Kim Lakin-Smith, author of Cyber Circus – shortlisted for this year’s British Science Fiction Association Best Novel award. Her new work, Queen Rat is published by Murky Depths and is available from Amazon.co.uk, or order direct from the author’s website for a personalised, signed copy. For more information about Kim and her latest news, visit www.kimlakin-smith.com or follow Kim at www.twitter.com/kimlakinsmith
The Real Inspirations for My Fictional Characters
by Kim Lakin-Smith
Philip Reeve, luminary author of the Mortal Engines series, kindly described my novel Cyber Circus as “…definitely some kind of ‘punk’: violent, grungy, transgressive and bristling with attitude,” adding, “Compared with it, most Steampunk that I’ve read needs to be reclassified as ‘Steam-Easy-Listening’ or Steam-Middle-of-the-Road’.” Such descriptions from my favourite author left me humbled – also newly aware that while my writing is heavy on the mechanics, it is the ‘punk’ aspect of the steampunk genre which really gets my juices flowing. From my debut novel, the dark fantasy Tourniquet, to my recent short stories – The Harvest, The Killing Fields, Field of the Dead… – I’ve always been drawn to the rebel and the outcast. In Tourniquet, I focused on the punkish aspects of the gothic and rock music scene. In Cyber Circus, I concentrated on a dust-punk world where the freaks of the circus provide welcome relief from the drabness of existence. In my latest story, the Young Adult novella, Queen Rat, it is the teenage protagonists who add a punkish flavour.
Queen Rat is set in the underwater world of the Free Ocean where 14-year-old Princess Ratiana Clementine Saint John of the submersible Victoriana is to wed Prince Simeon of the Aesthetes. Neither is keen on the match. Princess Ratiana – ‘Rat’ for short – is the Victoriana’s acting captain, given that both her parents are borderline senile. She is used to her rough tough people and, in spite of her personal tutor’s best efforts to refine her, has adopted their wild ways. In contrast, Prince Simeon is an orphaned Aesthete who is more likely to be found with his head in a book in the royal library than playing dodge with a cloud of jellyfish. They are an unlikely match – and desperately young to be forced into the constitution of marriage. But for a long time, the notion of a small pool of suitable partners combined with marriage at a young age was notorious among royal families across the globe.
In creating Rat, I wanted to pay homage to her most famous ancestor, the real life British monarch, Queen Victoria. While Victoria is often associated with the strict morality of the period, her actions as a young woman reveal the sort of spirit, strength and passion which underpins the character of Rat.
Victoria was raised under the Kensington System, a strict and complex set of rules devised by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and her attendant and rumoured lover, Sir John Conroy. Reacting against the presence of the then King William’s illegitimate children at court, the duchess banned Victoria from any hint of sexual impropriety. Consequently Victoria shared her mother’s room every night, was not allowed to descend the staircase unattended, spent her days isolated but for her beloved King Charles Spaniel, Dash, and was consistently badgered to make Conroy her private secretary. Given the restrictions of her childhood, it is fascinating that, on inheriting the throne at age 18, Victoria banished Conroy from her presence. It wasn’t long before her mother too was evicted from the palace. Victoria remained distanced from the duchess for the rest of the latter’s life.
Someone who noted Victoria ’s feisty personality was her future husband, Prince Albert , who wrote “(She) is said to be incredibly stubborn and her extreme obstinacy to be constantly at war with her good nature…(She is said) to enjoy sitting up at night and sleeping late into the day.” Apparently the future queen’s quirks did not put Albert off – on the15th of October 1839, he accepted Victoria ’s proposal of marriage. The success of their union, which produced 9 children, alongside Victoria ’s extreme mourning for her husband when he died at the age of 42, reveals that she was not only spirited but intensely romantic.
There is also an essence of Prince Albert about my character Prince Simeon. Like Simeon, he was a foreign royal who combined intellectual pursuits such as the study of law, political economy, philosophy, art history and music, with physical prowess in gymnastics, fencing and riding. Notably, Albert was heavily involved with the organisation of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Similarly, he was gifted with a very clear sense of right from wrong. Over time he adopted many public causes including educational reform and a worldwide abolition of slavery, as well as running the Queen’s household, estates and office.
To my mind then, the ‘punk’ side of my steampunk novella Queen Rat lies in the ghosts of the monarch and her consort prince who inhabit my main characters. Rat and Simeon have to fulfil several life-threatening Grand Rites together before the knot can be tied; in order to survive they must learn to work together and utilise body, mind and soul. It’s a fairly useful analogy for a happy marriage, and one which served their famous ancestors well.