Kim Lakin-Smith

Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

Author: Kim (page 4 of 4)

The Great Idea

Maybe twice a week I get it. The Great Idea. In my case, I’m usually thinking in terms of a short story. I have very little in the way of plot, just a genesis of a setting, a character, or a title. It niggles at me, this Great Idea, like a distantly glimpsed nirvana. A golden land set on top of a mountain. A really big mountain. With a ladder at the summit that leads into cloud, and beyond that, some of those extra wide pyramidal steps you get on Gladiators. Part of me thinks ‘This could be the best story I’ve ever written.’ Part of me thinks ‘I must get around to writing it sometime.’

Without fail, I shelve all of my story ideas for a period. But I must admit to failing in one of the most cherished of writer traditions, namely, the Sacred Notebook of Scribbles. While I’m in awe of writers who detail dreams, thoughts, conversations, all the odds and ends of everyday life, I have a quite frankly peculiar view on the writing down of such. Call it a defence mechanism if you like, but for me, if the idea does not survive a few weeks being tossed to and fro in the slurry of my mind, it was never mine to write in the first place.

Occasionally though, I do engage a Great Idea in mortal combat – and, yes, I do see it as a battle because the writing process is brutal and bloody. Not because I’m some sort of emotional goddess, imparting hard won wisdoms on the lowly reader. Nothing as jaw-achingly pretentious, I hope. No, what I’m talking about is refusing to give in when the story decides it’s in it for the kill. Sometimes a story can stay closed to me for years, but if I make the decision that that particular plot really suits a solicited market, I load up the big guns. For me, this is one of the examples of how a writer really has to bloody love what they do in order to survive it. And every time I do survive it, I still have this sense I just got a lucky punch in.

I was at a party recently when one reveller uttered those oft repeated lines. ‘Wow, you write? That’s my perfect job. I’d love to sit at home and write for a living.’ Times like that, I remember the Great Idea and I get a cold sweat on. Yet at the same time, despite all those times I’ve stared at a screen and willed a story to play dead, I also know that I am at heart a bloodthirsty word warrior.

So, just as soon as I’ve finished writing the finale of my new book, I’m taking on one or two of the Great Ideas that’ve survived the quagmire. And this time I’m taking no prisoners.

Feed Your Head – Research and Realism in Genre Fiction

Writers are eternal students. Our minds play host to a rich variety of subjects, albeit for the time period necessary to complete any given project Continue reading

how this writer learnt to steam things up

So, how does a woman who doesn’t drive, who was strongly advised not to take Physics GCSE, and who knows too much pop trivia for her own good end up writing steampunk? Shouldn’t I at least have a rudimentary background in engineering and mechanics? I’m as puzzled as anyone else, but regardless of mine and steampunk’s seeming incompatibility on paper, I am passionate about the genre and find that it tends to infuse much of my work as a writer. To me, there are few things as fascinating, awe-inspiring and ever so slightly terrifying as the steam engine in action. In addition, while I am hugely inspired by the aesthetic qualities of steampunk…thick bottle glass, brass fittings, nuts, bolts, valves, gauges, dials, leather, stained glass, etc…it is their combination with the grime of steam power which sells the genre to me most. And this is where I find the greatest paradox between my persona as an individual and my persona as a writer. I am not the most practical soul around, but give me a story to write and I want to sink my hands deep down into the oil-slicked guts of the thing. I want to tunnel underground, explore the filth-encrusted backstreets, visit opium dens and drag races and fifties diners and carnivals and lawless pioneering towns…

I used to worry that I lacked the necessary qualifications to write about the mechanisms behind steampunk. But increasingly I’m understanding that so long as a writer is willing to do considerable research, it is sometimes an advantage not to understand a subject too well. Because that is where reality breaks down and imagination takes flight. I am also reassured that the adage, ‘write what you know’ can be a red herring. How’s about if instead of it being a literal case of write what you know – example, a fisherman writes about fishing and, well, fish – it should be a case of write what you find flows easiest and is received the best by readers. In the past I got hung up on subject matter, restricting myself to suitably ‘feminine’ story lines, fairy tales and pretty fantasy. These are genre traditions I still love and will definitely write about again. But what I’ve discovered recently is that my writing style lends itself to action, mechanicals, fight scenes and their ilk. It turns out that what I know is a certain writing style, and most tellingly, the reason I know its working is because I turn off my inner critic when I write it. I trust myself in the steam/gaspunk environment in a way that is liberating.

