Submarine Pirates and Silkworm Smugglers – a flash steampunk story

The junk steamed through the waters towards Indonesia, its paddle wheels leaving a churning wake behind. Out on deck, the crew were gathered around the automaton Susan had bought in Beijing, the one that excused her investment in engine oil and protective wrappings. They laughed as the mechanical dragon danced jerkily across the deck, oblivious to the smaller box hidden in Susan’s trunk, the one worth thousands of these high price novelty trinkets.

Captain Chao waved to Susan.

“So good!” he said in Mandarin. “Your husband will be delighted with his present.”

Susan smiled, nodded, and straightened her skirts. That imaginary husband was such a convenient cover, but he could sometimes be a hindrance. Chao had a roguish charm and she might have enjoyed his company more if not for the need to maintain her cover.

Suddenly, the sea in front of them churned. Jointed metal tentacles parted the waves, followed by the bulbous brass head of a giant squid. A smokestack on the back opened to let out a billowing black cloud.

Chao ran to the wheel and turned the junk, but they were already too close. The squid wrapped its tentacles around the prow. Wood buckled and splintered as it squeezed.

“Stop your engines and we won’t sink you,” a voice announced, made tinny by a speaking trumpet.

While Chao flung back a lever, Susan hid beneath the heap of crumpled canvas that was the junk’s emergency sails. The weight was oppressive, but better that than be taken for ransom by pirates.

As she peered out from beneath the canvas, men and women clambered out of a hatch in the squid’s head and down its arms. They wore loose, practical cloths and carried cutlasses and pistols. Chao knelt before them and started pleading for his ship.

As the lead pirate bent closer to Chao, Susan saw a symbol embroidered on his tunic – a yellow chrysanthemum. She smiled and shrugged off the canvas. This was no mere pirate raid.

The pirates looked up as Susan emerged, hands raised. She had pulled a book from her pocket and held it open, revealing an image of that same chrysanthemum. This wasn’t where she’d expected her contact to turn up, but it was certainly one way to avoid taking goods through customs.

“Mrs Talbot, I presume,” the pirate captain said in English. “You have them?”

“One moment.”

She went to the back of the junk, where her trunk was stored. From within a pile of petticoats she pulled a bamboo box the side of a briefcase. Holding it carefully in both hands, she walked slowly back towards the pirates.

The captain reached out, opened the lid, and grinned like a wolf who’d just got into the meadow.

“Mechanical silkworms.” He stared at the dozen intricately geared tubes. “The first to get past the Chinese authorities. We’re going to be worth a fortune.”

“We should go.” Susan shut the lid. “Any delay increases the risk of capture.”

“Indeed.” The captain turned to his men. “Kill this lot and we’ll be going.”

“What?” Susan stared at him in horror. Chao, who spoke no English, was looking up at them with a frown.

“Got to cover our trail,” the pirate captain said.

“It is covered! I’ve done everything under a fake identity and you’re sailing a submarine disguised as a sea monster. These people aren’t a threat to us.”

“Can’t be too careful.”

The captain drew a pistol and pointed it at Chao’s head. Chao whimpered. Susan stiffened, took a deep breath, and turned away.

In two strides she was at the side of the ship, holding the case out over the waves.

“If you hurt any of them,” she snapped, “our prize drops into the deep.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” The pirate turned his gun on her.

“Try me. And if you shoot, you know I’ll drop it.”

“You were hired for a job.”

“Not for one involving killing.”

“Shows how naive you are. Now quit this nonsense and get over here. We’re on a timetable.”

Susan’s heart raced. If she gave in, Chao and his people would die. There was no way she could fight back against all those weapons. So how to get out of this?

“There’s air in this box,” she said. “Not enough to stop it sinking, but enough to slow it down. In one minute, I’m going to drop it overboard. If you want any chance of catching it, I suggest that you get into your machine right now.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Fifty seconds.”

The pirate snarled and waved to his crew.

“Everyone back, quick!”

There was a mad scramble up the jointed tentacles and through the hatch. A lid closed over the smokestack and the squid released the junk.

