Monday, 27 August 2018

Some Top Writing Books

by Jeanette O'Hagan

To some extent we learn to write by reading and by writing.  As we read fiction we get a sense of what makes a good story. The more we read, the stronger that intuitive sense develops. Writing also helps us to hone our skills. 

Yet like most skills, we can also learn from mentors, teachers, blog posts, podcasts, and craft books.  Moreover, what readers, publishers and editors are looking for in stories and writing style can and does change over time.

Fiction from the eighteenth and nineteenth century was often narrated from an omniscience (God's eye-view) point of view, included long descriptive passages, convoluted and flowery sentences, authorial intrusions ('dear reader' passages) and unsolicited opinions, and many many pages.

While we can still enjoy such classics, a modern reader has less time and patience than their eighteenth century counterpart. They also have a much wider knowledge of the world (through TV, movies, social media, travel) and don't need scenes to be painted for them in loving and florid detail over several paragraphs or pages.

Writing styles currently favoured usually have a focused or deep first or third person point of view (no head hopping please), less flowery more muscular prose (out with adverbs, too many adjectives, creative dialogue tags, weasel words etc). A modern novel is often expected to be faster paced, with a tighter narrative structure.  And often publishers and readers will make up their mind about a book after the first paragraph or page (and certainly by the first 100 pages).

That in mind, in today's post I will share a number of writing books that I've found helpful along the way. 

Self-Editing for Fiction by Renni Browne and Dave King

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print

This book is a good starting point for the beginner writer and covers a number of style issues.

Rayne Hall's books for writers 

In particular The Word Loss Diet - brilliant and practical guide at making one's writing taunt and tight. But I also appreciated her books on Writing Vivid Settings and  Writing Deep Point of View.  She includes lots of writing examples. Her excerpts of her own fiction showcases her tips, though are not my preferred genre - supernatural horror.  My review of The Word Loss Diet and Writing Vivid Settings.

K M Weiland  Structuring Your Novel

Weiland's blog Helping Writers Become Authors has a great number of practical tips on plot structure, hero's journey, character arcs etc. which are distilled in a range of books, including Structuring Your Novel. She is a plotter (in a writerly sense), but pansters can still learn a lot about how story works.

Stephen James Story Trumps Structure

James is more of a panster, though his book can apply to both plotters and pansters. I found his book excellent for understanding certain elements that make a story work - such as the need to escalate the stakes as the story progresses. My review is here.

Lisa Cron's Story Genius

I found the psycho-evo-technobabble and black and white claims in this book rather annoying. On the other hand Cron delves deep into the emotional arc for characters which is I think is worth exploring. My review is here.

Blake Synder's Save the Cat

Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

This is aimed more at scriptwriters but has a ton of good tips on story structure, engaging the reader, drafting the story, as well as story premise and pitching.  It's an easy and fun read.

Stephen King's On Writing

Part memoir, part craft book, this is a well worthwhile read (even if  you don't enjoy King's books). Another panster, he has some great tips on writing style, creativity and process. My review is here.

Margie Lawson

Not a book, but Margie runs Immersion classes, online classes and has lecture packets available from her website. While she doesn't deal with structure, she has a whole raft of tips on how to keep the reader's engagement and make your words sing. Her website is here.

Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Again, part memoir, part reflection on the writing journey, Lamont has some pertinent insight in the mind-set of the writer. Her book is both witty and poignant. A Christian, she doesn't shy away from hard issues. Here's my review.

Joanna Pen's Making a Living by Writing

A practical look at how one might be a full-time writer - if that's part of your goals then it's worth a read.  Joanna also has other books, a website and podcast with useful information in this area. My review here.

This, of course, is just a small sample of all the writing books and how-to books that are out there. I've got a good number on my to-read list.  (I've included links to some of my reviews, which you or may not agree with :) ) Not every book will strike a chord and with each book, we need to weight what works for us as a writer and what doesn't. 

On the other hand, don't dismiss something out of hand, until you're considered it and maybe even experimented with it. Best of all, understand 'why' something is recommend or the reason for common 'rules' as that helps you know when and if you should 'break' them.

If you have some recommendations for books about writing that you've benefited on, I'd love you to put them in the comments below. Let's share our discovery of gems, in order to help each other.


Jeanette started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users. She has published numerous short stories, poems, two novellas and her debut novel, Akrad's Children and new release Ruhanna's Flight and other stories.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

Find her on:

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Meet Our Members - Roger Norris-Green

Each Thursday in 2018 we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals.
Today's interview is with ROGER NORRIS-GREEN

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from.

