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Fabricating ‘The Regent’s Devices’

Authors Shelley Adina and R.E. Scott discuss their new Regency-era steampunk series

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Shelley Adina and R.E. (Regina) Scott have joined forces on The Emperor’s Aeronaut, a new steampunk novel that kicks off a trilogy entitled The Regent’s Devices.

The stories are set in the same alternate-history world as Adina’s Magnificent Devices and Mysterious Devices series, but decades earlier during the British Regency era, beginning in 1819. Adina has coined the term “Prinnypunk,” a reference to Prince Regent George Augustus Frederick, to describe steampunk works set during this time.

In the world of Magnificent Devices, Queen Victoria reigns but the son of Charles Darwin is Prime Minister. “Airships are a normal way to travel,” the author explains. “The post goes by pneumatic tube underground, and there are little flying boxes called pigeons that take the mail in between airships.”

Adina also writes Regency-era romances under the pen name Charlotte Henry and Amish romances as Adina Senft. She recently received a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in the UK.

This is Scott’s first foray into steampunk, but she describes herself as a fan of the genre and she’s certainly not a newbie when it comes to historical fiction. She’s written more than 50 historical romances, about two-thirds set during the Regency era in Britain and the rest in America. She estimates that more than a million copies of her books are in readers’ hands.

For steampunk fans who are not familiar with her work, she suggests Never Vie for a Viscount as a good place to start. It’s a Regency-era romance where the heroine’s love interest is a “natural philosopher” (scientist) trying to expand the science of ballooning.

We recently spoke with the authors to learn more about the new series, their collaborative process, and how they perform historical research for their stories. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you decide to collaborate on the series?

RS: I have a blog that I share with author Marissa Doyle, and we had Shelley on a couple times to talk about steampunk. She confessed that she was dying to write something she called “Prinnypunk,” steampunk set in the Regency period. So spin forward several years. Shelley and I are in a group together on Facebook, and she mentioned it again. I thought, I’m gonna give it a shot. So I emailed her and I said, “How about collaborating?” And she said yes.

I have loved steampunk since I was a kid, so the chance to write it with somebody who I consider the best in the business is just an absolute thrill. And she’s just a fun person to hang out with.

What makes that era so interesting for doing a steampunk novel?

RS: I think it’s such a fascinating time because you’re just on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution. And people are starting to go, “Oh, what is that? How does that work? How is that going to shake us all up? I don’t know if I like that.” There’s such a dichotomy of “We’ve never done it that way before,” and then the new, ushering in this whole new age that’s going to lead us into the future. It’s very exciting.

Please tell me more about the story. Let’s start with the setting.

SA: The setting is 1819 England. With the Napoleonic War, four civilizations are balanced on the edge of a sword, and technology is what’s going to turn the tide. Napoleon is trying to conquer Europe, but he’s held in place by the Karlsruhe Confederacy on one side, and the Russian bears in the north, a pirate kingdom in the south, and then England holding fast. But nobody can get a jump on anybody else, until one young lady is going to be forced into marriage. She steals a balloon and makes it to England. Now, Regina will tell you who that is.

RS: This is one of those things where you play with what was real and then what’s alt. In real life, Napoleon wanted to conquer England, and he actually had an air force. The head of his Air Ministry was a woman named Sophie Blanchard. She was married to Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who was the first man to fly a balloon across the Channel, but from England to France. The winds at the time were contrary, and going in the opposite direction [from France to England] was almost impossible. Jean-Pierre was an amazing inventor, but almost everything he invented never worked.

So we invented a daughter for the two of them named Celeste. She’s made her father’s inventions work. She’s going to prove to the world that she can fly from France to England, and she almost makes it.

SA: Celeste Blanchard, the daughter, washes up on the beach in Cornwall. Loveday Penhale pulls Celeste out of the water. Strangely enough, Loveday’s next-door neighbor is Arthur Trevelyan. Lady Claire Trevelyan, the star of the Magnificent Devices series, is the great granddaughter of Arthur and Loveday.

These will be the main characters throughout the trilogy?

SA: Right. There are two equal protagonists: Loveday and Celeste. I write Loveday and Regina writes Celeste.

The men, Emory Thorndyke and Arthur Trevelyan, are supporting characters because this is a female-driven series, but we couldn’t do without the guys and the help that they give.

Loveday and Celeste are point-of-view characters, and each of you writes one of the characters?

SA: Yes, but it’s always third person point of view. They switch point of view from one character to another.

What about Emory and Arthur? Are parts of the story told from their points of view?

RS: Yes. They are minor, but sometimes it’s more important to see what they’re doing. I do Emory and Shelley does Arthur.

Please tell me more about your collaboration process.

SA: Regina and I sort of worked up a synopsis. She’ll take a run at it and I’ll take a run at it. Then we divvied it up chapter-by-chapter into which character will be doing the action: This is Loveday’s bit and this is Celeste’s bit. In Book Two, Celeste is coming into her own and has more of a role. She’s not just the abandoned person who washed up on the beach. So Regina’s sections are more frequent.

Do you take the stuff you wrote and run it by Regina and vice versa?