“Time’s up!” Susan shouted.

She dropped the box just as the squid vanished from view. There was a splash and the treasure she’d come all this way for sank beneath the waves. Maybe the pirates would catch it, maybe they’d be too slow. Either way, they would be busy for a while.

Susan gripped the rail with trembling hands and took a deep, slow breath.

Chao got to his feet and walked over to Susan.

“I don’t know what you did,” he said in Mandarin. “But thank you, Mrs Talbot.”

“I’m not really a Mrs,” Susan said, turning to look back across the deck. The dragon automaton was still wobbling around, ignored by the pale and wide-eyed crew. “I don’t suppose you know anyone who would like to buy a dragon, do you? And maybe somewhere I could hide out for a month? I think I need to make a new life plan.”


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then check out my collection of fantasy stories, By Sword, Stave, or Stylus. Or you can sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


And for the steampunk lovers:

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.

Pirates and Human Motivation

“Follow the money.” It’s not a new idea in understanding motivation, but it’s an important one.

The Golden Age of Piracy (a real thing that happened between around 1650 and 1730) was all about following the money. I don’t just mean guys with guns chasing guys with gold, though there was a chunk of that. I’m talking about the bigger economic picture.

“Come back! I want to talk about some exciting opportunities in cannonball futures exploration!”

I’m talking about why the Golden Age happened, and why it happened when it did.

When Peace Means Unemployment

The Golden Age of piracy had three main phases, and two of them began when wars ended*.

In 1648, and again in 1714, wars ended in Europe. I’m not talking small wars that were only horrible for people in the local area. I’m talking huge wars that drew in nearly all the nations of Europe – specifically the 30 Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession. These were sprawling conflicts at land and sea between nations with far more guns than sense. They employed a lot of people, turning them into soldiers and sailors.

So yay for employment prospects, at least?

Well, yes and no. Because military employment in a continent-spanning war isn’t a sustainable career. Such massive conflagrations of human life are mercifully limited. Sooner or later, the combatants run out of resources or the will to fight. The war ends. The poor populations who’ve seen their homelands torn apart start picking up the pieces. And the governments start laying off troops, because they don’t need massive armies and navies any more, and they’ve spent all their spare cash on cannonballs and coffins.

Yargh, I love me a good cannonball.

Yargh For Opportunity!

Imagine you’re an English sailor in 1715. For the best part of a decade, you’ve been fighting at sea. It’s what you know best. It’s what you’re comfortable with. It’s pretty much the only way you can see of making a living.

But now your nation won’t employ you, so you need to go freelance. And just across the Atlantic is your opportunity. Because in the Caribbean, the governments have less control, and there are places were a seafaring bandit can hide out. Piracy starts looking pretty appealing.

Then you get there, and sure there are a lot of people in the same boat as you, literally and metaphorically. But that’s not a problem because trade is picking up. The end of the war means safer travel, which means more commerce. There are all these ships loaded with cash and luxury goods. You’ve lost your job, and suddenly the rich merchants and ship owners are making out like bandits. Well screw them, you’re a proper bandit, and you’re going to take your share.

Your big, watery share of pieces of eight.**

Need and Opportunity

In both cases, there was a big upswing in piracy. Big name pirates like Blackbeard and Anne Bonny strutted their stuff. For years, the seas of the Carribean weren’t safe, because this was the best way some folks could see to make a living.

This is what leads so much of human behaviour – a need and the opportunity to address it.

It’s also why economics, the social science of meeting material needs, is so important in understanding motives. The flow of money and opportunities shifted, so people did too.

In the FantasyCon panel on fantasy economics, the panellists talked a lot about real examples like this. They show how economics isn’t just about exchange rates. It’s about human behaviour. And whether you’re trying to understand history or create a fantasy world, human behaviour is what matters. So it’s worth paying attention to the economics.

Follow the money. Even if it’s pieces of eight.



* The other phase also had economic drivers, as opportunities in the Caribbean started to dry up.

