I’m Madeleine D’Este, writer, reviewer and podcaster from Melbourne. I write speculative fiction with an element of mystery. My steampunk cosy mystery novella series The Antics of Evangeline is available on all good ebook platforms, featuring the feisty and resourceful Evangeline solving strange mysteries in colonial Melbourne. I also host a podcast called Write Through The Roof where I interview writers of all different types and ask ‘what’s the one thing that improved your writing’.
MM: What do you love most about writing? What speaks to you?
MDE: I’m a planner at heart, I don’t get up in the morning without a plan and so I love plotting out my stories and making up new worlds and scenarios. I love that special moment when the words flow and I disappear and the story unfolds magically on the screen. It’s the best damned thing in the world.
MM: So, what have you written?
MDE: I’ve published four novellas (and an omnibus), I’ve written countless novels although most are languishing on hard drives or dead computers. I’m currently querying a second world historical fantasy novel, I have a horror set in a high school with trusted readers and I’m drafting a third novel project (more about that later).
MM: When did you know writing was for you?
MDE: I ignored the craving in my gut for years and focused on my career. Every now and then I would try to write a book but fail and give up. It wasn’t until later in life that I admitted to myself that writing a book was No.1 on my bucket list. So I stopped ignoring the nagging feeling and did it.
MM: What are you working on at this minute? What was the inspiration for it?
MDE: I’m in the midst of a vomit draft on a new novel about curses, baking and community. My head is too full of random crap, so my memory is rubbish and I can’t remember where I got the idea for a cursed recipe book from, but the story combines folklore and witchcraft with a gritty crime, folk-horror in an urban setting. The Wicker Man meets The Craft in inner city Melbourne with chocolate muffins.
MM: What was the first story you ever remember writing, and what was it about? How does it compare to your writing now?
MDE: I remember some terrible poetry at school, with some odd phallic imagery in hindsight. There’s less phallic imagery in my writing these days.
MM: Do you work to an outline or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you? Plotter or Pantser?
MDE: While I love a plan, I know the plan sometimes goes out the window as soon as the words start flowing. So I start off with a spreadsheet (yes, I know) which is a hybrid of Steven Pressfield’s Foolscap Method and The Hero/Heroine’s Journey. Then I write away, let the story unfold and revise the plan when I inevitably go off-course and have to recalibrate my co-ordinates.
MM: What draws you to flash-fiction, to #FP? What do you love and hate about it?
MDE: I’m usually a long form writer. It’s novels for me. I treat #FB as a warm-up to my writing sessions and an opportunity to put some creativity out there and see if it resonates with anyone. Just one single ‘like’ will keep self-doubt at bay for another day.
MM: Who are your writing inspirations? How do they influence your creativity?
MDE: I like rich worlds and clear concise writing, which rarely go together, so I get inspired by all kinds of writers. I love Mervyn Peake and China Mieville for world-building, then I go to crime writers for clear concise writing like Michael Robotham or Val McDermid. And at the moment, I also inspired by the twisty-turny shenanigans of Agatha Christie and PD James. And my favourite inspiration for character is LM Montgomery with Anne of Green Gables.
MM: What is your favorite motivational phrase or musing on writing, and … why? What about it really hits home? 🙂
MDE: I have two phrases on my whiteboard at the moment – ‘make and be silent’ and ‘toss creativity into the void’.
Both remind me to get on with the work and don’t worry about the outcome.
MM: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?
MDE: My grammar is terrible, so I spend a lot of time editing. I use Text To Speech to listen to my work to hear the mistakes that my eyes glaze over. I also hate proof-reading with a passion.
MM: What do you tell yourself every time it gets hard? Every time the stars stop aligning? What do you do when writer’s block knocks on your creative door?
MDE: I’m learning to tell myself to stop pushing the Muse. She’ll resolve the problem if I stop pressuring her. Yes, it may take time but the answer will come. I don’t have time for writer’s block, I just keep typing.
MM: Do you have any secret and wacky writing rituals that help the words flow?
MDE: I can’t write with shoes on. This is a bit yucky when I’m writing in a library but I find shoes restrictive.
