Cover Reveal: Iron Lights

Here she is, in all her end-of-trilogy glory:

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And with her sisters:

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Wow. I can’t wait to have all three on a table.

Speaking of tables, this weekend is GammaCon Canberra, for all your nerdy needs!

You can find out more here, or just show up at Exhibition Park between 9am and 5pm this weekend (or 6-11pm Saturday, for Gamma @ night—yes I’ll still be there, drunk on tiredness).

Fan Art

Choices That Matter is a serial story hub app by Tin Man Games. KG Tan is the project head and editor. The stories are:

And The Sun Went Out written by KG Tan, Alyce Potter, and myself.

And Their Souls Were Eaten written by yours truly (edited by KG Tan and Phill Berrie).

And Their Heroes Were Lost written by Phill Berrie (edited by KG Tan and yours truly), which is still getting periodically updated at the moment (the ‘serial’ part of the app).

 

All of which is to say that there is a bunch of awesome fan art out there, and it’s high time I collected some here!

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This is Etienne Sole, one of the love interests in And The Sun Went Out. The artist is Frey. His website is here and his twitter is here.

 

There’s more gorgeous And The Sun Went Out art here (but I can’t figure out how to contact the artist).

 

If you know of more fan art out there please let me know. I’ll share anything G-rated (and I love knowing about it all, OF COURSE).

TrailerFest 2018

Today I decided that my 2-3 (I honestly don’t know) YouTube accounts needed tidying up, so I started a fresh new channel (because that simplifies things, right?) using the MagicintheMailStories@gmail.com email account.

As you may have guessed, I love doing my own book trailers. It’s so much fun!

The channel is here (don’t click on that; they’re all right here).

Then I slightly-edited ALL my existing book trailers to make sure they all link back to my store, and put them all on the magical new channel. And here, for your convenience… including the NEW trailer for IRON LIGHTS (with a sneaky cover reveal)… are all my book and story trailers thus far.

Antipodean Queen 1: Heart of Brass

This trailer took several days to make as I tried to capture the sense of the novel via visual images (a process that became tradition for all three Antipodean Queen trailers). It’s the first trailer I ever attempted, and my first go at iMovie too. I’d filmed the waterworks engine at the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair the previous October, and several of my friends like steampunk and/or historical garb (and dancing) so I found quite a lot of images that way, then filled the trailer out with some stock images, and some pics from Michael Estrada (who is very generous with his images; I found him on deviant art by accident some time ago).

There’s some adorably (I hope) bad photoshopping here, too: Combining a stock image of steampunk people with my own photo of a hot air balloon; the top hat on this trailer’s version of Matilda; the clumsy erasure of a modern background.

I have my own ideas about which people in this trailer represent which characters. The couple in the thumbnail are now married so they fit Matilda and Patrick rather well. In fact I usually run into them at the Goulburn Fair.

I remain pathetically grateful to FLAP! for letting me use three of their songs (one per trailer). I’ve seen them live twice (first in Melbourne, then Canberra) and I hope their component parts are still making music. This song is a true story about a convict’s attempted escape from a Tasmanian prison. The second is also a true story… this time about the time the lead singer fell off a cliff and broke both her legs!

Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone

I was delighted to discover that the model Irina Braga (who features on the covers) had done three different steampunk photo shoots. The image below is one that hasn’t been altered. I actually stumbled across her husband on one of the facebook steampunk communities I’m part of, and he bought a copy of the first book.

This trailer benefited from the advance knowledge that it would exist; I deliberately collected images over time. One might argue that my daughter is the star here, and I am absolutely fine with that.

I’d noticed at my first book launch that it’s worth taking a moment to explain what steampunk is before carrying on. And that it’s fun to mix videos with still images (although stock video costs a LOT).

Yes, the first image after the opening train is indeed me, looking rather younger and fitter than I do these days. But I still have that corset 🙂

Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights

This trailer didn’t cost a cent. Almost every picture (and all three videos) were taken at—again—the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. In fact the lady with the wings (Leanne, I think) had a not inconsiderable influence on the plot.

Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that the British flag-vested gentleman is the very same man that I thought of as ‘Patrick’ in the trailer for Heart of Brass, and that there are at least three versions of Emmeline in the one trailer (the woman with the clockwork handle in her back is author and model Tara Moss, who is a simply fantastic human being).

I was careful to include both my children this time. TJ is the boy in the brown aviator hat; Louisette is the tiara-wearing pirate (apparently “more treacherous than any sea” although she certainly doesn’t look it).

I LOVE the image of the three books side by side, and went back to add it to trailers #1 and #2.

The pictures of the lighthouse and the sea were all taken by me at the Lonsdale Lighthouse. ‘Miss Venture’ is a real historical image that I based the character on.

IRON LIGHTS will be launched on Sunday 26th August 2018 2:15-2:45pm at Kings’ Hall (Old Parliament House) as part of the Canberra Writers’ Festival.

Heest Trilogy 1: The Monster Apprentice (set in Rahana)

I wanted this trailer to feel quite different, so I hired some actor friends and told a story (of sorts) through the videos & music (this was a very expensive trailer). When I had all the internal illustrations, I added several of Tash Turgoose’s pics. I’m very pleased with the result.

Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

The fundamental appeal—and difficulty—of the “Murder in the Mail” story system is that it has to be explained to every single reader. For that reason, I tried to be as clear as possible. I filmed relatives of mine posting and retrieving A4 envelopes from mailboxes, and ultimately only used the “recipient” footage (although I like it a lot).

Louisette did some very matter-of-fact acting which I wanted to include but the “Murder in the Mail” artists gently pointed out that having a child prominently featured was rather confusing for a murder mystery story.

For some reason Adobe gave me several free stock images at just the right moment, so I used that plus some of the art that I had permission to use publicly. I paid for the music.

This trailer was very useful for the Kickstarter campaign, as it’s well above the usual Kickstarter video standards. This is what my trailers look like when I’m trying to be closer to the ‘professional’ end of the ‘professional to quirky’ scale.

Magic in the Mail story series (Emmeline’s Empire and Feuding Fae)

This trailer took perhaps half an hour, and cost nothing! The song is the same song that’s included with the Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire story, and I used 100% art images rather than stock images. I copied and pasted the Murder in the Mail trailer into a new file, and then simply changed it from there, being careful to echo the beats of the original without making the two trailers identical.

And since Magic in the Mail is more child-friendly than Murder in the Mail I could use Louisette’s face in this one. Winner.

 

Do I have any advice for people making their own trailers?

Hmmm. Try to keep it under a minute, with striking images and emotions that give a sense of the book rather than necessarily focusing on plot or characters.

Have an EPIC cover.

