Riding the Mainspring out in other formats

A steam-powered cowboy with a taste for death. A daring art heist in a moving city. A zeppelin flight through the smoke-filled skies of a Europe torn apart by volcanoes. This collection brings together nine stories of mechanical adventure from worlds where pistons and clockwork are king.

Like any author, I want my books to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. And so Riding the Mainspring, my collection of steampunk short stories, is out now on all sorts of formats via Smashwords. I’ll be adding Mud and Brass there tomorrow, so that both books are available to those of you who use epub or other non-Amazon formats. From Smashwords they’ll filter out to other stores over the next few weeks.

Riding The Mainspring - High Resolution

As with the Kindle release, one of the best ways for my books to gain readers is through reviews. So whatever format you buy the book in please leave a review in the appropriate online store. And if you include a link to the review in the comments to the original book release blog post then I’ll include you in a draw to win a free copy of my next release, coming soon to all your different e-reading platforms.

I hope that you enjoy the book, and if you do please let me know.

Happy reading!


Some steampunk worldbuilding – The Promise and the Reckoning

I love world building, that distinct part of speculative fiction that is creating a whole new environment from scratch. The flora, the fauna, the technology or magic, the politics and culture… Even though we never build worlds from nothing, taking elements from reality and other settings, it’s always fun to craft a place of our own.

A world above

‘The Promise and the Reckoning’, one of the stories I put into Riding the Mainspring, was inspired by a world building idea. During the hugely disruptive Icelandic eruptions of 2010 large numbers of flights were cancelled because modern airliners couldn’t fly through the ash-clouded atmosphere. At the time someone pointed out to me that airships would be able to fly in these conditions. Having heard the word ‘airships’, naturally I started thinking steampunk.

Eyjafjallajokull volcano plume – imagine a whole continent of that. Photo by Boaworm via Wikimedia commons.

The challenge for me became creating a setting in which that ability of airships to fly through volcanic ash would be relevant. And so I set about creating a world in which volcanic ash had become a huge problem in the 19th century.

Rubbing two ideas together to create a spark

At the time, I was also very conscious of how unrepresentative speculative fiction can be. There are plenty of examples that aren’t centred on characters from America and Europe or their fantastical equivalents, but they still dominate the bookshelves. So I wanted a reason to shift that around as well, a context that would remove the advantage of 19th century Europeans, turning the power dynamics on their heads.

What better way to provide ash-clouds and remove European dominance than to blow Europe up with volcanoes?

So I created a world in which vast volcanoes have destroyed vast swathes of Napoleonic Europe, leaving a wasteland of ash and fire. The survivors cling on to what habitable land remains, or build settlements high above the ground, desperately clinging to the remains of their old lives. Because lets face it, that’s what people do.

World building that drives character building

Interesting characters are at the heart of any good story. So if your story’s job is to explore and expose a world you’ve built then you need a central character with a reason to expose and explore. Mine was Professor Ondieki, a vulcanologist from Mombassa who flies into Europe determined to prove his theories about the cause of the Reckoning, the event that laid waste to a continent. By making him an academic and an outsider I provided reasons for him to ask and talk about what was going on. And by making him African I scratched that itch to reduce my Euro-centrism, while still using my knowledge of European history to inform the setting.

As I thought about this world all sorts of extra details cropped up – cloudberries, a British diaspora, what happened to Napoleon and to French cuisine. But it all came back to that central concept – blowing Europe up with volcanoes.

Tell me about your worlds

I know I have quite a few world builders reading this blog, so tell me, where did the inspiration for your worlds come from? What triggered your core concept, and how did you expand from there?

For more examples of intricate and well-considered world building check out The War of Memory Project, a great example of world building explored in breadth and depth.

And if you want to learn more about Professor Ondieki and the world of the Reckoning then check out ‘The Promise and the Reckoning’ in Riding the Mainspring, available on all your different Amazons, including Amazon.com for the Americans, Amazon.co.uk for us Brits, and all those other different-ending Amazons.

