Monday, 15 December 2008

The Basingstoke Chronicles - Coming 2009!

April 2005. It began as a short tribute to my favourite Victorian-era adventure writers--Wells, Burroughs, Verne, Rider Haggard. Six months later it was a fully-fledged time travel novel with fun characters and a grandiose plot. I'd never really intended it for publication, at least not in the style I wrote it. But earlier this year I revisited The Basingstoke Chronicles and, to my genuine surprise, found an enthralling yarn buried in the grandiloquence. My next task was to re-edit, re-shape, re-write the entire text, trimming the fat while still maintaining that old-fashioned charm and flavour. No mean feat, considering my latest sci-fi short, Save the World, Tax-Deductible was the most cynical thing I'd ever written.

So it came as quite a shock last week when I was offered an eBook contract for The Basingstoke Chronicles!! I'd submitted it to Uncial Press because I love the specific historical periods featured in their books--Regency, Edwardian, Victorian. My novel wasn't so specific, yet it was a throwback to the formal vernacular and style inherent in those periods. Turned out to be a good match, and I'm thrilled to have found Basingstoke such a fitting home.

Take a look at the prologue (unedited):

The Basingstoke Chronicles/Robert Appleton/Time Travel Adventure


My name was once Pacal Votan. How the two rarest flowers on Earth came to rest a mere few feet from where I sit every evening for dinner is a tale many years in the telling. I have never been one to exaggerate - being a man of science, such is not my nature - nor am I prone to lend weight to unlikely claims, especially when their basis is un-scientific. Therefore, to the fantastical elements of this story I am forced to lend the more illustrative voice of my good friend, Lord Basingstoke: a man whose daring propelled him a great distance to find me; a man for whom the unlikely is, and always was, only ever a matter of time.

Throughout that winter’s night on the shingle of Ten Gulls Beach in Devon, southern England, I believed every word of my companion's absurd account. So too, now, do I remember them. The flames from our campfire resisted the onshore breeze with zeal. We had hoped to find a more sheltered spot in which to dry ourselves, but had happened upon only a rudimentary cove. The frank moonlight distilled enough rocky shapes and creeping lines of surf for my every thought to feel stolen or in harm's way.

"Strange, after all we've been through," I said.

"What's that?" replied Lord, rubbing his hands in the heat.

"How such a harmonious place can give me - what was that word - the creeps?"

He laughed, recalling the last time he had heard that term used outside of its original dialect. "Oh, just before the journey began – about seventy-eight years from now," he said.

I shook my head in mock disbelief. The year was nineteen hundred and one. Across the beach, I spied the shape of our vessel bobbing like the neck of an empty bottle, inconsolable in dark silhouette, an ocean messenger bereft of its long-held message.

"The fellow’s name was Rodrigo Esteban Quintas, my diving partner from Cuba. We had hired a research vessel for some serious underwater work," he continued. “And by work, I mean spending a scorching summer in cool, turquoise seas, searching for sunken treasure. Hey, we were the hardest workers of any rich people I knew."

I had to interrupt, "How rich were you, exactly?"

"Rich enough to make a difference and too rich to care. Let's just say if we were in nineteen seventy-nine, you wouldn't be sitting so close to me without a title of some kind - Sir Votan perhaps, or Duke Votan. Seeing as you're a foreigner to these parts, an honorary Count might suffice."

My friend's manner was often so aloof it would veer between outright arrogance and a tone that was utterly endearing without a second's warning.

"Here! Here! Count Pacal Votan, emissary from a distant land, has arrived at this fair isle with a priceless secret for us all and otherwise not a clue. Let us drink a toast to his brazen heroics and sadly poor grasp of English colloquialisms."

With that, he produced his familiar, gilded-silver whisky flask. Alas, as he tipped it, it was empty.

"Damn your hide, man. What did you fill it with?"

I replied with a sheepish whimper, "I didn't."

Despite his insistence at my being out of place, it is Lord Henry Basingstoke who will always be the anachronism. But what great adventurer isn't? To say Columbus or Alexander were simply products of their times is paradoxical, for history tells us the reverse is true. While events may have aligned for conquest, their eras have become the products of their own legacies. The discovery of the New World belongs to an Italian, not he to it; likewise the forging of an Eastern Empire to a Macedonian King. Man creates history, and time - that most cold inevitability - can be made to bow to these bold, aberrant figures.

Lord (as I liked to call him) is one such figure, though I thoroughly doubt he would agree. An Englishman in every sense of the word - from what I have come to know of them, that is a fine compliment - he relishes every challenge life has to offer as surely as every comfort. As he sat opposite me on Ten Gulls Beach, orange firelight waving shadows across his animated face, I knew it would probably be the last time I'd see him. The telling of his great adventure, of which I had only been a small part, was his parting gift to me - the culmination of our friendship through time.

And I miss him to this day.

Though written from memory, I could not have fashioned this account any closer to Lord Basingstoke’s own words without excluding myself from the latter chapters, for that was how he told it to me. This I have remedied by telling it as he would to a stranger. As far as possible, I have tried to assume his mannered dialect. This upper class way of speaking is, it seems to me, both timeless and proper.

So it is here that I'll submit, as I did then, to his incredible tale: the adventures of a fine gentleman as told to me, a humble listener, on December 16th, 1901.

The Basingstoke Chronicles has a tentative release date of September 2009 at Uncial Press.

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