Keep in mind that you can get a pretty decent book trailer for $5 or so. 😛

Magic in the Mail

The (first?) “Murder in the Mail” Kickstarter was successful, raising thousands of dollars. You can read more about that story here.

As you can probably guess from the title, this led to further shenanigans.

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There are currently TWO “Magic in the Mail” stories in development:

Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae

This is a tale of two missing magical creatures; a phoenix and a water dragon.

Phoenixes and dragons hate one another, so foul play seems likely. Their concerned parents team up with some magic-sensitive mortals to follow the missing “children” and perhaps save their lives. The missing ones have left a trail of art behind them (because an encounter with a magical creature inspires wonderful art).

It is posted in three parcels, and includes artistic objects which you’re going to love!

It is also 100% G-rated.

$50 plus postage (or $40 if you buy the boxed set in person at a conference/fair) through the store right here.

The first mail-out will be June **2019** but you can make preorders now.

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This beautiful anuragnathus (yes it’s a real dinosaur) by Alan Lam is part of the story—and yes, the Chinese character is both a clue and a red herring.

What does a dinosaur have to do with a story of magical runaways?

You’ll have to buy the story to find out.

Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire (mini story)

This is a steampunk fantasy tale set in the same world of magical metals as all my other steampunk, including my novels (in fact it takes place at the same time as part of Iron Lights and the game Attack of the Clockwork Army).

A Perfectly Ordinary (she says) shop-keeper named Xiong joins a fledgling rebellion headed up by the famous Emmeline Muchamore. It’s a tale of secrets, hope, aeronauts, lighthouses, an alternate reality Charles Dickens, and fruit ices for all.

$30 plus postage (in a single pack because I’m trying to keep it affordable) from my store here. Available now!

The first mail-out is. . . within 6 months of the first order. Probably more or less instantly. This story is a much smaller operation than the others. I’ll be feeling my way as I go.

A stripped-down version will be included with my third steampunk fantasy novel (available in August 2018), with just two black and white pieces of art included. The full version has a build-your-own hot air balloon, handmade jewellery and a steampunk song by the Littmus Steampunk Band!

Here’s one of the pieces of art. This is a print of an oil painting by Graham Gercken, who takes special orders.

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Since people tend to feel strongly about the genres of both crime and fantasy, “Magic in the Mail” has its own forum, here.

 

All my stories are available through my store here.

The familarrr

Edit: For those of you who keep telling me you wish you could make it to one of my Interactive Fiction workshops (I generally run one at Conflux every October long weekend), here’s a video course I made on udemy: Introduction to Interactive Fiction. It’s $20.


 

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This was, of course, taken at the Pirate Ball & Book Launch last night.

Here’s some more:

 

Time for a rest!

My next public event is a talk/workshop on Interactive Fiction at the University of Canberra on Friday 2 March 5:30-7:30pm. It’s a rare opportunity to talk IF with me for free, and it’s open to the public.

If you read the dedication to Silver and Stone you’ll know that this group took me in when I was scrambling to write the second Antipodean Queen book. They’re a smart & friendly crowd and I recommend checking them out.

Their facebook page is here.

Monstrous Interviews

If you thought you heard me on One Way FM Canberra this morning, you’re quite right. Priscilla and I got on so well I’ll be returning on Thursday 22nd to talk about how the pirate ball went. And… I might just give a book away on air.

Here are some fun bits of online-only content linked to The Monster Apprentice!

​Here is info on the Pirate Ball this Saturday. (Or here, if you prefer facebook.)

And here’s ANOTHER interview, this time by Megan Higginson, as a blog entry (rather than a podcast or radio interview).

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I haven’t decided on my full outfit, but I’ll definitely be sporting a white puffy shirt and an ever-so-buckled overshirt.

The Monster Apprentice is available for pre-order through Odyssey Books, and I’ve also seen it for pre-order on Amazon Australia, which means it is or soon will be at all the usual online places, and will gradually trickle into some bookshops. You can order it into any bookshop or library.

ISBN: 978-1-925652-13-0 (pbk) | 978-1-925652-14-7 (ebook)

Murderous Kickstarter!

The Kickstarter for the first Murder in the Mail story is now live. It’s packed with unique rewards. Most are available anywhere in the world.

Murder in the Mail tells stories through letters, objects, and artworks mailed to the reader over several weeks.

The first story is A Bloody Birthday.

Naomi, your cousin, is killed at her own birthday party. One of the guests is the killer, and you have asked them all to write to you and send artworks to help you figure out who could have done such a thing.

Every letter, object, and piece of (quality-printed A4 size) art holds at least one clue.

There is a forum for readers to talk to each other at murderinthemail.boards.net.

I am the curator as well as writing one of the characters. There are twelve writers/artists altogether.

Monster Apprentice Easter Eggs

I was eighteen years old, sitting on a folding chair on a polished concrete floor in an Indonesian classroom. It was hot, and I was daydreaming, and I had an idea.

What if I invented a world complicated enough and rich enough that I could write all kinds of books in it? What if that world was different to all the straight-white-male-authored fantasy that I’d read growing up?

So I invented Rahana, a world based on Indonesia, where every island is physically and culturally different to the rest, where the weather is always tropical, and where magic is so common that physical strength is irrelevant.

Over the years since then I’ve written many stories set in Rahana, and expanded my horizons by travelling on the Young Endeavour sail training vessel. Now, almost twenty years later, my first Rahana book is about to be released.

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I am absolutely thrilled that Tash Turgoose (author of “Makeshift Galaxy”, and now one of my “Murder in the Mail” writer/artists too) is doing internal illustrations for this series. These are some of the pictures that had to be left out for reasons of space:

 

And here is a real-world recipe for Toffee Fish:

Ingredients:

-Four salmon fillets

-Four tablespoons maple syrup

-One tablespoon sesame oil

-One tablespoon butter

-Four cups cooked rice

-One cup peas

-One cup corn kernels

-Two teaspoons sesame seeds

 

Method:

  1. Marinate the salmon in the sesame oil and maple syrup for up to twenty-four hours.
  2. Melt butter in a frying pan and add the rice, peas, and corn. Stir occasionally.
  3. Line a tray with aluminium foil and lay out the salmon fillets (skin side up if you are using fillets with skin), drizzling a teaspoonful of the remaining marinade mixture on top of each fillet. Cook at 180 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
  4. While that is cooking, add the rest of the marinade mixture to the rice mixture and continue cooking it until the salmon is ready.
  5. When preparing the plates, put the salmon on top of the rice (skinless side up if you are using fillets with skin) and sprinkle it with sesame seeds.

 

Serves four

 

A little piracy

Last weekend I ran a stall at CanCon for three days. It’s Canberra’s biggest board game gathering, and this was the 40th year.

 

I wore corsets! It was so exciting! And there was a T-Rex. I’ve already booked the exact same stall location for January 2019.