** Pieces of eight were high quality Spanish silver coins which became a popular global currency.

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

red-seasRed Seas Under Red Skies, the second in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, is a really interesting book. Partly for the content, partly for the structure, and partly for the responses it’s received.

Red Seas Under What Now?

This book continues the adventures of Locke Lamora and his friend Jean Tannen, a pair of expert thieves and conmen living in a rich fantasy world. Since the last book, they’ve spent two years recovering and setting up a massive heist. But as the time draws near complications arise. Soon they’re caught dangerously between political factions, a situation which will eventually lead them against their wills into a life of piracy.

Part of the joy of these books is the skill and cleverness of the characters, watching them apply their brains to impossible situations. The rich range of people they meet, especially aboard the pirate ships, adds to this. And there’s the world building – rich, deep, and never confusing.

These are characters and places worth spending time on.

Are We Nearly There Yet?

Structurally, this book is kind of weird. Like the second season of Daredevil, it switches emphasis from one plotline to another halfway through. Everything ties together neatly in the end – something Daredevil wasn’t so smooth about – but still, it feels odd. Knowing from the cover, the title, and the blurb that there was piracy to come, I had to read half the book before that plotline kicked in. And once it went full throttle, the other parts stayed relevant but very much off screen.

It’s an interesting structure. While I ultimately enjoyed the way it came together, there was still something a bit unsatisfying about having all the initial setup swept aside midway through. And then everything got tied up in a rush – a rush relative to a 600-page novel at least.

It’s still a satisfying read, but nowhere near as artfully structured as The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Reader Expectations

Responses to this book have shown a lot about how expectations shape our reading. The huge love many readers had for the first book fuelled negative reactions from some quarters about this sequel, which simply couldn’t live up to its predecessor. Is that fair? Maybe. After all, this is meant to be read after Lies. That context is something any sequel writer needs to bear in mind.

And then there’s the black middle-aged mother who’s the captain of a pirate ship. I thought this character was amazing. She’s become a small icon for more representative fantasy, as has Lynch’s sterling defence of her. Because some people have said “this isn’t realistic, how could she be the captain when she’s a woman and a parent and blagh blagh blagh liberal conspiracy?” This when reading about a world that has unbreakable glass and near-magical alchemy. Because it turns out that you’ll get stronger reactions from changing social rules in fantasy than from changing physical ones.

People, huh. What are you gonna do?

A Book Worth Knowing

Red Seas Under Red Skies isn’t perfect, because nothing is. It isn’t as close to perfection as Lies. But it’s still smart, fascinating fantasy with a good heart. It’s an important piece of fantasy that tells us a lot about reading, writing, and audiences. Above all else, it’s a fine story.

What more recommendation do you need?

Sailing Season – a historical flash story

Kogge_stralsundI hated every year my father made me accompany our stock from the Bordeaux vineyards to the London markets. But 1321, when we sailed late and so missed the protection of the wine fleet, that was the worst.

My stomach lurched and I prayed to all the saints for salvation as I watched the land passing far to starboard. Even sailors do not like to lose sight of land, for to do so makes navigation near impossible. To me it was even more precious – a reminder that this sickness would end. And so, as I heaved my guts over the side and watched the distant cliffs with a fond eye, I was the last to see the menace bearing down on us.

“Master Robert,” Captain William said. “There is a problem.”

I had made this voyage with him ten times and never heard him so tense. Following the line of his pointing finger, I saw a ship ahead of us, a red flag flying from its mast.

“Tis John Crabb,” the captain said. “The Flemish pirate. If he catches us…”

He shuddered and made the sign of the cross.

“Then turn.” I wiped the bile from my chin, even as fear threatened to unleash a new load. “In God’s name, turn and flee for safe harbour.”

“I hoped you’d say that, Master Robert.” The captain waved, his men hauled on a dozen mysterious ropes, and we came about.

The wind was against us now, but against the pirates too. We slowed, yet for some time I thought we were gaining distance on them.

I was wrong. Soon that dread flag above the dark sail grew twice as large to stern. To port, cliffs and rocky coastline continued to menace us, with no sign of a friendly harbour in which we might hide.

