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Saturday, April 13, 2013

GUEST POST: On Machines and Talking Birds by Charlotte English


I’ve been interested in the steampunk movement for some years, and I always wanted to write a steampunk adventure. I got the chance to do that with the Drifting Isle project, and writing my book proved to be some of the best fun I’ve had with a story yet.

Machines and the means to power them play an important role in my book, Black Mercury. It opens with a pile-up during a steam autocarriage race (someone who knows me well said: “You’ve been playing too much Death Rally.” He may have a point). Machines are central to the lives of all my characters: Hildegard Goldstein invents them, Clara Koh builds them and Caspar Goldstein drives them. The newly discovered “black mercury” has the power to transform all of their fortunes: when Hildy uses it to boost the power of her flying autogyro, she accomplishes the first ever flight to the mysterious Drifting Isle. After that, everything changes forever.

To Hildy, the gyro and the black mercury represent the promise of an independent future, inventing and building her fantastic creations away from the controlling influence of her brother. To Clara, there’s the prospect of a career doing the one thing she loves best: engineering.

And to Caspar, the black mercury appears to promise him the only thing in his privileged life that he hasn’t got: the prestigious Eisenstadt Autocarriage Racing Cup. It’s the biggest event in steamcar racing, and Cas has had it in the bag for years: thanks to his family connections he’s got the best vehicle out there, and his father pays all the bills. But he still hasn’t managed to win it. With the big event just around the corner, he grabs some Black Mercury—just before the city government commandeers the supply.


Cas soon finds himself with a great deal of unwanted attention. At least one member of a sinister organisation known as the Shadows is interested in the mercury, too, and Cas isn’t the only driver who’s realised its potential. When even a Starcaster from Inselmond itself arrives in search of the stuff, Cas finds himself up to his neck in trouble. It’ll take the combined efforts of all his closest friends to get him out of it.

It falls to other pens to document the exploration of Inselmond, the Drifting Isle. My story is about the impact of Hildy Goldstein’s discovery on the city of Eisenstadt. Why did I make this choice? Because I love this city we’ve made. It’s a sprawling, multicultural place where people from all over the world live comfortably side-by-side. It’s filled with skyscrapers and factories and beautiful feats of architecture. It has a race track, an overhead train system, and a huge network of public houses (both refined and otherwise). It has creepy and crumbling old cemeteries, a central lake lined with mansion houses and an enormous public ballroom. And of course, it has steam-powered cars and flying machines. It’s the sort of place where anything can happen—and plenty does happen across the three stories we’ve published so far.

I’m also a big fan of animal characters; intelligent, sentient (or semi-sentient) animals play a big role in all my books to date, and Black Mercury is no different. When talking birds made their appearance in our shared world, I ran with this with enthusiasm and Min came into being. She is an exotically-coloured pigeon from the isle of Shuchun; a close friend of Clara Koh’s, she has a loud mouth, bad manners and a loyal heart. Of all my characters, she was the most fun to write.

And that’s it… so far. One of the most exciting—but also daunting—aspects of the Drifting Isle project (for me at least) is the scope of it. Three books to date, and we’re only just getting started. It’s a whole world—imagine how many stories are still waiting to be told! I’m looking forward to my next visit to Eisenstadt or its neighbouring nations: when the adventure begins with fantastic machines, talking birds and an island in the sky, who knows what could happen next?


Order Black Mercury HERE
Order The Kaiser Affair HERE
Order The Machine God HERE
Read The Drifting Isle Chronicles - A new way to tell new stories ( A guest post by Joseph R. Lewis)
Read When Collaborating, Say Yes! (A guest post by Meilin Miranda)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born in the historic city of Lincoln, UK, Charlotte now lives in the heart of windmill country in the Netherlands. She has a degree in Heritage, and her interests include books, crafts, cooking and social history. She likes to write whimsical, colourful tales full of character and humour.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author herself. Black mercury picture thanks to Bloomberg business week.

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