I also wore my pretty pretty princess outfit:

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I didn’t actually take a proper camera. Most of these photos were taken on my kindle (NOT recommended, but awfully handy at times).

I’m uncommonly proud that I wore my hair three different ways over the three days. I’m often too tired to brush it before leaving the house.

My new and improved post-surgery body held up pretty well, although I was as careful as I could be while still staffing the stall. I rested a lot today, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t do any permanent injury to myself (I had a lot of ominous blisters and aches and suchlike, but luckily I have a lot of hospital-grade bandages which I used with great care, changing them every day). My wheelchair was handy because it made me feel comfortable sitting down (otherwise I’d feel rude), and because the armrests help support my back.

I sold a massive amount of books, and let a lot of people know about the free pirate ball happening on Saturday 17 February. My daughter also celebrated her 6th birthday on Saturday morning with a dress-up pool party (while my fellow author, Annabelle Lee, manned the stall at CanCon). Two of the younger siblings of her friends are BFFs with my son, so I took one of my favourite sets of photos ever:

These three boys are just as adorable in real life as they look in the pictures.

On the last day of CanCon I received the full set of illustrations for The Monster ApprenticeTash Turgoose does photorealistic pencils and I’ve been dying to see her work. Here are three small versions of some important characters: Captain Sol, an evil pirate; the heroine, Dance, coming face to face with a heest monster; and Ransom, who. . . well, you’ll have to read the books to find out.

 

You can immediately see that the fantasy world of Rahana was inspired by Indonesia. And that asking to have Tash Turgoose illustrate the books was a genius move on my part. I saw her book, Makeshift Galaxy, and I’ve been in awe ever since.

Why YES, she is one of the authors (and writers for that matter) for Murder in the Mail. Incidentally, I’m already taking pre-orders for Murder in the Mail. Details in the forum here.

The Monster Apprentice will be launched at the pirate ball on Saturday 17 February. It’s Book 1 of the Heest Trilogy, which is suitable for 10-14 year olds (and also people like me, that just like a great story). It’s likely there are more Rahana stories to come after this trilogy, too.

Sandy Fussell is one of my absolute favourite children’s authors (I own the entire Samurai Kids series), so I asked her for a cover quote for The Monster Apprentice. She gave me a selection! Here’s one:

  • The Monster’s Apprentice will transport you somewhere wonderful, unlike any world you’ve imagined. Caught between terrifying Heest monsters and murderous pirates, with only her name for a weapon, Dance must defend the ice island of Luar and its people.

She also said “I wish I had Felicity’s imagination” which is simply ludicrous. If you read any of her books, you’ll know why.

But I don’t mind a little flattery. I am a writer, after all.

And here’s the final trailer for The Monster Apprentice, for the three humans who haven’t seen it yet.

https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U

 

Murder for Fun and Profit

The Kickstarter for “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” was fully funded, and the story will be officially launched (as part of an art exhibition) in August 2018.

It is available for purchase in its “full” format until September 2019 right here, after which it will be available as a visual novel published by Publisher Obscura.

The full list of contributors is here, with pics (and book covers of the writers).

Here’s the trailer:

 

Here’s the same (nearly) trailer, but with me yabbering at the end. This is the trailer we used for the Kickstarter (before the store was set up).

Murder in the Mail is a story told through letters, objects, and artworks physically posted to the reader over the course of eight weeks.

The reader is a character in the story, invited to guess the identity of the killer each week. The Murder in the Mail forums are a place where readers can compare clues and insights, helping (or hampering) one another. Everything, including the art, contains clues to be unravelled.

The first story in the series is A Bloody Birthday.

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(Like the logo? It’s by Publisher Obscura author Annabelle Lee.)

A group of art students gather at a birthday party where the guest of honour is murdered. One of them is the killer.

You ask the group of friends to write letters to you, talking openly about what happened, and sharing art works they’ve done in the period of time before, during, and after the party.

People say artists show their soul through their art. . . now it’s up to you to discover the darkness inside someone you trusted.

 

There are eight beautiful pieces of art included with this story, all made by Australian artists (almost all of whom I scouted out personally here in Canberra). Every character is written by a different published Odyssey Books author (including Tash Turgoose from the Publisher Obscura imprint). The objects in the story are chosen to involve all the senses, and the art was chosen to be (a) Beautiful (b) Varied in style and medium (c) Packed full of clues.

For example, this picture has five clues in it.

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That beautifully intricate piece is by the artist Shauna O’Meara.

(Fun fact: This is not the final version of the pic. Can you spot the difference between this and the “real” one sent to readers?)

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During the Kickstarter period, there were a range of unique items for people to purchase, such as premium versions of the story or custom-made art by the featured artists.

There will be a very special launch on 25 August here in Canberra, and an exhibition at the Front Cafe Gallery in Lyneham (within sight of Tillies).

If you want to know more, you can email MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com or visit the official forum at MurderintheMail.boards.net.

You can buy it through my store here.

Here is another one of the artworks that will be in the story:

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It’s by Adam Lee.

Eight weeks is a long time to worry which one of your friends is a killer (even when the friends are fictional), and there are also some Easter Eggs and clues that are quite obscure. So go ahead and lurk and/or join the forum here. There’s lots of space to talk about other art and other types of stories. If you are an Australian or New Zealand resident and an artist, please share your style and details there. I will be actively scouting the forum for future stories.

I’ll be going to various conferences this year, and the first cab off the rank is Canberra’s biggest gaming conference, CanCon, in C Pavilion near the vast Games Library.

Feel free to come and chat, buy my books (or Annabelle Lee’s books), playtest some of my interactive fiction, and perhaps order a copy of Murder in the Mail for yourself or someone who would kill for it.

Oh, and there’s a facebook page here where at least one of our early reviewers will be sharing her first impressions.

Since the Kickstarter, I’ve been selling special box sets at all the conferences/fairs/etc that I attend, ie:

Sydney Supanova (June) in the Artist Alley stall “Publisher Obscura”
GammaCon Canberra (August) in Artist Alley
Canberra Launch (probably as part of the Canberra Writers’ Festival) August
Conflux Canberra (September-October)
Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk and Victoriana Fair (October)

There will be limited quantities of the packaged version, so email me in advance if you’d like to reserve one.

YES there are two “Magic in the Mail” stories in development right now! You can see more at the Magic Forum, and/or check out the whole store here.

THE MONSTER APPRENTICE Book Trailer

Yes, books have trailers now.

Yes—as is utterly obvious even on first viewing—I make my own trailers. It would actually be cheaper for me to hire someone else to do it. You can get a professional-looking trailer for around $5 if you know where to look. This trailer cost considerably more than that (I paid for music, actors, and three video clips).