“Must we head out to sea?” I asked.

The captain nodded grimly.

I could hear men praying as the rudder turned, the whole ship creaked and the land disappeared behind us. Others sharpened their weapons, and I joined them, grinding a whetstone along my sword, knowing that against Crabb and his men my small skill would buy me mere minutes more life.

Captain William sat down beside me.

“They still gain on us,” he said.

The men around us stiffened and stared past the aft castle with eyes full of dread.

“Then sail towards them,” I said.

The men looked at me with shock, William among them. But I had no other plan, and nor did they. Sometimes a season comes when only one kind of grape survives the harvest. Then we gamble all on the wine it makes, for what other choice is there?

“The wind will be with us and we will gain speed,” I said. “I understand that much about sailing. If we can pass them while they are still heading this way then we will be the faster vessel. Perhaps that will give us time to reach a port to the north.”

I considered saying something heroic, holding up my blade and declaring that if all else failed at least we would die well. But that thought was no comfort to me, and I doubted it meant much to these sailors either.

After a moment’s consideration, the captain nodded to his men. Reluctantly they went to the ropes while he handled the rudder. Our little round ship turned once more, and her sails filled. Foam broke against the bow as we hurtled ever faster towards our doom.

Soon Crabb’s ship was less than half a mile away, then only a few hundred yards. Arrows clattered on our deck and thudded into the sides. I ducked for safety while our brave captain stood upright at the rudder, keeping us on course.

As we drew level I could see the leering faces of the pirate crew. Perhaps it was just my fear-infused mind, but I swear they had the teeth and horns of devils and cried out with the voices of the damned. If these were Flemings, I thought, then the Low Countries must be a terrible place.

They hurled ropes, metal hooks catching in our gunwale. I raced over, sword in hand, other men beside me, and our attackers raised their arms to fight. But instead of standing ready to receive borders we hacked desperately at the ropes. Arrows rained down around us and splinters flew from misplaced blows, until the tattered cords gave way with a series of sharp snaps.

It was only then, as the pirate ship turned sluggishly behind us and we raced away on a following wind, that I noticed the pain in my thigh. I looked down to see an arrow protruding there, and blood seeping through the hem of my tunic.

Pain overwhelmed me and I blacked out. When I awoke I was lying on a pile of blankets, my bare leg wrapped in bandages. Captain William was looking down at me.

“Did we get away?” I croaked.

“Aye,” he said. “That we did.”

I smiled with relief. But I was waking up, and now I noticed the uncertainty in his expression.

“What is it?”

“There’s another ship ahead,” he replied. “Can’t tell yet if it’s friend or foe.”

Wincing, I eased myself upright and looked around for my sword.

Did I not tell you that was the worst year?

* * *


As part of writing ‘Honour Among Thieves‘, I read The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer. It’s a well-written guide to everyday life in 14th century England, which I’d recommend to anyone with an interest in that period. This story was inspired by the chapter on travelling, which described just how terrifying a sea voyage was for many people, as well as mentioning real life pirate John Crabb. I like to think that our protagonist raised a cup of wine in celebration when Crabb was finally captured in 1332.

If you’d like to receive more stories like this direct to your inbox every Friday, along with a free copy of one of my books, then please sign up for my mailing list – I promise a journey to other worlds that’s mostly safe from pirates.

The Case for the Prosecution – a steampunk flash story

Picture by taymtaym via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by taymtaym via Flickr Creative Commons

Jenny grinned as she swaggered up to the defendant’s stand. Sweeping off her tricorn – an ostentatious little number modelled on the French admiralty style – she winked at the judge.

“Afternoon, your honour,” she said. “Busy day for you.”

“Indeed.” Judge Beckett took off his spectacles, rubbed the bridge of his nose, and then returned the glasses to their position, knocking his official wig askew in the process. The jaunty angle diminished his stern demeanour, as did the steam pouring from the legislative engine that filled most of the bench. “Captain Jennifer Kemper, you are once more accused of piracy on the high seas. How do you plead?”