MM: As a writer, what would you choose as your spirit animal or avatar? We’ve heard the craziest things, and we’re curious!
MDE: It’s a bit cliché but I’m drawn to ravens; their inquisitiveness, intelligence and their blacker than black feathers. But my other avatar is a grey pebble; worn smooth and beautiful by the ravages of time but ever persistent
MM: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and poets, anyone who wants to free the art within? What helped you make it to this point?
MDE: Give yourself the permission to write whatever comes out; no matter how weird and wonderful, twisted and tortured, or happy and light-hearted. You are the only one who can write your story, so let it free. And if you want writing advice from lots of more accomplished writers, come check out my podcast Write Through The Roof.
MM: What genres do you find yourself most drawn to? In your books and in your #FP’s?
MDE: I’m always drawn to the dark and weird. Over the past few years of writing, I have been exploring and finding my own niche and it appears my writing is drifting away from pure speculative fiction and into paranormal mystery. This is great fun and a whole new set of writing rules to learn and play with in the crime/mystery genre.
MM: Sooo … reading anything good lately? Any recommendations?
MDE: I have a weekly book review show on artdistrict-radio.com called Dark Mysteries so I’m always reading. A recent fave is Beneath the Skin by Sandra Ireland; a spooky strange modern Gothic tale set in a taxidermist’s in Edinburgh with PTSD and family secrets.
MM: Any last thoughts for our readers?
MDE: Keep learning.
Don’t forget to laugh, breathe and take walks.
MM: How can readers discover more about you and you work?
MDE: I’m usually hanging about on Twitter or at www.madeleinedeste.com
The Antics of Evangeline are available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and more
Write Through The Roof is available on iTunes and Stitcher.
Evangeline and the Alchemist
By Madeleine D’este
It all started with a rat-a-tat-tat on the Professor’s laboratory-workshop door. Evangeline and the Professor looked up from their inventing to see Miss Plockton in the doorway.
“Chief Inspector Pensnett ta see you, sir?” she said.
Evangeline perked up on her stool. A policeman here at 56 Collins Street? Something exciting was surely about to happen.
“Ah, yes. I plum forgot.”
Evangeline’s father stopped adjusting his new, improved auto-chariot and walked over to the wooden bench, placing his trusty brass screwdriver with the ivory handle down beside neat stacks of brass cogs, wheels and pins. Her father, Professor Montague Caldicott, the pre-eminent horological-engineer in all the Colonies, smoothed down his humongous moustache with his real hand.
“Your lesson is over for today, m’dear. Follow Miss Plockton upstairs and continue with your embroidery.”
“But Father…” Evangeline groaned. “I could be of some assistance.”
“Police matters are not for the ears of impressionable young ladies. All those dead bodies and smugglers and swarthy criminals. Far too sordid.”
“I never get to do anything interesting,” Evangeline grumbled as she stowed away her rosewood-handled screwdriver in the pocket of her dress, along with a handful of brass pins. The smaller and more delicate screwdriver was a recent gift from her father, an encouragement to pursue her own inventions.
Evangeline’s plain bottle-green day dress, buttoned to the neck, was not the latest fashion but it was better than she had ever imagined in her previous life on the grey foggy streets of London, when her toes poked through holes in her boots. Cold was something she had yet to worry about since she arrived three months ago on the dirigible from Singapore. She wondered whether Melbourne could be anything less than sweltering.
The Professor shooed Evangeline and Miss Plockton from the laboratory-workshop, before carefully locking the door behind him.
There was a time when a visit from the police would have frightened Evangeline. She would have hurried to hide her loot, but not today. Today she was a reformed character, setting aside her urchin ways and learning to be a proper young lady. But being good all the time was a bit dull.
Evangeline sulked all the way up the stairs, clumping her feet and dawdling. Her father passed her, continuing up the oriental carpeted hallway into his study, closing the door behind him. The conversation of men was muffled by the closed oak door.
Evangeline loitered in the hallway, waiting for Miss Plockton to drag her into the sitting room to complete her crudely stitched handkerchief. Whilst Evangeline was proficient in many skills, needlecraft was not one of them.