The thing is, although I can barely navigate iMovie (or anything more complicated than a text document with a few hashtags and such for coding interactive fiction), I just adore putting together book trailers. For me they’re a great way to draw people quickly into the mood of the tale. And although I’m overwhelmingly not a visual artist, I admire it when I see it, and I like to dabble.

So without further ado, here is the first trailer for The Monster Apprentice:

 

NB: I accidentally deleted the rest of the credits on the Monster Apprentice trailer, which will eventually read:

With thanks to

ACTORS STEPH MATTHEWS AND ROBBIE MATTHEWS

BATTLE TRAIN MUSIC BY RJ WILX,

VIDEOS BY VIDEODIVE, CAPESCAPE, AND  VIDEOSTUDIO

This trailer kicks off a new series, for a new audience (children/tweens rather than adults/young adult) and is certainly has a different feeling and style to my other trailers. I’ve played it about a dozen times for my kids (and of course, roughly a million times for myself).

Here’s my other two (so far) trailers:

Antipodean Queen 1: Heart of Brass

 

Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone

I will be doing two more this year! One for Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday (that’ll be interesting—the trailer will need to explain how it all works), and one for Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights.

Heest 1: THE MONSTER APPRENTICE

You can buy the first book here, and in all the usual places (both online and in stores).

The heest are enormous monsters that live in the magically-sustained ice of Luar Island. They are both more and less than they seem.

When I was eighteen years old and living in Indonesia, I invented a fantasy world called Rahana. It is a place with thousands of islands and millions of potential stories, where magic is considered to be just another trade. Rahana is like Narnia, but with pirates.

The HEEST trilogy is written for children (but is, as always, the kind of thing I love to read as an adult).

The first book is THE MONSTER APPRENTICE. All three books will be illustrated by the glorious talents of Tash Turgoose and Lucie Mammone.

You can order it into any bookshop or library, buy it on all the usual online retailers, or buy the physical book directly from me (signed*) here.

ISBN: 978-1-925652-13-0 (pbk) | 978-1-925652-14-7 (ebook)

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The cover is here!!

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FYI, if you haven’t read Sandy Fussell’s books, you’re missing out. I especially love the Samurai Kids series. She is also a fantastic human being, which doesn’t hurt!

Here’s the trailer, with sneak peeks at some of the glorious internal illustrations by Tash Turgoose:

 

And here’s the opening:

CHAPTER ONE

I awoke from a dead sleep – for once, a sleep without nightmares. My bedroom was pitch black and silent, but my heart was racing. Then the sound came again – a man shouting at the top of his voice. He pounded at my family’s front door.

“Elder!” The man’s voice was sharp with terror. “Elder, wake up!”

The night air was hot and still. My sheets lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. At the open window my curtains hung in unmoving black lines. No wind slid through to ease the stifling heat. My mane oflong black hair felt heavy around my head. I didn’t dare move.

Dad would check on me before he went to answer the yelling. Ever since my twin sister died, he was that type of dad. Whenever he felt worried about something, I was told to go to my room – to sleep, if it was night time. No matter how many nightmares I had.

He was forever telling me to be careful, – but I was definitely not going to miss out on the fun this time. So I remained curled on my side as if I hadn’t heard a thing. If he didn’t tell me to go back to sleep, sneaking out wasn’t disobeying him. Not exactly.

“Elder, please!” The man’s voice broke, and I recognised him. It was Watchman, who spent each night staring out over the sea. I felt my first delicious shiver of real fear.

Still I didn’t move. I stared at my curtains, since they were directly in front of me. The black stripes looked like prison bars. Everyone  single person on the island had jail-bar curtains, since only one ship had brought curtains to Luar in twenty years. Dad could have organised more traders, but he chose instead to keep Luar Island as secret as possible. He wanted everyone to be safe.

Watchman hammered again on our heavy wooden door. I held my breath. Something was happening, and I was going to find out what it was – no matter what.

My bad eye skittered to the side, giving me half a view of the three carved masks hung on hooks on my wall – my most recent school project, worth a king’s ransom on any other island. Luar Island’s odd trees didn’t grow anywhere else – only magic could excuse the fact that explain how they grew at all – and as a result Luar’s art was more delicately carved than anywhere else in the world. And more valuable. We only used it for art – never for houses or burning. And on Luar, everyone was an artist.

“Elder!” cried Watchman. “Elder!”

“I’m here!” Dad called back.

The air tasted thick, like porridge. I wrinkled my nose at the smell of my own sweat, and listened to Dad’s measured footsteps. Dad never hurried anywhere. My door shushed in and out as he checked on me and then went to answer Watchman. Yellow light from his candle danced beneath my door, casting monstrous shadows.

After I counted three of his footsteps, I placed my own feet one by one on the cool trader wood of the floor. I slipped my shoes out from under the bed and put them on, lacing them tightly. Biting my lip, I ignored the clumsiness of my shaking hands.

If Dad called me I’d be dressed and ready: a proper daughter to Luar’s Elder. Just like my sister would have been.

If he didn’t call me, there was always the window.

The front door squeaked as it opened. Watchman stopped yelling. Usually he spent the night huddled on the far hilltop, keeping an eye out for the rare ships that knew to bring grain or cloth to trade for our precious carvings. It was his job to light the beacon fire to guide them to shore.

“Raise the village,” he gasped. “Pirates!”

 

Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights

That’s right! The title has changed.

This is the final book in my magical steampunk trilogy. The first book is HEART OF BRASS and the second is SILVER AND STONE.

You can buy IRON LIGHTS here or a full Steam & Sorcery pack here (it includes all three novels, and the full version of Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire).

Emmeline Muchamore was respectable once. Her sweetheart, Matilda Newry, certainly put a stop to that. But when Emmeline gains magical insight into a disastrous future battle, she weaponises her wild reputation in order to draw trouble and death away from her adopted home…risking everything and everyone she loves in the process.

Iron Lightsis a steam-powered tale of honour, love, magic, adventure, and mechanical spiders.

The book will be released in August 2018, launched at the Canberra Writers’ Festival (Sunday 26 August 2:15-2:45pm in Kings’ Hall at Old Parliament House) and available in time for Canberra’s speculative fiction conference, Conflux, which this year has the theme “The Unconventional Hero”. It’s a perfect theme for 2018 since my Emmeline is short, bisexual, female, and sometimes a bit thick.

The Iron Lights of the title refer to two famous historical lighthouses which play a vital role in the tale. There will be new and dangerous magic, another evolution of the flying machine, a clockwork army, and [redacted].

Here, to taunt you, are the first two sentences (which may also change utterly):

CHAPTER ONE

Being called a madwoman is, on the whole, preferable to being burned as a witch.

I looked forward to those occasions when male and female convicts were permitted to exercise at the same time, and I could converse with the man who shot me.