“Not guilty, your honour,” Jenny said.

“Of course you do,” Beckett said. “Prosecution, your view?”

“We seek the death penalty, your honour.” Margaret Roberts, the crown’s top barrister in the southern counties, set aside her quill and stood ready behind her desk, a hawk ready to dive on its prey.

“Of course you do.” Beckett sighed. “Let’s cut the preamble – we’ve been here enough times before. What legal attack have you dreamed up this time?”

In the viewing gallery, Jenny’s crew laughed. This was as much part of the privateering game as chasing merchantmen was, the results just as certain.

“It’s not about me, your honour.” Roberts stepped up to the bench and handed the judge a wooden tablet punched with holes. “It’s the defendant. On nineteenth May last, she did wilfully and knowing attack a naval rig of the Worshipful Company of Artificers, a rig then testing steam trawlers off the coast of Cornwall.”

“We even used a steam powered boarding ram,” Jenny said with pride. “How’s that for worshipful artifice?”

“I refer you to the Statute for the Defence of Industry 1764, section nineteen, paragraph c.” Roberts turned a predatory smile upon Jenny. It was unsettling, but surely there was nothing the lawyer could do.

Judge Beckett slid the tablet into his bench and pulled a leaver. There was a hiss of steam, a rattle of gears, and finally a pop as a tube of paper burst out in front of him. He unrolled it, pushed his glasses up his nose, and read the text. Then he looked up at Jenny.

“I believe the crown has you at last, Captain Kemper.” He sat back with a smile. “The Defence of Industry act prohibits any action hindering research that might benefit the Royal Navy. Innovations in steam ships fit that criteria.”

“I’m a licenced privateer,” Jenny said. “That permits me to-”

“No,” Beckett said. “Section nineteen, paragraph c overturns the usual exemptions for privateers, lawyers and press gangs.”

Jenny’s heart sank. The liberty of a privateering licence had always allowed her and her crew to roam free. She’d stopped even bringing a lawyer to court, so bulletproof was that piece of paper.

She glanced nervously at the black cap lying next to Beckett’s gavel, and then out the barred window at the courtyard where other defendants were being hanged. But she had more than one document in her arsenal.

“Your honour.” She pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and carefully unfolded it. “I have here a contract hiring me and my crew for this privateering expedition. Legal responsibility falls upon my employers, not me.”

“In whose name is that contract signed?” Roberts asked, her voice honey sweet.

“The Brotherhood of Ludd,” Jenny replied. “You know, the machine smashers.”

“Oh, I do know.” Roberts turned to the judge. “All Luddite organisations are illegal under emergency measures following Liverpool machine riots. If the hiring organisation is illegal then the contract is not valid, and neither is Captain Kemper’s defence.”

“She has you again, Captain.” Judge Beckett reached for the black cap, and Jenny’s blood ran cold. “Unless you have anything else to say in your defence…”

There were snarls and angry shouts from the gallery. Beckett waved his hand and militiamen moved in, silencing Jenny’s unarmed crew with the menace of their muskets.

There was not enough time to prepare a rescue, as they had in Jamaica. The irony was terrible. She loved machines – automated cannon loaders, navigational clocks, calculating engines. Half the reason they’d taken the job was to try out the steam powered boarding ram. Now she was going to hang as a Luddite.

Neat as clockwork, something clicked in her mind.

“You said lawyers,” she said, pointing at the paper in front of Beckett. “That law stops lawyers as well as privateers hindering naval progress, am I right?”

“Innovations which may benefit the Royal Navy are protected from interference,” Beckett said. “You are not the Royal Navy.”

“Neither are the Artificers,” Jenny said. “But we both work under their licence, and my steam powered boarding ram could benefit the navy as much as those trawler engines could. I was field testing it, and that makes me immune from any interference by lawyers.” She pointed at Roberts. “Including her case.”

“This is absurd,” Roberts protested. “This interpretation cannot hold.”

Judge Beckett sat back with a sigh.

