Alison DeLuca’s ‘Crown Phoenix: The Night Watchman Express’ is one of those books. I loved it when I first read it, and when I found that Alison was re-formatting and re-issuing it on a new label I was thrilled. So thrilled that I offered to draw the maps for the book! I suppose I should also declare that Allie is the editor of my YA book, The Infinity Bridge too, and her steam-punk touch on it has been invaluable.
Oh, steampunk! Yes, had to mention that early on! The Night Watchman Express is an Edwardian fantasy, the first of a series of books collectively called The Crown Phoenix, after a mysterious typewriter. The book oozes style—from the richly described settings, to the marvellous characters that inhabit it. There is a real traditional adventure feel to the book—you can almost see the BBC Sunday tea-time series now. There is an underlying mystique to the plot, capturing the macabre air of Victorian sci-fi perfectly, without becoming too sinister or dark.
The first book introduces us to our key characters. Miriam is an orphan, who falls under the guardianship of the Marchpanes, former partners of her deceased father. It’s clear that they are bad ‘uns from the onset, struggling with the wilful Miriam. Then a mysterious governess arrives, Mana, who helps Miriam in many ways and also facilitates her friendship with two boys, Simon and Neil. Simon is the son of the Marchpanes, and initially clashes with Miriam. Neil is a friend from school, staying at the mansion over the holidays. The plot thickens when the sinister Cantwells arrive at the house, and it’s clear they are looking for something hidden there.
Book two, The Devil's Kitchen, follows directly on from the conclusion of TNWE and features all three of the children as they tackle the Cantwells and the fearful Devil's Kitchen. The second book has a real pace to it, extending some of the mysteries of the first book (such as the Crown Phoenix typewriter) and wrapping up story arcs from book one. It has a very stylish feel to it, and wonderfully drawn characters, especially the ones who inhabit the workhouse of the Kitchen.
So with book three now out, I took the opportunity to interview Alison about her books:
Me: Easy one to begin with- tell us briefly about your trilogy.
Alison: Hello, and thanks for having me on the blog!
My trilogy is The Crown Phoenix, named after a quantum typewriter that can bend time and space. Some very nasty villains are after it, and it’s up to Miriam and Simon to stop them. Unfortunately, they don’t like each other very much at first, so that complicates things. Plus, their character flaws get in the way – Miriam is very angry at her situation (she’s an orphan) and Simon falls for Barbara, one of the villains, since she is breathtakingly beautiful.
Me: Which of your characters do you empathise most with?
Alison: All of my characters have a little bit of me in them. I started by liking my main character, Miriam, the most. As I continued with the books, I really began to sympathise with Simon. Mana, Miriam’s magical governess, appeals to me as a former teacher, and even Barbara, the beautiful villainess, has a softer side. It’s hidden deep beneath the surface, but it’s there.
In The Lamplighter’s Special, the third book of the series, the main character is Lizzie. She is very near-sighted and can’t afford glasses, so she has to negotiate a world that is out of focus. I’m a four-eyes myself, so I can really relate to that plight.
Me: I've read your first book, The Nightwatchman Express, and especially loved the atmosphere of the novel. What attracted you into writing in the 'Steampunk' genre?
Alison: I loved books by Conan Doyle, Wells, and Verne when I was young. Adventure driven by technology that depends on clockworks and gears is very exciting to me, and it leaves loads of scope for the imagination.
My technology depends on quantum physics and some impossible things that create adventures for my characters. I love magic, but I think that the fantasy must have a reason for existing, and the magical powers must come from somewhere. In my books, both are caused by the Crown Phoenix Typewriter.
Me: With the success of movies like Hugo, and books like Clockwork Prince, do you see the genre taking off a bit more? Or is it still a bit eclectic?
Alison: I think we’ll have lots more steampunk in all types of media, as long as the genre doesn’t get bogged down in the usual airships and automatons. I love both, but an airship can’t rescue a book that doesn’t have a killer plot.
I’m fascinated by the rise of ethnic steampunk – Brazilian authors, in particular, are doing some very interesting things – as well as different “punks” such as dieselpunk.
Me: Do you find being an editor impairs your writing or augments it? Namely can you flip easily from one to the other?
Alison: Great question! Yes, it really is easy for me to switch hats. The funny thing is that errors that leap out at me when I’m editing run and hide when I write. Like all authors, when I’m in the middle of the story, typing out the movie that I see playing in my head, I don’t see the words. Since I’m too close to the story, I have to rely on my own excellent editors for feedback.
Me: You are a Twitter maestro. What impact do you think social media has had on authors, and is it a useful medium?
Alison: I love the immediacy of Twitter, and Facebook has introduced me to many, many talented writers. Social media is a blessing and a curse, however. There are beautiful people out there, but there are wolves as well. The difference isn’t always apparent at first.
However, for the most part the impact has been very positive. Instead of scribbling away in a garret, secluded from the rest of the world, now writers can interact every day. In my own publishing group, we do betas, edits, and covers for each other. We critique and support, and we make each other laugh as well. I can’t imagine being without those online relationships.
Me: What projects have you got cooking next?
I have almost finished the final book in my series, The South Sea Bubble. It’s set in an Edwardian hospital, much like Downton Abbey, so I read up on Edwardian medicine and the history of nursing in England. That was really fascinating.
Along with four other authors, I’m going to release a Christmas collection soon called Christmas O’Clock, to raise funds for third world countries. My contribution is Magic Coal for the Naughts, a novella about two very naughty children who get coal from Santa Claus. However, coal from the Big Man simply must be magic…
After that, I can turn to a dieselpunk book, The Gramophone Society, that I have on the back burner. It’s the story of a girl who goes back in time to experience what being a London refugee was like during World War II. And of course, there is diesel tech and loads of fantasy adventure involved. I really look forward to getting back to it.
You can find Alison De Luca's books on Amazon UK right here!
And on the other side of the Atlantic in the US just here!
And this is the video trailer for her CRown Phoenix series. OMG!