Meet Your Maker: Karen J Carlisle

Karen Carlisle

Karen J. Carlisle, Author.  Adelaide, South Australia

We came across Karen via the Steampunk South Australia Facebook page, and her personal website (www.karenjcarlisle.com/).  She is an active participant in the South Australian Steampunk scene, and was quick to include our ANZS Directory on her site.

As we have decided that we will venture to the Adelaide Steampunk Festival this year, we thought it only fitting that we start making links with members of that community  We reached out to Karen, and since then have had several conversations online.  And now, with only a couple of weeks to go till the festival, we are very much looking forward to the journey to Adelaide and meeting new friends like Karen there.  I am sure there will be much conversation about all things Steampunk, and possible even a cup of tea or few.

Now, without further ado, let us introduce you to Karen J Carlisle.

Any photos not credited are direct from Erika Syrjänen.

1. Please introduce yourself… who are you, where do you live, and what do you make? 
I’m a writer, illustrator and photographer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy.

I was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition. My first steampunk series, ‘The Adventures of Viola Stewart’ were published between 2015 and 2017. My short stories have featured in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’, the 2018 anthology, ‘Where’s Holmes?’, and the soon-to-be-published, ‘Deadsteam’.

I live in Adelaide with my family and the ghost of my ancient Devon Rex cat.

I write full-time and can often be found plotting fantastical, piratical or airship adventures, and co-writing the occasional musical ditty. I also create costumes and ‘moving pictures’, including book trailers and music videos.

I’ve designed and made historical, fantasy and reproduction costumes since 1980 and won several workmanship awards with the Threads Guild and the Australian Costumers’ Guild.

I’ve researched and re-created mid-16th century Florentine clothing for over fifteen years and do talks and workshops, specialising in 1560 Florentine/Medici patterning and sewing methods and steampunk history, writing and costume.

I’ve always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuse a cup of tea.

My first series, The Adventures of Viola Stewart, is a Victorian steampunk mysteries.



The cover of my next book (cover reveal in September) was photographed and designed by me.


Some of my original illustrations are available as t-shirts and badges. Here are a few of my Kraken series.





I’m a hands-on indie author. I do my own photo shoots, covers and book trailers.
You can find them at: https://karenjcarlisle.com/books/book-trailers-viola-stewart-adventures/

My most recent project has been a foray into writing song lyrics, with Richard Ryall supplying the music. My first steampunk song, The Gadgeteer, was performed and released by the Queensland band, Littmus Steampunk Band on their album, Left Foot Forward!

I was also asked to do the music video for another song from their latest album, She Writes Books. The band provided their own member overlays. You can view the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJbXPeOd8sI



2. When / where did the love of your craft begin?
I’ve drawn as long as I can remember. Mum says it’s hereditary. My first writing prize was at age 9, for a poem written for Book Week. In 70s and 80s I wrote myself into many, many Doctor Who (fan) stories and I wrote my first original novel in grade twelve (it’s hiding in the shed somewhere).

For economic reasons, I studied optical science/optometry and took up a professional career. The urge to write and create kept bubbling up. I tried my hand at comic book art, and had articles and artwork published by the short-lived ‘Australian Realms Roleplaying Magazine’ in the mid 1990s.

In 2012, after suffering work stress and PTSD, I eventually gave in to my muses. I’ve been writing and creating visual art full-time since 2014.

3. When / where did your Steampunk journey begin?
It sort of snuck up on me. I’d been marvelling at the odd discovered photo - costumes and steampunked items (though I had no idea it was steampunk at the time). I was fascinated by this mix of art, imagination and science - yes, I could have my art, and my science too! In 2007 I discovered its name and went public with my first official steampunk costume for the local Australian Costumer’s Ball in 2008. From there it kind of snowballed. The house has hints of steampunk throughout and we’re currently redecorating our bedroom in a steampunk theme. And, of course, I write predominantly in the steampunk/Victorian mystery genre.