Short Chapters, My Growing Preference

Today I have a guest post from Felipe Adan Lerma. Felipe is a writer and artist with his finger on the pulse of current changes in publishing, and who is making the most of those changes, as this post shows…

Short Chapters, My Growing Preference

It is a distinct pleasure to stray off the beaten-to-a-pulp path of parsing how and why both Hachette and Amazon are more alike than different, and write about something I almost neglected and lost sight of in the digital dust: my growing preference and pleasure with small chapters.

Whether I’m reading shorter chapters or writing them, I’m finding more and more I really enjoy how they encapsulate micro moments in a story’s thread. Like scenes in TV show or movie I really enjoy, like The Middle or instance.

What’s surprising to me is, I should’ve know all along!

Like that old saying, that the truth is often right in front of us.

Or that the path is within.

Follow your heart.

All that.

You see, I grew up being told, and believing, that all good things take work. Lots of it. Effort, even more of it. So, from the beginning, in terms of writing, I struggled to fulfill that expectation. I sure wasn’t wanting to shirk from the full needed effort to succeed.

Plays had to be three acts. Novels had to be hundreds of pages. Short stories and novellas were for wimps. I may be short, at five foot six, but I wasn’t about to be short in terms of effort, or production.

Yet, life kept trying to remind me that my preference was for quicker, tighter, shorter work.

Specifically, my mind body-connection kept showing me, by example.

How to follow my heart, almost literally.

Played based ball for years, always trying to hit the long ball. Almost got one over the fence, once. But if I concentrated, I could bunt or bloop fly myself on base almost at will.

When I was in junior high, I went out for track. Loved to run. Trained for 440s and longer. In my 20s and 30s I ran three miles almost every day. But what I loved doing, was sprints. Embarrassing though, dashing for a short distance, for fun. Couldn’t I go further?

In college (80s), after my Air Force stint, using my VA benefits, I took every type writing course I could. My first creating plays. Three acts please. But my act bits were the best. Short stories? Meh. Nobody reads those. Novella. Lengthen it, tell us more, I was told. I did, but it wasn’t as good. The fire was gone.

Then in the 90s, my wife and I sold my art at art shows and malls and, to pass the time, I wrote short one page poems. Something we could print on one page, personalize it, and sell – especially on holidays. We did that for a decade as I dreamed of writing something bigger.

I painted. Eight by tens to forty by sixties. People wanted sofa size art.

But I loved my smaller pieces. Bits of my heart.

And now. In this digital age, I find I can do anything. Nobody much cares either way anymore, telling me, “No, don’t do that – do this!” But I had been trained well. So I “sneaked in” bits and scenes into my novellas and the few “novels” I’ve done. Made sure I created smooth enough transitions to justify a continuity of those scenes and bits. Started doing short stories as “fillers” and “back stories” to the larger work. There had to be a good reason for doing them, after all. (smiles)

But in this latter time, this new digital time, I came upon writers like Joe Konrath, James Patterson, Michael Crichton, Janet Evanovich. I liked the way they switched point of views, switched locales, created incidents and episodes of action. Like the shorter quicker pulses of narrative.

So, recently, with my latest short story, “Lunch with Grandma and Grandpa,” I created what I consider short story short chapters. You know, segments divided with an “*”. Some are a few pages long, some a few paragraphs long. Point of views change. Yet it all merged and worked. It was extremely satisfying. It was a pleasure. It was fun.

[scribd id=235011936 key=key-z6U66NS39fvJ2w2taIif mode=scroll]

With that, I was ready.

Or think I am.

Currently, weighing in at just under 20,000 words, and about two thirds finished with the first draft, is my first mystery thriller effort, tentatively titled, “Day Trip, the Hill Country.”

My first crime mystery effort, a short, was “Dirty Sixth Street, Austin,” and I bring most of the same characters back for this work. While the short does have scene bits embedded into it, with some pretty nice transitions, it was still my basic straight forward narrative.

This newer novella size story, is looking to have seventy plus chapters. Averaging less than two pages a chapter. There are a few three pages, many two pages, and lots of one page chapters.

I still feel guilty. Try to expand a chapter here and there. Recognizing where more development feels right. But more often, fighting to keep the impact I feel and get when I both write then read the work.

A favorite literature professor of mine at the University of Houston Clear Lake, way back then, in the late 70s and early 80s, once told me, “Some writers take decades to forget what they learn getting their masters. And spend a lifetime learning what they like.”