If you’re worried that you won’t have any more of my books to impatiently wait for. . . don’t. I have another full trilogy already written and edited and waiting in the wings.

When I was eighteen years old and living in Indonesia, I invented a fantasy world called Rahana. It is a place with thousands of islands and millions of potential stories, where magic is considered to be just another trade. It’s best described as being a lot like Narnia, but with pirates.

The HEEST trilogy is written for children (but is, as always, just the kind of thing I love to read).

The first book is THE MONSTER APPRENTICE.

My 2017: No wonder I need a lie down

What an epic year. I spent over 15 years of my life writing novels that nobody would touch, and now that it’s started to rain it’s pouring (which is a wonderful thing).

I spent vast amounts of time on the Tin Man Games “Choices That Matter” app (Google Play and iOS). It’s a story hub for serial interactive tales and it has over a million downloads of the free sample sections. The three stories so far are:

“And The Sun Went Out”

A near-future scifi which I co-wrote with KG Tan and Alyce Potter. It had 60 updates over 15 months, and clocked in at just over 600,000 words (longer than “War and Peace”). Each read-through is about 150,000 words.

“And Their Souls Were Eaten”

I wrote all of this one (edited by Phill Berrie and KG Tan), set in the same steampunk universe as my Antipodean Queen novels, but with a completely distinct magical problem (and taking place in Europe). The finished tale is 400,000 words long, and after that I had a nice lie down.

“And Their Heroes Were Lost”

Phill Berrie is writing, and KG and I are editing (oh how the tables are turned, hey Phill?) This is also sci-fi, but I don’t want to give away any more than that! Phill is still working on this story, and his fans are clamouring for each new update.

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I also wrote, edited, and published the novel “Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone“, and will be finishing that trilogy in 2018 with “Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights” (that’s right: the title has changed since Book 2 was published).

AND my actually-rather-good pirate fantasy trilogy for kids (like Narnia, but with pirates) that I wrote many years ago has been accepted for publication and shall begin release with a free pirate mini-ball (live music, prizes, costumes, and everything!!) on Saturday February 17th.

“The Monster Apprentice” is the first book. And it’ll be illustrated, too! Plus (shh don’t tell) one of my very very very favourite Aussie authors is going to read it and give me a cover quote!

And I have three other very exciting projects coming out in 2018! One I can’t talk about yet, one will be published on the premium label at Choice of Games (they pay VERY well for books that make the premium grade), and one is called “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” and is a murder mystery told entirely through postcards, letters, objects, and art. That link is to the shiny new forum where readers will be able to talk to one another about who they think is the killer, and how much they love all the art I chose!

2017 was a great year for my writing, and 2018 is going to be even better.

I is happy.

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Things are looking up.

Pirate Ball

It’s official. I can wear corsets again.

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And with three book launches this year, it’s not a moment too soon.

Do you live in Australia?

Do you live reasonably close to Canberra?

Do you love the Narnia books?

Do you love pirates?

Do you love live music?

Do you love dancing (and/or watching others dance)?

Do you love dressing up (and/or seeing those who do)?

Do you love chocolate coins and fairy bread?

Do you love prizes?

On Saturday February 17th 2018, the first book in my tween magical pirate trilogy will be released with an enormous free PIRATE BALL hosted by the epic Earthly Delights Historic Dance Academy.

They have agreed to run a pirate ball for their monthly extravaganza (7pm-11pm, $25) AND a free mini-ball/book launch for me from 6:30-7pm with lots of great beginner dances for all ages. My kids will be there, that’s for sure.

There will be prizes for best dressed, and for the treasure hunt.

There will be live music.

There will be professional dancers scattered among the crowd.

There will be wonderful and enthralling outfits both piratical and historical.

There will be free food.

There will be my Rather Excellent fantasy pirate novel, The Monster Apprentice, on sale and ripe for signings (along with Heart of Brass and Silver and Stone, naturally).

Date:

Saturday February 17th 2018

Location:

Canberra Baptist Church Hall, Currie St, Kingston

Times:

Free book launch and mini-ball 6:30pm-7:00pm including prizes and activities.

$25 full pirate ball 7:00pm-11:00pm

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Avast! Unlock yer daughters and belay any other plans!

Feel free to RSVP in the comments, and let me know if you’d like me to wrangle some discount ball tickets for you. I might just be able to find some… one way or another.

New News!!

To get discount tickets to the full-length ball (7-11pm), go to:

www.earthlydelights.com.au/upcoming

Adult Tickets are $25 at the door

Online Tickets are $22.50 for adults

If your friends buy online using the code PIRATES they can buy them for $20.00 each

Like Mother, Like Daughter

One of the gifts my parents gave me was the belief that writing is not a job, but a hobby. I didn’t write full-time until I was unable to do any other work (and I’m still not making minimum wage, even though I’m well above the average Australian full-time writer’s income of $12,000/year)

I am giving Louisette the same gift, assuring her that her stories are excellent and at the same time teaching her that if she’s a writer she’ll be something else as well.

It happens that she really is a good storyteller, with an epic imagination. At one stage she had had about thirty imaginary friends, puppies, horses, and relatives (including imaginary parents), as well as a range of vehicles to bring them all along with us.

She also has a great mind for science and engineering, which I loudly and unconditionally encourage. Last Christmas we bought her ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, which she loves, and which led to her winning a school prize for a House-Car-Plane device this year.

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This year one of her gifts is this building kit, which includes its own motor! How cool is that, for $25ish!

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But I digress.

Today, for the first time, she pointed out a plot hole in a TV show (specifically, “Why doesn’t the yellow dog go with the blue dog to make the fence? They’re both builders.”) That warmed my writerly heart.

But then I read her the first chapter of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE, bracing myself for my harshest review ever. Not only did she like the story and immediately care about the outcome (phew!) but she understood and extrapolated the universe of the story.

Rahana is a fairly low-tech world (although their ships are more advanced than the rest of their tech due to the fact that the world is made up of thousands of islands), and in the first chapter of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE an isolated and defenceless island wakes in terror at the news that a pirate ship is approaching.

I asked Louisette what she was worried about in the story. She said she was worried about the pirates coming, because Dance and her family, “don’t have swords or shields or anything”.

Here’s the thing: I never mentioned any kind of weapon in the story. She figured out the technology level because of her knowledge of history and/or the conventions of fantasy fiction!

I’m misty-eyed just thinking about it.

THEN she blew my mind a second time by suggesting, “Maybe they’ll invent electricity and that will help them fight the pirates.”

She’s five years old, and she’s a master of military tactics. That’s my girl.

 

 

Shiver Me Timbers!

I said I had big news. This is it.

My middle grade (age 9-14ish) trilogy, all about fantastical pirates and monsters, has just been officially accepted for publication by Odyssey Books.