4. Do you have a Steampunk persona? Who are they, and what is their back story? 
Like my historical costuming, I can’t commit to just one persona. I have many different costumes including a steampunk Scout Mistress, Fairy Hunter, Aeronaut, steampunk Britannia… 
I identify with the creativity and whimsy of steampunk, so each outfit is a projection of a different part of my (often hidden due to PTSD and anxiety) personality. I can let it out to play when I’m in ‘costume’. Donning a steampunk outfit lets me feel safe with my ‘tribe’, forget my anxiety, and access the ‘non-stressed, whimsical’ me. 

My Union Jack corset is possibly my favourite. I made it at a corset workshop - my first properly fitted corset and is very comfortable.. It was a fantastic weekend. Every time I wear this corset I remember the weekend with fondness. The corset is also versatile; it gets combined with various other items to become an explorer, Brittania, my version of the artist Brian Kessinger’s Tenth Doctor (as in Who), and will be perfect to wear when spruiking my upcoming steampunk book series, with the tag-line: All for the good of the Empire.
Another favourite is my Fairy Hunter - she hunts down the pesky little mites (in my stories fairies aren’t necessarily all sweetness and light) - and my Empire Adventurer - very English, very inquisitive and always getting into trouble. This is another versatile outfit and, with a few different accessories, becomes my steampunk Scout Mistress.



5. What does Steampunk mean to you?
A lot of my writing involves alternate history, researching various facts and twisting them. I’m constantly asking the question: ‘what if?’ Some of the most amazing scientific discoveries have arisen from those two words. I’ve always been a science geek, but thought I was alone in my awe of both science and art. Da Vinci had it. Einstein said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution."

At my high school, we were forbidden to ‘mix the streams’. For decades I tried to keep my two (supposedly) disparate worlds apart. It almost crushed my soul. But why? Physics is art too. Just look at the beauty of immense twisting space and wonder at the smallest particle, the fastest particle…
(I later discovered many scientists are artists or musicians! Huzzah!)

Then I discovered steampunk, a world of imagination and creativity where science meets art and produces something beautiful and embraces the whimsical.

Now I get to be part of that - creating stories and art and wonder (like the Victorians did) at the universe and its many, many splendiferous things. I embrace the whimsy and allow it to quell anxiety. It’s cathartic.

6. Where do you find inspiration?
Anything is fair game, really. As a writer, my brain is always observing, asking ‘what if’. (It’s exhausting.) Some pictures can spark ideas for characters, titles or plot twists to work into new or on-the-go stories, as for my current work-in-progress, ‘The Department of Curiosities’. Doctor Jack was born this way. I was watching a documentary on Jack the Ripper. I thought: ‘what if none of their theories are correct. What if it my secret society, Men in Grey, was behind it all along.

Music can also create a mood or feeling which can spark an idea for a story or scene. Doctor Jack, was heavily influenced by the song ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ by The Who. I decided to write from Jack’s point of view, touching on why he committed his murders - even the bad guys think they are the good guys. Music sparked an idea for a fantasy series that’s been bubbling away in my subconscious since I first heard ‘Stay with Me’ by Shakespear Sister in 1992.

Experiences, even overheard words and phrases, can trigger word associations, which trigger the subconscious. Workplace stress and PTSD led to the end of my professional career of 28 years. This in turn led to the creation of my first major protagonist, Viola Stewart and…


 <SPOILER WARNING!>
led to the (unplanned) loss of her eye in one of the earliest adventures. (My subconscious telling me something) It was very cathartic, and I’ve grown to trust my subconscious.
<SPOILER COMPLETE>


When researching historical events, small things will trigger character traits or interesting plot points. Again, these often pop up unexpectedly in first drafts.

Not all the ideas run the distance, but I reserve the right to use them in a later story.

