I’ve been slogging away at my WIP The Master’s Mark, the third and final book in my Toymakers Guild series. I’m making progress, but I’m frustrated by how slowly!
To cheer myself up and rekindle my inspiration, I went back to reread the start of the series. Here’s the first two pages of The Pornographer’s Apprentice, Book 1 in the series, in which we meet precocious Victorian engineer Gillian Smith. Note that the series is steampunk erotica with romantic elements, but this bit is pure steampunk.
She wants to build sex toys... if they'll let her.
In prudish, patriarchal Victorian England, nineteen year old prodigy Gillian Smith finds a secret society dedicated to the erotic arts. She’ll need both her intellect and her physical charms to earn the permanent position she craves.
If you like steam punk erotica with a kinky feminist bent, you'll love The Pornographer's Apprentice.
Prologue (The Hook)
Only when faced with the stout oaken door to Randerley Hall did Gillian Smith’s considerable resolve fail her.
In the dead of night she had fled her Aunt Martha’s London townhouse, mere hours before her diabolical guardian planned to denounce her as a deviant and a thief. She had endured the seven-hour rail journey to Tavistock crammed into a reeking third class carriage, struggling to remain awake in order to guard her meagre possessions. Upon arrival, she’d been tempted to take a room at the inn and sleep for a few hours, but she didn’t want to deplete her limited savings. If the Guild rejected her, she knew she’d need every farthing to survive. So she had waved off the gig driver who’d accosted her and set out to walk the five miles to Randerley Hall.
In truth, the fresh breeze off the moors felt welcome after the stuffy misery of the train. Her spirits rose as she left the town behind, following the winding road that climbed and dipped among the grey-green hills. She reached the manor gates before the house itself was visible. Although vicious iron spikes marched along their top edges, they stood open, as if beckoning her to enter a new phase of her life.
She paused when she caught sight of Randerley’s grim bulk, huddling among tall poplars. With its dark turrets reaching toward the cloudy sky and its mullioned windows like blind eyes, the ancient building could hardly be called welcoming. Still, Gillian knew her future lay within those stern stone walls.
Her carpet bag on her shoulder and Uncle George’s precious catalogue clutched under her arm, she strode up the steps to the pillared porch and considered the massive door. It towered above her, easily eight feet high, a single, solid plank of age-blackened wood studded with iron rivets. Finding neither bell-pull nor knocker, Gillian rapped her knuckles against the oak.
“Excuse me,” she called. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
The wind sighing in the trees was her only answer.
She knocked again, so hard that her fingers stung, to no effect. Losing patience, she banged upon it repeatedly with her fist. The door must be exceptionally thick; despite the force of her blows, she could discern no echoes of them from within.
“Damn it to hell,” she muttered. “Now what?”
Stepping back, she scanned the façade of the building. She saw no light in the windows, no movement. Was her information obsolete? Could it be that the Guild no longer occupied Randerley?
The house didn’t appear derelict, despite its obvious antiquity, and the grounds were well-kept. She approached the door once more, searching for some hidden mechanism she might use to gain entry.
The door itself was featureless, but about two feet to the right she noticed a panel of brass. An exquisitely detailed image of a chambered nautilus decorated the top. Below this figure she found a column of seven brass tumblers, with a bevelled push button at the bottom. She rolled a fingertip across the surface of one cylinder. It turned smoothly, under the slightest pressure, exposing engraved digits from zero to nine.
An entry code! Gillian was impressed. This mechanism was far more effective than bolts or locks. Only those who knew the correct combination of digits could enter the Guild’s sanctum.
But how was she, an outsider, to gain access? Her heart sank as she automatically did the calculations. Seven tumblers, with ten options each, meant there were ten million possible codes. Impossible to guess. Nevertheless, she had to try.
She doubted the code was random. Seven random numbers would be too difficult to convey or remember. There had to be some pattern, some system. But what was it?
Feeling lost and desperate, she twirled the dials to the sequence 2, 4, 5, 1, 8, 1, 9. Everyone knew Her Majesty the Queen’s birth date. Holding her breath, she depressed the button.
The spiral design flashed red. “First error,” announced a mechanical voice. “Two attempts remaining.”
Tears pricked Gillian’s eyes. Her limbs felt leaden; she swayed and almost fell. Her long walk over the moors, her sleepless night, the fear that had driven her to escape, all combined to overwhelm her. Had it all been for nothing?
No. She would not give up, not while there was any chance at all. Perhaps the passcode was something deceptively simple. People were, after all, typically lazy.
She reset the tumblers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Her finger hovered over the button for an instant, then gave a firm press.
“Second error,” the irritating mechanism chided. “One attempt remaining.”
A hot surge of anger temporarily banished her exhaustion. Bloody engineers, she raged silently. They think they’re so clever. Well, she was clever, too. She would not let them best her.
She filled her lungs with the grass-scented air and willed her pulse to slow. As her father had taught her, so long ago, she raised an imaginary lens to her mind and focused on the problem at hand. The world became brighter, more sharply delineated. Her thoughts turned like well-oiled gears.
Gillian scrutinised the entry panel. There had to be a clue. A stray sunbeam broke through the clouds, making the nautilus gleam. The engraved spiral drew her gaze, pulling her into its centre…
Of course! Inspiration blazed like the sparks in a Leyden jar. Working with quick confidence, she set the values a third time: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8. Without hesitation she pushed the button to register her choice.
Sparkling green flooded the lines of the spiral. With a soft click, the lock released, and the heavy door swung open on silent hinges. “Welcome,” proclaimed the disembodied voice, “to the Toymakers Guild.”
Jubilant, Gillian gathered her bag and her book and stepped inside.
Ebook Buy Links
Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08MWMZZGP
Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08MWMZZGP
Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1053072
Apple Books - https://books.apple.com/us/book/x/id1539184541
Audio Buy Links
Be sure to visit the other authors joining today’s Book Hooks hop!