Steam and Stratagem: Roberta and her Father.

January 3, 2014


When I started writing the chapters about Roberta Stephenson that became Steam and Stratagem I wanted to ground her in the real world of 19th century Britain even if she herself was a fictional character. I had planned to have her be a steamship engineer, and a few Wikipedia searches of the early engineers soon showed me that George Stephenson had the most interesting background. An illiterate son of an illiterate coalmine pumping-engine fireman, George by his own efforts became the first president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on its formation in 1847. One could hardly find better father for her story.


Image George Stephenson


He used money from his first job, as an engineman, to educate himself, which in the story is more than enough evidence that had his real daughter Fanny (who had died mere days after her birth) survived she could well have been sent to the fictional Miss Mather’s Acadamy for Girls in place of Roberta. He did educate his real son Robert; early on the two studied engineering together, and when he became prosperous he sent Robert to a private academy to study. He also took care that his son spoke ‘posh’ English to avoid the southern prejudice against northerners with thick accents. I have given Roberta a similar refined voice throughout the novels.


The disputes with Sir Humphrey Davy over the invention of the miners’ safety lamp is mentioned in the story and was a result of academic prejudice. Although two investigations came to the conclusion that Stephenson’s invention was independent of Davy’s the educated southern elite preferred to believe that a mere engineman could never have produced the design unaided and Davy went to his grave still believing his design was stolen. In the story I have Roberta’s father letting her go south with their designs to approach the Admiralty—a reflection of the way he made Robert his mouthpiece and manager of his locomotive works.




While the Trevithick loco of 1802 is considered to be the first practical steam locomotive, George Stephenson’s 1814 travelling locomotive for the Killingworth wagonway is credited with being the first successful flanged wheel adhesion locomotive and the forerunner of all railway locomotives today. The steamship yard in the story is a pure fiction, he never built ships, but the railway planning still used today of following the least resistance to travel by keeping rail grades as flat as possible is a principle he followed for his own railway projects. His careful engineering became somewhat too expensive during his lifetime and he went into semi-retirement, letting his son manage the locomotive works and developing some of the coal seams discovered during the construction of the North Midland Railway as supervisor and investor of the subsequent mines. My stories end before George Stephenson’s retirement, but the end of “Spies and Subterfuge” shows Roberta, and the right man she has finally chosen to marry, are planning to work together in an industry where her Father’s position is that of advisor.


I have resumed writing my blog called Rustic Realizations at and am following the anniversaries of the first abdication of Napoleon in 1814 and the start of WWI in 1914—from our viewpoint in 2014. The first post, “to end all wars” is up now. This post is later than I promised, but I had both computers down before Christmas.



Roberta’s Journey through London.

December 17, 2013


In chapter ten of “Steam and Strategem” Roberta rides through London in a Hansom Cab with Lord Bond. The trip takes them from the Bricklayers’ Arms railway terminus on the Old Kent Road to the Admiralty in Whitehall. I doubt many residents of today’s London are familiar with the Bricklayers’ Arms Station because it has been a goods terminus for about a hundred years—ever since the passenger termini were shifted to Cannon Street and Charing Cross on the North side of the Thames where they had better connection to all the other railway termini.


Here is a Canaletto painting of the Thames with St Pauls dominating the skyline Roberta would see.


Once in Eastcheap Roberta sees some of the typical street scenes of the seamy side of Regency London.


They travel via Cannon Street, St Paul’s Churchyard, to Ludgate Hill—I didn’t include a pic of St Pauls because there are so many modern ones. I decided to show Temple Bar because it was demolished in its original site going into Fleet Street, but has been rebuilt in a new site this century. This is the original site.


Their destination is the Admiralty, and here is the front view with Robert Adam’s screen showing off its formal entry.


The trip through London would be incomplete without showing St James Square where Roberta stayed in the rooms her father reserves for business trips to London. I picked Number Six St James as the actual house, purely because I found some pictures of the inside that let me use an actual setting. I will show those some other time.


Well and truly Launched

November 23, 2013

This last weekend, 16th and 17th of November, was the book launch for “Steam and Strategem” at the Pure Speculation Festival in Edmonton. I made it up for the weekend and so did Margaret, the submissions (and everything else) editor for Tyche Books.

