Researching the Bottom of an Iceberg

Earnest Hemmingway had a theory. He called it the Iceberg Theory: Writing is like an iceberg: the reader only reads the tip of the story's background. Most of the work, maybe 90% of the iceberg, is hidden. This ballast consists of story research, character history, plot background and is the writer's (and characters') secret world. It supports the tip. Without this hidden support the Titanic can't sink, the story has no depth and the characters are lifeless.

This week I set to rewriting a short story. A few things bothered me.  In truth, they were niggling at my brain. I had only the tip of the iceberg. I needed to discover its hidden depths. I could not proceed until I had thoroughly researched the background - checking historical facts, finding pictures and information to help with descriptions and getting the lie of the story's land. (Literally. I have the maps to prove it!) Coincidentally, this proved useful for some plot points planned in the closing chapters of The Department of Curiosities.

I was also reminded of how proud I am to now live in Adelaide, South Australia. Though people make fun of us and consider us a hick, country town, South Australia has achieved many Australian, Commonwealth and World firsts.

For example: Did you know South Australia was the only fully free-settled colony in Australia? British Parliament passed an Act in 1834 to allow free colonisation and forbade convict transport to the new colony and included a guarantee of the rights of indigenous 'Natives' and their descendants to lands (now that I did not know. This was an amazing thing for the time.) South Australia's first parliament was elected in 1857.  Women who own property were allowed to vote in (local) elections in 1861. Women were allowed to vote for, and sit, for parliament in 1894.

South Australia's first purpose built council chambers was in Tea Tree Gully in 1855 - close to where my current short story is set.

South Australian's police force is the oldest organised Police Service in Australasia, and is the third oldest organised Police Service in the world - established in 1838. The SA police Service originally consisted of ten foot constables and ten mounted constables. Unlike other police services (which  employed soldiers or convicts, they enlisted only volunteers. By 1840, the police force also boasted two Inspectors, three Sergeants and forty-seven constables (foot and mounted).

The police force served as the State Fire and Rescue Service, from 1848 until the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service was formed in 1867. They also supplied the Civil Ambulance Service from 1880 until the St John Ambulance Service took over in 1954.

South Australia's police boasted many firsts:

  • they pioneered use of fingerprints in Australia 1893
  • were the first to appoint female police officers in the British Commonwealth in 1915
  • and many more past my era of research.

What started this thread of research? I needed to know the sound and smell of firearms used in 1882. For this I needed to confirm the type of firearms used by the constabulary in 1882, in Adelaide. By the way they were:

  • 1845 - percussion firearms: often the 1842 English Tower pattern. Each man was required to have five rounds of ball cartridges. The mounted constables had a carbine, and sometimes a holster pistol.
  • 1860s - the police were issued with a Snider conversion in carbine and pistol lengths.
  • 1881 - foot constables were supplied new Martini-Henry rifles, issued with a long bayonet.
  • 1882 - constables were issued revolver-carbines: a New Model No. 3 Smith and Wesson revolver and supplied with a detachable shoulder stock (for use as pistol or carbine). They used 'black-powder, centre-fire, metallic revolver cartridge. Each had a bullet mold and reloading tools and were expected to reload their own weapons.
Chemical analysis of black powder gunshot residue showed gases produced are carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen and traces of methane.(1)

Thanks to some very informative websites (I am now searching out the referenced books), I now have these facts frozen in my brain, I am having fun adding the tip of my short-story-iceberg, plus a few ideas for improving The Department of Curiosities.

Watch out below!

Some useful References:
  1. Smythe Wallis, James. Chemical Anaysis of Firearms, Ammunition, and Gunshot ResidueCRC Press; 1 edition (June 4, 2008) ISBN: 978-142006966
  2. Women and the Right to Vote:
  3. South Australia Police Historical Society:
  4. South Australia Police Historical Society:
  6. Pre 1900 Revolvers:
  7. Smith and Wesson No. 3

Of Curiosities, Updates and Blurbs

Chapters 11-15 are transcribed, with many edits and rewrites. 23171 words in ten days! Who'd have thunk it?

It is a strange thing to read a first draft (scribbled in November's NaNoWri, last year) and think did I write that? Gosh, so many adjectives dropped and repeats excised. I know I said I was going to limit myself to a simple transcription - no editing. No surprises - I did not. It would have been  a quicker task had I done so, but less productive.

I blame my study. This year I had earmarked to learn my craft. I have attended local writing classes/lectures almost every month. I found I could not sit on my hands (that would have made it impossible to type) and not add notes to help with my upcoming rewrites.