Another consolation in all this is that there are examples of incredibly sheltered, naive women who have written some of the most stunning works in history. Emily Bronte for one. Author of the vicious, bleak, fiercely sexual Wuthering Heights. Daughter of a curate, habitant of isolated moorland, who died age thirty and single, and published this solitary seminal work. In our contemporary climate, we have songwriter, Diane Warren, a spinster who has been known to work on Christmas Day and who is responsible for writing some of the most beautiful, commercially successful love songs of our time, Aerosmith’s Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, Alice Cooper’s Bed Of Nails (co-wrote), The Sugar Babes’ Too Lost In You, Toni Braxton’s Un-break My Heart, and many more.

My point is not to compare myself in anyway to these women, both of whom might be classed as geniuses in their fields, but to illustrate that what we know may be something that only emerges through practice, tenacity, even accident.

I have faced criticism at times for not being SF enough. I hold up my hands entirely and admit that my stories will probably never slot comfortably into traditionally defined SF or dark fantasy. I’d say that’s probably true for a lot of genre writers. But what I am is pedantic about realism and the detail, and this is why I think I have found such a kinship with steampunk. I guess, despite appearances, I’m a soot and oil stained grease monkey at heart. Just so long as I don’t have to relinquish the pop trivia.

Pump Up The Volume: The Sound of Steampunk

While continuing to pay homage to its literary origins, noughties’ Steampunk has evolved into a veritable subculture in its own right. Dark aesthetics, combined with a flare for antique fashion, laboratorial curiosities, cybernetics, and the reengineering of all manner of rogue mechanicals, were always destined to appeal to the goth, punk, cyber and industrial contingent. But Steampunk has also cast a wider net; its ‘period’-feel seducing anyone with a soft spot for Victoriana and alternative histories.

Fans have now come to embrace Steampunk, or ‘Steam’ as it is sometimes known, as a culture, a community and a lifestyle. ‘Neo-Victorianism’ infiltrates every aspect of their lives, from fashion to interior design to transport to music.

However, while it is fairly easy to label what constitutes Steampunk attire – corsets, petticoats, suits, goggles, laced boots, etc – Steampunk music is less well-defined. Online discussions list artists as varied as NIN for Closer, the train-like beat of the piano giving it a new world feel, Tom Waites for his use of distortion, electronics and accordion, Björk for her fusion of electronica, roaring twenties’ big band sounds and industrialism, and even Queen for their music-hall spirited, A Day At The Races. And while purists cite classical music or early nineteenth century recordings played on a hand-cranked gramophone, most aficionados agree that any modern performer whose music or stage show evokes a sense of the Victorian era can be classified Steampunk.

Yet even that margin is too small. To do the Steampunk music genre justice, we need to acknowledge a theatrical mélange of artists and artistic styles: gothic, new world, vaudevillian, Brechtian dark cabaret, Eastern European, chamber music, vintage jazz, and more.

Below is a taster of just some of the artists classified Steampunk:

Abney Park

abneyParkGroup

In 2005, Seattle’s Abney Park released Taxidermy which showcased new versions of songs from previous albums, three live tracks and two covers. This album also heralded a switch in stylings from goth/industrial to Steampunk. Reinventing themselves as roving time travellers and airship pirates, the five-strong group continue to attribute their new, eclectic sound to the strange instruments and exotic musical influences lifted from the numerous locations and eras they have visited. In their own words, ‘Expect clockwork guitars, belly dancers, flintlock bassists, Middle-Eastern percussion, violent violin, and Tesla powered keyboards blazing in a post-apocalyptic, swashbuckling, Steampunk musical mayhem.’

recommended tracks: Airship Pirate, Sleep Isabella, The Secret Life of Doctor Calgori

Visit www.abneypark.com for band news, event details, and a market place selling Steampunk attire including leather flight helmets, airship crew dogtags, safari clothing and other gear.