The first book is called THE MONSTER APPRENTICE, and will be launched in February 2018 (in time for Goulburn ComiCon).

It’s set in a fantasy world called “Rahana” which I invented seventeen years ago. It’s like Narnia, with pirates.

I wrote the first draft of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE in a New Zealand backpacker in Christchurch when I was twenty-two. I know exactly how old I was because I had just scraped into the upper age bracket for the Young Endeavour Sail Training Vessel (doing writerly research for STORMHUNTER).

I’m thirty-five now, but this is a pic of me at twenty-two on board the Young Endeavour, with New Zealand in the background. The character of Captain Sol in the story was inspired by the tales told by one of the navy staff on the boat (taken and altered with her permission).

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Oh, how I love research!

So it turns out Louisette’s pirate outfit last weekend was extremely appropriate.

People who’ve known me a long, LONG time will know that STORMHUNTER, the first book in my young adult magical pirate trilogy (also Rahana), was accepted for publication a while ago, but that particular publisher isn’t running any more. The story is here and here.

This is the closest I get to non-fictional piracy these days:

Boat

Arrrr!

I really haven’t changed all that much after all.

I’ll start reading THE MONSTER APPRENTICE aloud to Louisette this evening. (Finally, a book of my own I can read to her!) Five year-olds are a tough crowd, so I expect I’ll be doing some more editing based on her reactions.

If you can’t wait until February, I have a definitely-not-suitable-for-children pirate game called SCARLET SAILS already on sale (and the beginning is free) here. Or you can search for “Scarlet Sails Hosted Games” on your favourite app store.

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List of all my Interactive Fiction

I make most of my writing income from interactive fiction. (As soon as I say “writing income” out loud, my fellow authors want to know more.)

Most people who find me via my blog know me as a novelist, so I’ll pitch this entry as if you’re hearing about modern IF (interactive fiction) for the first time.

[If you’re looking for Murder in the Mail or Magic in the Mail, click here or scroll down the the end of this entry for info. Or just buy them from my store.]

I’m collecting fan art here.

It’s a lot like those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books from the 80s, which would give readers a choice every few pages. Some ‘Goosebumps’ stories also let readers steer the story. The main difference is that almost all modern IF is released as a digital app. Not only is it outrageously popular (everyone loves an app), but the digital format gives it an amazing potential for more subtle, personal choices such as gender, sexuality, and even the main character’s name.

Almost all of my interactive fiction is listed under my name on the Interactive Fiction Database. That’s a great place to find reviews and ratings.

If you’re attempting to read every steampunk tale I’ve written (aka “Steam & Sorcery”, which includes the “Antipodean Queen” novel trilogy) in a logical order, there’s a reading guide here. Everything steampunk in this list is underlined.

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Cover image provided by Michael Estrada, with permission.

After the Flag Fell is a nice gentle way to get into modern IF, mostly because it’s so old-school that you can literally print it out. It’s also short, and free. (I edited it a little after it won the Windhammer Contest, and tacked it onto the HEART OF BRASS novel.) You can read it online here. Be warned, though, that there are spoilers if you haven’t read the novel. It’s a fascinating tale based on the true history of the real-life Peter Lalor.

Escape From the Female Factory is even more user-friendly than “After the Flag Fell”, since it has no statistics or inventory at all. It is also a printable short story, since I wrote it especially to go with the SILVER AND STONE novel. I planned to convert it into Twine and enter it in the 2017 IF Comp, but I ran out of time. I may expand and digitalise it some day. There are spoilers if you haven’t read the novel. It’s a story that branches with every choice, and gives you many many many tragic endings—and two good ones. You play a suffragette in a women’s prison trying to stay alive, keep your friends alive, and gain your freedom.

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Scarlet Sails is a Hosted Game (hosted by Choice of Games, but not under their premier label) that can be read on your browser or virtually any device. It placed seventh in the IF Comp 2015, and that version is free to read on your browser here. I wrote a lot more before publishing it here (click through to see all the different formats). It is a pirate game filled with violence, drinking, mutineers, and monsters. You can choose to embrace or defy the pirate lifestyle in a variety of ways.

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Choices That Matter is a serial story app released by Tin Man Games. I came on board as co-writer on Arc 4 of “And The Sun Went Out” (with Alyce Potter and KG Tan; KG is also the project head and final line of editing), wrote “And Their Souls Were Eaten“, and I’m editing “And Their Heroes Were Lost” (written by Phill Berrie, who edited “Souls”), which will be completed in 2018. Google Play and iOS have different payment systems; on Google Play you can earn “choice tickets” by watching ads, and avoid payment altogether. But it takes a long time.

And the Sun Went Out” is a near-future scifi in which the sun vanished for three hours and then reappeared. Scientists around the world are getting murdered, and it’s your job to try and find out whether the sun is back for good… or not so much. You are also educating Moti, an AI character that looks like a smart watch (and if you have an apple watch, you can choose to have Moti ‘speak’ to you through the watch).

“And Their Souls Were Eaten” is my longest and most popular story. It’s steampunk fantasy set in 1837 Europe. You’ve spent years living a solitary life, avoiding both your costly magical destiny and the horrifyingly intelligent albino bear that is stalking your family and has already killed your sister. But your quiet life is over, and it’s up to you what you do next.

And Their Heroes Were Lost” is a scifi tale that I can’t say too much about. You wake up in what people call ‘Camp Amnesia”, unable to remember anything about yourself—even your own name. It soon becomes clear that there’s a reason you and the others are separated from the other prisoners.

Attack of the Clockwork Army is the first ChoiceScript story I ever wrote. I remain proud of the ‘fatal flaw’ innovation, and the epilogue. It’s steampunk fantasy set mainly in Australia. Your long-dead sister is alive and asking you to come to Australia, where tensions are running high between the British and the colonials. It soon becomes clear that you’re about to land right in the middle of the war for a nation… but who will you fight for?

Stuff and Nonsense was originally written as a live-action roleplaying game (similar to those ‘Murder Mystery Dinner’ board games). I converted it to Twine and added a bunch of pictures (and, be warned, some abrupt music at the end). It’s very silly, and is best enjoyed as a side trip away from the other steampunk tales. You’re part of a band of colonial rebels visiting an Australian Grand Exhibition, and Queen Victoria herself is set to visit.

Starship Adventures (here) and Lost in the Pages (here) are both games I wrote with other people. They’re both Hosted Games, so you can click through to read them on your browser or see the wide variety of app stores where they’re available.

“Starship Adventures” is a retro scifi space adventure complete with carnivorous plants, strategically-ripped uniforms, and (if you like) a floral unitard for you to do your heroics in.

“Lost in the Pages” is a book-portal story. You travel through a range of very different stories trying to rescue your eccentric Uncle Irwin from a malevolent force.

