The Steamlust erotic steampunk anthology is out, and getting nice reviews in important places like Romantic Times. I think when I first mentioned the collection, I promised to reveal how a former Cabinet minister had helped to inspire my story, A Demonstration Of Affection, and I hate to be a tease, so…
It may surprise you to learn that, in his time in office and out of it, Michael Portillo became something of a fantasy figure. Not to me personally, you understand, but I’ve known those who were fans of his well-mannered charms. Now, at the time I was kicking round ideas to submit to Steamlust, and still waiting for something to really click into place, I happened to be watching the BBC’s excellent Great British Railway Journeys, in which Portillo travels rail routes originally found in George Bradshaw’s Victorian railway guides and is unfailingly polite to everyone he encounters along the way. On this particular trip, he was somewhere in East Anglia, and happened to make a passing reference to a ‘steam-powered windmill.’ That’s the moment when the mental lightbulb lit up and I had the perfect home for my characters, Professor Braithwaite and his assistant Violet Smith, better known to him as the tomboyish Smithy, where they toiled to win the race to build the first functional mechanical man. Here’s how we first meet them, hard at work in their windmill:
I was deep in the heart of the windmill’s mechanism, wrench in hand, when someone banged the knocker down hard on the front door.
“Get that, would you, Smithy?” the professor called, raising his voice above the faint hum of machinery. The fact I had to crawl out from a tightly confined space while all he had to do was step down from the low wooden platform on which he stood didn’t seem to occur to him. The Professor never answered his own door, not when he had an assistant to act as a buffer between himself and the outside world.
I didn’t complain, even as I scraped my knee against a jutting piece of metal in my haste. I’d known about the man’s many infuriating habits from the day we met, yet I was prepared to overlook them all for the honor of working alongside him.
“Coming!” I yelled, speculating as I did on the possible identity of our unexpected caller.
We almost never received visitors. The Professor had chosen to live in such a remote location deliberately to discourage anyone who might interfere with his work. Only those with the most urgent need to see him would trek down the rutted cart path that led to the windmill.
Or, I realized as I opened the front door, someone with a financial investment in the Professor’s many projects. Standing on the threshold, shaking drops of water from her heavy black gamp, was his current benefactor.
To find out just who’s calling, and learn what happens on the night the Professor and Violet demonstrate their creation, you’ll have to get hold of a copy of Steamlust, available from Amazon among many other places. And if you happen to bump into Mr Portillo on your rail travels, thank him from me for the inspiration, won’t you?