Karen Bayly

Author and Copywriter

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New Londinium

Another new year is almost upon us. I’m not sure how I feel. I’m trying to be hopeful but the out of control bushfires, poor air quality from the smoke, and the all too common heatwaves here in Australia do not encourage hope or optimism. I wonder if “2020” is predictive? Will it be the year we see our world and the way forward with acuity? That would be lovely.

Sometimes I think I’d like to move somewhere else, but the problems we face are worldwide. This is partly why I like to create new worlds.

The World of “Fortitude”

When I wrote “Fortitude”, I was keen to explore an alternative steampunk world, one that was not depressingly grimy and harsh like our Victorian London. I wanted a world where the future seemed bright, clean, and egalitarian, one that suggested a few small (and not so small) changes in our past could have made a big difference to our future. I wanted to rewrite history.

So I did, starting with a premise that the Romans left Britain a little later than in our history. This served to develop a different political system in Britannia, one in which the role of kings and queens atrophied and eventually died, but that of lords and ladies lingered, as did the concept of democratic government. (Not that I have anything against monarchies - a good monarch is better than a tyrannical government.)

I stuck with the old Roman names for places where these existed in Roman times - “Brittania” (Britain), “Tamesis” (the Thames and derived from the Celtic “Tamesas”), “Floet Street” (Fleet Street), “Siluria” (South Wales and also of Celtic origin), “Caledonia” (Scotland) and “Londinium” (London). Like the our world’s Londinium which Boudica and the Icenians burnt to the ground, the “Fortitude” version was destroyed by fire (at a later date and not by Boudica) and rebuilt - hence “New Londinium”.  I did not stick with Roman names outside of Britain - for example, the Roman name for Germany was “Germania”. I used “Franconia” named after the Franks who once conquered and occupied that region.

“Reflections on the Thames” John Atkinson Grimshaw (1880)

I studied TV shows set in Victorian London, especially "dark" fiction series such as "Ripper Street" and "Penny Dreadful". I also watched the BBC 2 experiment "The Victorian Slum" where 21st century folk spent a few weeks living in an East End slum, Victorian style. I also collected images of Victorian England for reference. The London these shows and images depict is not as sparkly and clean as New Londinium, but both gave me context. In particular, I loved the paintings of John Atkinson Grimshaw, an artist noted for his nocturnal scenes of urban Victorian life. The light and moodiness of his works suited the feel of the story.

“Moonlight and Shadow”, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1886)

I've always had a bit of thing for the River Thames. No idea why. I’ve never seen it but its serpentine grace and its role as backdrop to so much history captured my imagination years ago. I would love to go mud larking on the Thames - as touted by Lara Maiklem in her book of the same name. What a joy it would be to uncover relics of the past and wonder about the countless folk who lived, worked, and played by this ancient river. How fascinating to ponder the ebb and flow of tides and communities alike.

“Nightfall on the Thames”, John Atkinson Grimshaw (1880)

However, I'm not a fan of big cities and modern day London is not my cup of tea. But I would like to live in New Londinium. It isn't perfect by any means. No place ever is. But is has the potential to be a beacon of hope and forward thinking in a world of constant change.

Dawn over the Thames (source unknown)

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