Jayne Barnard has written for children and adults in the genres of history, mystery, and lately alternate dimensions. Her fiction awards include Saskatchewan Writers Guild, Bloody Words, and Unhanged Arthur, as well as a shortlisting for the UK Debut Dagger. Her YA Steampunk Mystery, Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond, is a finalist for the Prix Aurora and the Book Publishing in Alberta Awards, and a winner of the eFestival of Words Award for Children’s Literature. Her special genre is steampunk.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Jayne. Tell us a little about yourself.
Jayne Barnard: I grew up on Canadian Forces bases in 6 provinces, 3 US states, and Europe. This exposed me to a lot of cultural differences quite early. I finished high school in Kapuskasing, ON, 300 miles from any city, immediately after living on a NATO base in Germany, where I could ride my bike to France any afternoon. Talk about culture shock.
Ferrante: Why did you choose to write steam punk mysteries?
Barnard: Steampunk appeals to me because of the adventure elements, the sense that anything is possible. The fathers of Steampunk are H.G. Wells, A.D. Doyle, Jules Verne. Yet I also grew up reading Enid Blyton adventures, and Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and other teenage sleuths. My Steampunk sleuth, Maddie Hatter, is barely out of her teens; she goes on adventures by airship and steam-carriage rather than in a blue convertible, but she’s as dedicated as Nancy Drew about solving the mysteries that fall into her path.
Ferrante: Your short stories have won several prestigious Canadian awards and honors. Did you begin with short story writing and then evolved into a novelist, or have you been writing short stories and novels side-by-side throughout your career?
Barnard: I won my first short fiction award in 1990 for a story, written for my daughter, about a princess solving a dragon problem by using arithmetic. Novel-writing came later, but I still return to short stories between the longer projects, often as a mental distancing technique between finishing a manuscript and beginning to edit. I had a post-apocalyptic short crime story published last month in Enigma Front: Burnt, and have a more traditional crime story coming out in The Whole She-Bang 3 this November, both written while I was editing longer works.
Ferrante: Do you approach writing a short story the same way as you do writing a novel?
Barnard: Since my B.A. in Theatre, I see every piece of writing like the scenes of a play. A short story has fewer scenes and charges onward to the end. A novel has more scenes and many rises and falls of tension before rising toward the climax. Novel scenes have to not only carry their own weight but also carry the pace appropriately for their place in the overall story.
Ferrante: Every now and then a writer introduces me to something new. This time it was parasol dueling. There seems to be no hitting or violence involved. I discovered you are a leading member of Madam Saffron Hemlock’s Parasol Dueling League for Steampunk Ladies. Could you explain what parasol dueling is?
Barnard: Parasol dueling is, at its simplest, like playing rock-paper-scissors. Certain ways of holding one’s parasol beat other ways of holding it. The holds, or ‘figures,’ are based in the social uses of parasols from Victorian and earlier times, such as to pretend you don’t see someone you don’t want to talk to (called a Snub). World Parasol Dueling Championships are held in Calgary, AB every September; there are lovely photos and videos of that on the group’s Facebook Page
Ferrante: I’m glad you explained that. I totally misunderstood what was happening.
I haven’t really read much steampunk. My misconception was that involved a lot of goggles, loud clanking steam-driven machines, black clothing, and dirigibles. However, I’ve seen a lot of other things on your sites such as royalty watching. Are there different types of steam punk? What is the quintessential definition?
Barnard: There’s no single definition, but it’s rooted in the Victorian era. Canadians were part of the British Empire, so our Steampunk clothing reflects that. I write against a background of social class and the queen, also important to the British. Americans emphasize the Civil War and Wild West, more egalitarian. If a story uses petroleum technology instead of steam machines, it’s called Diesel-punk, and if it uses computing devices and internet-like communications, then it’s Cyber-punk.
Ferrante: Diesel-punk is a new term for me. The mystery genre has been popular for decades. Why do you think steampunk mystery is developing such a strong fan base?
Barnard: I think Steampunk mystery combines the enduring popularity of mystery with the endless possibilities of the adventure novel. Mysteries set on space stations or in fantasy universes are also very popular. I don’t think the classic crime novel will be displaced by cross-genre fiction; rather, they act as gateways to each other.
