I woke myself at 6am and dressed in what shouldn’t have been darkness but was. I forget summer has pretty much come to an end. I shuffled into my swing dance petticoats, and zipped up the long black dress I’d bought from the vintage fair a month before the end of the academic term. It caught on the necklaces I’d chosen – one, my digital watch on a chain long enough to stuff into my top; the other, the rose-key, the only proper Steampunk necklace I own. I scraped my hair into a surprisingly-effective low bun and clipped a large blue flower over the escaping curls in my right-hand fringe, before painting my face with some muted tones.
Then, running late at ten past 7, I shuffled (I do that a lot with the petticoats) into the car and proceeded on my journey to Lincoln, home of the idyllic castle and cathedral. And, for one weekend per year, hundreds of alternate-history, Steampunks and eccentrics that love to dress up (I fall into each category) – for the biggest purely-Steampunk event in Europe: Weekend at the Asylum, run by the UK Victorian Steampunk Society.
Irritatingly, I missed the opening address/ceremony, since we arrived in Lincoln at 11 on the dot but had to find our way across the city to the Steampunk Quarter and Bailgate Road – which involved trekking, and I’m not overexaggerating with that choice of word, trekking up a hill road, aptly named Steep Hill. Luckily, once my feet hit cobbles, the number of utterly curious looks from ‘normals’ at my costume diminished somewhat and the number of men and women with fans, guns, hats, goggles and petticoats increased. I was on the right track.
I exchanged my ticket for the weekend wristband, and pressed my way through to the Castle Square – I’d given myself time for lunch at 12, and so I had an hour of nothing planned. Nothing…or shopping.
With three or four markets of vendors to peruse, we were spoilt for choice. The mainly-outdoor settings of these markets, which were always thronging with buyers, also gave me the opportunity to use my camera skills. Granted, it was difficult to truly get a good photograph with a pocket-camera, what with the different levels even in the street and the rushing of people all around…and my bewildering lack of height for these sorts of things! Nevertheless, I took the opportunity to get some shots of Lincoln Castle whilst in its grand grounds and also on both sides of its exterior.
I also almost bought myself a proper corset. As I ummed and erred over the shapes and colours, a pink-haired woman helped balance my umbrella and chatted about corset-belts (apparently, they’re called ‘waspies’) that do and look much the same as actual corsets, but are far less complicated. I recalled that I’d looked at them in passing, but I’d not bought one because of, you know, priority spending (and a fedora that never existed). She added that this was her first steampunk event, too, and that if I’d find her again – not hard to miss with the bright pink hair – I was welcome to wander around with her family. I grinned at her, thanked her for her recommendation and offer and wandered to where a crowd of photographers was gathered around a lady and her extraordinary costume.
As my camera fawned over how photogenic and beautiful this lady and her costume were, my eyes lingered to the rest of those gathered nearby. Some sat munching their lunch on the narrow cloisters of the castle; others hurried back and forth, dodging normals as they peered at the vendors’ wares; a solider, his scarlet uniform and white pith helmet decked with numerous cthulhu references and tea utensils, waited whilst a young woman snapped pictures of another’s dress, her movements sharp at the corners and her face a familiar plate of titanium alloy and dark steam vents.
That’s right, people. The Spine made it to the Lincoln Asylum (whilst the actual band were in Canada, I might add. They’re slowly, slowly making their way out of the US!).
I sidled over, and timidly asked if I might take her photo. Then, a little less timidly, I complimented her on her cosplay, so that she’d know I knew The Spine (come on, he was the subject of my last Teens Can Write, Too! post!).
“Gin?” someone asked, a beacon of light out of nowhere.
The reply was unanimously “Gin!” and I found myself chorusing along with the rest of this merry band. Over a decent Hendricks cocktail (seriously, although Hendricks is expensive, it is very good quality gin and worth trying), I learnt that everybody was just as new to each other as I was to them. The Spine and her rifleman friend (who had been The Spine for Friday’s events, so I was told) were local, but a lady dressed in a garment of money and the soldier, along with the Lone Ranger and a masked man, had met them at the Asylum, just as I had.
