE-KAYS-STEAM-PUNK-VOLKSWAGEN-CAMPER/
And knowing I don’t have the artistic chops to begin re-creating, or even owning a VW Camper Van like this, as it was Easter, Natalie Laws at Caffeine Nights very kindly bought me…this chocolate version.
Trouble is, it’s too lovely to eat.
ONE LOCATION WHICH FREQUENTLY FEATURES IN “THE LAZARUS CURIOSITY” is The Macclesfield Bridge, which spans the Regent’s Canal, affording access to Regent's Park from the Prince Albert Road in north west London.
With its three arches constructed in 1812 by an assistant to the Regency architect, John Nash, this road bridge was considered the most beautiful on the canal.
Michael and Phoebe cross the Macclesfield Bridge under cover of darkness while scoping out Dr. Phunn’s Regent’s Park set-up for his Carnival of Mechanical Miracles. It’s also the scene where the nefarious unemployed undertakers Drago and Skrill receive their ‘kidnap Wu Hu’ instructions from the duplicitous police officer, P.C. Whurld.
In the Steam, Smoke & Mirrors novels, Michael Magister lives aboard a ‘conspicuously anonymous’ canal barge called “The Legerdemain” moored at Little Venice (see the Locations tab for photographs of exactly where). So it’s of little comfort to Michael when, while crossing the Macclesfield Bridge, Phoebe tells him of a fatal barge accident which occurred twenty-five years earlier on the canal directly beneath them.
It seems on the morning of 2nd October 1874, the steam tug ‘Ready’ was chugging north destined for a colliery in Nottinghamshire, drawing a convoy of barges: the ‘Jane’, the ‘Dee’ and the ‘Tilbury’, with the ‘Limehouse’ and the ‘Hawksbury’ bringing up the rear. Just before dawn, the ‘Tilbury’ exploded with devastating ferocity. As Phoebe points out, this was an accident waiting to happen, because the cargo being transported was a volatile mix of half a dozen barrels of petrol, four tons of gunpowder, alongside a combustible consignment of sugar and nuts. It’s not really known what caused the ‘Tilbury’ to be blown to pieces and the ‘Limehouse’ sunk, but all the barge steersmen smoked pipes and each of the barge cabins was fitted with a coal-fired cooking stove…
Three crewmen aboard the ‘Tilbury’, Charles Bexson, William Taylor and Jonathan Holloway, were killed instantly. The force of the blast was heard fifteen miles away, causing damage to nearby mansions (including the partial destruction of the house of the park keeper) and windows two miles away to be shattered. Cages at London Zoo were damaged, animals traumatised and some reports suggest several exotic birds escaped. The brick-built bridge was completely destroyed, but the cast iron support columns, though toppled, remained largely intact.
Mercifully, because the ‘Tilbury’ was passing directly beneath the Macclesfield Bridge, and because the Regent’s Canal at this point is set in a deep cutting, the blast was directed mostly upward and the full explosive force of four tons of gunpowder was absorbed by the destruction of the bridge. Also, because of the early hour, no one was on the bridge. Had the explosion occurred a few miles further north, without the protection of the bridge and the cutting, the resulting devastation to life and property would have been colossal.
Gangs worked day and night to shift the debris and four days later the canal was reopened. The bridge was rebuilt to the same design in 1876, re-using the columns which had originally been cast in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, the site of the world’s first iron bridge.
The foundry mark can just be seen at the top of the pillar
Following the explosion, the law concerning the safe transportation of explosive goods on canals was amended. Also, the Macclesfield Bridge became known as the ‘Blow-Up Bridge’. They certainly told it like it was in the late 1800s…
The latest Macclesfield Gate entrance opened in 1958
If you’re interested, the 1875 official report of the investigation into the Macclesfield Bridge explosion, conducted by Major V. A. Majendie of the Royal Artillery, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Gunpower Works, can be found here:
ONE OF MY EARLIEST EXPOSURES TO STEAMPUNK, and a subsequent influence on the creation of “Steam, Smoke & Mirrors”, was the 1960s American TV series “The Wild Wild West”.
