Traction City Blues

Being nasty pays. This blog has had more visits since my grumbles about Steampunk last week than in the whole of its existence up to then. Also, a lot of people have got in touch via Facebook etc. to tell me about Steampunk books which are worth reading: Boneshaker has many fans; Scott Westerfield's Leviathan is very good, I'm told, and Dru Pagliassotti's Clockwork Heart sounds intriguing. My old friend Justin Hill points out very wisely that "every day someone reads a book for the first time in their lives. Whatever the subject matter is and even if it's been done before it's still new to them!" and I'm sure he's right, especially in the case of children's books. (But look what he's done to the font! It's gone all serif-y. What's that about? That's the last time I'm quoting Hill...) All the same, as a writer I still can't help feeling that the Steampunk genre has become as pleasureless as an overcrowded beach and it's time to light out for new territories (or at least head back to old ones that are less popular now).

One of the things that has got me thinking about all this is that I'm about to dive back into the London of Mortal Engines. Every year on World Book Day the lucky children of the UK are each given a £1 book voucher and offered a range of specially published £1 books to choose from. Each book contains two stories by different authors, and next year one of them will be me. I've been asked to write a 10,000 word story set in the WOME, and since a lot of the readers will be coming to it for the first time it seems to make sense to return to London.

So I'm planning something set about thirty years before Mortal Engines, when the city is still one of the great predators of the Hunting Ground. All the action will take place on board London, perhaps in the dingy middle tiers which didn't feature much in the first book. I think the story will revolve around a policeman hunting Something Nasty that is lurking in the shadows of the city. It's a tricky gig to pull off, because whatever happens obviously has to be so inconsequential that nobody mentions it anywhere in the Mortal Engines quartet, and yet not so inconsequential that there's no point reading about it. However, some e-mail chats with Jeremy Levett have given me an idea of what the Something Nasty might be, and I'm also hoping to squeeze in a guest appearance by the young Anna Fang, who looks less and less as if she'll ever star in her own range of spin-off graphic novels, so deserves a cameo here by way of consolation prize. (Maybe there'll be a chance to use some of David Wyatt's stunning sample artwork, like the 'Wanted' poster above.) As usual I have no idea what's going to happen or how it will all turn out, but I plan to start writing next week and see where it goes.

Needless to say, now that I look again at this lumbering London which I invented nearly twenty years ago I find it's not nearly as Steampunk as I thought! The neo-Victorian fashions are obviously confined to the upper tiers, and down where this new story operates I'm seeing grimy lino, flickering lightbulbs, rumbling engine-ducts and hot metal pavements embossed with those herring-bone patterns like on the sleeve of Fear Of Music. The pesky airships will be confined to their quays, and we won't talk about them. In keeping with the police-y plan the working title at the moment is Traction City Blues, but of course all that may change once pencil is set to paper. You know how to make God laugh, don't you? Tell him your plans...