7. What’s your most treasured Steampunk possession? Why?
Oh, choices... choices.

I’d say my Pump-Action Fairy Eliminator. This was the first re-purposed, steampunked ‘gun’ I ever made. It’s based on a Nickelodeon Slime Gun, using other recycled items. I made it for my Fairy Hunter. I love the shiny glitter and that it looks like an old Mortein insect sprayer. You can read about it in my costume diary: https://karenjcarlisle.com/2015/02/15/6-steampunk-hands-weapon-workshop/



8. Do you have favourite Steampunk musicians / groups / artists? Tell us about some of them?
Littmus Steampunk Band is from Townsville. I love that it’s an Aussie band. They have a carberet/pop/folk feel. Richard Ryall is the leader and singer of the band. It’s had a few line up changes over the years but still retains much of its original sound, and looking to concentrate on more Australian based storytelling in their songs. I did a blog post review on their work in 2017. A few months later, Richard asked me if I’d be interested in collaborating with him. (squee!) The Gadgeteer is on their album, ‘Left Foot Forward!’, released in July. I’m currently working on my second song for the band. It’s amazing how life can surprise you. That’s another thing I love about steampunk: it can be unpredictable. In a good way. 

The Cog is Dead was my first introduction to steampunk music. Their style changes slightly with each CD - including swing and soft rock. My favourite songs are The Depths Below (about a Kraken) and The Death of the Cog (about Mr Hamilton’s digital watches). Both are on ‘The Cog is Dead’ album.

Alice’s Night Circus is a singer from the UK. She has a definite caberet feel. Alice recently played at this year’s Asylum Steampunk Festival in Lincoln, where she launched a new album. Unfortunately the CD was expensive to ship to Australia, so I have a digital download only.

Then there’s Professor Elemental - a little more eclectic singer/rapper with a sense of humour and a orangutan fixation. 

I’ve recently been introduced to Sideshow Annie, a steampunk group with a rock - dare I say, almost country rock feel with their latest song is ‘Ghost Town.’ (I think it’s the electric guitar).

9. Do you have favourite Steampunk festivals / events / gatherings? Which ones? When and where?
Adelaide Steampunk Festival of course! This is my… <counts on fingers> sixth or seventh Festival? (I’ve only missed one due to ill health). The first Festivals were in May, but soon changed to September. It’s held at the National Railway Museum.

 I’ve launched all three Viola Stewart books at successive Adelaide Steampunk Festivals. Each year it grows. Steampunk and trains are the perfect partners.

There are two major events on my Steampunk Wish list: The New Zealand Steampunk Festival over four days in June. Oamaru is known as the steampunk capital of the southern hemisphere. The council pitches in. There are markets, dinners, costume parades, balls, teapot racing, museum and art displays, workshops, opshop hunting and much more!

The Asylum Steampunk Festival is held over four days, every August Bank Holiday weekend in Lincoln, UK. This is the longest running steampunk festival in the world. The event is spread over the Victorian/historical precinct, Including the Cathedral Square, Westgate Academy, Lincoln Assembly Rooms and the Lincoln Castle itself. There are markets, teapot racing, costumes, workshops, lectures, pub crawls, dinners, burlesque, tea duelling and parasol duelling.

10. Where can people see / buy your work?
My webpage: www.karenjcarlisle.com (blog posts, articles, freebies, pictures, videos, interviews etc)

You can chat with me on:

You can support me on: 

Where to Buy my Books:
For information on how to buy my books: www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop
In Australia: buy direct from me. I can post paperbacks within Australia. 
Smashwords has all ebook formats (available to Aust and OS): https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/kjcarl
Ebooks: also available from Amazon Australia.

For outside Australia:
Paperbacks are available from most online bookstores: Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, Fishpond, Angus & Robertson/Bookworld and Abebooks.
Amazon has both ebooks and paperback: https://www.amazon.com/author/Karen-J-Carlisle
Smashwords has all ebook formats: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/kjcarl

Original artwork t-shirts, posters and housewares are available from my Redbubble shop: https://www.redbubble.com/people/katdb
Original artwork mugs are available via my webpage www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop
If you prefer music, The Gadgeteer is downloadable via my webpage at: https://karenjcarlisle.com/product/song-the-gadgeteer/

Author pic:


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