1963: the death of JFK and the birth of Dr Who. A craft passes over Billy Flowers's head, and he is doused in a strange, green mist. Billy, the Head Porter at Wentworth Train Station, becomes sick...but he also gains the ability to see people's darkest secrets. This would be a blessing for the detectives conducting a murder investigation, but for Billy it becomes a curse. He begins to realise the people he loves can no longer be trusted. Including his own wife. But Billy is suffering enough. His brother Stanley is in a coma. Then a teenage girl goes missing. As murder begins to surround him, and he uncovers those responsible, Billy gets dragged into a train ride across an old, bomb-blasted viaduct that will bring him face-to-face with the craft. In a race against time and sickness, Billy understands that he can only save what he can and let the rest go.
Set against the backdrop of the social, political, and transportation changes of the 60's, Steam is a twisting and turning science-fiction thriller. Can Billy save the missing girl? His dying brother? His marriage?
Billy Flowers is a good man in a bad place.
Let the ride begin...
I first wrote Steam in 1997. I hated it. Not the story, I loved the story, I still do. I hated the way I'd written it; I didn't think I'd done it justice. So I tore it up. It was written on an Amstrad computer and printed out on a dot-matrix printer. The discs I saved the story to got lost somewhere. From memory, in the original, Billy Flowers was Robert "Dusty" Miller, and Mr Wellbelove was Mr Threeshoes. Late in the story, I resurrected the name Mr Threeshoes and used it as the name for the boss up at HQ. All the other names are the same.
Someone asked me if I could write only one story, which one would it be? I said Steam, without even thinking, which made me a little sad. In the 16 years between 1997 and 2013, I was still writing, but frankly I'd lost the impetus. Occasionally I still do. It's not writers' block. I've never had that, and hopefully never will. It's more to do with the fact there are a lot of novels out there, so what's the point? But my wife pointed out there were a lot of novels out there in the early-eighties, when I first started writing. Stop complaining, in other words, and get on with it. She was right. Women usually are.
In April / May of 2013, I wrote the first few chapters of a novel set in World War I. The main character is Samuel Hunningale. Sergeant Samuel Hunningale. Not sure I like that name, I may change it. But I like him. As I got further into the story, I realised that Sam Hunningale was not unlike Billy Flowers. No bad thing. A good thing, in fact. But it made me wonder why I was writing a story with a similar main character to the one in Steam, when the story was still in its complicated infancy, whereas I knew Steam like the back of my own hand.
So that was that, I made my decision. The World War 1 story got shelved and I started Steam. Re-started Steam. The 1st draft was finished on December the 6th 2013. In the afternoon of that same day I wrote this that you are reading now.
Am I glad I wrote Steam again from scratch? To be honest I still don't know. Maybe it should have remained torn up. Maybe I still didn't do it justice.
But it remains the one novel I would write, if I could write no other.
Kind regards, Martin Price.