A fan of "The Wild Wild West" poses with his boxed complete set!
TM & © CBS Studios Inc.
Set in the 1870s, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin played James West and Artemus Gordon, Secret Service agents whose derring-do role was to solve strange crimes, protect President Ulysses S. Grant and thwart the elaborate plots of power-crazed super-villains. Of which, there were considerably more than you might imagine. Jim West was the heroic, stylish, sharp-shooter in the partnership. His more cerebral partner Artemus Gordon was an equally cool, resourceful engineer and master of disguise.
A big hit on CBS between 1964 and 1969, this, which at the time would have been described as sci-fi-Western hybrid, aired intermittently in the U.K., pretty much a schedule filler; but from the get-go I loved it.
Apparently, “The Wild Wild West” was pitched as a ‘James Bond in the saddle’ concept, but Jim and Artie also rode aboard an ‘iron horse’, their elegant two-carriage contraption-filled steam train “The Wanderer”.
Imaginative 19th century gadgetry was a significant quirk of the show. Innocent looking devices delivering smoke, explosions, or gas, were hidden in plain sight about their elegant Victorian attire, along with the stuff they concealed. If I tell you Jim’s boots secreted a sprung switchblade concealed in the toe and a flame thrower hidden in the heel, you’ll get the idea.
Among the legions of mad scientists and megalomaniac masterminds, Jim and Artie’s most iconic nemesis was the fan-favourite Dr. Miguelito Loveless, a brilliant inventor-scientist born with dwarfism, whose vengeance was predicated upon reclaiming his family right to Southern California. The brilliant Oscar-nominated movie actor Michael Dunn imbued Dr. Loveless with grinning, wide-eyed menace in ten memorable episodes, often assisted by his associates, the mute giant Voltaire (Richard Kiel, aka James Bond villain ‘Jaws’) and the beautiful songstress Antoinette (portrayed by Phoebe Dorin). Away from the set, Michael Dunn and Phoebe Dorin were also well-known on the American nightclub circuit working their successful music act.
Following his scheming debut in the Series One episode “The Night the Wizard Shook the Earth”, Dr. Loveless confirmed his nefarious magnificence by confecting a miniaturising powder which shrinks Jim to a six-inch spy (“The Night of the Raven”), creating exploding toys to plot a children’s takeover of California (“The Night of the Whirring Death”), riding inside a mechanised suit of armour (“The Night of the Green Terror”), luring Jim to his demise in a ghost town populated by mechanical dummies (“The Night That Terror Stalked The Town”), building a giant mechanised tuning fork designed to destroy the homes of the well-to-do (“The Night of the Avaricious Actuary”) and, in “The Night of the Surreal McCoy”, devising a mechanically-driven sonic portal capable of transporting people into and out of two-dimensional paintings.
And here flaunts his precious collection of "The Wild Wild West" Rittenhouse Archives Ltd. Trading Cards!
TM & © CBS Studios Inc.
Further favourite-for-me stand out Steampunk stories must be: “The Night of the Steel Assassin” in which Colonel ‘Iron Man’ Torres restores his crippled body, mangled in a Civil War explosion, to super-human mobility with cyborgian steel plates and inflicts dire revenge on regimental confederates responsible for the accident. Also “The Night of the Puppeteer” which sees master marionette maker Zachariah Skull building a courtroom populated by life-sized steam-powered puppets intent on bringing The Supreme Court and Jim West to a lethal form of legislation.
But that just scratches the surface of the pioneering Steampunkery “The Wild Wild West” writing team was putting together on screen more than fifty years ago – so I respectfully tip my top hat to the memories of Gilbert Ralston, who further developed producer Michael Garrison’s concept, Gene L. Coon, of Star Trek fame, Ken Kolb, Henry Sharp, Leigh Chapman, Edward J. Lakso and John Kneubuhl, who created the remarkable character of Dr. Miguelito Loveless!
(The 1999 movie “Wild Wild West” was a big disappointment for us die-hard fans of the series, but it’s still worth a gander for its Steampunk concepts and visualisations.)