Vernian Process

vernian-process-steampunk3

San Francisco’s Vernian Process take their name from the works of 19th century author and one of the forefathers of the science fiction genre, Jules Verne. They describe themselves as a Darkwave band influenced by Victorian scientific romance and contemporary Steampunk. Founder, Joshua A. Pfeiffer, has made it his intention to take listeners on a cinematic journey, encompassing ‘Industrial complexes, angelic cathedrals, misty cobblestone alleyways, ancient forests, war-torn ruins, deep undersea caves, rotting clock towers, and all manner of timeless dreamscapes.’

In 2008, Vernian Process started work on the soundtrack for the steampunk themed videogame, Shades of Violet: The incredible Adventures of Violet Vendetta for Fly Games Studio.

Visit www.post-punk.com/vernianprocess.html for more information.

Unextraordinary Gentlemen

UnextraordinaryGentlemen5

Unextraordinary Gentlemen have their roots firmly in the Victorian fantasy fiction genre. The bass guitar is used to represent a ‘punk’ element, a drum machine conjures up the steam-driven engine, and keyboards introduce sounds reminiscent of Victorian-era instruments such as strings, brass, and piano. Guitars and live drums are banned. They describe their sound as post-punk, synth-pop, industrial and experimental, and cite artists such as Nick Cave and Tom Waits as their major influences. Their songs range from the darkly humorous to the dour and the self depreciating, but all are infused with a sense of dramatic flair and spectacle.

recommended tracks: Mr. Soot’s Little Black Book, All You Want, Black Iron Road, Frozen Mood

Visit www.unextraordinarygentlemen.com for more information.

Vagabond Opera

VagabondOpera

The Vagabond Opera exists in homage to all aspects of bohemian cabaret. Theirs is truly a spectacular Spectacular, with belly dancing, neo-classical opera in eleven languages, kitsch Americana, Yiddish theatre, and European bonhomie. Originating in Portland, USA, the six-piece ensemble features trained operatic tenor and soprano vocals, accordion, tenor and alto saxophones, cello, stand-up bass, drums, and, on occasion, a burlesque hoola-hooping fire performer.

recommended tracks: Marlene, Svi Te Terran, Goodnight Moon

Visit www.vagabondopera.com for more information.

Rasputina

Rasputina3

Cellist Melora Creager played with Nirvana and, after founding Rasputina, toured with Bob Mould, Porno for Pyros and, most notably, Marilyn Manson. In 1997, the band’s EP Transylvanian Regurgitations was remixed by Manson.

A 3-piece mostly comprised of cellists, Rasputina describe their sound as chamber-rock. Their appreciation for antiquities is reflected in a love for Victorian apparel and period stylings for publicity shots and stage shows. Hard to pigeonhole, their music is bewitching dark and angelically ethereal.

recommended tracks: Transylvanian Concubine, Cage in a Cave, Coraline on the Neil Gaiman tribute album Where’s Neil When You Need Him?

Visit www.rasputina.com for more information.

Other recommended listening: The Peculiar Pretzelmen, Skeleton Key, Decemberists, The Birthday Massacre, The Dresden Dolls, Johnny Hollow, Beat Circus, Bat For Lashes

Wildcards –

Gogol Bordello

Gogol

Their inclusion here may be arguable, but in some aspects, Steampunk is all about the fusion of world music with futuristic sensibilities. No one does this better than New York’s Gogol Bordello, a multi-ethnic Gypsy punk band from the Lower East Side who are renown for their theatrical stage shows. Their Eastern European sound blends accordion, fiddle, and saxophone with an eclectic punk cabaret to create a feast for the ears and eyes so appealing that Madonna cast them in her 2008 film, Filth and Wisdom.

recommended tracks: Wonderlust King, American Wedding, Start Wearing Purple

Visit www.gogolbordello.com for more details.