“I’m sure that you are right,” he said. “But you will need to back that up.” Setting aside the black cap, he glared at Jenny. “Captain Kemper, you will be returned to the cells. I can hold you for a month while Mistress Roberts seeks precedents, and I shall give her the full benefit of that time. Enjoy those days – they will be your last.”

“Very fair of you, your honour.” Jenny grinned and pulled her hat back on. Now her people had time to plan that rescue.

She hoped they used something powered by steam.

* * *


We all know piracy is bad and wrong, but still, it’s hard not sympathise with a rogue in a tricorn.

If you liked this story then you can get more like it by signing up to my mailing list. You’ll get a free copy of my steampunk story collection Riding the Mainspring and a free flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.

Dreaming Skies – a #FlashFriday story

4356425222_4b5180ffe0_zThe Australian Outback drifted past below the airship, a vast wilderness that glowed with an amber warmth between patches of tenacious scrub. Bolted into the airship’s console was a part of that ancient world, a twisted branch painted in bright colours.

“Only you would do this.” Dirk Dynamo shook his head. “Cross a continent for an artefact, then stick it in your latest machine.”

“But look!” Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms’s top hat almost fell off as he leaned across a row of dials. “It’s like the stories said. The Dreaming Branch can see futures unfolding around it, telling us the most efficient course.”

Suddenly there was a hiss and the airship began to sink.

“I say!” Blaze-Simms yanked a lever and the hissing stopped. “The upper inflation valve must have slipped.”

Another hiss made him whirl around, stopping the sound by grabbing another lever. Then the hissing appeared again, and this time Dirk caught a brief flash of someone pulling a lever before they disappeared and Blaze-Simms turned to set things right.

“Stop that.” Dirk looked around the control room.

“When you give me the Branch.” A little woman with wrinkled brown skin, dressed only in a loin cloth, faced him from the corner. He could have sworn she hadn’t been there before.

“I don’t think so.” He strode across the room, but just as he reached her she waved a hand across her body, took a side-step and disappeared.

“Got you!” Blaze-Simms lunged at the woman as she appeared by the console, but she pulled a lever and disappeared once more, leaving him frantically trying to set things right.

“This is an outrage!” Blaze-Simms exclaimed. “Vandalism. Piracy, even.”

The airship was losing altitude now, heading fast toward the ground.

“All I want is the Branch.” The woman was by the window, smiling at them both.

“Well you can’t have it.” Blaze-Simms folded his arms indignantly. “I bought it fair and square from a man named Jeffrey Two Trees.”

The woman snorted.

“The Dream Branch is of the alcheringa, the eternal dream beyond our waking world.” An angry expression crumpled her face. “It wasn’t Jeffo’s to sell.”

Dirk had been slowly approaching her from one side, and now he leaped, hands outstretched. But again she waved her hand and reappeared across the room.

“I can do this all day.” She turned a wheel and the tone of the engines changed, the airship accelerating in its downward path.

“I can pay you for it.” Blaze-Simms pulled a wallet from his tailcoat pocket. “Cash or cheque.”

“No.” She pulled another lever, disappeared as Dirk grabbed at her, and reappeared to flick a switch. “I don’t know what any of these do, but I bet I’m breaking something.”

An ominous clang somewhere to the aft made Blaze-Simms grimace.

“Perhaps a share of the profits?” he asked. “With a navigation device like this-“

“Ground’s getting close,” the woman said. “I can dream walk away before we crash. Can you?”

“Tim, give her the stick.” Tension knotted Dirk’s guts. He’d escaped crashes before, but they were falling fast and a long way from help.

“Dream walk.” A distant expression crossed Blaze-Simms’s face.

“Tim!” Dirk shouted. “The branch!”

“Oh, yes.” Blaze-Simms pulled a spanner from his tailcoat, hurriedly unfastened the branch and threw it to the woman.

“Nice meeting you.” With one more wave she vanished.

The ground hurtling ever closer, Blaze-Simms rushed between levers and dials, turning, twisting and yanking until the airship levelled out. Dirk breathed a sigh of relief as they drifted a few feet above the outback.