I was born in Brighton, England and emigrated to Australia with my parents when I was 13. We settled in South Australia where I attended Unley High School. It was there that my writing career began, writing short stories for the School Magazine. After leaving school, I worked in advertising, finally owning my own agency. I married Elaine and we had four children. I undertook two years theological study at Parkin Wesley College and have been an accredited Uniting Church lay preacher for over 50 years. For a while I was Co-Ordinator of Christian Care and Share, an agency which helped people in need.  I have also served as a lay pastor and lately the member of a Lay Ministry team.

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc).  What do you write and why?

I commenced writing seriously soon after we were married, writing westerns for the Cleveland Publishing Company. Over the years I have written 140 published 40,000 word western novelettes including 2 self-published and one just accepted by Black Horse Westerns in England. In addition, I’ve written four Christian devotional books and six novels centred on the Copper Coast (Moonta, Kadina, Wallaroo) where I retired. There is a Christian social justice element in my novels. ‘Tipping Point’ is about climate change. ‘Redemption’ is about refugees.  I’ve also written radio plays (comedies) and one stage play on the Life of Joseph. I enjoy a variety of writing, from early settler romances to westerns. Currently I’m working on ‘Return to Sundown Valley’ then I intend to finish a political thriller titled ‘Betrayed’.

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?

Strangely so, more people have read my westerns than my other, more serious books. I’ve found Christian books difficult to sell to even Christian bookshops like Koorong. In fact, I sell most of my Christian books at markets and through Facebook. Apart from westerns, many people have bought my books from local shops and markets. Like most other authors, I’d like a wider audience!

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?

I always write an outline first. I learned the value of this writing westerns for Cleveland Publishing who required an outline to approve before I started writing. I guess one of my greatest challenges is to try to enter the e-book market. This is something very new to me. But if the Lord wants my books on the ‘net, He’ll help me. And my dear wife, Elaine, will help me too.

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?

Many many decades ago I did a Pitman’s Writing Course. It’s still one of the best Writing Craft Books I’ve ever had. It taught me the essentials of writing that are still relevant today.

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?

I’d give a shout out to ROBYN FARRELL, my daughter, who edits every one of my books and picks up my mistakes. My grand daughter, Melissa Farrell, has been the illustrator of my last dozen books. I can recommend her to any author wanting a beautiful cover. As far as a Christian Writers Downunder author, I respect and admire ROSANNE HAWKE who writes a beautiful, sometimes poignant story. She is also a fine Christian woman.

Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?

I aim to finish RETURN TO SUNDOWN VALLEY, my 141st western, then BETRAYED, a social justice political thriller about a man who knows the truth about the Iraq War and is on the run. Then one day the American Far Right, which wants him dead, discover he’s living in Australia. This novel will also touch on Aboriginal land rights and mining.

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?

Nearly every book I write, even westerns (the one I’m currently writing has the theme of a rich rancher destroying Indians to seize their land), has a social justice theme, either overt or in the background. My faith says I need to be active in promoting what it means to be a Christian in society.


Monday, 20 August 2018

Called to Write

by Jeanette O'Hagan

Called to Write

So God has called you to be writer. He's given you a special story or message to tell which you know will be a blessing for others, Or He's given you the passion, the talents, the opportunity to write. It should be easy, shouldn't it? We write the blog posts, article and books and the readers will come.

Last year I shared the following parable on Australasian Christian Writers (ACW). I believe it is just as relevant today.

One day, the CEO of a large company goes on an extended international trip. She gives each of her three area-managers funds to invest while she is away. When she returns, she calls each of them into her executive office to report on their outcomes. Stephen made a killing in renewal energy futures, Zoe more than doubled the seed-investment in property developments.
The third exec is obviously nervous as he enters her office. He fidgets with his tie, fumbles the sugar spoon as he stirs his coffee.
'So Philip, how have your investments prospered?'
The young man clears his throat and pushes a folder across her desk.
Her eyebrows shoot up. 'What's this, a bank statement? Two per cent interest?'
'Yes, boss,' he mutters. 'I knew you can't stand failure. So, I put your money in the safest place I could think of.'
'You knew I can't stand failure? You could have least put it in a growth fund.'
The next day, the CEO made Stephen and Zoe partners of the company, while Philip received a redundancy package.