Sarah Slean

SarahSlean

A classical piano major, Sarah fashions a truly unique sound that is part vintage jazz singer, part vaudevillian pianist, part crystalline vocals. Twice Juno and twice Gemini Award nominated, Canadian Sarah is a performer, artist and poet with a world-wide fan base.

recommended tracks: Pilgrim, Last Year’s War, Lucky Me

Visit www.sarahslean.com for more details.

Other sites of interest:
www.clockworkcabaret.com – a weekly music radio show.
http://steampunkworkshop.com – detailing steampunk projects.
www.brassgoggles.co.uk – blog reporting on all things steampunk.
www.steampunklab.com – for inventions of a curious sort

Eastercon LX 2009: SURREAL SUNDAY

steampunk_girl 10.00am saw me moderating the panel, ‘The Appeal of Steampunk’ with panellists GofH Tim Powers, Toby Frost, Cory Doctorow, Peter Harrow and Venetta Uye. It was a daunting task aided considerably for having a clear head and six hours sleep (unusual under con conditions). I was delighted that all of the panellists engaged fully with the subject, with delightful physical evidence of steampunk’s appeal courtesy of Peter Harrow’s steampunked IPod and gleaming pocket watch. Tim Powers was a gentlemen, Cory Doctorow a brain, Toby Frost an expert, Venetta Uye an academic, Peter Harrow an enthusiast, and me, well I was the gas-punk insurrectionist with the sense to listen to my wiser fellows. The panel was recorded and I will post the file as soon as it becomes available.[more]

Lunchtime Del and I joined Colin Brush and Hannah, rep for Puffin, for another trip to the silver bowls of digestive enlightenment. Then it was 2.00pm and time for me to be a panellist on ‘Pacifism and None-Violence in SF & Fantasy.’ The panel was moderated by literary critic, Farah Mendelson, and featured author of the excellent The Goneaway World Nick Harkaway, and the very affable Sam Kelly. In retrospect this probably wasn’t the best choice of panel for an urban SF writer into her smash-em-and-crash-em car chases, martial arts and rebel championing. But hopefully I didn’t come across too pro-aggression – except in the realms of literature.

Luckily there was a genteel steampunk tea party to attend after. The costumes were fantastic, particularly the array of military uniforms, and it was big congrats to my fellow steampunk panellist from earlier, Toby Frost as he celebrated his forthcoming Space Captain Smith launch. Then it was on to Liam Sharp’s launch of God Killers, where I also caught up with Liam’s other half, the very smiley Chris.

With this serious stuff done and dusted, it was time to relax and drink a stiff shot or several…Because Sunday Night was Rock Band night, organised by the delectable Danie Ware and the debonair Dave Devereux. Armed with a bellyful of dutch courage I took to the mike alongside the gorgeous Sam Moffat and the rest of ‘Sleazy Diesel,’ namely Del on drums, Paul Skevington on guitar and Tiff on base. It was fantastic, mind-blowing fun and we came second!!! And I even got a snog out of it. Thanks Sam!

Monday was a bit of a downer in comparison. Hearing that Scarlet had been poorly, we got straight on the road so didn’t even get to say our goodbyes. While I was very happy to get home to our little girl, the con had been a blast, and over all too soon.

Highlights then:

– Ben North: Flamenco Dancer

– Danie Ware in fishnets

– Ian Watson in platform-heeled PVC knee-length boots.

– Liam Sharp’s powerslide

– And, of course, for one Night Only: Sleazy Diesel live on stage.

Roll on Odyssey 2010!