SA: Yeah, she does all of Celeste and Emory’s pieces, and then she hands it over to me. I do all of Loveday’s and Arthur’s pieces, and then I hand it back to her. She does a scrub and then it comes back to me and I do a scrub.

Can you discuss any literary inspirations for the story?

SA: Jane Austen, of course, in this period. We kind of think of this as Jane Austen meets Jules Verne. Regina coined that one.

And who are your literary inspirations in general?

SA: For me, Jane Austen and Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote the Anne of Green Gables series. Fans of hers will find little homages throughout just about everything I write.

RS: The author that really made me want to be an author is probably Lloyd Alexander. He wrote sword-and-sorcery back in the day, Welsh mythology. That sounds strange to be an inspiration for historical romance. But he always had strong female characters, and three-dimensional characters. He always had these fun little extra people around the sides that just cracked you up. I think you’ll find a lot of that in my books.

What about steampunk inspirations?

SA: Gail Carriger, Kenneth Oppel, and Scott Westerfeld.

RS: Those are my trifecta favorites, too.

Could you discuss how you did your historical research for these books, and how you approach research in general?

RS: There are always books, firsthand accounts, and diaries. And I’m a very hands-on person, so I tend to seek out places where there are re-enactors, historical museums, and things like that. I’ve spent a day sailing on a tall ship. I learned to fence. I’ve learned to drive four-in-hand. I dressed as a Regency dandy and a Regency lady to see how it would feel. But then I make sure everything is well grounded in what historians say were the facts around that time.

SA: I too, have sailed on sailing ship for a whole day, made and worn Regency clothing, and I’ve driven an Amish buggy. I don’t think that counts as four-in-hand though.

I’m also very hands-on, feet on the ground. In the Magnificent Devices series, Lady Claire’s ancestral home is Gwynn Place, which is modeled on Trelissick, a National Trust house in Cornwall. I think my first trip to Cornwall was in the 90s. I was researching and going to libraries and taking photographs of the architecture, the landscape.

What is really useful is going to the historical societies in the towns where the stories are set and buying the little books of local history. And I have a book of Cornish phrases and slang from back in the 1800s.

When I’ve heard other authors talk about historical research, they place a big emphasis on primary sources as opposed to secondary sources. Is that important to you?

RS: Absolutely. So many primary sources, like diaries and family histories, weren’t published or are no longer available in print. People are transcribing things like that into digital format and making them more widely available all the time now, and that’s such a blessing. You can read the words of those who were there in that moment.

SA: You can get the sound of how people talk and the word order that they use, which is not the same as today. It gives the language of the story a different flavor. That’s part of what people like about Magnificent Devices because it has that Victorian flavor.

So historical societies are good places. What about university libraries?

RS: I’ve had good luck with university libraries. I wrote a book during the pandemic about climbing Mount Rainier, which is 45 minutes from my house. But all the local places were closed. So I ended up with this fabulous book through the University of Wisconsin of all places. They had digitized the first guidebook to Mount Rainier, which was published the year my heroine was making her climb. It had details about where to stay, and then on the back it had all these ads about where to get your gear, all kinds of stuff. It was a treasure trove.

Were you able to access this online?

RS: No, they sent it to me.

One issue with the university libraries is getting access if you’re not a student or an alumnus, right?

SA: If you’re a writer or a researcher, it makes a difference. I got hundreds of documents from the University of California at Riverside when I was doing my PhD dissertation novel about Holy City, a ghost town in California. The librarian scanned them all and emailed me hundreds of pages. It was wonderful. My book is presently with my agent, and we’ll be looking for a publisher this year.

It was just a matter of making nice with the librarian?

SA: You put in your request and you say who you are, because you’re not just some random dilettante who’s doing this because they’re bored and it’s Covid. If you actually have a reason to need what they have, they love to be needed.

How did you identify the library? And how did you approach them?

SA: I was looking for a newsletter that the people I based my characters on produced in 1918. There was, to my knowledge, only one issue extant, which I happened to have. I was searching in all these libraries to see if there were any other issues, and it pops up and says, yes, there’s an issue at Riverside.

There’s a process where you write to the librarian. She wrote back and she said, “Well, we don’t actually just have one issue, we have 54.”

So I asked if I could come down and spend a week at the photocopier. She said, “Oh, no, it’s Covid. I’ll scan them and email them to you.”

It was $1 a page or whatever. I didn’t care what it cost. It was such a windfall, because my characters are real people writing this stuff. So now I have their voice. I have the words they use. I have the slang they used. It was fabulous.

RS: I’ll tell a story on another author I know. Sheri Cobb South writes the wonderful John Pickett mysteries set in the Regency period. She wanted John Pickett to help someone rob the Bank of England. So she wrote a note to the Bank of England and said, “Hi, here’s the situation. I’m an author. Here are my books. And in this year, I want my hero to rob the Bank of England. Will you tell me how to do it?” And they did. They walked her through it. Of course, they have far better security these days, so the blueprint wouldn’t work today. But it was exactly what she needed for her book.

The Emperor’s Aeronaut is available now in e-book and paperback formats under Adina’s self-publishing imprint, Moonshell Books, Inc. Book 2, The Prince’s Pilot, is slated for release in July, followed by The Lady’s Triumph in September. See Adina’s website for links to booksellers.

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