The driving was not good, but both of us had chosen to go up a day early and return a day later. So that way we both avoided the horrible weekend weather that had Highway 2 closed when all the ditches filled up with abandoned vehicles and there was no room for more. (I’m joking, but on Monday morning there were still over a dozen abandoned vehicles south of Leduc with police tape draped around them.)

The festival had a Steampunk theme, which was why Margaret had chosen to emphasize the steampunk features of my ‘Regency romance and steampunk’ novel and have us dress the steampunk part for the weekend. Well; I got out of them as much as possible once I learned that ‘civvies’ were okay for parts of the program. I had cobbled together some steampunk things (and it showed).

I selected most of my panels to teach me something about the Steampunk ethos, since I knew I was too clueless to pretend to be a steampunk author. The steam in my novel encompassed both ships and trains and as much ship building and pioneering issues as I could slip into the plot without readers expecting to have to write an engineering exam at the end of the novel. I believe I do have the same feelings for the ‘steam age’ as do longtime Steampunk enthusiasts and can claim that five of my seven published novels have important rolés for steam as well.

I also like airships. I have never been in one, but I was in the old airship hangar at Farnborough several times before B-Shed, as it was called, was taken down in the sixties. The frames have since been re-erected at Farnborough to commemorate the establishment’s beginning as the Royal Balloon Factory. If I may attempt another weak connection, my Mother told me she had seen the zeppelins caught in the searchlight beams in London during WWI.

The launch went quite well although my author reading could have been better if I’d remember to slow down. We sold some books and I autographed some—but somewhere shy of a million. Until the official release day, November 30th, information where to find pre-release copies can be found at afterwards they will be at all the usual outlets as e-books or POD paper.

Steampunk Ball

Steampunk Ball

I cannot end without a word or two about all those wonderful Steampunk people who made the weekend a fascinating success. The costumes were terrific, with the older men dressed and mannered like Queen Victoria’s parliament or armed forces, and the ladies either swaddled in elaborate finery or much less weighed down with unnecessary covering of their qualifications. I, as usual, gravitated to the ladies if I wanted to ask something and must not fail to thank Melissa and Sarah for their patient answering of my elementary questions. I think I feel a kinship to them all who share some of my contrarian instincts and while coping well with the twenty-first century prefer to celebrate the nostalgia they feel for the nineteenth. I have done my best to produce some fiction that compliments both their feelings and their love of stories of that bygone age.

Steam and Strategem Release

November 7, 2013

Well it looks as if I may manage two blog posts within the space of one month…wonders will never cease.

I am looking to keep my head above water now because the first draft of the sequel to “Steam and Strategem”, which is likely to be published as “Spies and Subterfuge”, has gone to the editor and I have an almost clean slate.

First, I had better add the link to my publisher’s site where you can see the book’s page.  The book will be selling from here toward the end of November but it is available now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble as a print book, on Smaswords as a Pre-Release and on Kobo as a Pre-Order e-book.

I like the cover so well I will put it here to show you..

I am in final preparation mode for the novel launch in Edmonton at the Pure Speculation Festival the weekend of 16-17 November. Since my publisher wanted to promote it as Steampunk I have to appear in Steampunk gear (that I am still working on) and will be in a small part of the program at an author reading. I am also going to be dressed up in the Steampunk Ball on the Saturday looking very authorly when they give away copies of my book for door prizes. (Maybe I will win one.) I expect I will get a picture sometime to document how daft I look. My ID is Captain Benchmark, the discoverer of Edmonton and the mapper of the source of Whitemud Creek.     

I will undertake to post to this blog again quite soon to tell readers how I get on in Darkest Edmonton.

The Headstone Express.

October 9, 2013


Still no news on the Novel announcement but Wife, I and the two dogs went to Manitoba at the end of September. The project was a very simple one that had been postponed since 1929. I don’t believe the Wall St crash was directly responsible for the delay but it added unnecessary social hardships.


