Thursday, 11 February 2016


The year 1784 past with little change in global affairs.  The American War of Independence had finished eight years before and the French Revolution was still five years away. However, it could be argued that by the years end ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ that had dominated European culture for almost a century had faded and the new ideas of manufacturing processes, ‘The Industrial Age’, dominated the minds of progressive thinkers.

In England the year began with the coldest winter since 1740 (due to an eruption of a volcano in Iceland) and continued into the driest summer on record. As the weather was then, as now, the main topic of conversation these extremes gave the inhabitants of Britain much pleasurable grumbling. 

In January Henry Cavendish, a natural philosopher (the term scientist would not be used for a further hundred years) published a paper called ‘Experiments on Air’ which revealed the composition of water. Generally this went unnoticed as the populace were less concerned with the ingredients of air and water than with how long it would be before the government found a way to tax these necessities.

On the 2nd of August at 4.00 p.m., the first mail coach ran from Bristol to London. As the journey only lasted 16 hours some might argue that a letter sent then would probably arrive at its destination faster than one sent today by first class post.

That same month the Scottish apothecary James Tytler made the first hot air balloon ascent in Britain, achieving a height of some 350 feet. However, on later attempts his balloon would only take off after Tytler left the basket and instead of rising into the air he was plunged into bankruptcy.

This did not discourage Vincenzo Lunardi demonstrating a hydrogen balloon flight in London accompanied by a dog, a cat and a caged pigeon. The 24-mile flight was considered a great success, albeit the cat didn’t complete the entire journey, and ballooning became a fashionable enterprise.

The Industrial Revolution continued to progress that year when Henry Cort created a ‘pudding furnace’ capable of creating great volumes of high-grade bar iron, and Edmund Cartwright designed his first power loom. The cogs were turning that would eventually produce the "dark satanic mills" of William Blake's poem.

The year closed with the death of Samuel Johnson, writer and lexicographer, and as such probably heralded the end of ‘The Age of Enlightenment’.

All these things and a thousand like them came to pass in this year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty four.

The 1784 of this tale isn’t all that different, albeit the skies do glitter with impossible crafts and powerful steam driven vehicles cross the land. The fear of the (fictitious) Fen Pirates that steam power would drain the marshes around the coast of the Wash was well founded. By the 1820s the wind pumps were replaced with powerful coal-powered steam engines. In time these themselves would be replaced with diesel-powered pumps and finally the small electric stations that are still used today. The Fens would become rich agricultural fields with only the drains and dikes reminding one that these were once vast wetlands.

In the space of fifty years a landscape that had remained almost untouched since the deforestation of the 12th century would be transformed. In time the great steam pumps would have a thousand descendants and be replaced with a force that binds the universe itself… The Nuclear Age.

It is into this world that the little characters of this tale plunge headlong, caught in a current that they can have no control over, towards a future that they can barely comprehend.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Steampunk Goggles...

OK… in the past I’ve complained about the almost obligatory goggles worn by characters in Steampunk worlds. After all, they didn’t come into use until the automobile expansion of the early 20th century.

But what the hell… When Archibald Tanner flew down in his clockwork bird in the third installment of my Clockwork Furnace what was he wearing?

I even made them rose tinted.

Top hats off to the members of the Steampunk Chronicle.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Beyond the Clockwork Empire

Before it was compiled into a printed book my Tales from the Clockwork Empire was digitally published in episodic form on various comic sites on the Internet. The year was 2008 and at that time I only found the term ‘Clockwork Empire’ once on an obscure academic site.

In my stories I was referring to the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte which in 1803, the year they were based, was spread from Spain to the Pyrenees. The term clockwork related to the level of technology available at this time. Bonaparte was experimenting with submersibles powered by pedal action. Steam power was still thirty years away.

Now the term ‘Clockwork Empire’ seems to be generally bandied about on forums, in novels and games. Often it is erroneously used as a term for steampunk.

Steam power replaced clockwork during the 19th century as the new technology. The fine and intricate clockwork was replaced by the awesome power of hydraulics, pistons and boilers. The Victorians, 1850 to 1900, became the champions of steam. The idea of clockwork used as a device in their steam engines would have seemed as much an anachronism to them as using transistors in a computer would appear to us. Yet clockwork seems to have become as much a part of Steampunk as the Edwardian round lenses of the automobile goggles and airships that seem to have become the mainstay of the genre.

Much more interesting is the transition period between these two technologies. The usurping of clockwork, which had ruled for two centuries, by this infant of heat and steam.