By the way, WWW guest star trivia: in “The Night of the Eccentrics”, the opening episode of Season 2 first broadcast in September 1966, you can see stellar stand-up Richard Pryor making his TV debut. In the next show “The Night of the Golden Cobra” the major guest star is Boris Karloff, oh yes – and three episodes after that, Rat Packers Sammy Davis Jnr. and Peter Lawford turn up together in “The Night of the Returning Dead”.
Those are a few of the reasons why, for me, “The Wild Wild West” led the Steampunk way. Always inventive and sometimes camp, if you haven’t yet given the show a go, please do - I mean, come on, “The Night of the Man-Eating House” has got to be a must-see episode …if only out of respect for the title!
As promised here’s a selection of some of the photos we snapped at Comic Con Birmingham. Once again the buzz was sensational and the people there even better. Their creativity and costumes are consistently stunning. Note to self: I think this Michael Magister outfit has had enough airings, definitely time to get it dry cleaned…and probably time to design a new one.
I’LL BE AT THE NEC for the Birmingham Comic Con weekend, 18-19 November, on the Caffeine Nights stand AND wearing my Steampunk magician’s outfit. I’ll be signing copies of ‘Steam, Smoke & Mirrors’ and ‘The Lazarus Curiosity’ – but even if you just fancied coming over to say hello it would be great to see you. Photos of the event will follow. Assuming I can figure out the camera on this new 'phone.
HERE’S A RARE FIND. It’s the actual playbill for The Sun Music Hall, 26 Knightsbridge High Street in London. 26th December 1888. Michael Magister, known then as ‘The Americonjuror’, is right at the foot of the bill. It proved to be a memorable show for all the wrong reasons, because the headliner Alfred Vance, one of the great Music Hall stars of the era, concluded his performance to great applause, walked off stage and promptly dropped dead in the wings from a heart attack. And the curse of the show lived on! If ‘lived’ is the right word - because a decade later most of the cast were gruesomely murdered in a mystery which formed the plot of ‘Steam, Smoke & Mirrors’.
COMIC CON LONDON 2017 opened on 27th October and ran for three incredible days attracting over 100,000 visitors. A goodly few of them came up to the Caffeine Nights stand to say hello to me, Luke Walker, Shaun Hutson and Joe Pasquale. Well, mostly to Luke Walker, Shaun Hutson and Joe Pasquale! It was our first ever Comic Con and we discovered that the costumes on display were stunningly superb, all modelled by the nicest and friendliest people you could wish to meet. Here's a look at what happened...
'THE LAZARUS CURIOSITY' Launch Event took place on Saturday 14th October at the Gerrards Cross Community Library. My sincere thanks go to the redoubtable Lorraine Surridge and Jacqueline Bennett for their skill, enthusiasm and generous hospitality, and to everyone who came along. Many were old friends I hadn't seen for a very long time. And mercifully, were none of those I owed money to.
Daguerreographicals by Lord Kevin.
HERE ARE THE BEFORE AND AFTER PICS of my attempt at Steampunking an old HP computer monitor into a Victorian ‘Spectrascope’ - the kind Wicko uses to identify visitors to The Metropolitan Theatre of Steam, Smoke and Mirrors. I gussied it up for part of the Steampunk display at the launch of ‘The Lazarus Curiosity’. It’s hardly in the same league as the great Adam Savage’s builds, but all it took was a little bit of plumbing, a tiny drop of carpentry and fair share of cursing.
THIS IS JUST part of the fantastic display Lorraine Surridge and Jaqueline Bennett put together to promote “The Lazarus Curiosity” launch event, which will be on Saturday 14th October at the Gerrards Cross Community Library in Buckinghamshire, SL9 8EL. The attention to detail is amazing: the buttons down the front of the dress even spell out ‘S.T.E.A.M.P.U.N.K’. I suspect they were imagining me as a Victorian lady of leisure. The head is worryingly accurate…
On Tuesday 3rd October, British entertainer Joe Pasquale and I met up again at the Guildhall Museum in Rochester, Kent, along with our publisher Darren Laws of Caffeine Nights, to record an interview to mark the forthcoming publication of “The Lazarus Curiosity”, the second novel in the “Steam, Smoke & Mirrors” series.
