This is Lyssa’s first steampunk novel and she is finding it all wildly exciting.
Welcome Lyssa Medana!
Before we dive in to the nitty gritty, what is Out of the London Mist about?
Out of the London Mist is a steampunk novel about aether pilot John Farnley who returns home to deal with the consequences of his brother’s murder.
What are the main differences between the “regular world” and the world of your story? Did you choose a moment in time or certain technology to punk to get there?
I am something of a history nerd, so I have tried to keep the novel very much tied to our world. The streets, tube stations, food and society are very much as you would have found in London, 1900, with very few tweaks to keep the plot interesting. The big difference is the discovery of aether stones as not only a source of energy but also a tool to tap into further energy that is all around us. This aether energy was invisible and impossible to detect until the discovery of the aether stones, but now is starting to change lives.
What is the main way people travel in your world?
The aether crystals have had an impact as they power flying machines, aether flyers, which shorten travel times and make it possible to access remote areas. People still use railways and horse drawn carriages, though, and that is also quite important. The novel takes place during an episode of the London smog, or a London Peculiar, and during those times it was usually only the Underground that ran in the capital.
Does language play any role in your world? Does everyone speak the same language, or is there a variety? Did you invent any new slang or terminology during your world-building process?
That is a very interesting question, and I hadn’t thought about it, but language does play a part. John Farnley comes from the English upper classes and he interacts with Jewish immigrants who have their own language as well as their own customs and this can raise barriers. I have to be careful, because I don’t want to spoil the plot. Sometimes secret wisdom from the past is only secret because we don’t understand the language used.
What kinds of climates do your characters experience? Do they see a lot of change or is it always the same? Has your world always had this kind of climate, or has it changed over time?
The London Smog, or London Peculiar, has a vital part to play in the story. Out of the London Mist takes place in London, during a few days of fog, and the effect of the weather is crucial. The London mist is hiding many dark secrets and we find out some in the story. The smogs of the time were corrosive, oppressive and unhealthy and the Great Smog of 1952 was estimated to have killed around 12,000 people during the few days it lasted and in the few months following. Most of the city ground to a halt as it was impossible to see more than a few feet. London stopped, even in the age of planes and cars. Sometimes you don’t need to exaggerate for impact and atmosphere.
Is there any kind of faith system in your world? Myths and legends that inform the setting or characters? Did you draw inspiration from any real cultures, living or dead?
The Jewish immigrants in the East End of London and their faith and folklore are an important part of the plot – but I daren’t say anymore in case it gives too much away! I’m plotting the next stories in the series and I am not ashamed to say that I intend to loot myths and legends with a free hand.
Are there any interesting creatures in your world?
That would be telling!
When you build a world, what is your process like? Do you do a lot of research upfront, wing it completely, or something in between?
As I said, I’m a history nerd, so using a setting in Victorian London was fairly easy for me when it came to an overview. I knew about the smog, the overcrowding and the hardships of the East End and I did a little extra research before I started writing. However, I am picky about history, and I double checked a lot of the detail as I wrote.
For example, I knew that the Tube, or London Underground, was open, but I knew not all of the stations opened at the same time. This meant I would be rattling along with the story and then I would pause and check whether a particular Tube station would be open and I would check contemporary maps to see if the roads ran past there (the Blitz did some damage to the East End, and the reconstruction after WWII did even more! Modern maps didn’t help.). I would want to add detail, but I also had to check it was the right date, of around 1901. London changed a great deal between 1837 when Victoria became queen and 1901, when she died. The London of Dickens was quite different from the London of Bram Stoker, and I found I was caught out more than once. So I suppose it was a little in between.
How central is the setting of your story to the story itself? Is it more of an interesting backdrop, or is it integral to the events of the story?
The setting is integral to the novel, as the title suggests. The fogs and smogs of London help conceal the secrets of the East End, secrets bubbling away from the over-crowded and multi-cultural slums. It’s a setting too good to resist.
When helping the reader get to know the world you built, what techniques do you use? Do you tend to be front load with context, or keep the reader in the dark and feed them only bits at a time?
I think this was the hardest part for me. Steampunk is such a wonderfully diverse and richly varied genre that a story could be almost anywhere. I thought it was incredibly important to set the scene firmly. I decided to open in the mist-filled streets of the East End, and to describe matters as carefully as possible. I used scenes in the early part of the book to add background information, but I hoped to give a taste of the background on the first page.
How much of a role does realism play in your world-building?
I talked about historical accuracy in an earlier question, but I think it’s important to add that I feel that when you are dealing with the fantastical, you have to add realism as a strong background. It may not be actual science fact, but it has to have the ring of being real for this world. Then you have a good frame for the marvelous and magical, which are usually much more fun to read and write about.
Do you have any specialized training or background from your “real life” that has informed your world-building?
Absolutely not! I do have a strong curiosity, though, and I collect random facts like a fluffy sweater collects lint, and I think that helped.
How do you keep all of the details of your world and characters straight? Do you have a system for deciding on different factors and keeping it all organized, or does it live more in your head?
I keep it in my head. This is a bad system as I spend a lot of time scrolling backwards and forwards to check details like how someone took their tea. One day I will be organized enough to set up a record of characters and locations. Until then, I shall rely heavily on the scroll button and the ‘find’ function.
Did you experience any difficulties while building your world? Any facts that refused to cooperate or inconsistencies you needed to address while editing?
I really, really, really wanted Lady Clara, the widow of the hero’s murdered brother, to go shopping in Selfridge’s. It would have felt perfect for all sorts of background reasons. Unfortunately, Selfridge’s didn’t open until 1909, and while grumbled, and muttered, and told myself it was only a story anyway, I couldn’t do it. She will, however, definitely shop at Selfridges when it opens.
Thanks for stopping by and telling us all about your world! Where can people find you on the web?
Out of the London Mist is coming July 23, but is on pre-order now.
You can find me on my website, where there is regular flash fiction, writing prompts and the occasional book review, together with links to my non-steampunk novels. I’m also on Facebook, and a message there will usually reach me. I love to hear from people.
Want to read about more fantastic worlds? Check out the rest of the World-building Showcase series!