Eastercon LX 2009: FREAKY FRIDAY

So there went Eastercon. Over a week later and I am only just recovered from my immature excesses. But what a blast! It was so good to see so many friends, old and new, and I even got to a few panels this year.

Friday, a typical pre-con mania descended on Ivy House as Del and I tried to get ourselves packed up, Scarlet tied up in a bow and delivered to her grandparents, and Drake – our big fat black lab – taken care of. At last, we were on the road to Bradford and very pleasantly surprised to find it only took us an hour and a half to reach our hotel. Unfortunately this turned out to be in the town centre, with the con hotel being located several miles away on the city’s outskirts. Immediately on entering the doors though, we met up with the ever cheerful Mr Ian Whates, who was kind enough to act Easter bunny with a lovely box of chocolates. At reception, we bumped into Deborah J Miller, writer, Wonderlands extraordinaire, and administrator of the David Gemmell Awards (http://gemmellaward.com) which are taking place on the 19th of June at the Magic Circle Headquarters. After checking into our room – a weirdly small deluxe twin which required some sort of swift footed ballroom dance to take place every time Del and I needed to pass one another – we found ourselves installed in the bar with Deborah, her beautiful daughter Tiff, and Mr Ian Watson.[more]

Next port of call was Eastercon itself at The Cedar Court Hotel. The set up this year was very sociable, with the main bar having a decent amount of seating (even though a certain horror writer stole my seat as I was about to sit down, leaving me stood there, open-mouthed – you know who you are, oh tyrant!) Friday evening saw us catching up with Tom Hunter – administrator of next week’s Arthur C Clarke awards, Simon Gilmartin, Neil K Bond, Donna Scott – administrator for the British Science Fiction awards, author Sam Stone, artist Anne Sudworth, Ben North – Creative Director of Harper Collins, Colin Brush of Penguin Books and others. I was also delighted to meet a good Facebook friend, SF writer Gareth L Powell in the flesh at last!

Later that evening and after a few jars, we piled into the 10.00pm panel on ‘The Marketing of Novels’ moderated by Ian Whates, writer, editor and owner of New Con Press, with panellists, the aforementioned Ben North and Colin Brush, and also the DDG Danie Ware of Forbidden Planet (aka @Danacea at Twitter) and Peter Crowther of PS Publishing. The panel was exceptionally informative, particularly on the harsh realities of the heavy weight publishing houses and the realities of getting your book displayed with the main book retailers. It was also the first time I’d witnessed such a clear division between those members of the publishing industry who were all for embracing online marketing and social media, and those yet to be convinced of its value.

So, what is a gang of SF devotees to do on a Friday night in Bradford? Virtually commandeer the entire floor of the Eastercon disco of course! The Mission, Sisters, G&R, Rob Zombie, MM, NIN, Aerosmith – good tunes, bad dancing, much fun. We finally poured ourselves into a taxi and headed off back to our hotel about 2.30am.

Eastercon: battles, punk and tea parties

The UK’s largest science fiction convention, Eastercon LX will be taking place 10th-13th of April 2009 at The Cedar Court Hotel, Bradford. Del and I will be attending for the full event and I am delighted to be taking part in two panels.

10.00am (ouch!) Sunday is ‘The Appeal of Steampunk’. I will be moderating the panel and am joined by guest of honour, Tim Powers, LX co-chair Peter Harrow, Cory Doctorow, Toby Frost and Venette Uye.

2.00pm Sunday I am a panellist on the subject of ‘Pacifism and nonviolence in SF & fantasy’ The moderator will be Farah Mendlesohn, and my fellow panellists will be Sam Kelly and writer of the incredible ‘The Goneaway World’, Nick Harkaway.

In-between we’ll be making much use of the bar and enjoying the delights of a steampunk tea party, futuristic disco and Forbidden Planet’s Battle of the Bands.

Visit http://lx2009.com for more information.

Workshops, wilds and a whole lotta writing.