Out of this idea Clockwork Furnace was born. I chose the title for two reasons. One, it was not a title I felt anyone else would want to use, and two; it captures elements from both technologies.

Imagine two brothers of the landed gentry; in their leisure time the philosophers and investigators of natural science. Lord Lucien Flint with his belief in clockwork, his town life and high society. Squire Sebastian Flint, the man of steam with his iron furnace and country manor. The precision of clockwork mirrored in the finesse and delicacy of Lucien, the manual force of steam reflected in the rougher and more practical Sebastian.

Where Tales of the Clockwork Empire had taken place in 1803/4, at the peak of the Napoleonic Wars, Clockwork Furnace starts twenty years earlier in the rural backwaters of the East Coast of England. A land of myth, superstitions, fens and marshes…

The brothers Flint must solve the mystery of the Devil’s Bell, the myth of the Immortal Peddler and uncover a dark secret that has lain dormant for a thousand years in the heat of Deepdale Wood.

The prize…a device of inexhaustible energy. The peril… the very unraveling of reality itself.

The doors of the Furnace are opening…

Friday, 17 February 2012

Images in sand...

When I was a child in primary school playing in the sandpit I drew images with my finger in the sand.

When they gave me crayons I clenched them in my fist, stuck my tongue between my teeth, and drew images on coloured paper. As I grew up so did the drawing materials. Pencils and brushes, watercolours and gouache, acrylics and oils. The airbrush dominated for a time and then digital tools arrived.

There are occasions when I face a class of eager graphic students (and I confess the term ‘eager’ may be wishful thinking) hoping to learn the techniques of illustration and design, and I tell them there is one rule…

And that rule is… that there are no rules. There is no one established way to do a thing; nothing is set in stone; no one has a right to say this is the way it should be done and no other is permissible.

So what has that to do with the two illustrations above?

To begin with let’s explore their differences.

Well, for a start, there is twenty years between their production.

The one on the left was produced by designer watercolours on Saunders Waterford 190 lb watercolour paper with a sable No. 5 brush and measures 280mm by 340mm.

The one on the right was created using various digital programs with digital colours and brushes on a computer and has no fixed measurement.

What do they have in common? I created them both.

Well, I am not going to deny that the hand-produced artwork has a more charming and attractive appearance. I would probably choose it myself if I had to make a comparison.

So if I am capable of producing both styles but have a soft spot for the more traditional style why have I followed the path of digital painting?

I can answer that in a word… DEADLINE.

There is one other difference between the two pages… The hand drawn watercolour artwork took ten days to complete… the digital took just under two. On the demands of a 128 page graphic novel… well, do the math’s yourself.

There are other advantages. Flexibility. The format of the frames can be altered right up to the last moment, changing the whole grid of the page. The colours can be balanced so that one frame can dominate or be blended into the overall colour of the page. Frames can be deleted or moved into subsequent pages should the narrative require it.

And when it comes to camera-ready artwork you are no longer relying on second or third generation distortions.

So that is why I am using digital tools at the moment.

But like I said, there are no rules, and tomorrow you may see my outcomes revert to the traditional style because time might be available. After all, illustration is visual story telling. There are many ways to tell a story.

Yesterday I was walking along a deserted wintry beach where the sea was a grey strip on the horizon. The sand was still dark and damp where recently seawater had submerged it beneath the waves.

I bent down, pointed a finger… and began to draw in the sand.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Afterword from "Tales From The Clockwork Empire"


It is a noted fact that most inventions however innocent their initial purpose, are soon converted to, and developed for, the killing of one human being by another. Take
Dr Guillotine’s Cucumber Slicing Device. Excellent for cutting thin slices of vegetables for aperitifs and side salads. Also excellent for removing 20,000 heads from their shoulders during the French Revolution. Take the Wright brothers introducing us to powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. This opened up the possibilities for intercontinental journeys, airport waiting lounges and in-flight packaged meals. However, ten years after it’s first flight the aeroplane was dropping bombs onto the enemy in the trenches. Probably not on the Wright brother’s ‘ten most useful things to do when man can fly’ list.