I am satisfied with the general story line. Phew.  I have insertion of missed clues, reordering - incident to consequence, removing repeats and removing unnecessary sections in some scenes and notes for improving characters. Names have started to consolidate. The big one (and I thank one of my reviewers of my Three Shorts eBook for the comment) was show not tell. I lost track of how many times I made that notation.  I even made notes for book 2 (and possibly book 3).

Here's the current blurb:

The Department of Curiosities.  Book 1: For the Good of The Empire.

Under 25 words: The Department of Curiosities is a steampunk tale of a heroine, mad scientists, traitors and secrets. All for the good of the Empire.

Blurb: Miss Mathilda (Tilda) Meriwether has a secret. Actually, she has several. One of them has shaped her adult life. Another now controls it. Her Majesty Queen Victoria has control of the Empire. She is the Empire - the creator of secrets. Sir Avery works for The Department of Curiosities - the keepers of secrets - especially if they are useful to the Empire. When Tilda finds herself in the employment of The Department of Curiosities, she realises this is the perfect opportunity to uncover the truth behind one of her secrets. But the Queen has other plans for her.


I suppose I should start thinking about the cover.

141124 Q victorias secrets ch13 SMALL

The Law of Murphy

Most of you have probably heard of Murphy's Law:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Over the years I have had more than just a passing acquaintance with dear, unrelenting, Murphy. Honestly, I wish he would stop hanging around and buggering things up. Hasn't he got any where else to be? He has plagued me most heinously over the past few months. Enough already!

Back in February, I thought I would be clever and give myself well over two months to do final rewrites and edits on my novella. Hey, it was only a novella after all. Not even half a novel length. Right?

I had a neatly packaged timetable all drawn up, leaving a month to order a proof copy of my book, do a leisurely final read through and get books posted to me a few weeks before my book launch at the end of May. Ha!

Murphy is a right royal....

Things were chugging along. My deadline was but a blip on the future timeline. No problems. Then came the month of hell, starting with the death of Sir Terry Pratchett. I had met him twice. He was a lovely man. Who'd thought the death of such a fleeting acquaintance would rock me so much? After a few days of inactivity, I rallied enthusiasm by making the Doctor Jack book trailer. I was back on track.

The next blow came with the sudden decline in health of my beloved Tish - my Devon Rex cat. In twenty-two years, she had been my consolation through a tumultuous first marriage and subsequent divorce, the death of friends, increasing work anxiety and now a change of career. Thank goodness I have my family; they were now my support during the harrowing process of watching my dear friend spiral into ill health. The decision to put her to sleep was one of the most gut-wrenching in my life. I still miss her - stealing choice morsels of food and demanding a lap to sit upon.

It was a week before I could attempt any constructive writing, only to be floored by (get this not one, but three things at once! For goodness sake, Murphy!) laryngitis, pharyngitis and infected sinuses! Two weeks of antibiotics and brain muddle is not exactly conducive to best critical assessment and rewrites.

My inner editor freaked out. Inserting cute teapot here, for a calming effect:fairy teapot 1505

Add to this computer glitches, delays completing required forms and uploading files due to forced adherence to a specific scheduled order of things (still waiting on some items to be returned to me so I can go forward on some points. Ugh), washing machine failure, resultant emergency white good shopping trip, subsequent delivery of said washing machine, required furniture moving and major laundry floor clean up - all before the half-washed load decided to grow legs and walk. Just breathe.

It arrived 150419My inner editor threatened to have a panic attack. I soldiered on, with the support of my family and the help of my writing group, who rallied to aid with editing. Four beta readers, several rewrites, including a complete character background change, four line edits, and five proof read passes later - I have my proof copy and am awaiting the first shipment of books. Patiently. I am praying Murphy is not a postal worker.

I now know how to organise the publishing side of this book gig - and what order is most (and least) time proficient. I won't need to do all of the initial registering for US tax, accounts for payment and other legal requirements. I  have a better grasp on formatting (which was the easiest step), times taken to approve, order proof copy, re-edit (There is always mistakes you miss the first twelve times round) and what the real postage times are. Next time I give myself just over three months to sort out the final publishing. Or more.

But there is a balance in the Universe. Earlier this month I was approached by Lynne, a fellow writer and well-known Australia steampunk blogger, for an interview about my writing. You can see the interview on her blog, Cogpunk Steamscribe.

steampunkbuttonforgroupsI was also contacted by the organisers of Steampunk Coffeetime Romance and More. They had already highlighted my  my eBook of Three Short Stories and invited me to do a guest blog post, on 28th May - just in time for the launch of my paperback, Doctor Jack and Other Tales, on 30th May. Perfect timing! Drop by their blog on 28th May and check out my post, and another chance to win a copy of both my eBooks, Three Short Stories and Doctor Jack, (eBook due out by the end of the month).

And pray the post arrives in time.