My wife’s parents’ first child died in 1929 at the age of 14 months. Poor little fellow was buried at the foot of his grandmother’s grave in the cemetery at Lauder, Manitoba. ( A pretty little cemetery we found when we were there in September 2013. It should make anyone proud to be buried there, if you like those kinds of thing.)


Anyway, back to the project. The family would have liked to have marked the grave in 1929, but things didn’t come together until Mother-in-Law began to receive Canada Pension in the 1970s. She had a small stone engraved from her pension money and someone was needed to take it there from Calgary. Father-in-law, who didn’t have good memories of the whole thing…nor the location…begged off. Brother-in-law who might have had some time, always put off the mission whenever my wife suggested their going. So the dogs and I became co-bearers.


The dogs didn’t have a good time. The elder had lost a fight with a neighbour dog the previous week and had several kinds of medication for inflamed eye, punctures on her cheek, etc. More problematical were the antibiotics prescribed which somewhat upset the dog’s regular constitution. You might imagine that sharing a motel unit with a dog that might have an urgent need to go outside at any time in the night was not the most enjoyable of arrangements.


There was only the one night I spent on top of the covers fully dressed and ready for the call to action. Other motel cleaning staffs may have noticed the attempts at wiping the broadloom clean before we checked out. Damn silly to have carpet on a motel unit floor—don’t they know those things are just bacteria incubators? Anyway—eventually it sunk into my exhausted mind that the culprit was not the poor dog but the toxic brew in the little pills that pretended to be helping her, and once I discontinued giving them to her she gradually returned to normal—about two days after we got home.


We had two visits to Lauder to chat with the locals, some of whom remembered my wife’s mother who had left in the early 1930s. Lauder is another of the once thriving communities that have been killed by the automobile. If it weren’t for people who live on the farms nearby the whole place would fall to dust. As it is, one of the abandoned houses falls down almost every winter. Any one looking to stock up on hundred year old furnaces, hot water tanks and house bricks should take a drive over there before the basements too crumble away. Say hi the the locals while you’re there, they are as concerned as anyone at the loss of community and a way of life sacrificed on the altar of finance.


Late again

September 27, 2013


I didn’t manage to send the post I planned while on our trip the Manitoba (actually, I cannot find the post I had started) so this is a new one.

The agricultural traction engine was snapped the weekend before we left for Manitoba, when we went to Heritage Acres so I could look at some steampunk things. This was it. We also sat and watched a tractor pull, where a succession of drivers vie for the longest distance they can pull a heavy drag. While it was entertaining so was the discussion from behind us from two farmers as they handicapped the competitors.

“Isn’t that a beautiful tractor?’ was a common comment. I could appreciate their dedication to the machinery even if I don’t find tractors particularly beautiful. But then I do find the big steamer a worthy object of fascination for a steampunker.

I learned something of the technique of driving in a tractor pull from the unofficial commentators behind us. Don’t start off too fast—slow and easy gets you further. Which is true in most things.

On the writing front—no sign of the review copies that were expected in the latter part of September. I had one recruited reviewer emailing today to ask if she had been forgotten. I guess I will have to tactfully ask about the review copies on Monday if they don’t appear sooner. The cover illustration hasn’t arrived on my Tyche page. Things must be busy there.

I will end here. With luck I will have found the article I started by the time i come to post next week.

‘night all.

This is the belated Post I promised last year

September 14, 2013

Yeah, I know I promised—but this time it’ll be different.


Oh Lord…where have you heard that before? How can I get you to believe me after not writing here for more than six months?


Well, I have some news, for one. This blog was started to keep readers up to date with my Iskander series novels. The last title of the series was published last year and I don’t plan more—


But I have a brand new novel that is the start of something new—Steampunk! And this blog will become the source for all that is new in this Steampunk world.


“Steam and Strategem” will be released in the middle of November by Tyche Books at the Pure Speculation Festival in Edmonton, Alberta. The Festival is a known magnet for Gear-heads…Steampunk fans…and my publisher tells me she has ordered a Steampunk costume—and asked what I will be dressed as. I guess I can’t go reading my Steampunk novel dressed as me—I have to conform. I am already collecting finery to dress Captain Benchmark, my new Steampunk alter ego. I’ll tell more about that in the next post.