“Sorry about your invention.” He looked over at the navigation panel, with its dead dials and the empty space where the branch had been.

“Hmm?” Blaze-Simms looked up from a notebook. “Oh, never mind that. Didn’t you hear what she said? She was dream walking, stepping from place to place through another realm. Imagine if I could make a whole airship do that!”

Dirk stared out the window at the little old lady waving up at them. He couldn’t see her teaching Blaze-Simms her secrets, no matter how big the cheque.

* * *

Today’s story isn’t the only one in which Dirk Dynamo and Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms deal with airship piracy. You can find them fighting to control a pirate airship over the Atlantic in ‘A Wind Will Rise’, my contribution to the Avast, Ye Airships! anthology, out now. And if you would like to see them fight giant rats or the preserved head of Leonardo da Vinci, why not read Riding the Mainspring, free to anyone who signs up to my mailing list.

And if you’d like to read more free flash stories from me, you can find a list at this link, or have them delivered to your inbox via the mailing list.

Avast, Ye Airships! out tomorrow

AvastYeAirshipsIn a daring history that never was, pirates roam the skies instead of the seas. Fantastical airships sail the clouds on both sides of the law. Within these pages, you will find stories of pirates and their prey with a few more pragmatic airships thrown in. With stories ranging from Victorian skies to an alien invasion, there is something for everyone in these eighteen tales of derring-do!

Tomorrow sees the launch of Avast, Ye Airships!, a collection of stories themed around airship pirates, edited by Rie Sheridan Rose. It features ‘A Wind Will Rise’, my latest story to feature Dirk Dynamo and Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms, gentlemen adventurers of the Epiphany Club, as they battle a slaving pirate airship over the Atlantic.

If you’re anything like me, you probably love stories about both pirates and airships, which makes bringing them together doubly awesome.

So what are you waiting for, me hearties? Hop on over to the publishers’ website to buy a copy. There be gold in them there clouds.

The full contents of the collection:

Beneath the Brass by Stephen Blake
Maiden Voyage by Jeffrey Cook & Katherine Perkins
Colonel Gurthwait and the Black Hydra by Robert McGough
Captain Wexford’s Dilemma by Ogarita
Her Majesty’s Service by Lauren Marrero
A Wind Will Rise by Andrew Knighton
Hooked by Rie Sheridan Rose
Go Green by Ross Baxter
Lost Sky by Amy Braun
Miss Warlyss Meets the Black Buzzard by Diana Parparita
Plunder in the Valley by Libby A. Smith
The Clockwork Dragon by Steve Cook
Adventures of a Would-Be Gentleman of the Skies by Jim Reader
A Clouded Affair by Steven Southard
The Climbers by D Chang
The Steampunk Garden by Wynelda Ann Deaver
Lotus of Albion by Steve Ruskin
And a Bottle of Rum… by K.C. Shaw

Coming soon – Avast, Ye Airships!

AvastYeAirshipsYou like airships, right? And everybody likes pirates.* So what could be better than a whole collection of stories about airship pirates?

Nothing. Except maybe if I had a story in that collection. Oh wait, I do!

Coming out at the end of February, Avast, Ye Airships! is an anthology of stories about airships, pirates and of course airship pirates. It features the latest adventure from Dirk Dynamo and Sir Timothy Blaze-Simms, the heroes of my Epiphany Club stories, as they tackle a flying slaver in the skies above the Atlantic. With only their wits, their fists and a pedal-powered flying machine, can these brave adventurers end this aerial menace?