I've changed a few details but you probably recognise the gist of Jesus' parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). No doubt we could draw different lessons from this biblical short story (dare I say flash fiction) - but one thing seems clear to me. The CEO (or master) expected his managers (or servants) to invest and multiply his money. Perhaps even take risks with it. The one thing that got the boss' blood boiling, was playing it safe, failing to invest wisely. It seems, God expects us to invest, certainly in the sharing the gospel message, but also in the gifts, abilities and passions He has given us.

Think about it. If God calls us to missions or to the ministry, wouldn't we need to prepare, train, connect with a support base, work with others? It is no different with writing.

If God has called us to be writers, then surely He wants us to invest in our vocation. To take risks even. To give it focus, time and effort. Whether we wish to write as a ministry, as a hobby or hope to earn a living from our writing, it is usually not enough just to write without investing in the craft, in knowledge and connections.

How might we invest in our writing?

Make time to write

The first step is to make writing a priority. This can be hard when we have other responsibilities and demands on our time, and there can be seasons, fallow times, when our focus needs to be elsewhere. Still, if we are serious about writing, we need to write.

It helps to make a regular time and place. It might be weekly, or perhaps daily. Even if it's half an hour when everyone has gone to bed or before anyone rises, or in your lunch time at work or waiting in the car at soccer practice. You fill in the blanks.

Don't wait for inspiration. Don't worry too much whether what you writing is good or bad (you can edit afterwards). If you are really stuck, maybe do some writing exercises to warm up, or read over what you wrote in the last session. 

I'm convinced that sitting down and writing on a regular basis helps creativity to flow.

Learn how to write

'Anyone can string a few words together.' 

Yes, but that doesn't mean the words will connect with readers. Which is fine if we're writing a journal or as therapy (and there is nothing wrong with that). But if we we are called or have the passion to share our story or stories, then we need to learn how to hone our storytelling. 

This includes the basics like spelling and grammar, but also includes what makes a compelling blog post, or, for fiction -- genre, story structure, plot, compelling dialogue, point of view, character arcs and world-building. Non-fiction and memoir can use some of these elements and have their own skills to master.

We can learn a lot of this as avid readers. Even so, while some of these elements might be timeless, there are different style and story telling preferences in different eras. What may have worked in the nineteenth century or even in the 1990s may not be as accessible to readers in 2019.

Courses, workshops, conferences, critique groups, blog posts, podcasts, books are all resources we can access to improve and develop our writing.

Get relevant feedback.

Iron sharpens iron. 

As hard as it may be, getting feedback from critique partners, beta readers, and editors help us to see our writing with new eyes, to identify rough spots or plot holes that will pull readers from the page.

Feedback is invaluable part of writing, with two caveats. Choose your feedback partners wisely and remember you are the writer. You are not obliged to accept every piece of feedback you receive. A critique partner who writes historical romance may not like fantasy aspects in your epic fantasy and vice versa. Not all editors are experienced or understand more recent expectations in fiction or non-fiction writing. 

Even so, if a beta-reader or editor flags an issue, it's worth taking note - even if you find a different solution to the one suggested. And understand the 'why' of the rules, before you decide break them.

Look for opportunities

At some point, our novel or memoir or blogpost is ready to be launched into the world. 

So, how will we make it available to readers? Do we put our writing up on somewhere like Wattpad - where a lot of content is provided for free - or on our own blog or someone else's or share it in a newsletter or specific group (a support or interest group, extended family)?

If we decide to publish, then should we seek a traditional publisher or got the Indie publishing route (while avoiding predatory or vanity publishers)? Either way we will need to promote our work (look for ways to make our work visible and to connect with potential readers).

And while we wait, we can keep on writing, learning, honing and giving back to the community by encouraging and supporting other writers. 

To last the distance as writers, we need Commitment - not to give up, but to keep on going despite setbacks and obstacles - and Covenant - the willingness to keep God at the centre of what we do, to honour Him and trust Him with the results.

Whatever we do, let's not be like Philip in our re-told parable and bury what we've been given through fear or complacency or pride.

Images © Jeanette O'Hagan 2017

Jeanette started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users. She has published numerous short stories, poems, two novellas and her debut novel, Akrad's Children and new release Ruhanna's Flight and other stories.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

Find her on:

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Meet Our Members: Lesley Turner

Each Thursday in 2018 we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals.

Today’s  interview: Lesley Turner

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from.

  • I’m Australian by birth, have lived in Adelaide, South Australia all my life. I was called by God to write for Him at the age of 51, having no idea how to start or where this would lead. 

