100% Writer’s Block

Now, having set out a dozen posts on The Last Rhinemaiden and how it came about, I’ll tell you how it ended.

For a while it seemed like every novel I read was based in London. And I noticed that I was also writing stories set in London, which bothered me somewhat.

The Cuckoo Club series is set in London, and Paris (so far). After two books I paused, and switched to Petticoat Katie.

The characters live in a shared house and go to work every day like ordinary people. Their adventures began in short stories, but their lives expanded in the first trilogy to include job loss, urban violence and unexpected pregnancy (and airships, betrayal, Turkish delight, guerrilla gardening, far too much cake, a whole cabinet of outrageous gadgets and a hundred monkeys).

a street corner in a Victorian city - Steep Street, Bristol, 1866
Steep Street, Bristol, 1866

But… still based in London.

And it got a little tiresome. Long before COVID, long before lockdown, I began to look further afield – looking for more interesting places to visit, and explore, and conjure up in my imagination for my characters to inhabit.

We think of certain cities in very limited terms – sometimes the place itself hasn’t gathered much history, but also because of choices and the perceptions forced upon us by marketing.

Why do we focus on Viking York, for example, and not so much on Roman York? When do we ever hear about Tudor York? How about glorious York during the Danelaw, when it was no longer Eboracum and halfway through Jorvik?

Great places within which to set novels and tell stories are available. Using London (or New York, or Vienna) as a setting is just laziness.

So I started thinking about place, in a very specific way, and how to change my writing to express more of this variety.

Why have steampunk always in London? Why not those other great cities of the British Empire – Birmingham, Belfast, Bombay?

Why not steampunk Havana? Steampunk Shanghai, or Lagos, or Djibouti?

And why Empire? Why British? Where’s the steampunk set in Bougainville, or Brazzaville, or Bogotá?

Probably I haven’t cast my nets widely enough to find those stories. Maybe I overlook them because of blurb or cover art or sub-genre.

Are they out there, waiting for me, if only I can lift my eyes from a limited set of map co-ordinates, and explore?

There are plenty of novels set in alternative cities, some of those contemporary with the steampunk timeframe like the stories of Jack London (another real-life adventurer).

Some are set in entirely imaginary cities, places upon which we can paint our home towns to add familiarity, but which are otherwise entirely fabricated out of magic and ink.




Later stories in the Petticoat Katie series take place outside of London, but I haven’t got round to writing them yet. The fourth novel in the series is 70% complete and has been since – och! – 2015.

It’s sat like a lump of 100% writer’s block on my desktop and I can’t shift it, even though I can see beyond it to other stories, other locations, other characters.

Places where there are statues on rooftops, locksmiths in narrow alleys, and a mist rising from the river at sunrise.

Now doesn’t that make you want to visit?

a cobbled street lined with shops with bright clothing hanging outside -
Calle Caldereria Nueva, Granada

In search of locations and art and gadgets, here’s this week’s links:

The anthem of Ankh-Morpork performed by the Scottish Symphony Orchestra (YouTube link)

Forsyth’s Compendium of Curious Contraptions – curious railways, steam engines, Edinburgh and elsewhere.

Glorious art and design posted regularly on Twitter at @NouveauDeco

Also this week – an update on this year’s writing goals:

  1. Non-fiction project has moved from the design phase to writing and formatting.
  2. Project NEVADA – added 1000 words – yes, it’s slow, I’m pacing myself.
  3. Poetry submissions came back unplaced; more submissions required.
Published in: on April 4, 2021 at 12:00 am  Comments (3)  
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  1. Great to see a mention of Ankh-Morpork here. Love that world. Wishing you all the best with your writing goals this year!

    • Thanks! Ankh-Morpork has to be one of the world’s greatest cities – even though it’s not real.

  2. […] First, the sheer amount of stories set in particular cities which dominate all other locations. I’ve mentioned this before. […]

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