That’s me. It was in front of me all the time.

adan at thompson park bridge DSCI4701

Felipe Adan Lerma



Book release – Riding the Mainspring

A steam-powered cowboy with a taste for death.

A daring art heist in a moving city.

A zeppelin flight through the smoke-filled skies of a Europe torn apart by volcanoes.

Riding The Mainspring - High Resolution

No, these are not just random words that I’ve thrown together to fill my blog. They are among the many exciting stories featured in my new collection, Riding the Mainspring, out now on all your different Amazons, including Amazon.com for those of you living in Mickey Mouse country and Amazon.co.uk for those of us who shop using pictures of a lady in a crown.

This collection brings together nine stories of mechanical endeavour and daring do from worlds where pistons and clockwork are king. Each short story explores a different steampunk possibility, from the Wild West to the sewers below Venice. Starring scientists, detectives, criminals, and more machines than you can shake a pair of brass goggles at.

Mud and Brass - High Resolution - Version 2

And if you’re looking for something a little smaller, my brand new short story Mud and Brass is also available as an Amazon e-book for only 99c – again available on all Amazon sites including your Yankee website and our tiny island nation version. It’s a story of mud, mechanisms and romance in a steampunk city.

If you read these stories then please let me know what you think. And better yet, please leave a review on the relevant Amazon site, as that’s hugely useful for me.

These are just the first in a series of short story releases I’m planning over the next few months. If you’d like to win a free copy of the next release then please leave a review of one or both of these steampunk books on Amazon and paste a link to the review in the comments below. Anyone who leaves a link to their review by the end of August will go into a draw to receive a free copy of the next collection.

And for those of you who don’t use Amazon, fear not. I’ll also be releasing these e-books on other platforms soon – keep an eye out here or join my mailing list to find out when that happens.

I hope you enjoy the stories and look forward to reading your opinions.

Happy reading!


Book cover!

This arrived in my email yesterday:

Riding The Mainspring - High Resolution

That, dear readers, is my first ever book cover.


It’s still going to take me a few days to finish formatting the book and get it out to e-book retailers, but once that’s done I’ll let you know.

I’ll also be releasing a previously unreleased steampunk story as a stand-alone short for 99c, and sending that out free to people on my mailing list. That’s my story release mailing list which you can sign up for here or at the top of my blog, not the email alerts when I put a blog post up. So if you’d like to get a free copy of Mud and Brass, a story of love, mudlarks and mechanical ingenuity, then please go sign up for the list.

More on the book to come – very excited!


The Transformation of Gerick Bare-Skin by Deborah Teramis Christian

Surprise is good, but that isn’t the only way to tell a good story. As the pleasure we take in myths and fairy tales shows, immersing ourselves in the familiar, in a story whose end we see coming, can be satisfying if it’s done in the right way. Reading Deborah Teramis Christian‘s The Transformation of Gerick Bare-Skin acted as a reminder of this for me.

The transformation of how I read

The Transformation is the first lone short story I’ve bought on the Kindle. I’d been taking part in a Google+ community about world-building run by the author, and that made me curious about what she had written. With e-books it’s easy to follow up on that curiosity. It’s also possible for authors to cheaply sell individual short stories so that readers can try their work. It was a perfectly timed coming together of modern ways of reading and modern ways of getting to know people.

Hands up who wants to be able to turn into a bear - what's that, everyone put their hands up? Of course.
Hands up who wants to be able to turn into a bear. What’s that, everyone put their hands up? Of course.

Speaking the theme

The Transformation is a coming of age story set in a fantasy world. Gerick has reached the age when warriors in his tribe develop the ability to transform into bears, giving them the strength and ferocity to defeat their enemies. But something is holding him back.

The were-bear transformation provides an obvious and pleasing parallel with the transformation of growing up, and the changes war can make on its participants. But Gerick also undergoes another change, as he is forced to take responsibility for himself and his people, and eventually discovers an unexpected truth about his identity.

None of what happens in the story is very surprising. The choice of titles makes clear where this is going, and in so doing makes clear that surprise isn’t the point. The point is to see that age-old journey into adulthood enacted.

