Recently I came across a post on Facebook from a fellow author, regarding his Steampunk work.
What is that? I asked.
Well, David W. Wilkin was very kind enough to agree to an interview and to tell us all about this intriguing genre!
Hello David, and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog.
I am extremely intrigued by your new story, Micawber and Copperfield and the Great Diamond Heist of 1879. It’s part of a Steampunk Anthology (Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology) – How did that come about?
Hi, Karen, first let me begin by saying what a pleasure it is to stop by. Thank you for having me.
Now as to how my story came about, it began with one of our Facebook friends announcing a competition for a Steampunk story with characters from the classics of literature of the era. Jane Austen, Mark Twain and of course, Charles Dickens.
The genre is steampunk – what is steampunk?
Steampunk is a term coined to cover what we might think of Jules Verne and HG Wells. Later Victorian setting with technology that goes along a different path than the road our world took. The steam engine has been evolving for countless years, but really took off in the late 1770s and of course we have the first locomotives in the 1820s. An age that saw the first beginnings of the Industrial Age. If we carry forward, taking Steam Power and marrying it to the world of the nineteenth century more firmly, we can generate a steampunk milieu.
What do you love about this genre that drew you to write in it?
Way back (25 years ago) some game designers thought to take the much more limited fiction then and make a role playing game (Space 1889). I purchased and played that game and had tremendous fun. I had studied some in the late colonial era, but it was not my first love at that time. The last few years though, with writers such as John Wilcox and Saul David, I have been reading more about the Victorian British Empire.
I further found of interest to me, the idea that Steam Engines start us onto a path of modernization. I thought what would happen if Steam power came about in a time like the end of the Medieval era, making the Renaissance totally different. I wrote a duology (not out yet) about this. So I had a Steampunk like book already but not with our Victorian world. The competition from Xchyler Publishing got me to thinking of Steampunk as it is generally thought of and a story for it.
What is the RDC?
The RDC is the Royal Dirigible Corps. The English call the Royal Navy, the senior service. They were chartered first. The Army is thus the junior service. Into that is the Cavalry as well. But the Artillery was the Royal Artillery, and there is he Royal Corps of Signals. Royal is everywhere. For our purposes, the RDC is a small branch of the Royal Navy, given a room at the Admiralty, and their own ‘Sea’ Lord, but some realise that the Corps will grow. Thus they are the junior, junior service. In my story, beside a yacht for her majesty Victoria, the corps have 12 dirigibles, making it the largest presence on the planet. Grouped into Squadrons of 1 frigate and 2 sloops, there is one stationed at Cape Town for Southern Africa, and Cairo for North Africa. One in Australia, and one in India.
Why did you choose Charles Dickens’ characters for your book, and in particular Wilkins Micawber III?
Dickens has a whole host of characters for me to explore, and no longer can I pinpoint the exact moment of inspiration that led me to Micawber and Copperfield. In casting for a time relation, Steampunk is after Dickens. The later part of the 1800s, and Dickens is the earlier and middle of the century. Thinking that the grandsons of Wilkins Micawber and David Copperfield would be perfect came to me. Micawber is based on Dickens own father and Copperfield I believe is thought to have been born around 1820, a child of the Regency Era, which I write in as well.
I have fond memories of the George Cukor version of David Copperfield, WC Fields and Edna May Oliver. I did not know when I first saw them that Micawber was named Wilkins, which means a little to me. I think I was as a child more drawn to Copperfield being named David. (I am just so entwined with these characters, aren’t I?) As I have grown and studied, I have learned that the Wilkins Micawber is the 2nd most beloved comedic figure in english literature. That intrigued me to make use of as well.
How did you develop the story?
It seemed that in Steampunk, which has a great use of Dirigibles, and did as well in that Space 1889 game,
no one really discussed what would be at the core of Dirigible use when they first came about. Airships would be used for cartography, and conquest, and what better places than these great unclaimed spaces of the Colonial world. I thus had my setting and I knew of the terrible troubles between the British and the Boers from my previous years studying this at university. I began to jot notes and soon had my plot.
The story has such a fabulous title – how did it come about?
The first thought was to bring the names of our heroes into play, so that all would know of the continuity
between them and their famous grandfathers. The next part, was to tell all that here was a tale with adventure but you would have to wonder, were our heroes the thieves, or were they the men who apprehend the crooks. And then the whys and wherefores. I had a large scene with Cecil Rhodes providing much of that detail, but we cut it.
Can you tell us in two or three sentences a brief outline of the story?
It is just after the Zulu War, the troops have gone back to England and the Boers remember how they have been oppressed by the English and their country stolen from them (there are a lot of Diamonds in the ground in their country but surely greed is not the reason for it.) Hoping to provoke a war, the Boers are up a little bit of their own shenanigans. And to stop it, our officers of the RDC and their ship The Golden Mary, are on assignment.
You write in other genres too – what are you working on at the moment?
I mentioned that Steam duology of the advancement of such power tied to the end of the medieval era, a genre I would term RenTech. I think that if you are the country that has it, then those countries who neighbour you would want the same, especially as they note you are outdistancing them in your economy. This leads to wars, hardships. I put forth that one of those neighbouring countries, after a war where they lose, is on the cusp of anarchy. That the powers/lords have lost control and ‘the terror’ is about to take over in the cities. Lester del Rey wrote Police Your Planet, and that is the basis for what I explore. A man who is displaced from the war that the country lost takes up a role as an officer of the watch and as ‘the terror’ sweeps the streets, he stands first as one man holding against the tyranny of those who “J’accuse”
Will you revisit any other of Dickens’ works in the future?
I would like to develop Micawber and Copperfield into a trilogy showing the entire Scramble for Africa that
happened in our time line. The horrors of the Congo and King Leopold II of Belgium. The Cape to Cairo railway. I think there is plenty of fertile ground to till, as it were.
Can you tell us about your favourite part? Why is it your favourite?
The climactic combat scene. Of course you have to read to the end to see it all. That, and then you can all have a nice spot of punch courtesy of the Micawber’s secret recipe.
How can we find out more about you and your work?
I am on Twitter @DWWilkin