It had been two years since we taped the first interview and as you can see, Joe still looks the same and I look much older but at least this time the top hat I am wearing is a marginally better fit.
A huge thank you to Alan, Sharon, Anthony and everyone at the Guildhall Museum for making us so welcome. The Museum, which is one of the best I’ve ever visited (and research for SS&M takes me to many), was founded in 1897 and is housed in two next door buildings: the wonderfully evocative 17th Century Guildhall and the River Medway Conservancy Board Building, built in 1909. Among the many extraordinary displays you’ll find a life-size reconstruction of part of a grim Medway prison hulk and a room dedicated to the genius of Charles Dickens, who lived in nearby Higham and used Rochester as a backdrop for “The Pickwick Papers”, “Great Expectations” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. If you are visiting historic Rochester, a trip to the Guildhall Museum is a MUST!
Picture shows Joe Pasquale, looking like H.G. Wells’s dad in a tweed suit, and me, still wishing I could rock the Steampunk look a whole lot better while apparently being goosed by one of the surrounding and distinctly unimpressed Victorian ladies.
Want to know how it all works?
Meet Colin at his book launch in Gerrards Cross Library
Saturday 14th October. 11.00 am
Gerrards Cross Library
38 Station Road, Gerrards Cross. SL9 8EL
Steam, Smoke & Mirrors 2: The Lazarus Curiosity will be published by Caffeine Nights on 12 October 2017 and is currently available for pre-order
This second volume of recollections from the enigmatic Professor Artemus More PhD (Cantab) FRS, yes, well, that’s what he claims, proves to be Michael and Phoebe’s most lethal investigation to date and sees the return of the ecclesiastical epitome of drunken debauchery, Father Connor O’Connor; the recalcitrant dwarf and part-time engineering genius Wicko; and the head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, the relentlessly steadfast and reliably stolid Superintendent William Melville.
Michael and Phoebe’s nemesis, a nefarious renegade Jesuit known only as “The Black Bishop”, well, when he’s not being referred to as “The Hairy Monk”, continues to plot the downfall of the Monarchy, and ultimately the Realm, aided by his God-fearing apostles: a duo of hideous psychopaths.
Taking up the story from the end of “Steam Smoke & Mirrors”, Michael and Phoebe’s baffling new investigations in “The Lazarus Curiosity” start to pierce the fog of mystery concerning Michael’s forgotten past, and propel them into a sinister world of blackmail and Victorian black magic.
With special appearances by HRH Edward, Prince of Wales; Oscar Wilde; Bram Stoker; occultists Aleister Crowley and Allan Bennett; and the designer of the original Rider-Waite Tarot card deck, Pamela Colman Smith, Michael and Phoebe unleash a relentless chain of events with inevitably tragic consequences.
Especially when the Tarot predicts ‘Death’.
A new Steam, Smoke & Mirrors short story,
“The Windsor Curiosity”, featuring Queen Victoria and her faithful retainer Abdul Karim, the Munshi, is available for download
An evening of deadly illusion staged by steampunk Music Hall magicians Michael Magister and Phoebe Le Breton…
in the presence of loyal castle staff, devoted civil servants and Queen Victoria herself.
But a psychopath lurks among them, determined to murder our Monarch.
Is the killer in the crowd? Or taking part in the show?
Yet another State secret is exposed in…
‘Steam, Smoke & Mirrors – The Windsor Curiosity’
At the beginning of 2017, a good friend and colleague, TV Producer Denise Kelly told me about her planned trip to Australia. While in Sydney, she would be visiting the grave of her relative, a talented and much-admired British Music Hall comedian and singer, Arthur Tinsley.
If it were not for Arthur’s necessary move to a warmer climate for health reasons, and for his tragic early demise, Arthur may well have enjoyed the Victorian fame of Dan Leno, Marie Lloyd, George Leybourne and Little Tich.
In “The Lazarus Curiosity” Michael speaks of his time with this crowd-pleasing entertainer and ensures the name of Arthur Tinsley is no longer forgotten.
Denise Kelly next to the grave of