Here, I want to reproduce the blurb on my publisher’s site so you won’t have to go to find it. (But the cover image will be on the page soon—and you just have to see it. Fabulous.)


Welcome to the Steampunk World of Regency…

…where the power of steam has already passed from the age of unsatisfactory experiments to the first country-spanning railways and ships that no longer sail at the whims of weather. Roberta Stephenson is the daughter of the ‘Father of Railways’…a girl almost raised in the engine works and through her experience, and education in the most advanced halls of Miss Mather’s Academy for Girls, is fit to become manager and designer at her father’s steamship yard on the Clyde.

And Britain needs Roberta’s expertise, for fate in this world has dealt more kindly with Napoleon, allowing him to extricate most of his army from Moscow in 1812, and granting him at least a draw at Leipzig in 1813. With developments of the steamships begun in France in 1783 he is ready to take one more gamble to rid himself of the interference of Perfidious Albion, and the island’s safety may depend on the steam powered rams Roberta is offering to their lordships of the Admiralty.

Complicating Roberta’s professional life are her romantic suitors: Lord Julian Bond, man about town and Admiralty spy; the enigmatic Symington Holmes with a mathematical tripos at Cambridge; and Engineer Lieutenant Alfred Worthington RN. It seems that Roberta is destined to choose one of these gentlemen, but will she choose wisely?


So, you may expect the next post here within a week. I will write it this evening in readiness, but we have to take a trip to Manitoba next week and I will have to post from a stop along the road.



I’m Back….mostly

December 19, 2012

This is not the way to keep a blog going—posts every six months—but the obstacles are mostly behind me and I will try to inject a bit of life into The Wildcat’s Victory.

The first obstacle was the passing of my brother-in-law and my duty to pay most attention to my wife as we cleared the house and consigned most of the surviving artifacts of her family either to the landfill or to storage at home and a pending garage sale to clear them out.

The writing surrendered its prime place to all this. Poor Masquerade, that had just been released had absolutely zero help to make its way in the world. I have seen nothing in the way of royalty statements for it yet, but they can hardly be good. I will do some catching up there.

I have started to prepare a new project—a novella in honour of the 200th anniversary of the release, in January 1813, of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. How does a writer of SF and fantasy  find his way into Austen country? Well, by unleashing his fascination for the Regency world and a secret trip into a totally unsuspected multiverse. Gisel Matah, my feisty protagonist of the Iskander series comes along to help.  Stay tuned and thou wilt see.


Masquerade Update

June 6, 2012

I have to admit I have done very little in the way of promotion since Masquerade was released. Not the whole problem, but a significant part, has been the passing of my brother in law and dealing with the situation he has left behind. Another part has been the panicked flight to the US dollar which has made it uneconomic for me to take my publisher’s offer of a deal on some POD copies in Canadian dollars that I might otherwise have been sending out for reviews.

One way or another the economy will settle down again…either in pieces or in some new interesting chaos and we can get back to living our own lives again. When I have the freedom to spend some days on promoting Masquerade around the web I will do so. I see from tonight’s news that the first glimmers of realistic evaluation of the Canadian economy seem to be starting and so the ‘Loonie’ may recover its parity soon and I might gamble on ordering some new inventory at a price that makes it possible to sell them.

If anyone reading this would like to go to and read the blurb for Masquerade it is possible they might find the price of $5.99 for the e-book a worthwhile investment of their time and reading experience. If some friendly writers/reviewers would like to respond via comments we might arrange an equitable co-reviewing arrangement and I can send a free pdf copy.


Masquerade released today

April 11, 2012


Masquerade is released today. Only available on the publisher’s site at the moment but in all the popular e-book formats. The e-book is fifteen percent off this week at $5.09.

I will have to ask him if it will be released as a Lulu POD paperback—he has reverted to Lulu from the LSI POD system that I persuaded him to use before. Probably too expensive from Lulu for me to stock a few to sell.

I guess that gives me something to be busy with while I await word on the submissions I have out there—Mindstream and the first two novellas of Steaming to Romance; and the outcome of Rast’s nomination in the Global e-Book Awards..