  • I’m told I have a quick and well-developed sense of humour – 50% from my father, whose dry humour helped shape my perspective on life and 50% from my mother whose quirky humour helped to balance me by showing glimpses of the hilarious side of life.

  • I am an avid reader. My to-be-read pile is astronomical and I’m told that the only answer is to stop buying books. Well – that is not going to happen!

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc).  What do you write and why?

My writing has predominantly been non-fiction. The two books I’ve had published were biographical in nature in the true crime genre. I was asked by a cousin by marriage to help him write the story of his journey through the justice system after the murder of his daughter.  

I had been helping him prior to this request by writing letters to judges, politicians, lawyers, all sorts of people about his disappointment with a not guilty verdict at the end of the criminal proceedings. I had never done anything like this before. My administration background enabled me to write letters but growing up I was never encouraged to write by teachers or anyone else. After praying about the matter God nudged me into saying yes and then the fun began. 

Halfway to Justice

I had no idea where to start, no computer, no writing skills to my knowledge, no idea how to research something as large and complex as this. I told God that since He had got me into this, He had to help me. He did in magnificent and miraculous ways so long story short, 6 years later ‘Halfway to Justice’ (released in 2005) was birthed. 

We had written this for the trade market but a Christian bookstore, that wanted to stock the book, couldn’t because of some of the content. The story had an element of forgiveness which we didn’t focus on but didn’t shy away from either. An idea came to us that if we could tone down some of the content in the original manuscript and focus more on forgiveness and what that meant to Ken, it might just work. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as it is said. ‘The Power of Forgiveness’ (released 2009) was born as a result. Both books are out of print but available as E-books on Amazon and can be borrowed from some libraries.

As far as editing is concerned I fell into that as well. Writing and being edited for the two books taught me so much. I couldn’t believe I’d actually completed them and been published twice. Many people that I knew came out the woodwork so to speak and confessed that they had written bits and pieces but hadn’t gone further with their writing. Projects sat at the bottom of drawers or filing cabinets because they couldn’t afford to get their work edited. So I began to offer to help after praying and telling God that I wished I could help. His answer was – ‘Well, you can!’

So I call myself an editor with ‘L’ plates and I’m learning all the time, hopefully getting better at it.  If nothing else I can encourage, mentor and try to help new writers to a point where they are confident enough to get some professional help or take the next steps to getting published. So the answer to the question ‘why do I do what I do’ is of course – I do it for God! He has given me gifts and I so enjoy seeing others blossom and come to a place of enjoyment of their own gifts.

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?

The first book was popular because it was an emotive true story. A professor from one of the universities in Adelaide wrote an acknowledgement and we asked him to officially launch the book. He told us that he was recommending that his legal studies students read it because it would give them another perspective – that of a victim of crime. We had lots of feedback from both people we know and many others. Writers and editors contacted us to ask if they could quote from the book, which was also encouraging. One of the witnesses from the criminal trial contacted us after reading it. We had coffee with her and she told us about things that couldn’t be used in the trial which we were able to include in the second book. These bits of information answered a lot of questions that arose for which we had no answers initially.

The first book didn’t have that ‘fairy-tale’ ending but with extra information and a final twist at the end, we were able to close the story leaving the reader with some sense of justice having been served. We stated that basically, justice on this earth might not be as we would like it, but God will bring perfect justice when He asks Jesus to return and wrap things up. I have had feedback from a variety of people who have read either or both books which encouraged me to pursue my passion in every aspect of the writing craft so I leave it to the Giver of all good gifts to choose who He wants to read these books.


Lesley has two children, is a grandmother of six and great grand-mother of one. God called her to write for Him at the age of 51 after she retired from the workforce. Since retiring she has volunteered many hours weekly in the church serving in a number of areas. She is currently working with the lead pastor, compiling and editing a series of resources and teaching materials designed for new pastors and leaders, particularly those on mission fields worldwide who struggle financially to get good quality educational material. Lesley has also made herself available to speak with and mentor new writers, encouraging them to use their gifts with complete dependence on God’s leading. Her testimony has been a source of inspiration to many who struggle with difficulties in this area.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Posing Questions

Christian fiction has often been accused of being preachy. Sometimes justifiably so. We’ve all read books like that. These are the types of books that go out of their way to preach a message that pulls you out of the story. In fairness, it’s not just Christian fiction that suffers from this problem. One of the early chapters of the novel Ready Player One (which I loved) interrupted one of the early chapters for an extended tirade against religion, although the author balanced this by introducing a sympathetic minor character who was a Christian.