So, just as most folk’s social calendars are filling up in anticipation of the month of December, and specifically Christmas, mine is nearly all emptied out. Which means I’m booked in to do some serious writing over the next couple of months? And I’m happy to report that all is going well on the writing front. The new novel, Autodrome, is proving to be a joy ride of motor sports, kick arse ladies and cool-cat gents, and a bit of death thrown in for good measure. I’ve just finished chapter twelve and am one scene away from launching into the Ramrod Rally on which the novel hinges…exciting stuff!

October 11th and 12th was Newcon 4, and what proved to be my favourite convention to date. The venue was the Fishmarket in Northampton, a glorious greenhouse of a building filled with a crystalline chill and sunlight. On Friday evening we enjoyed a Chinese banquet at quite possibly the largest table of guests I have ever sat at. Ever sociable, we scooted off for an hour or two to the local rock pub before settling in at our hotel for the remainder of the evening for some mildly intoxicated conversation.

First thing on Saturday, I ran a flash fiction workshop and was delighted to meet some really friendly writers and to get some great entries for the Newcon 4 flash fiction competition. Later in the day, I moderated a panel featuring some of the very talented Write Fantastic (Chaz Brenchley, Deborah J. Miller and Juliet E. McKenna) and event organiser extraordinaire Alex Davies. With the panel title, ‘The Write Fantastic: The Way Forward or A Waste of Time’ (hear the audio recording here), I felt obliged to grill these lovely people ever so slightly. But all responded with eloquence and grace, and have since assured me I’m still counted as a friend!

Saturday evening was a blur of sloppy Indian, folk music, birthday cake and celebration, leaving me ever so slightly jaded for Sunday. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my reading with Mark Robson and Chaz Brenchley, and before I knew it, it was the end of the con and I’d barely made it to any panels. Sunday evening, Del and I got to relax with guest of honour, Iain M. Banks, the gentlemanly Ken Macleod, the rebel yell that is literary agent, Simon Kavanagh, and some very good friends. Needless to say, the evening soon degenerated into a ménage of heated debate, loud Germans and rather good Star Wars impressions.

Roll on Newcon 5.

On our arrival back home, Halloween weekend promptly took precedence. My father, the eternal party animal demanded a fiesta of the gaudiest degree and bought out every tacky outlet offering ghoul masks, blood splattered tablecloths, plastic wall hangings and shrieking witches. Scarlet enjoyed a party with her school friends in the afternoon, which I survived and even enjoyed. Then the adults descended for the main event in the evening. Thanks to the now-legendary ‘Lakin’ quiz, our living room was soon swarming with charadeers re-enacting Silence of the Lambs (yes, your imagination is smutty!)…come midnight I was more than ready to turn back into a pumpkin!

Sunday November 8th was my workshop and Q and A session at the Alt Fiction Writers’ Retreat in Derbyshire. Having spent most of my life exploring the beautiful peaks and valleys of Derbyshire, it was wonderful to find myself back amidst its atmospheric splendour – especially given the roiling black sky, lashing rain and isolated setting. Once inside however I was greeted by a roaring wood burner and a bunch of incredibly friendly, enthusiastic fellow writers. It was a brilliant afternoon and I was delighted to hear feedback from so many of the weekend’s participants afterwards. Just sorry I couldn’t rescue you all from the Green Sweets of Doom, but maybe the Zombie fraternity who moved in the following weekend were partial. The weekend was particularly fun because our dear friend Sam Moffat came to stay while her other half, Paul Skevington was busy at the retreat. Always fun. Always over too soon.

So now it’s back to my life as a writer…which is really all about the hard slog. In between I hope to enjoy a glass of mulled wine or several over the coming festive period and prepare myself for the wilds of winter come the New Year.

But before all that, I am to London for a riotous weekend with the charming Tom Hunter and his crew, then a smack down in Nottingham’s Rock City the following weekend in the company of my lovely sister. Better dust off the old New Rocks!

xxx

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