Home/Sick was edited and used in the collaborative game Lost in the Pages. I think there’s an early version of it via here, that was written in three hours for a contest.

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Enchanted (here, and free I think) is a story told entirely through SMSes (including a soundtrack I rather like, and many images). Warning: Time delays are part of the story! I’ve lost track of how people are actually able to play it. Kik messenger is best, facebook seemed clumsy to me, and there may be other places. If you figure it out, let me know.

If you play it, you need to pick one romantic interest and stick with it, or the story won’t make sense. You’re a young adult in a small town in which there are vampires, witches, and were-creatures. They all get alone fine… sorta. Along the way you’ll find out what kind of creature you are, who loves you, and some of the many dangers lurking in your peaceful magical backwater.

Counting Spoons (free here) is a game about a day in the life of a mentally & physically ill person. It needs an edit but I’m scared to re-read it because of the topic (thinking about depression makes me depressed, which is why it’s short). It was originally written for the Noted festival 2016.

 

And now for something completely different.

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Murder in the Mail is a murder mystery series told entirely through letters, objects, and art sent through the physical mail over the course of several weeks. The first story is A Bloody Birthday, which will have a Kickstarter Feb 17-end May 2018, and will be officially released on 25 August. The “pure” physical version will end 13 months after release, so get it while you can. The whole story costs just $40 including postage, and there’s more info here and a designated forum here.

Magic in the Mail is similar, but fantasy. There are two stories in development. The mini story “Emmeline’s Empire” will be available by June 2018 (but mail-out times will vary depending on jewellery supplies). “Feuding Fae” will have its first mail-out in June 2019.

More info here, and the magic forum is here.

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Antipodean Queen 2: SILVER AND STONE

SILVER AND STONE is the middle book of my Australian steampunk fantasy trilogy, which began with HEART OF BRASS and will end in 2018 with IRON LIGHTS.

You can buy SILVER AND STONE here (I’ll even sign it for you), or the full STEAM & SORCERY pack here (all three novels plus the full version of Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire).

If that embedded video doesn’t work, you can also watch the trailer here (it includes a fast-and-dirty explanation of steampunk, and features my daughter).

Silver and Stone cover

Like to read the back cover? Here it is:


Getting into prison is easy.
Getting out is hard.
Getting away is nearly impossible.
Getting the power to control your own destiny might cost everything you have.

Emmeline, Matilda, and Patrick are sworn to rescue Patrick’s mother from the infamous Female Factory prison, but when a vengeful police officer tracks down their hideout, things get worse fast.

Soon they’re framed for a double murder and fighting a magical monster in the eerie and unfamiliar island of Tasmania. Patrick’s mother hides crucial papers in a tin under her prison smock, and her best friend Fei Fei is dying in the overcrowded prison.

More than one woman’s life hangs in the balance.


You can order it via Odyssey Books or Amazon US, or Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound, or Amazon Australia. It’s also for sale through Kobo, Abe Books, and The Book Depository.

As a rule, it’s easier to search for “Felicity Banks” than “Silver and Stone”.

The ISBN is 978-1-925652-20-8 (pbk) | 978-1-925652-2-15 (ebook)

You can use that number to quickly and easily order it into any bookshop you like. Most Australian bookshops and libraries should stock it already. If you’re in Canberra, Harry Hartog’s in Woden does a good job of keeping my books in stock.

SILVER AND STONE can always be bought in physical form directly through the publisher (who will post it to you—Odyssey is linked to printers in Australia, the US, and the UK, so if you’re in one of those nations the postage cost will be domestic).

It is extremely helpful to me for readers to leave reviews at Amazon and/or Goodreads. The more you say why you like/dislike it, the more other readers will know if it suits them or not. I do read reviews but I’m not bothered by negative ones (sometimes I even learn something), so go ahead and be honest!

Like a sample?


CHAPTER ONE

I don’t deliberately make things explode.

Patrick O’Connell stomped on the trap door above my head. Bang, bang, bang.

Three bangs was Patrick’s signal for ‘May I come in?’ He was quite well-mannered for a bushranger―or perhaps by now he’d simply walked in on Matilda and I kissing one too many times. I grabbed my six-foot iron poking stick and tapped the three bangs back to him through the ceiling to indicate he was welcome to enter.

The trap door creaked open and Patrick looked down at me, shaking his head like a disappointed parent. ‘How do you expect me to get the grease out of that dress?’

I looked down and noticed that my apron had, as usual, failed to protect my clothing. There were several spots of oil here and there, as well as dust and soot and tiny burn marks from my magically altered and occasionally self-combusting rats.

‘I don’t expect you to get the grease out,’ I said. ‘We’ll buy a new one next time we go to town.’

He grunted in reply and descended the ladder to pass me a tin mug of black tea. I tasted it, noting there was plenty of honey, just the way I liked it. So he wasn’t truly cross after all, just anxious. Patrick had good reason to be tense, given his mother’s location. He cast a glance over my desk, which lined the entire underground room on four sides. I resisted the urge to hide certain diagrams. It wouldn’t have done any good, since I’d already made several models and was experimenting to see whether the effects of magical metal scaled consistently between miniature and life-size machines.

I had to get it right―for Patrick more than anyone. His mother was a suffragette trapped in Tasmania’s ‘Female Factory’ prison, and we were going to get her out. All I had to do was figure out how to extract Mrs O’Connell without getting us all killed.

Patrick moved closer to the largest of my models: a steel train engine featuring twenty segmented metal legs designed to compensate for difficult terrain and/or a lack of railway tracks. The black silk balloon linked to the train’s roof was potentially useful to reduce the train’s weight and perhaps even harvest the heated air from the engine―but that was assuming Patrick let me cannibalise his precious hot air balloon for a radical new method of travel. From what I’d heard, Tasmania was much more inclined to dramatic vistas than was entirely convenient.

‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ he asked, rubbing his hands through his hair and making it stick up like straw. He chose not to say aloud what we were both thinking: There was little point in rescuing Shauna O’Connell only to burst into flames immediately afterward.

‘Not yet,’ I said stiffly. ‘I’m pushing the boundaries of what is possible.’

‘Hmm.’ He eyed the largest of the craters in the wall and rubbed the gunpowder burn on his cheek.

‘Would you like to see the train working?’ I asked, popping my goggles over my eyes in preparation.

‘Err. . . maybe when it’s ready for an open-air display,’ he said, and went back toward the trap door just as someone else stomped on it three times. Bang, bang, bang.

Patrick waited as Matilda descended, then he went back up the ladder into his father’s house.

Matilda examined me with a proprietary air. ‘You look unusually tidy today, but never fear―that’s easily fixed.’

