The Clockwork Cat – a flash steampunk story

13th March 1887

Never trust a salesman. I was explicitly told, when I subscribed to Professor Turnberg’s Cabinet of Wonders, that they would substitute other mechanicals for those in a likeness of animals, as per my directions. After all, if I wanted a pet I would have bought a pet. What I wanted was mechanical art, but when I opened this month’s box, I found inside a life size clockwork cat.

I spoke to the delivery man, of course, as he was departing with last month’s miniature train, ready to take it to the next subscriber. He promised that he would raise the issue with his superiors. I fully expect a response by the end of the week.

16th March

No reply from Turnberg’s. I wager the delivery man never even passed on my message. I shall write to his superiors to complain.

In the absence of another mechanical piece to adorn the drawing room, I have reluctantly unboxed and wound the cat. It stalks the floor as my mother’s dreaded Mister Snubbles once did, rubbing itself against the furniture and purring in its strange, mechanical voice. I will admit that the work is uncannily convincing, but in a model of a cat, I find that far from appealing.

18th March

During a visit for tea, Lady Kirby insisted that I name the cat, saying that I could not spend a whole month calling it “the beast”. After some consideration, I have settled for Bella – if I cannot have the beast I will have beauty, however unfitting that name is.

19th March

Bella is becoming almost as much trouble as a real cat. It roams the house and protests before any closed door, of which there are many, given its propensity for scratching antique furniture. The things is an infernal nuisance, but I cannot simply let it wind down and stop – what sort of house does not have a mechanical on display in this day and age?

21st March

Today, Bella brought me a dead rat it had caught in the kitchen.

A dead rat. On my writing desk. Disgusting.

I must admit, the sophistication of this feline mechanical is truly admirable. Between the hunting, the playing, and the rubbing against my legs, it is unsettlingly close to the real thing. I will be glad when it is gone.

25th March

Bella has taken to sleeping on my desk while I work. It is inconvenient, but allows me to better show her off when business associates come calling. Having such a fine mechanical can do my reputation no harm.

30th March

Today, Bella did not come to sleep on my desk. I should have been more productive, but instead found myself worrying that my prize mechanical might have come to harm. I eventually found her sleeping in a box in a spare room. Her little chest was rising and falling as she purred in her sleep. Truly a remarkable piece of art.

1st April

No Bella at my desk for the third day running. I was eventually able to lure her into the study with a mouse-shaped toy on a string, but then she caught the mouse, chewed it up, and tried to swallow it. Only swift intervention on my part saved her from with shredded cotton tangling her gears. I would not want to have to pay for damages when she is returned to Turnberg’s.

Now she is sleeping in a sunbeam on the rug. I have drawn a sketch of her there, just to keep my hand in with the old pencils.

6th April

Three nights ago, I forgot to close the bedroom door and Bella came in to sleep with me. Since then, she has become my companion every night, curled up by my feet, sometimes rising in the darkness to go and chase mice in the kitchen. After years on my own, it is strangely comforting to share a bed, even with a mechanical beast.

8th April

At last, a letter from Turnberg’s acknowledging their mistake. They have promised that, from now on, my monthly subscription will match my request for no animals. As compensation for their mistake, this month they will be sending me an intricate clockwork village from their elite subscribers list. I greatly look forward to impressing Lady Kirby with it when she comes for tea.

9th April

Bella is back on the desk, in a box I placed there for her.

I find myself having second thoughts about the clockwork village. Where will I even display something so fine with the house in its current state? Perhaps I should save it for another month.

10th April

Bella is due to be taken away in three days. Perhaps she can take her box with her.

11th April

I don’t think I have time to make space for the village. I will send a telegram to Turnberg’s asking them not to change my mechanicals this month. Just while I make some changes in the decor.

I have given Bella her own blanket at the bottom of the bed, to keep her off the other sheets when I’ve oiled her joints.

13th May

The delivery man came today with the second cat. I will be calling this one Bete. He and Bella have been watching each other warily across the study, but I am sure they will soon be firm friends.

Along with Bete came the first item in my altered subscription – a set of mechanical mice for my cats to chase. Next month there will be birds.

I do not like pets, but my heart skips at the sight of a truly great mechanical.

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***

Dirk Dynamo is used to adventure. He’s chased villainous masterminds across the mountains of Europe, stalked gangsters through the streets of Chicago, and faced the terrible battlefields of the Civil War. But now he’s on a mission that will really shake his world.

For centuries, the Great Library of Alexandria was thought lost. Now a set of clues has been discovered that could lead to its hiding place. With the learned adventurers of the Epiphany Club, Dirk sets out to gather the clues, track down the Library, and reveal its secrets to the world.

Roaming from the jungles of West Africa to the sewers beneath London, The Epiphany Club is a modern pulp adventure, a story of action, adventure, and romance set against the dark underbelly of the Victorian age.

Available in all good ebook stores and as a print edition via Amazon.

Elmo is Watching

I haven’t done an Elmo post in ages, so here he is, watching a truck from the office window. I haven’t seen much of him recently, as he’s usually out enjoying the summer weather. It always feels weird to wish for cooler weather when you live in England, but I’m looking forward to him being at home more. The writer’s life can be a lonely one (plays smallest violin, gets back to decadent life of sitting around working at home).