Sadly, my need for company (and gin *cough*) meant that I missed the heats of Tea Duelling at 1pm that I’d intended to attend in the ballroom of the Assembly Rooms where I’d hurried to grab my weekend wristband.
In the next hour, I also managed to avoid several of the talks and panels. ‘Putting the Punk into Steampunk’ was one I could have gone to, but there are lots of articles and notes online voicing the punky bit of Steampunk anyway. Same with ‘Steampunk as an International Scene’ – after all, I learnt about Steampunk from the US and most of the steampunks I have talked to are US people. It grew bigger and more quickly there
Instead, I wandered back through the castle grounds at 2pm where a crowd gathered my attention again. This time, I ducked through the arms, legs, hats and hydraulics to a side where I could clearly see the Steampunk version of space invaders. Nerf Vaders. Real life space invaders with nerf gun pellets, and awesome costumes.
3pm led me to my next activity, a writing workshop focusing on creating great beginnings (something I have trouble with as it is), held in Westgate Academy school. I actually chose this steampunk opportunity to give thought to any companion stories to Horology. Just as with When the Clock Broke, I’d postulated over sequels for a while, but, whilst having ideas, I’d not certainly said “yes, I want to write a sequel” or “no, this is preposterous”. (Or more precisely: “yes, I want to write a sequel. This is preposterous!”) Steampunk in particular lends itself well to novellas in the world. The writer cannot touch on all of the aspects of the alt-history fantasy in one book alone, hence must more be honed from the mind.
In the writing workshop, led by Sam Stone, author of several steampunk novels and a commissioning editor at Telos Publishing, we studied a couple of openings, both famous and alternate-history-y, discussed what we each thought makes a compelling opening of a novel – whilst the general consensus was “it depends on genre,” which is always very true when it comes to professional literature, the interesting point that arose from our discussions was that of our reader subjectivities, though not in so many words. Whilst I, having been ‘trained’ by the internet that way, was on the side of in media res, a good number of the writers in the discussion actually favoured reading and writing the slower approach to openings, be that via a world-building, scene-setting paragraph or by having the MC be introduced to the integral characters of a story. We also discussed recent published book beginnings we’d read, and the spread was the same.
After that, we were given fifteen minutes to write an opening (with no specifications as to length or genre or context), and we spent the rest of the workshop reading out and commenting on each other’s pieces. That’s right – reading out first draft pieces in front of strangers. This was practise for the competition tomorrow.
By now, my feet were aching, as was my core was from the waspies I ended up buying. And the amount of people asking to take my photograph, whilst gratifying, also had a tiring effect. As I sat considering whether dinner had any point, I realised I was running out of time to check in to my accommodation. I hurried back into the normal Quarter of Lincoln, gaining two hecklers on my journey, and bused to the suburb of North Hykeham where my B&B was.
Half 7pm passed in a blink of an eye, and I’d barely taken the weight off my feet before I had to put it all back on. I changed outfits as much as I could – I anticipated the cold with my pashmina, and threw caution to the wind by letting my hair down and swapping the flower for a mask. After all, we didn’t want Major Tinker,
organiser overlord of the event, to know that the dance hall event we were going to was not the saintly folk singing he assumed but dancing with a little less decorum! I’ll leave it at that! 😉
In all seriousness, though, I enjoyed the event, meeting up with the soldier and the rifleman for the actual event, and buying drinks with the pink-haired lady afterwards. Although a lot more static than I expected (we were in a theatre, rather than a room in which I expected to move from table to table socialising and the like), What Would the Major Say? is good fun, especially if you don’t take it seriously, and a good alternative for those of us who didn’t managed to snag tickets for the coveted Empire Ball.
Afterwards, the four of us wandered from the theatre to the Assembly Rooms and rejoined The Spine and co, who had managed to get to the Ball. Despite the fact it was definitely midnight by then, the steampunks migrated to the Victoria Pub just outside of the castle.
*phew* Stay tuned. Tomorrow: Sunday at the Lincoln Asylum.