Rather than bustling Evangeline away, Miss Plockton did something curious. Her father’s personal secretary produced a large brass key from her pocket and opened the small closet adjoining the Professor’s study. The room where all the house linen was stored.
The house on Collins Street, where Evangeline now lived with her new extended family, had many secrets. Built by a gold prospector with some alleged unsavoury tastes, there were many hidden passages and nooks within the walls and floors. Evangeline was yet to be trusted with a set of keys, her attempts to explore the house thoroughly hindered.
Inside the small room smelling of lavender and camphor, Miss Plockton pushed aside a stack of damask curtains, revealing a pencil-sized hole in the wall. An audito-projector, one of the Professor’s best-selling patented inventions, appeared from under another stack of bedsheets. Miss Plockton wound the key, placed the brass tube over the hole and the audito-projector sprung into action. The sounds of male voices emerged through the horn, as clear as the Melbourne summer sky outside.
“Eavesdropping, Miss Plockton?” Evangeline gasped.
“On occasion, a secretary needs ta take initiative,” Miss Plockton said.
Impressed by Miss Plockton’s rebellious act, Evangeline squeezed into the tiny room beside her. There was little room in the linen cupboard with the two women’s fulsome skirts.
“Thank you for seeing me, Professor,” Pensnett said. His voice was gruff with a tinge of the Black Country.
“My pleasure, Chief Inspector. Anything to help the Constabulary.”
“I understand you are responsible for inventing the auto-chariot, sir?”
“Oh, yes. One of my many tinkerings.”
“Actually, we’ve had a few problems with auto chariots. Reckless young gentlemen racing along Flinders Street.”
“Oh, I know nothing about that…”
“Not to worry, sir. I am here for your assistance with another matter entirely. I have rather a curious case on my hands.”
Evangeline’s skin tingled. She knew there was something exciting in the wind today.
“We have reports of new unusual shipments of gold hitting the market of Melbourne.”
“I am a humble horological-engineer, sir. Although I occasionally branch out into other experimentations, I know nothing of rocks and minerals from the ground. Why is this gold ‘unusual’?”
“There have been reports of strange activity. It does not behave as gold should. Apparently gold purchased from a reputable merchant in Goldsmiths Lane has blackened. Overnight.”
Evangeline heard a familiar clicking sound. It was the brass fingers of her father’s clockwork hand. He was probably stroking his proud whiskers as he often did when he pondered.
“Allegedly, on Monday, the gold was bright and yellow, and yesterday, the nuggets looked more like iron. Dull and grey.”
“Of course. Alchemy. Fool’s gold.”
From her hiding place in the cupboard, Evangeline’s eyes widened. But before a gasp of surprise could emerge, Miss Plockton deftly placed a ladylike hand over her mouth. On first inspection, with her tight steely bun and pinched face, Miss Plockton appeared pure hell or high-water Highland Presbyterian, but Evangeline wondered whether she owed some of her efficiency to a touch of the fey.
“We understand you dealt with similar occurrences in London, Professor.”
“I assisted the Goldsmiths Guild by developing a device to identify the offending alchemical material. I can’t remember whether I brought it with me. I’ll have to rummage through my trunks.”
“Was the perpetrator apprehended?”
“The device was a success…But alas, we were too late to catch the fiend on that occasion.”
Evangeline listened greedily to the details of the Professor’s colourful past. Perhaps he was not as boring as he appeared. They had only been reunited for three months, and there was so much she did not know about her long-lost father. She had not even heard the full story of his missing arm. She vowed to grill him at the next available moment.
“Do you have any clues to the identity of this scoundrel, Chief Inspector?”
“Unfortunately not. The heights of the gold rush are over but Melbourne is still a transitory town. It is hard to keep up with all the comings and goings.”
“And there is still plenty of money to be made by unscrupulous characters.”
“Indeed. I thought I’d come out to the Colonies for a quiet life.”
The Chief Inspector and the Professor chuckled.
“Clues are scarce, I’m afraid,” Pensnett continued. “When we spoke with the goldsmith in question, he claimed he could not remember the person who sold it to him. The poor fellow was very flustered by his shoddy memory.”
“As though his mind had been erased?”