This is a short as a campfire story, the familiar with new trappings, one more variation that shines a different light on truths we have heard before – about the transformations of war and of age.

Reading against the market

My enjoyment of this story went against all the expectations that the fantasy story market has laid out for me. I never would have stuck with a novel-length story so completely immersed in familiar fantasy tropes, even though those books dominate the shelves of Waterstones and the pages of Amazon. Short story magazines, with their focus on novel concepts condensed into short spaces, seldom give me something so familiar. But for me this was just the right amount of what it was. Like a competently produced police drama, it let me relax for half an hour, feel things I wanted to fell, enjoy a brief moment of transformation and adventure, and emerge rejuvenated.

Stories can and should surprise us. But they should comfort and relax us too, give us the full range of human experience. And the The Transformation of Gerick Bare-Skin definitely has a place in that range.

Plus were-bears, right? What could be more badass than a were-bear? (Feel free to answer that one in the comments!)

Free story, and some thoughts on it – Holy Water

Holy Water, a short story I had published back in 2010, is currently available for free as Alt Hist give away free e-books of their first issue. If you’ve been enjoying my blogging then I recommend that you go get a copy and see what you think of my fiction.



A word of warning though – this is what my fiction was like four or five years ago. I’ve improved since then, and though I’m proud of Holy Water there are still things I’d do differently now.

Here are a few of them.

Start as you mean to finish

When telling a story you need the end to match the beginning, otherwise readers feel disappointed. Thematically, Holy Water starts and ends on similar notes, but in terms of characters and their problems, not so much. This is particularly glaring in such a short story. If I was writing it now I’d reluctantly replace the first scene, which I like but which doesn’t fit perfectly.

Less adjectives

Yes, I know, this is writing 101. But it’s also a lesson I’ve become more wedded to as I’ve gone along. Many words in Holy Water would not make it past my editing pen any more.

Do your research

Actually, this is something I’d do exactly the same way. I did a lot of research to get ideas before writing Holy Water. It’s firmly embedded in the real history and legends of Cheshire, and those inspired almost everything about the story.

Yay history!

Lessons learned

I’m planning on putting together collections of some of my short fiction to give away / sell through this blog, but it’s taking me forever to find the time. In the meantime, this is one way you can enjoy some quality Knighton prose.

That’s it from me. Go pick up a free copy of Alt Hist. Read. Enjoy. Let me know what you thought of my story. And what would you do differently if you wrote it?

Out now: Ghosts in the Gaslight

I’m proud to say that I’ve got another story out in an anthology, this time one raising money for charity.


Ghosts in the Gaslight, a Victorian fantasy about love and restless spirits, appears in Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails. This anthology, edited by Michael Cieslak of Dragon’s Roost Press, is raising money for Last Day Dog Rescue, an American charity that rescues dogs from the bleakest situations in shelters and pounds. It’s a good cause, saving our furry friends from being sent to laboratories or put down. I’m really chuffed that I’ve found an opportunity to combine that with writing.

So if you’re looking for some fantastic genre stories, or just want to help out animals in need, please consider buying a copy of the book. It’s currently available in paperback and Kindle versions, and will soon be available in other formats.


New story – A Sheriff in the Deep

I love westerns, and I love science fiction, so I’m pretty excited to say that my sci-fi western ‘A Sheriff In The Deep’ is out this week in Fictionvale.

Excitement, adventure and fishes

‘A Sheriff’ is the story of a lone man, your classic western small town sheriff, protecting a community of homesteaders against the encroaching bully boys hired by a big business. It’s about frontier justice. It’s about a lone hero standing up for the little guy. It’s about brains over brawn. And it’s about living underwater.

Yep, it’s Shane in the ocean depths.

But why this story?

So why did I write a story like that? Well, mostly it’s because I love westerns, especially sci-fi westerns, so the combination of the two was hard to resist.

But I’m also intrigued by trying to explore different sci-fi futures. Space exploration features a lot in sci-fi, but we don’t often explore the briny deeps even though settling there is starting to look more plausible than getting into space. There’s all sorts to explore around the practicalities of this and the international issues it would raise, which I’ve only glanced over in this short story. But I think there’s a lot to do in the deep.