Well, the same can be said of the submersible. There are records showing
William Bourne, an English innkeeper and scientific enthusiast, proposed the idea as early as 1580. From his drawings one suspects he was really thinking of ways of reusing the empty beer barrels in his cellar but it was quite a practical design. Sadly it ended at the drawing board stage as few people could see the advantage of being submerged in a pond in the 16th century. However, by 1775 David Bushnell had invented the Turtle, the first submersible to be used in war. An American patriot, Bushnell tried his new invention against the Royal Navy. In fact the Royal Navy seems to have been the brunt of early submariner attacks as the inventor Robert Fulton, assisting Napoleon, was having a bash at them twenty-five years later using his Nautilus submarine.

So you realize I have taken certain liberties with 19th century history… though it is fair to say that it is more speculation than pure invention. Lord Dashwood’s description of the automata in the Mechanical Museum in Princes Street is quite accurate. There was an ingenious chess-playing manikin called the Turk but it was a conjurer’s trick, built by Wolfgang von Kempelen to impress the Empress Maria Theresa. Certain historical events did, and were, happening. The Victory had just completed a three-year refit. France and Britain had explorative forces hunting the Rosetta Stone in Egypt. Napoleon stood on the shores of France and contemplated turning the British Isles into his world fortress.
Tsar Alexander, having succeeded to the throne after his father had been accidentally struck with a sword, strangled and trampled to death, entertained the high society of Imperial Russia at his Winter Palace while looking over his shoulder for possible assassins.

The 17th and 18th centuries were the pinnacle of clockwork mechanism and can be truly considered the age of the mechanical machine. By the 1850s steam power had replaced clockwork and the Victorians became the masters of the steam age. The fine and intricate clockwork was replaced by the awesome power of hydraulics, pistons and boilers. The delicate precision mechanisms of clockwork motion had been replaced by the size and power of steam engines. In short, the Victorians had steam coming out of their ears.

But what if that age of steam had been delayed and the inventions of clockwork had continued unheeded. Such are the devices that the characters of this chronicle employ and develop.

Copyright Ian Duerden and Markosia Enterprises

"Tales from the Clockwork Empire" is available at Amazon, WH Smiths, Waterstones and all leading booksellers from April.

Digital instalments are available now on Comixology, Graphicly and Sony PSP.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Wooster on ‘The Master Minds’

Blimey, Jeeves, reckon the old noggin is in need of some education.

Indeed, Sir? What brings you to that conclusion?

Been watching one of my favourite Avengers episodes, Jeeves. Usual thing, mad lot of derry-do cads up to no good with King’s honourable country. Old Steed and his frilly infiltrate the bounder’s nest.

Sounds most exciting, Sir.

Indeed, Jeeves, indeed. Well… seems said establishment needs an entry exam. White papers, list of questions… usual rot. Touch of the old sixth form, smell of the polished wood floors, ticking of the old wall clock…

I understand precisely, Sir.

Exactly. Well Steed, good old Etonian, well trained in empire building, taught in the ways of diplomatic crafts, does the sporting thing…

Which is, Sir?

Cheats of course, Jeeves. What else is a gentleman of the hallowed corridors of the Drones club expected to do? What!

Most sporting indeed, Sir.

Now, no need to be sarcastic, Jeeves. There wouldn’t be any of this empire building if we’d spent our time swatting instead of throwing the leather against two foot of willow.

Interesting that you should mention cricket, Sir.

Enough Jeeves! Anyway, as I was saying, old Steed, in need of some informative solutions turns to… you’ll never guess this, Jeeves, turns to… oooh, choking on my breakfast gin and tonic… turns to…

Mrs Peel, by any chance Sir?

Blimey, Jeeves. Spot on! Lucky guess! Can you imagine? The frilly whose leather Glastonbury boots go right up to her neck! Say the wrong thing and you’d biffed into next week! Don’t know what Steed was doing.

The same Mrs Peel who beat you four times at chess, Sir? The same Mrs Peel who had to rewrite your lecture to the boys of Market Snodsbury Grammar School? Mrs Peel who had to translate the menu after you ordered two ‘serveuse’ and got, shall we say, in rather hot water? Mrs Peel who…

All right, all right, Jeeves… don’t labour your point. Anyway, to return to my argument… where was I? Oh yes. Well, there was I enjoying the charm of the episode, Steed frowning in the exam, and his smiles to the attractive fellow student, hiding the paper from peepers. Top it all, through my laughter I see his answers are ‘Dubhe, Polaris, Alioth and Schedar’!

Most droll Sir. English schoolboy humour. No doubt followed by “Achernar and Acrux’.

Indeed, Jeeves. And I’m wiping the tears from my eyes when this chappie next to me starts explaining the fundamental philosophy behind the whole scene. Well, Jeeves, it’s a shocker to discover that what you in your ignorance thought was a jolly romp is in fact a thesis in psychology and I’m taking gin and tonic by the barrel full to keep my mind cool. By the end the poor old noggin feels like it’s been bashed repeatably with a willow bat…

Or one of Mrs Peel’s specials to the head, Sir?

Hmmm. Well, now I can hardly look at the title to this episode without getting a severe headache and an urge to flee to the sanity of the Drones Club.

May I make a suggestion, Sir?

Go ahead, Jeeves.

Is a possible that this organization was devised to do just that, Sir. To distract us from empire building by turning English gentlemen into, as you so eloquently put it… swats and philosophers?

By Jove, Jeeves. Diabolical! I see your point! A country of swatting, philosophising intellectuals! Lord, it beggars the mind to think what damage that would do to global affairs. Jeeves, you are a wonder.

One must keep a steady head in such affairs Sir.

Jeeves, get the wickets out. Time for a spot of leather on willow I think.

Excellent decision Sir. I feel confident the country remains in safe hands.

‘Jeeves and Wooster’ copyright P.G. Wodehouse. This homage written and illustrated by Ian Duerden.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Avengers at the Races

Nothing like a good day at the horse races, what Jeeves?

Indeed not Sir.

Now which of these Avengers fillies is going to win the race, eh Jeeves?

I couldn’t possibly say, Sir.

Well I rather fancy that Cathy filly, plenty of bite, raring at the bit and rather a fine mane of hair, if you don’t mind me remarking.

Don’t you think she is rather short between the hock and fetlocks Sir? I mean, a good length of leg does suggest a longer stride.

Point taken Jeeves. However, a good application of the short whip on those firm hindquarters should give her a spurt. A little ‘wacky wacky’ gets the old adrenaline pumping, what ho, Jeeves.

Indeed Sir, but may I say she’s rather an excitable mare. Possibly you may get a little ‘whacky whacky’ back Sir.

Oh, don’t want that Jeeves, don’t want that at all. Well that Venus pony doesn’t seem to do much but wander off to the crowds and start neighing at them. More interested in making a dreadful noise than getting into the scrum of things.

One doesn’t wish to listen to rumour Sir, but I have heard tell there’s some shire horse in her breeding. Note her rather large hoofs, Sir.

Blimey Jeeves, now you mention it there is a touch of the broad forehead and long neck! Well, what about that Emma mare, strutting about all on her own?

Fine looking flanks, Sir, but note the nostrils in the air. It’s my opinion, Sir, that she thinks she shouldn’t be here at all but at Aintree, possibly in the Grand National!

That’s no good then, she won’t see the race to the end. Be off out of the paddock first chance she gets. There’s that young Tara, plenty of feisty energy in her. Seeing a mare like that and I’m almost tempted to throw a saddle over her myself and take her for a ride.

Hmm. May I respectfully remind you, Sir, that your last riding incident was, how shall we say, not entirely successful.

Oh darn it all, Jeeves, do you have to bring that up again? Had somebody explained to me that that Rhonda filly was an Australian pony I wouldn’t have attempted to mount her in the Drones. The corridor leading to the dining room is far too short to get up to a reasonable cantor. Personally, after that, I became of the opinion that horses should be banned from gentleman’s club! Well that leaves that long legged filly, Purdey.

Ah a true thoroughbred, Sir. May I bring your attention to her excellent legs, good short cannon bones, and springy pasterns? I have no doubt she can jump a high fence Sir.

Hold on Jeeves! They’re off and I didn’t get a chance to place a bet.

I fear Sir, that there has been some unfortunate distraction. They appear to be running, not along the track, but across to the enclosure.

Good lord, Jeeves, what’s got into them?

It would appear to be that steed, Sir, the rather fine pedigree stallion wearing the rather smart hunting saddle, head plume and riding whip. It seems to have turned their heads.

This is just not on, Jeeves, not on at all. What a goose! I say, fancy a wager on which reaches him first?

I fear Sir, we will never know. The steed has galloped off with them in pursuit. Though one thing crosses my mind, as a gentleman’s gentleman… such a well-bred steed, I wonder if he has a groom?

Now steady on Jeeves. Ah, well… what’s the next race?

I believe it’s the ‘Charlie’s Angels’.

I think we will give that a miss don’t you Jeeves?

Indeed I do, Sir. Indeed I do.

‘Jeeves and Wooster’ copyright P.G. Wodehouse. This homage written and illustrated by Ian Duerden.