“Quite. He blamed some type of phantasm.”
“A ghost? And you believe him?”
“I’m not a man of science. It might sound ridiculous to you…”
“But I have seen enough unexplainable things in my time to keep an open mind. The goldsmith is a reputable businessman.”
“And the case gets even more peculiar.”
“The goldsmith surrendered the remaining gold, but when my Constables checked the evidence again this morning, the whole lot had turned grey. Not a speck of gold left.”
“Transitory augmentation. How devious.”
The linen cupboard door burst open.
“Hallo. What is going on here?”
It was Uncle Augie.
Evangeline and Miss Plockton both blushed red, caught in the ungenteel act of eavesdropping.
“A game of sardines? How fun. Move over.” Augie’s voice boomed as he pressed his generous frame into the cupboard. Evangeline cried out as a heeled boot squished her delicate toes.
“Uncle Augie. You do have big clod-hoppers.”
“Miss Evangeline.” Miss Plockton scowled. “Language, please. This is not a fish market.”
“Ssh,” Augie hissed. “You are both terrible at this game. I would have expected better from you, Miss Plockton.”
The door swung open again.
The Professor and Inspector Pensnett stood in the doorway, frowns etched into their foreheads.
“Oh drat. They found us. Squeeze on over, Miss Plockton. We must make room,” Augie said.
“What is going on here?” The Professor stood with hands on hips.
“Sardines, my old chum. Join in.”
The Professor spied the audito-projector clamped against the wall and roared.
“You have been spying on me.”
“Please forgive me, Father…” was all Evangeline could say. Miss Plockton was white as the damask sheets beside her. “I only wanted to…”
“Why is everyone in the linen cupboard?” Uncle Edmund appeared in the hallway, dabbing a handkerchief at his damp forehead, glistening from the outdoor heat. “Is it time for tea?”
“I must be off, Professor,” Chief Inspector Pensnett said. “I am grateful for your time and advice.”
“Yes. Yes. Let me show you out. Please excuse my impertinent daughter and my secretary. I shall dismiss her at once.”
Evangeline gasped again.
“Don’t worry, Miss Evangeline. He gives me my notice at least once a week. Usually on Thursdays,” Miss Plockton said as she bustled away to fetch the tea.
Evangeline’s stomach rumbled loudly. Augie glanced at her, horrified.
“What a beastly noise from a young lady. How can I present you to the Normanbys if your bodily functions speak so loudly?”
“I can’t help it,” Evangeline retorted.
“You take after your Uncle. Always hungry.”
Augie looked fondly over at his best friend. Edmund and Augie had accompanied Evangeline to Melbourne on the long dirigible journey from London to Rome, Rome to Delhi, Delhi to Singapore and then finally Singapore to Melbourne. The Professor’s younger brother, Edmund, was an accomplished architect. He was called to Melbourne to design many of the modern sandstone buildings springing up on every street corner, in preparation for the World Exhibition in 1888. Edmund and Augie were constant companions, they shared a room on the dirigible and even had adjoining rooms here in the house.
Augie, or August Beauchamp, wasn’t Evangeline’s real uncle. He had recently taken over the Prince Albert Theatre on Lonsdale Street and knew all the fashionable people in town. When he wasn’t managing the theatrical types of Melbourne, he was Evangeline’s strict etiquette master.
A triangle chimed down the wooden hallway.
“Goody. Tea. I’m famished,” said Edmund as they all emptied the linen cupboard and traipsed down the hall to the conservatory.
Evangeline smiled to herself.She hoped there would be more talk of the mysterious alchemist over tea. It would be awfully exciting if the Professor would let her help.
Or perhaps she could catch this rascal on her own.
I push the pedals
“110 RPM,” the instructor yells
A single drip of sweat splashes onto the bike frame
Studio mirrors fogged
Music accelerates and so do I
I hear nothing else
Transported to a dancefloor
Darkness cut by sporadic white light
Arms reaching skyward in joy
Grinning wide, eyes closed
I am the beat and the beat is me
My body is bliss
Bass in my bones
The world is gone
“Thirty more seconds. Don’t give up.”
Back on the bike
Twenty years later
Smiling as I push on to the end