Where’s May’s update? You ask. Where have you and Chris been? You might also ponder. What the hell is ‘The Separated Man’? You say.

All valid questions. With different things going on in our lives (Chris doing work for FYW and me getting distracted by a cartoon dinosaur) we sort of let our updates for May slip. Very naughty of us, I know.  No excuses. Now halfway through the year I think we’re both beginning to realise that our chief rival is not one another, but Time itself. So, with tempus fugit-ing, there’s no time to dawdle. Let’s crack on.

How many words have I done? God knows. A lot. I’ve been working over sixteen different chapters and I’ve lost track of the word count. It’s well over ten thousand though. Probably closer to twenty thousand actually. I think I’ll leave it as a surprise now for when I stick it together. No. No, I promise to have counted by the next update.  But as you might be able to tell from that estimate it’s been going well. Very well. No creative constipation, just lots of writing, lots of story and plot progression, and lots of focus on this line in particular:  

“I conceived the perfect crime: a dead man committing a murder.”

 This is a sentence spoken by one of my characters: it’s up on a post it note on my wall, and whenever I write it is in my head. Because no matter how much flash and exuberance I add to the plot, no matter how many undead soldiers or Difference Men or ray guns there are, no matter how gaudy the Steampunk trappings, ‘The Separated Man’ is all about that one sentence. At it’s core it is about one, audacious crime, and everything else pivots around that.

 What’s that? What’s The Separated Man? Oh yes, sorry, I forgot to mention. I changed the name. ‘The Invention of Steam’ is now ‘The Separated Man’. I hope you like it as a title. I said right at the start of this Duel that ‘The Invention of Steam’ was a title likely to change. I expected it would. Titles, like any other part of a novel, can change at the click of a key or the flourish of a pen. I like to have a title in place though – I’m pretty good at them and having one helps solidify the idea of the story in my head. A good title is something you can really get behind.

‘The Invention of Steam’ sounds good, and makes sense in the context of the story, but I always felt there was a more apt and maybe exciting title to have. During May I went through an exhaustive list of possible titles in the hope of finding just the right one. The answer, as often is the case, was staring me directly in the face, but there were some serious contenders to it. Remember, it’s a Steampunk origins tale.

‘Rebel Steam’ was, for a long time, the lead title in my mind and one that best described the plot and themes, but the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a Steampunk Steven Seagal movie … … … Actually I’d watch that. ‘The Difference Men’ was another good one in my mind and had a couple of levels of meaning to it, but as the story has progressed the characters of The Difference Men became less prominent. It would be like naming ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘The Adventures of Mr Bumble’. ‘SteamHeart’ grew on me, but it made it sound a bit Young Adult and so far the novel can’t really be described as that. It’s gotten surprisingly dark and Gothic, what with its numerous murders and, what I’ve come to best describe as ‘anatomical horror’. Eventually, looking through the chapters already completed, the heading ‘The Separated Man’ stood out and it worked on more levels than any other. Many characters in my story can be described as ‘separated’ men or women, and all for different reasons. And the theme of separation and its interpretation goes right to the heart of the story. In fact, it goes right to that sentence I have on a post-it.

But while characters may be separated, the story is finally knitting together. ‘Phew!’. It’s been a fair challenge writing chapters out of order when they all have to connect so neatly – a bit like putting together a Lego set in the wrong order – but things are starting to coalesce. I’ll remind you of this when the whole story is finished, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled. Everything is connected, every interaction has a cause and effect, and there are moments early in the narrative that appear meaningless but which are vital to the plot later on. A bouquet of flowers that are mentioned in one chapter become an entire plot point later on. A stranger in the street doing something completely unrelated to the story is actually doing something integral to the story. My aim is to have you go back and realise ‘Ohh that was there all along but I didn’t notice it!’ Gosh I hope it works. And now that the story is actually taking shape here are ten tasty teasers as to what you can expect from it: 

  • Ray guns make more work for butlers.
  • Do not try and play the drinking game ‘drink every time a character drinks’ with this story. You will be dead by Chapter 3.
  • ‘Mr. Othniel Maggadees’ is my favourite name.
  • An entire career will become completely redundant in Steampunk Britain. It’s not dustbin men but it is disposal of a sort.
  • Speaking of jobs, new Steampunk careers include: Zeppelin Refuelling Technician, Omniclock Repairman, Ionised Potassium Salesman, Chief of Aesthetics, and Holography Designer.
  • Spring-Heeled Jack is the evil Iron Man of the 1800s.
  • There really is a fight in a special effects warehouse. Ardent viewers of Futurama will appreciate this reference.
  • One man’s Steampunk terrorist is another man’s Victorian freedom fighter.
  • There’s a restaurant that serves only exotic and endangered species in dishes such as ‘Toucan Salad’ and ‘Rhino a la Hamburg’. Weirdly, this isn’t so far from true high-class Victorian eating as you might think.
  • “Why would you give a calculator eyes?” is a very bad question.

That’s all for now. See you next month!