A big part of my steampunk life is writing. I create alternative histories, with a twist and a touch of gadgetry. My biggest tool is research. I make myself more familiar with historic facts and tiny details, then change certain situations, extrapolate ramifications and create a new story.
So stoke up the fire. Let loose the steam, and buckle up and join me on my most recent research road trip:
There are several references to Adelaide’s history in many of my steampunk stories, including Hunted and All that Glitters .
I’m currently doing research for a new book and another steampunk short story. Both overlap on areas of background research: on family names (story background) and local cemeteries (for setting).
There’s a photo board of early Adelaide settlers in the foyer of the State Library, but did you know you can also access the list online? http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/BSA/
But nothing beats a research road trip.
I phoned the Adelaide Hills council to check on historic cemeteries. Modern city cemeteries invoke a picture of isles of green grass and silent serenity. The upcoming scene is set in a small historic cemetery in the hills – a conglomerate of various ones I’ve visited in the past. I needed to remind myself of the atmosphere and the sounds.
Some dates from the day’s research:
In 1860, a law was passed restricting burials to official cemeteries. Houghton cemetery was established in 1854, with records kept from 1864. The earliest headstones I found were from 1862. It is still in current use.
The newer sections are indeed clothed in luscious green grass but much of the area is compacted earth with gravel roads and paths (so my fictional gardener is appropriate) .
From a writerly point of view:
Sounds included: crows, wind, distant vehicles, gravel crunching underfoot and dry leaves.
Smells: dust, eucalyptus, petrichor (love that word); it started raining when we were there.
I watched the rain bouncing off black marble which had become a mirror reflecting nearby headstones.
There was an air of melancholy calm.
Research is important to me. It gives me the feel of a location, allowing me to attempt to recreate the emotions on the page. I can still hear the sounds of the crunching leaves, the wind in the trees and the serenade of the crows.
I’m a visual person so a lot of my research is recorded in photographic form. I checked with the local council. Photography was allowed. To honour them and in respect to their families, I’m only posting photos that don’t display names of the deceased.
Trees, gravel road and compacted earth.
Decoration from 1862
Decoration from 1886
I was surprised to find some early headstones with quite intricate carving work.
Various materials were used over the past one hundred years: slate, stone, marble. Black marble is used commonly these days. Each weathers differently. There were entire family plots, the widest ranging I found was from 1880s to current.
My feelings are mixed after this research visit. There are so many stories that we will probably never know and so many lives recorded by their relatives. Yet the memory of so many unmarked graves and unreadable headstones fills me with sadness.
This road trip provided another experience, which may one day find its way into future stories, enriching characters and places.
Bonus – Research Road Trip Video
Photography and film ©2018 Karen Carlisle.
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Steampunk Hands Around the World #1: Research Road Trip was originally published on karen j carlisle