Today on Rock Paper Spirit, we’re doing something a little different. I’ve stolen a time machine and travelled back to Victorian London with author Craig Hallam, who has written the Alan Shaw books, a series of steampunk adventures set in – you guessed it – Victorian London! (Disclaimer: Neither I nor Craig have been paid for this interview, but the post does contain links to Amazon from which I will receive a small amount of commission if you make a purchase)
Craig, welcome to my site and to the 19th century! Can you tell us a little bit about the Alan Shaw books please?
Hi Lacey. Thanks for having me along on your time machine. Have you noticed that everything is in black and white? How odd.
This is the about the right time period for Alan’s adventures. The series is a trilogy with each book containing several adventures. They chronicle the life of Alan from a young orphan who has just escaped the workhouse to his world-spanning adventures as an adult.
I had a few different things in mind that I wanted to include in these books so they’re a combination of several passions, really. I’m a fan of damaged heroes who sometimes stray on both sides of the moral line, heroes who don’t always know what they’re doing, don’t always win, and don’t always get some grand destiny. Sometimes people are just people trying to do the best with what they have. Mix that with a love of the Victorian Science Fiction aesthetic and my love of B-movie titles and you have the raw material for The Adventures of Alan Shaw.
I’ve read a lot of Steampunk over the years and one thing I always wanted to see was how the era developed. It’s often a given that we’re in the 1800s and dirigibles and automatons are a regular occurrence. These kind of books are also usually set in either England or America and I wanted to see what was going on elsewhere. So, as Alan grows up, not only do we see how the steampunk era develops from the introduction of a mechanical workforce in the first story “Alan Shaw and the Fate of the Automatons” but also how the technological development affects other countries and historical events when Alan gets wrapped up in the Indian Revolution in “Alan Shaw and the Brass Monkeys”.
So, there’s a lot to pack in there while keeping the pace breezy and exciting with lots of cool and diverse characters. I’ve had so much fun writing these books, it should be illegal.
Wait, we’re in Victorian London. Maybe it is!
I love that title – Alan Shaw and the Brass Monkeys! What inspired you to write a series rather than one larger volume?
Complete accident! I only intended to write one book at the beginning but as I wrote and fell more in love with Alan and his cast of supporting characters, I realised that there were so many more stories to tell. The idea stretched to a sequel, then I realised that a trilogy would be needed to do him any justice.
I fancy some jellied eels. We should buy some at the market! But I just realised I don’t have any Victorian money. We’ll have to earn some if we want to eat. How would you go about making money if you lived in this era?
Looks like we’ve arrived around the docks, so there’s always some handy work needing doing. I’d love to say I’d be an adventurer like Alan and his Privateer friends but I don’t have the skills or bravery. Maybe there’s a pub that needs some pots washing? That sounds like my level of knowledge.
Mine too, actually. Alan Shaw seems like a steampunk version of Indiana Jones, from what I’ve seen in reviews and the blurb on Amazon. Is that how you would describe him or do you take another view?
You’re absolutely right. That’s the vibe I was going for. I love those movies and the way Indie rarely really knows what he’s doing. He’s charismatic but also kind of an idiot sometimes. I like the lovable rogue type. And the kind of adventure where the characters drive the plot is my favourite kind.
Do you think it’s important to create books that are truly original or do you think it is more important to give readers what they know and like?
That’s a tough one. I think that any creative has to be true to their own vision, style and ideals. It’s your story that you’re telling after all. How can readers know if something new is what they want if they haven’t read it yet? However, it’s always a good idea for an author to pay attention to what readers are saying. Not in a way that reviews and opinions should tell them how to write their story, but in a way that constructive criticism is vital to making sure that you improve in your art/craft. So if a lot of people are saying the same thing, it’s probably best to bear it in mind.
I’m not a fan of sex scenes or overt gory violence in my books, for instance. Some people have said that they’d like a little more…ahem…let’s call it physical romance from the Alan Shaw books. But that’s just not what I write. I think the characterisation comes in the romantic moments before a sexual encounter, and the aftermath. So that’s what I stick to. I love the “and the camera pans away” approach hahaha.
I agree. It’s sometimes sexier when you don’t “see” the act and it’s alluded to! Would you rather live in the 19th century with a successful writing career but no money or in the 21st century with a struggling writing career but with all the comforts and freedoms we have now?
Oooooh. Tough one. I think that being a starving author in the 21st century is much easier. I can get side work editing and giving writing advice thanks to the internet, I have a Patreon so that I can reach readers all over the world who help me afford to do little things like eat and get to signings across the country. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’d make it very well around here in the 19thcentury. I’m too doughy and spoiled by phones and laptops.
Ditto. These streets smell putrid. I wonder what that stench is. Oh wait…it’s industrial effluent in the Thames. Lovely. I did not expect that. What kind of research did you do on the era and the settings before writing the Alan Shaw books?
It certainly is…fragrant, isn’t it? A real treat for the senses. I’ve always been interested in the era so I had the same broad stroke information that other people have, I suppose. It was mostly researching the dates for large historic events and advancements when I started out the series. Then more engineering-based subjects to make sure that while I was stretching the limits of steam power and clockwork, that I wasn’t completely breaking them. Mechanical men powered by steam are ridiculously impractical and probably impossible, but at least making them sound plausible is great fun.
What do you think is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
I’m not sure it is technically unethical but there is something that certainly grinds my gears. I love trees as much as I love books. I hate how much waste comes from books printed by the BIG publishers, or rather the companies that they use to do so. There’s evidence all over the internet that thousands of books a year are ruined in huge deliveries, never sold, and often just thrown away because they’re imperfect. That’s one of the many reasons that I love my publisher, Inspired Quill, they print on demand not because they have to but because they think it’s right. They’re a very progressive group of people who really care about their readers and the world they live in.
That’s a really good answer. Ok, next question. You’re hosting a dinner party in the 19th century. What three guests from this era would you invite? Bonus points for telling us which of them drinks too much wine and lets slip an important secret.
I think it would have to be Emily Pankhurst, Nikola Tesla and Karl Marx. Can you imagine putting the world to rights over a few alcoholic beverages with those three? I think Tesla would be a lightweight and would probably end up gesticulating wildly and throwing together some impressive demonstration with things he’s found in the kitchen and hidden under the sofa.
Travel and adventure seems to be a big part of this series. How important is travel in your own life? What’s the most interesting place you’ve been?
I’m afraid I don’t get around as much as I’d like. The author life is sometimes a transient one but never a well-funded one in my experience hahaha. Places I’ve loved to visit are Edinburgh, Budapest, San Francisco and New York. They all have a real atmosphere that you can almost taste. I like places like that. But if I have a choice of somewhere to be, it’ll always be somewhere more natural. I’m a lover of lakes, hills, and forests in particular.
And because no Lacey interview is complete without this question, and I like to get down to the important issues, what’s your favourite biscuit?
I’m a fan of the humble custard cream. Give me a glass of milk and few of those little fellas and you’ll have a friend for life.
Nice! I’m a Penguin kinda girl, myself. Oh look, now that it’s getting dark they’re lighting the lamps. So much prettier than the bright orange streetlights that we have where I live in the 21st century. Well, we’d better get back in the time machine and go home. Thanks for joining me Craig, these books sound really awesome and I am definitely going to download them. Can you give us some links to show us where we can find you and your books online please?
Thanks so much for having me. I hope the time machine doesn’t use up too much plutonium or anything. You can find me and my books in the usual places: