1.- The interviewee
Jenny Schwartz is an Australian author, happily abusing her history degree by writing steampunk. Her setting for “The Bustlepunk Chronicles” is also her hometown, Perth. There’s a lot of history in Perth and a tradition of tall tales. Steampunk fits right in!
2.- The interview
2.1.- About Australia, Steampunk literature… and Steampunk Jewelry, of course.
Dear Jenny, we would like to thank deeply your time and interest. Let’s go ahead with the first question!
Q.- You studied Australian Social History at Murdoch University in Perth. Taking this into consideration your interest about historical fiction makes sense, but what why has specifically Steampunk -and not any other uchronic genre- attracted you?
A.- I joke that writing Steampunk lets me correct history’s mistakes. But if that was all I aimed at in my stories, I’d be writing “alternative history” fiction and not Steampunk. The appeal of steampunk is its anachronistic and punk edge. You can explore the issues of today in a time distant enough to allow for some romantic re-imagining.
Q.- Jenny, you are our first Australian interviewee. What can you tell us about the Steampunk scene in Australia and its evolution through time?
A.- Lots happens in Australia in a disjointed kind of way, so summarising is tough. I’d say we’re enthusiastically exploring questions of identity and history. We love the social aspect. Activities range from participation in events such as the Katoomba Winter Magic Festival to formal balls. Professor Von Explaino has a list of happenings and groups.
Q.- You are very active not only in the Australian Steampunk scene, but also in the international. In fact you will be coordinating the weekly #steampunkchat on Twitter at 9pm Fridays (New York time) this summer. Why staying updated regarding the international Steampunk activity is so important for you?
A.- Community. The diverse experiences and creative energy of people involved in Steampunk is addictive. There’s a buzz in seeing the world through other people’s eyes. Also, the people I’ve met through Steampunk chats are insightful and amusing. They brighten my day.
Q. One of the most notable characteristics of Steampunk is its outstanding community of writers, with initiatives such us The Steampunk Writers & Artists Guild. Do you think that an International Steampunk Professional Jewelers Guild would work?
A.- Definitely. The exchange of ideas and the support of people who understand the frustrations and joys of your craft are priceless.
Q.- Your first Steampunk novel ‘Wanted: One Scoundrel’ is available separately and as part of the steampunk anthology, ‘A Clockwork Christmas’. It is set in the Swan River Colony, the precursor of the state of Western Australia, and recovers the first gold rush that took place in the early 1850’s. As you know, the population of the country grew from 400,000 to over 1,000,000 during 1845 to 1896 as a consequence of gold discoveries. We assume that you have chosen these events due to their historical trascendence, is this correct?
A.- Yes, I guess I caught the “gold fever” of the era. They were adventurous times, and times of great change. That makes for lots of conflict—which every novelist loves. I also like the fact that if you walk through the city of Perth and its port of Fremantle (the photo is of High St, Fremantle), you can see buildings from this era. That makes the setting of the story really come alive.
The odd thing is, after I’d finished writing “Wanted: One Scoundrel”, my dad mentioned how his granddad had arrived in Perth in 1895. So it turned out there was a faint family connection to the gold rush era I’d chosen. Sadly, Great-Granddad never struck it rich.
Q.- This Victorian gold rush resulted in the use of a lot of gold in the making of Australian jewellery, an influence that separated it from the styles of the UK and Europe. There is no doubt that the historical importance of this precious metal has shaped the Australian tradition in the jewelry field. Anne Schofield wrote in her book ‘Australian Jewellery of the 19th and 20th Century’ that the nineteenth century jewellers were ‘obsessed with the idea of finding symbols or emblems to express their newly acquired Australian identity. They used Australian flora such as native pear, banksia and fern as decorative motifs and Australian fauna, particularly the kangaroo and emu’. Do you think that these influences prevail in the creations of local Steampunk jewellers?
A.- I think our national motifs are under-utilised by local jewellers. I’m far from being an expert, but I wonder if the fear is that using kangaroos or koalas or golden wattle (some people call it mimosa) will lead to it being dismissed as “tourist souvenirs”. Of course, as soon as I say this, someone will point out some awesome Australian Steampunk jewellery that I don’t know about.
Q.- But let us start from the beginning: how would you define steampunk jewelry?
A.- Steampunk jewellery is inspired by Victorian Era fashion, but appeals to modern sensibilities. It’s not scared to challenge our expectations.
Q.- Would you dare to describe Steampunk jewelry with a single word?
Q.- We do believe in a multicultural approach to Steampunk. Western Australia and India are geographically close and this is reflected in some way in ‘Wanted: One Scoundrel’, first part of your ‘Bustlepunk Chronicles’. As per your own words, ‘my Bombaytown is modelled on San Francisco’s Chinatown, but with an Indian character’. We are developing our ‘Raj Collection’, influenced by the British India. Would you give us any advice to get satisfactory results when approaching Steampunk from a multicultural perspective?
A.- Your Raj Collection is a fascinating idea. I like how with the Kerala Pendant you’ve given the wearer a sense of the history the piece connects them to. I suspect the popularity of Steampunk is fed in a large part by people’s search for a sense of connection – to other like-minded people and to their own (and others’) history.
For me, drawing inspiration from a cultural tradition demands an artist respect that tradition. I find sites like Beyond Victoriana and Silver Goggles are good at making me stop and question my assumptions and biases.
Q.- What challenges do you think Steampunk jewelry designers face?
A.- This is an exciting time for creative artists inspired by Steampunk. Elements of Steampunk are going mainstream, like corsets in fashion and Princess Kate’s cute “fascinator” hats. The challenge is to establish who you’re going to be. Will your jewellery be for everyday wear or for special Steampunk occasions? Will it be accessible or pushing boundaries? And I’d guess there are practical issues, like finding a price point that works for your customers.
Q.- As a writer, would you say that accesories can become essential to define a character? We believe that jewels, as pieces of art, can play significant roles due to its emotional burden. Have you ever considered the possibility of developing a story with jewels presented as fantastic devices with different symbolisms or powers?
A.- Funny you should ask that … I don’t want to let too much slip, but there is a very important emerald playing a role in my next Steampunk novella, “Courting Trouble”. I’m also writing a full length novel at the moment in which a Faberge egg becomes a weapon. So, yes, I agree absolutely that jewels and jewellery have fabulous possibilities in Steampunk stories.
The stories that have been woven around real world jewels, like the Hope Diamond, are fascinating. Greed, romance, intrigue, betrayal, violence. So many emotions swirl around jewels, readers can’t help but be drawn into bejewelled tales.
Q.- If everything goes well, the second novel in the ‘Bustlepunk Chronicles’, ‘Courting Trouble’, will be available this Autumn. What can your readers expect from it (and its sequel ‘Curses and Confetti’)?
A.- Esme and Jed (my Australian suffragette heroine and the brave American inventor who dares to woo her) are back from more adventures in both novellas. In “Courting Trouble” I show readers more of my imaginary Bombaytown. I really wish this place existed. I’ve imagined it so vividly I want to walk through the streets and stop for a cup of chai. In “Curses and Confetti” the action moves to a seaside funfair (on a sidenote, I think there should be more funfairs in Steampunk) with a new and deadly Steampunk device, the Gypsy Oracle.
Q.- We have recently published a blog post entitled ‘The 5 secrets of Steampunk fine jewelry’. When Steampunk jewelry is brought up, do you think quality is receiving attention enough?
A.- I hear complaints from a number of people along the lines of – Steampunk is more than adding a few decorative gears to something. I suspect the issue is the blurring line between Steampunk and Steampunk-inspired mainstream products. Real Steampunkers care about quality. They appreciate craft and workmanship. It’s part of the Steampunk ethos to value creativity and skill, and to wear it with pride.
Q.- Is there anything else you would like to add?
A.- I’d like to thank you for inviting me to be interviewed as part of “Steampunk Jewellery Tonight”. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed answering your questions.
Disclaimer.- The opinions or statements expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Decimononic.
3.- Next interviewee!
On the 15th of August we are publishing the interview for Marcus Rauchfuß. Marcus is an anthropologist and a minor scholar of the Cthulhu Mythos and H.P. Lovecraft. Besides, he is also heavily into Steampunk and Dieselpunk: he collaborates with The Gatehouse, promotes EuroSteam and many, many other initiatives… and, by the way, loves travelling.
Remember that all the published interviews are available for your delight: ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ the brief interviews series by Decimononic.