Even Evil Overlords Worry About Their Cats

He’s much better now, and as helpful as ever.

When we’re writing stories, we often expect the characters’ motives and decision making to be all about the big stuff. Their doomed romance, their grand ambitions, their quest to save the world. But sometimes little things are just as important.

Take me. My cat Elmo recently had an injury. Nothing serious, but it got infected and he was grooming it too much, which stopped it healing. There wasn’t much I could do about it except take him to the vet and then feed him his medicine, but for two weeks it affected everything I did. I arranged my schedule around vet visits. I was extra cautious leaving the house so he couldn’t get out. I lost sleep because he was waking me in the night instead of going out hunting. Even when I wasn’t directly dealing with him, his health was constantly in the back of my mind, shaving away a fraction of my emotional processing power.

When you ask “why did someone act that way?”, you can always provide a big issue answer. But the reality is that there are often little things too, and they can make the difference.

Of course, writing isn’t just about presenting reality. We want our characters to mostly be concerned with the grand issues and big emotions. But it’s worth putting in those petty little factors from time to time, the things that distract us from the big cause or put a little extra strain on our brains. They can make characters more convincing and give you an excuse to vary their behaviour.

After all, even evil overlords must worry about their cats.

End of Year Review – Elmo the Cat

Having reviewed my own achievements this year, I feel that my writing assistant, Elmo the cat, deserves the same treatment. So, his achievements this year…

He’s learnt to catch mice, which is good, as it turned out some were living in the kitchen.

He’s made friends with other cats in the street, which is a relief after the fights and face-offs at our last house.

He’s calmed the f**k down, which makes my life easier. Now he can entertain himself by running around the allotments, he hardly ever ambushes me on the stairs or wakes me up to play at three in the morning. I almost miss those crazy days.

Almost.

So well done Elmo. Treats all round. And maybe next year you can learn that the sink and the toilet aren’t good places for you to drink from.

A Writing Update

It’s been a while since I’ve written an update on where I am writing-wise. So, for those who are interested, and to keep myself honest, here it is.

My Fiction

bookdesign345 - smallerAs I mentioned around the start of the year, life descended into chaos in the last few months of 2015, and I fell way behind where I wanted to be. Now that I’m back on top of life, I’m trying to crack on with self-publishing again.

I hope to put out a new e-book of some sort roughly every two months. A Mosaic of Stars was meant to be the February release, but ended up being a few days late. I’m aiming to put out a short story set in medieval England as a free e-book in April – all that’s needed at this point is the edits. Meanwhile, I’ll get back to writing the long-delayed parts four and five of the Epiphany Club steampunk series, the next two releases. I have plans beyond that, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Meanwhile, I’ve started submitting short stories to websites and magazines again. I’ve had one accepted for an anthology from the publishers of Avast! Ye Airships. Hopefully more will follow – watch this space.

Freelancing

I have enough work to live off for the next few months, and it’s all interesting. Some ghost written fiction, some writing about writing, and a load of military history. Writing things I enjoy is very motivating.

Clients have started approaching me rather than me always chasing them. So far that’s mostly been with work I don’t want, but hey, it’s a step forward. The more experience and reputation I build up, the more work I get offered, and the better it is. Now I’m hitting my deadlines again, I can start to build up a financial buffer to take time off for my own writing.

Blogging

I’m currently writing each week’s set of blog posts eight days before the first one will go out. That relieves the pressure I felt when I was writing each one the day it went out, or even writing a weekly batch just before the first one appeared. It makes the content a little less timely, but provides me with prepared posts in case something gets in the way of writing. And I can always juggle the schedule if something comes up I want to respond to quickly.

So again, things are going pretty well.

Elmo

Elmo thoughtfulMy able assistant Elmo the kitten is now six months old, and I’m not sure I can call him a kitten any more. Certainly not to his face. He still keeps trying to play with the keyboard, but doesn’t persist for long because he knows I’ll stop him. He’s a mad little beast, but is at least learning not to bring his claws out when we play.

 

That’s about it – the start of play for Andrew Knighton, writer, as of mid March 2016. Here’s hoping things keep on improving.

A Quick Update

Happy New Year, and all that jazz!

This is just a quick update for those who read my blog regularly. First, I’m sorry for suddenly going silent in mid-December. I moved house just before Christmas, and in the middle of that a major change took place in my personal life. Add the inevitable chaos of the festive season, and I completely ran out of mental energy. Suffering from depression, I’m prone to this at the best of times, and this December was far from the best of times.

Fortunately, I have a lot of great people around me, and they helped me through. I’m now nicely settled in my new house, which includes an awesome writing space I’ll blog about soon. Elmo the kitten is growing up fast and is now fully cat shaped, though not fully cat sized. I’m having to completely reset my work goals, but at least now I might manage to meet them.

Regular blogging should be back at the end of this week, including the weekly stories. In the meantime, I hope you had a great time over the holidays. As my friend Si says, here’s to an average year – better than the last one, but with an even better one to follow.