And yet, the best books are often those that delve into a topic or theme, and explore it. This gives a story depth. So how do you explore an important theme in a story without it feeling “preachy”?

I’ve recently been re-watching the old 90s sci-fi series Babylon 5, performing an episode-by-episode analysis and recording my thoughts in a podcast. One thing I’ve learned from observing the writers of the show (particularly show creator J Michael Straczynski) is the art of posing questions.

Regularly, in the show, the writers will pose a difficult question, and explore a complex theme. The show steers away from telling the viewer what is right, or what they should think. To quote Straczynski,

I don't want to spoon-feed stuff to people. What I want is not to hit someone with a MORAL, or a message, or "This is what a soul is," or "This is what makes it an SF series," I want to start discussions. Arguments. Preferably a bar fight or two.
- J. Michael Straczynski

Just yesterday, I watched an episode, in which a character named Lennier rescued another character, Londo, from an explosion, and was badly injured in the process. Lennier is a very spiritual, very selfless character. Londo, on the other hand, has conspired to start wars and has indirectly caused the genocide of thousands. When Lennier wakes from his coma, he is informed of Londo’s great gratitude, and concern.

Lennier responds with the following words.

I did what I did because all life is sacred. But when the object of your actions does not share that belief.. I fear I have served the present by sacrificing the future.
- Babylon 5 - Convictions. Written by J. Michael Straczynski

With that one sentence, my mind exploded with many questions. I started to think about the value of life, the potential negative consequences of a righteous act, responsibility for one’s own actions. The episode didn’t resolve this dilemma, but it definitely got me thinking.

This is a great way to explore a theme or message in fiction. The purpose of a story is to ask questions, not necessarily answer them. If a story makes you think, possibly challenges your ideas and makes you re-examine them in a new way, then it has done its job.

But if we don't give the answers, aren't we watering down our message? Aren't we failing to lead people to the foot of the cross? Maybe so. But maybe a story doesn't need to take someone along that entire journey. Perhaps that's what relationships are for.

Perhaps, if we want our writing to reach people with the message of the gospel, we should focus on finding some interesting questions to pose, and let the Holy Spirit do his work.

How do you handle spiritual and moral themes in your stories?

Adam David Collings is an author of speculative fiction. He lives in Tasmania, Australia with his wife and two children. Adam draws inspiration for his stories from his over-active imagination, his life experiences and his faith.
Adam is a great lover of stories, enjoying them in books, movies, scripted TV and computer games. Adam discusses these on his own youTube show – Stories with Adam Collings.
Find him at or sign up to his email list for a short story.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Exploring Genre: Steampunk and Gaslamp

by Alison Stegert

Historical Fantasy Sub-Genres: Gaslamp and Steampunk

Gaslamp (Gaslight) fantasy and steampunk are atmospheric sub-genres of fantasy that exploit historical features and foibles of the 19th century, particularly in Britain and its colonies.

A Bit of Background…

The European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries exalted Reason above all else, a focus that both ignited scientific enquiry and spawned revolutions. At the same time, the Enlightenment calcified the imagination. Two centuries of constrictive rationality created a hankering for escape and a hunger for whimsy. In other words, at the turn of the 19th century, the world was ripe for fantasy.

The Nineteenth Century

Welcome to the Romantic Era, the age of sturm und drang—intense emotion, when fairies flitted in gardens and mad scientists cooked up monsters during electrical storms. This shift of focus to emotions and intuition, myth and magic provided fodder for creatives of all types, not least writers.

The 19th century in England was a time of incredible social change. Starting in Great Britain, the Industrial Revolution (1780 – 1840) heralded a new urban lifestyle, featuring a working class, advances in trade and business, and the mechanical manufacturing. The power of steam was harnessed for transport, textiles, iron production.

The Royal Circus

A series of formidable monarchs ruled during the 19th century. George III’s chronic illness and mental health issues came to a head when his youngest daughter Amelia died in 1811. His intense grieve left him unfit to rule, so his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled as regent from 1811 - 1820 (aka, The Regency Period).

The Prince Regent made a right royal mess of things, running up debts, flagrantly spending, and generally behaving immorally. Upon his father’s death in 1820, he was crowned King George IV, dying ten years later after a prolonged illness.