She removed the pins from my hair one by one, and my red curls tumbled over my shoulders and just touched the top of my brass corset. I wore magical brass when I wanted its help to notice the most elusive details of my experiments, but sometimes it just made me notice Matilda more forcefully than ever. Matilda and I had both been working hard, knowing all the while that every delay meant another day of misery for Mrs O’Connell. Now that she was close my corset heated up, making me flush, and then deliberately opened all my senses to the woman I loved. Brass can be impertinent, and I wasn’t strong enough to resist the temptation to be distracted.

Matilda smelled of smoke and eucalyptus from her time spent burning off the nearby forest: a delicious mixture of our temporary outback home all tangled up with elemental fire. And she smelled of her own unique spice, making me want to lean forward and inhale until I swooned. Her coppery-brown eyes shone in the lantern-light, ready to laugh. Her lips parted. Her breath quickened. . .

I kissed her, and forgot I was holding a square of tin. It binged in emphatic delight, and I dropped it, hoping to defuse its magical enthusiasm. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except it landed on one of my rats, who immediately combusted in surprise, burning yet another large hole in the wooden floor. The tin parped in distress and Matilda stepped back. Her heel caught in the new crater.

She fell backward with a shriek, and I instinctively dived forward to catch her. As we both tumbled to the ground, I grabbed for something to hold on to. My hand hit the wooden strut holding up the opposite side of my workbench. The strut snapped in two, and the back half of the bench creaked alarmingly. I rolled off Matilda and crouched under the desk, bracing it with my hands and shoulders.

Matilda sat up, twisting around to face me. ‘Emmeline! Are you all right?’

‘Are you?’

‘Why are you holding up the table?’

‘So it doesn’t fall down.’

‘Ah.’ She stood and hastily moved objects from the collapsing bench onto the sections of the work table that were still secure.

‘It really is quite heavy,’ I said through gritted teeth.

Matilda moved faster, grabbing models and papers and cogs and jars and pliers at top speed. It wasn’t fast enough.

‘Poking stick,’ I said.

‘Now is hardly the time.’

‘Use the big iron stick to hold up the table. It’s strong, but it needs to be cut down to size.’

She grabbed the length of iron and laid it across two of the solid workbenches, making a triangle shape. There was an axe hanging on the wall so she grabbed it and hit the poking stick hard. It was no use. She cast the useless axe aside. Her frantic gaze landed on my rats.

‘Matilda, no!’ Just because the rats recovered quickly from deaths in the family didn’t mean they should be exploded willy-nilly.

She didn’t listen. She grabbed a rat and some string, and tied the innocent creature to the midpoint of the iron rod before grabbing the axe once more and crouching to meet the rat eye to eye. ‘Burn through that metal, or I’ll cut off your tail.’

The rat squeaked in terror and exploded outright, snapping the iron bar and casting a fine spray of blood, fur, and mechanical parts onto the nearby walls and floor. Matilda grabbed the remains of the poking stick and jammed both halves under my bench.

I slid out gratefully and rubbed my aching shoulders. ‘You killed my rat, but you did it in such a timely manner I can’t complain. Are you sure you don’t want to officially become my lovely assistant?’

‘Absolutely not,’ she said. ‘Although I confess I understand your penchant for explosions a little better now. That was fun.’

‘I don’t deliberately make things explode!’

‘What a shame,’ she said. ‘It’s a very attractive quality.’

‘Oh really?’ So this was flirting. I hadn’t had much practice at such things before I was transported to Australia. The other convicts had all known just what to do―I remembered my friend Lizzie with a sigh―but I hadn’t practised when I had the chance. It was a tragic oversight, but Matilda appeared to like me anyway. I leant casually on the workbench and tried to raise an eyebrow.

Crash!

The shored-up workbench collapsed, throwing papers, cogs, inkwells, and screwdrivers every which way. One lens of my goggles blackened with ink, and several small cogs landed and then stuck in the brass frame. Through the other lens I saw my match-tin spring open and several phosphorus matches spill out onto the rough floor, igniting at once.

Unfortunately, I had spilled enough grease over the course of several weeks to thoroughly soak the wooden floor, which promptly caught fire. My skirts were well within range of the flames, and I leapt up onto the more solid part of my workbench at once, laying more or less flat so I didn’t collapse another section. I was all too familiar with the flammability of my crinolines.

Matilda was wearing rational dress―a rather distracting set of trousers―by way of a compromise between dressing like her father’s British notions or her mother’s native ones. She kicked off her heels and used her bare feet to stomp out the fire while I lay helplessly on top of several homemade models designed to combine magic, steam, and silk in order to design a better airship. One of them slipped and drifted to the ground. It didn’t smash onto the floor, but floated gracefully. How marvellous. It worked. I resisted the urge to distract Matilda by pointing out my latest success.

The fire was almost out, and I carefully lowered myself to the ground, trying not to damage any more of my laboratory. Matilda stomped out the last of the fire and I just watched her, guiltily delighted at the sight of her black and blond tresses falling loose around her face.

At last we were safe.

She looked at me and laughed. ‘You were saying?’

‘Something about not exploding things,’ I admitted. ‘To be fair, you did specifically say that you enjoy the occasional fireball.’

‘So I do.’

She slipped her shoes back on, apparently unhurt.

‘Did Patrick ask you when we’ll be ready to rescue Shauna?’ she asked, casting a guilty glance upward, where Patrick and his father were stoking the kitchen engine ready to bake bread for lunch.

‘He’s focusing on safety today,’ I said. ‘He seems so calm, but he’s fetched me seven cups of tea already―and not mentioned Mrs O’Connell once.’

She nodded. We both knew how much Patrick wanted to rescue his mother; a passion matched only by his desire to keep Matilda and I safe from similar harm. Too bad he hadn’t made friends with a pair of girls who would gladly wait at home while he faced all the danger.

I picked up the model that had drifted to the ground. It was little more than a hot air balloon with a propeller and a rubber band to represent a steam engine. With enough magical aluminium, we could neutralise the considerable weight of a steam engine and thus solve one of the greatest problems of airship construction.

The issue of how to fill the varnished silk with air had stymied me until now. ‘What if we hurled ourselves off a cliff?’ I said thoughtfully.

‘Sounds good,’ Matilda said with just the tiniest hint of sarcasm. ‘Can I tell Patrick? His face will make quite the picture.’

Bang.

‘Sounds like you’ll get a chance right now,’ I said.

Bang.

Matilda and I waited in silence for the third stomp on the trapdoor. It never came.

‘Uh-oh,’ said Matilda, dropping her frivolity like an old coat. ‘Two bangs. Isn’t that code for―’

I pressed my fingers to her lips and nodded, mouthing, ‘Our time just ran out.’

She took both my hands in hers and squeezed my fingers until I thought they might snap in two.


The third and final book in the Antipodean Queen Trilogy will be released in 2018 (probably August).