Ferrante: Give me a teaser about your latest work Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond.
Barnard: Miss Maddie Hatter is scraping a precarious living as a fashion reporter when the story of a lifetime falls into her lace-gloved hands. Baron Bodmin, an adventurer with more failed quests than fingernails, has vanished in circumstances that are odd even for him. As the last reporter to see the potty peer alive, Maddie has a chance to become an investigative journalist, no easy feat for a young lady in 1898. If she can locate the baron or the Eye of Africa diamond he was hunting, her career will be made. Somebody out there knows what happened, but nobody is talking….
Click here for more information on Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond
Ferrante: As soon as I heard the title, I thought of the mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. Is that suggestion deliberate?
Barnard: Alice in Wonderland is one of the Victorian era’s best-known fantasy tales, and for that reason it’s much admired by Steampunks. So yes, Maddie’s name is deliberate. The rest of Deadly Diamond owes more to the game of Clue which, while not a Victorian invention, is not far removed from some Victorian parlour games.
Ferrante: Your knowledge of high fashion clothing during the Victorian era is impressive. I see that you also sew your own costumes for special events. How have you learned to do this? How often do you dress up?
Barnard: I’ve always loved fabrics and playing dress-up; that’s partly why I went into Theatre in university. In costuming classes I learned fitting and sewing. Nowadays health issues keep me from acting, but Steampunk allows me to dress up every few months to improv the part of Madame Saffron, the alternate-Victorian professor of applied botany and parasol dueling.
Ferrante: The vocabulary in Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond is quite rich and the writing style is more formal than what young adults are used to reading. Who do you think are your most devoted fans?
Barnard: Girls 10-13, although fans range from 7 to 85. Our test readers said they loved the ‘juicy’ words like vindicated, precocious and copious. They mostly figured out meanings from context, and they were engaged enough that stopping to look up some words didn’t throw them out of the story.
Ferrante: Are you working on another steampunk mystery?
Barnard: Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge comes out next April. It’s set in New York City in 1899, at the height of the Gilded Age of Vanderbilts and Astors and lavish mansions. Lots of scope for my love of fine fashions and furnishings, but the mystery gets dangerous really fast.
Ferrante: If your life were literally flashing before your eyes, what are three moments or scenes from your past that you would expect to stand out?
- Acting the Three Witches’ opening from MacBeth at my Grade Five Halloween assembly, which set me on the acting path (and the corollary: seeing MacBeth performed at Stratford last spring).
- Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria when I was 12. It’s the world’s most fairy-tale of castles, and mad King Ludwig, who built it, took strong hold of my young mind.
- Having so many friends, new and from decades ago, show up to the launch for Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond to help celebrate that I had finally achieved my lifelong dream of a book with my name on it. The book made #1 on the Calgary fiction bestseller list for that week because of all those wonderful people.
Ferrante: If you were told that you could watch only one television show a week for the next 12 months, which show would you choose to watch?
Barnard: Funny you should ask that. Right now I’m re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation – admittedly more than one episode a week – and marveling at the concise dialogue and tight plotting that goes into almost every episode.
Ferrante: I loved STTNG. I’m in awe of Patrick Stewart.
If you could wake up every morning, open your bedroom blinds, and look out a huge glass window at the perfect view, what would that be?
Barnard: Across a wide, sunlit bay to snow-capped mountains. It’s almost the view I get from my winter place on Vancouver Island, except that we can’t quite see the Comox glacier from our deck. Between that and the past year’s writing successes, I’m very close to living my dream.
Ferrante: That’s awesome. Good for you. Thank you for sharing your work with us. You’ve opened a whole new door for me. Best of luck with your new Maddie book.
Want to know more about Jayne and her work? Go to Clockworks and Crime.
Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond was reviewed on this blog on Monday, March 6, 2017.
NEW NEW NEW from Jayne Barnard
The book trailer for MADDIE HATTER AND THE GILDED GAUGE is now up on Youtube. Here’s the link if your readers want to check it out:
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.