His brother William IV took over, ruling for seven years, during which he did not produce a legitimate heir. His niece Alexandrina was next in line, ruling as Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. The British Empire grew during her long reign, and she, dour and indomitable, left an indelible mark on history.

Her son succeeded her, reigning from 1901 to 1910 as King Edward VII.

Historical Fantasy Genres

Both gaslamp/gaslight and steampunk occupy the above piece of historical real estate, Regency to Edwardian eras, but they use the space differently.

Gaslamp (or Gaslight)

Gaslamp fantasy is historical fantasy with magical possibilities. The setting is usually Regency, Victorian or Edwardian, and usually it’s placed in Britain or its (former) colonies. The name refers to the ambiance created by the gas lamps that lit the streets of the time. The nomenclature derives from the comic series Girl Genius by Kaja Foglio.

Gaslamp Hallmarks

The tropes of gaslamp differ from those of straight fantasy (e.g., Tolkien) or straight Faerie (e.g., MacDonald). Victorian times saw a spike in curiosity about the spiritual world with many people dabbling in seances and other occultic practices. These themes sometimes make their way into gaslamp fantasy. Similarly, there was a resurgence of interest in fairies and other fey creatures and folklore.

Gaslamp explores fantastical possibilities and supernatural elements, time-slip, alternative histories and parallel worlds. Its tone can range from broodingly gothic to ‘swashbucklingly’ adventurous. A librarian from the New York Public Library described gaslamp fantasy as: “Jane Austen or Charles Dickens meets Harry Potter.” It can include mystery, boarding schools, pirates, monsters, spies, and manners.

Classic Gaslamp Examples

The gaslamp classification didn’t exist at the time these works were published, but they fit. Consider:
Peter Pan and Wendy by JM Barrie – Victorian, magic, parallel worlds, magic, mythical and fey characters
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – Victorian, magic, portal, time-slip
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Victorian, time-slip, ghosts, eerie ambiance
Dracula by Bram Stoker Victorian, mythical character, magic, eerie ambiance

Contemporary Gaslamp Examples

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark
The Prestige by Christopher Priest
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (Australian author)


While gaslamp plays up magical possibilities, steampunk emphasises the technological possibilities afforded by 19th-century advances in steam power. Some argue that this focus on technology pushes it more toward science-fiction than fantasy. Often the technologies are anachronistic, for example, steam-powered robots or androids; or they can be ‘retrofuturistic’, for example, a reimagining of a blimp as a family vehicle or a war machine.

The punk aspect of steampunk refers to the tone of the genre, which can be irreverent, brash and disaffected. There’s a vague or overt sense of dissatisfaction with the state of affairs, often an anachronistic callousness, and sometimes a lack of optimism about the future.

Steampunk is not only a literary genre, it’s also an aesthetic. Costumes and settings are Victorian but amped up, for example, women wearing corsets as daywear or men donning thick goggles as eyewear. Clockwork and steam engines of all sizes and descriptions abound.

Variations on a Theme

Some steampunk incorporates supernatural elements such as vampires, werewolves, and witches. Although usually set in Victorian times and generally in Britain (or its colonies), a strong off-shoot of steampunk is ‘weird west,’ usually a wild west setting with gadgets and horror elements. More recent additions to the steampunk canon include non-British settings and POC protagonists.

Image Credits:   

Classic Steampunk Examples

Consider the following works as forerunners to the steampunk genre. Again, the classification of steampunk didn’t exist at the time of these authors, but their works nonetheless fit:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Time Machine by HG Wells
Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Contemporary Examples of Steampunk

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore
Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
The Tremblers by Raquel Byrnes (Christian steampunk)
Maiden of Iron: A Steampunk Fable by Edie Melson (Christian steampunk)


Ali Stegert writes gaslamp fantasy adventure for children. The Temple of Lost Time, book one of The Whitherworld Chronicles trilogy, is currently in submission. Set in London’s theatre district in an alternative 19th century, cheeky theatre child Toby Fitzroy must find his long-lost father or end up in a notorious Workhouse for Wayward Children. But his search intersects with the dying, magic-addled king’s quest for the time elixirs of the mythical Temple of Lost Time and sends him to another world…

Writing gaslamp fantasy gives Alison a playground in which to indulge in her passion for Victoriana, fairy tales, and history. A former school counsellor, Alison now cares for her elderly father-in-law and writes books for children. She lives near the beach in Australia with her husband and two naughty dogs. Find out more on her blog, Spilling Ink.