As for the lone sheriff as hero, I’ve been a fan of that since my dad first got me watching westerns as a kid. I’ve previously had a steampunk western, The Cast Iron Kid, published in a steampunk anthology. And as in that story, I really enjoyed writing the part of the plucky underdog here. It’s a big part of the traditional western, and a theme almost everyone finds appealing.

The great folks at Fictionvale

It’s also been a pleasure to work with Jenna and Venessa, the editors of Fictionvale. They’re a relatively new magazine – this is only their second issue – and they’ve been struggling to get this one out amidst all sorts of distractions and setbacks. Despite that they’ve been friendly and helpful to work with, and managed to take a hands on approach to editing that improved my story – something many short story magazine editors don’t have time for.

Go forth and read!

Fictionvale is available for e-readers via their store or Amazon for only $4 American, which comes out around £2.50 for those of us carrying pictures of the queen. You can spend that much on a large coffee. Hell, you can barely even buy a pint for that any more. So why not give it a go?

If you do read the story then come back here and let me know what you think of it. Good or bad, I’d love to hear your opinion.

On The Third Day

On the third day following his untimely death, Father Oswald rose from his resting place in Mulbarton’s small cemetery. Hugh, son of Edric the carpenter, was the first to spot him. Abandoning the family pigs in alarm, he rushed back to the village.

‘What?’ Edric demanded, as the flustered youth appeared in the doorway.

‘Tis judgement day!’ Hugh exclaimed, tugging fearfully at the edge of his tunic. ‘Father Oswald’s risen.’

‘What are you jabbering about, lad?’ Edric flung aside his lathe. ‘And where in hell are the pigs?’

He stormed to the door, then stopped in his tracks as he saw the priest approaching sedately across the common land, oblivious to the swine scattering before him and the grave dirt clinging to his face.

‘By our lady! Tis a miracle!’ Edric strode to the next hut. ‘Widow Aetheling, come see this.’

A woman in her forties, wrinkled and greying, peered out through the gap that passed for a doorway.

‘What is it now? Another turnip in the shape of… Oh my!’

She sank to her knees in the mud, hands held aloft in supplication.

‘Dear lord, have mercy on this poor sinner, and let me enter the gates of heaven with your worthy messenger Oswald.’

‘And the rest of them,’ said Hugh.

‘The rest of what?’


Hugh pointed past pale Oswald at a dozen more figures approaching slowly from the direction of the church. Crows circled overhead, harbingers of revelation.

‘It’s just like them carvings on the church,’ Hugh said. ‘Look at them reaching out to welcome us.’

By now all the villagers were in the street, cares of hearth and field forgotten as they stared at the miracle that shuffled haltingly towards them. Some looked up into the sky, disappointed by the lack of blinding light and roaring trumpets. Others wept with joy to see loved ones again.

‘There’s my Gert,’ the widow Aetheling exclaimed, tears streaming down her face. ‘As perfect as the day the pox took her.’

Hugh gazed at Gert. He’d been closer to her than the widow would have liked, and was pleased as only a young man could be to see her walking again. But even so, something seemed wrong. Her step lacked that enticing bounce, and her face had slipped out of its previously irrepressible smile.

‘I’m not sure…’ he began, but no-one was paying him any attention. They were rushing to meet lost friends and family, now risen to join them on the day of salvation, apparently oblivious to the smell of rot that hung low and nauseating on the breeze.

He turned towards his father, but Edric had stepped forward, reaching out his hand to shake Father Oswald’s.

‘Father!’ the carpenter beamed, then looked down in bemusement at the fleshless fingers that had come away in his firm grasp. ‘Father?’

Oswald groaned and lunged, sinking his teeth deep into Edric’s neck. There were screams as the returning villagers leapt upon their former neighbours, all of them too bewildered to fight back. Blood flowed as the old corpses set to devouring the new.

Hugh looked longingly at Gert, now chewing on her mother’s arm. He thought of running his fingers across her flesh one last time, then thought better of it. Biting aside, who knew which bits of flesh still remained? He turned on his heel and fled, past the wattle huts, down the dirt track and into the forest, heading for the hills and a different kind of salvation.


First published in Alienskin, February 2010