How I came to write What Ho, Automaton!

By Chris Dolley

What Ho, Automaton! – the ebook – is officially launched today. You can read a sample here, or buy the ebook here for the bargain price of $2.99. So, how did I come to write it?

Well, back in September 2010 I was tempted by a call for additional stories for Book View Cafe’s Shadow Conspiracy II anthology. But what would I write about? I’d never dabbled in Steampunk or the Victorian era. Then it came to me – Wodehouse Steampunk!

Okay, it wasn’t exactly Victorian – most of the other stories in the anthology would be set around the mid 1800s – but maybe I could nudge the characters back a generation? I couldn’t nudge them too far back without losing the slang that makes the Wodehouse narrative and dialogue so much fun. But the Edwardian period could work – after all, that’s when Wodehouse started writing and there’s a definite Edwardian feel to much of his work.

And this was an alternate timeline. Why couldn’t an augmented Queen Victoria still be alive in 1903?

So, I set about writing What Ho, Automaton! Bertie would become Reggie – which, I think was the original name of the character (Reggie Pepper) who later became Bertie Wooster. And Jeeves would become Reeves the automaton. It fit so well – Jeeves’s minimal range of facial movement, his giant brain.

Then I had to find something for them to do. Being a Wodehouse pastiche, the story had to have aunts in it … and unexpected engagements … not to mention prize pigs, country houses, and put-upon hero who, through the best intentions, kept digging himself deeper into trouble whilst trying to help others. Throw in a Steampunk story line, and a series of twists and mysteries, and out came a novelette.

Some stories have to quarried word by word from unyielding rock. Others just flow and flow. What Ho was one of the latter. I steeped myself in Jeeves and Wooster books and channelled my inner Fry and Laurie – dismissing any sentence I couldn’t imagine Hugh Laurie speaking.

And having finished, I couldn’t stop. I went straight into the next story – Something Rummy This Way Comes. This one would be longer. Reggie would set himself up as a gentleman consulting detective and I’d give him a complex case to solve. Naturally he’d do it in a way that no other detective would possibly consider – and Reeves would have to scheme and manipulate to curb the excessive flights of fancy of the young master.

This story weighed in at over 41k words, which added to the eight and a bit thousand words of the first story made close on 50k. Originally, my plan was to add a couple more stories and release a 90k-word ebook in time for Christmas. But the joy of the new flexible world of epublishing means that I don’t have to. I can release a 50k ebook for $2.99 now and, maybe, another 50k ebook later for the same price. I could even release a combined book and price that at $3.99. Isn’t flexibility wonderful?

And the great benefit of being a member of Book View Cafe is that I can call on a pool of talented people. Phyllis Irene Radford, Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff, Jennifer Stevenson and Sherwood Smith all helped edit What Ho, Automaton. Jennifer and Sherwood worked on Something Rummy. And Brenda Clough came up with the initial art work for the cover.

Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .

Out Now! What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.

International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth.

Coming Soon! Resonance, Shift, Medium Dead, An Unsafe Pair of Hands




How I came to write What Ho, Automaton! — 4 Comments

  1. Around the turn of the century you start verging into dieselpunk. Then the dividing line isn’t exactly clear.

  2. Oops, was I supposed to wait ’till today to read it? Well, it was brilliant! I enjoyed every word.