Other authors in this collection include:

  • Rie Sheridan Rose (editor) – writer of various things, including steampunk and horror
  • D Chang – game writer and designer
  • Robert McGough – writer of steampunk, horror and southern gothic fiction
  • Ross Baxter – sci-fi and horror writer who started writing to fill the time while at sea – how cool is that?
  • Steven R Southard – writes all sorts of historically flavoured genre fiction
  • K. C. Shaw – author of several airship pirate stories
  • Steve Cook – writer and teacher, a combo I’ve also been
  • Lauren Marrero – romance novelist
  • Steve Ruskin – I’d tell you more, but sadly I can’t get his webpage to load
  • Jim Reader – writer, house husband and Texan, which is close enough to ‘cowboy’ to make me jealous
  • Jeffrey Cook – a writer whose first book came out of NaNoWriMo, proving that motivating month can work
  • Charlotte Hunter – writer of creepy things
  • Stephen Blake – from southwest England, a land traditionally full of pirates, smugglers and other seafaring rogues
  • Libby Smith
  • Diana Parparita
  • Wyenlda Deaver
  • Amy Braun

I’m really looking forward to this collection, and will share more details nearer the time. Hopefully by then I’ll also have some more Epiphany Club-related news, but that’s dependent on me finding editing time, so don’t hold your breath.

Polly want a cracker?


* Not the real ones who terrorise the Indian Ocean with assault rifles. The ones with parrots and dubloons.

The comfort of the familiar

I mostly prefer to read and watch new things, but lets face it, there’s a part of all of us that craves the comfortable and the familiar. This weekend some friends stayed over with their young daughter, who will often have cartoons on in the background while she’s playing. In the space of 24 hours she insisted on The Pirates in an Adventure With Scientists twice and Despicable Me three times. That desire for the familiar is deeply ingrained, even in those for whom the whole world is full of novelty and wonder.

We shouldn’t be surprised that we get a lot of familiar, derivative cultural outputs. They’re something that our brains crave, that help us recharge between the new and the adventurous.

And hey, who doesn’t want to watch The Pirates in an Adventure With Scientists over and over again?



The Pirates! In An Adventure With Communists by Gideon Defoe

I love Defoe’s Pirates books. I love the film based on the first one. I love their wacky antics. I love how little relation they bear to real pirates. I love the strange historical mishmash and the fantastical elements. I love the way my nieces have started playing at being the Pirate Captain, complete with luxuriant beard.

So when I found this book hidden like buried treasure in the children’s section of the St Ives Oxfam shop, I was pretty excited.

Top of the heap in my holiday reading pile
Top of the heap in my holiday reading pile


Kids books for adults

One of the central gags of the Pirates books is that they’re written much like children’s books. The prose is simple, the focus on dialogue and action rather than thought and emotion, and there’s a complete disregard for many expectations adults bring to a book.

But I’ve never thought that these were really children’s books. Sure, children can enjoy the wacky adventures, but how many of them will get jokes about Marxism and Moby Dick, or about the romantic feelings of the pirates?

These are stories that say ‘who cares if you’re an adult, don’t you want some silliness and child-like delight?’ To which I say heck yes. I love stories that progress from ham night through to 19th century philosophical giants wrestling on the rim of a volcano. I don’t always need things to make sense, but I often want them to be fun.

Defining delight

A brief aside here, much like the footnotes in Defoe’s book.

The delight I feel reading a book like this is very different from the delight I feel reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium. The latter is a deep, powerful emotion that puts me in touch with the wonder of the world around me and makes me see everything with fresh eyes. The delight of The Pirates is a light, frothy thing that puts a skip in my step and makes me laugh out loud. They share the same name, but they’re very different feelings, and both wonderful in their own way.

Take that genre!

One of my favourite things about children’s books is that they are less bound by genre expectations than adult ones. That feeling that anything goes is replicated here. It’s not that the book sets out to expand genre boundaries and conventions, it just ignores them. It’s OK for romanticised seventeenth century pirates to roam the streets of Victorian London, spend time in literary salons and attend an opera with a steampunk finale. Things aren’t explained, they don’t make sense, but they are always fun.

Yaarh me hearties

I’m sure you get the idea by now. This is a silly book, but one written in a smart way. It’s a lot of fun, and if you’re looking for a light, easy read it’s well worth it.

What have I learnt from it as a writer? Mostly that you can get away without much explanation if you’re funny enough. Which isn’t much help as I don’t write comedy, but it’s worth knowing.

Anyone else read it? What did you think?