Suna Dasi – Renaissance Woman

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Renaissance woman – A woman who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences.

By strict definition I can be termed a renaissance woman. I am an oncology nurse, and solidly grounded in the world of evidenced based science and the order that must come of that. I am also a writer who thinks in very abstract terms, who challenges normalcy and social convention. In both spheres of my life I hope that my presence challenges stereotypes and misconceptions. As much as I dislike labels, I do like the idea of being a renaissance woman.

Renaissance woman – a woman who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.

As you can imagine, when I have the opportunity to meet someone who fits the description of a renaissance woman, I want to know more about her and what makes her tick. I want to learn from her. I want to share her with everyone else.

©Steampunk India


 

I met Suna Dasi via Twitter several months ago. I recall seeing pictures of her. One was of this saw a gorgeous Indian woman in a steampunked out sari and another of the same woman holding a microphone as she appeared to be belting out some righteous rocking tune. Of course I followed her. I later learned Suna is also a writer. Suna is a renaissance woman and the embodiment of divergence and diversity. Imagine how thrilled I was when she agreed to an interview.

Suna, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me.

Thank you for such kind words, Khaalidah, I’m pleased to speak with you!

You do so much that I’m not sure where to begin. Why not start by telling me some basics. What is your past/current educational focus and is it related to what you do now? What is your day job, if it is different/separate from your creative pursuits?

I grew up in Europe; I had a very traditional public school education and simultaneously spent six years at a youth theatre school. After that I studied theatre and dance for one year at the ArtEZ institute of the Arts. Currently I live and work in Edinburgh where I am part of Indie production company Art Attack Films. I’m a backing vocalist for Texan singer/song writer Erin Bennett. In the gaps, I write fiction.

I caught your name on the Wikipedia page for Syren an alternative rock band and you also sent me a link for Erin Bennett, who appears to be the band lead. Tell me about that. How’d you get involved with the band? How long have you been with the band? I see that you sing. Do you play any instruments as well? Do you tour and travel?

As a child, I had lessons from a formidable old biddy who had worked in Africa, teaching choirs of little brown children to sing songs about how One is Never Alone when One has Jesus. She called us ‘Childies’ and made intense little hop-skips on the spot when she conducted the songs, which made her frill dress collar jump under her chin. We were given vocal exercises prior to singing in order to improve our diction and intonation that wouldn’t have looked amiss in a Victorian schoolroom. Luckily she had grown more whimsical in her old age, so besides the odd No Man is An Island, she mostly taught songs about delicate fairies flitting across woodland dells, rather than solemn Christian songs.

I have always sung in either theatre or popular music, but never took to any particular instrument. However, everyone around me plays at least three, so I am more than content to stick to my voice.

In 1999 I met the group I still work with today; I became involved in their projects, traveling to London in my spare time. Eventually I moved permanently and have been touring in different set-ups ever since. On one of the American tours we met a young, fierce and incredibly talented Texan girl who invited us to her home for drinks and played us a short acoustic set of her work.

You have an obvious love for all things steampunk. I can dig that. Tell me why you like steampunk so much.

To start with, my own heritage sparked some of the urge to specifically write in the genre:

My ancestors left India in 1861, on a British East India ship bound for the Caribbean as indentured workers; little more than slaves. My personal connection to the era gives me a vested interest in it and my family’s story, set against the wider historical backdrop, inevitably influences the writing.

Indian, Dutch and English maritime history, women’s history, and the Industrial Revolution have always held a particular sway over my imagination, as has the Victorian era as a whole. It is such an enormously dynamic chapter in the history of the modern world. I have always loved Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, H.R. Haggard and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to name but a few.  One of my favourite books is Michael Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time and I will always make a case for this being one of the earliest modern novels with Steampunk elements as well as his Warlord of The Air  series, which predates the moment when most folk consider modern Steampunk fiction to have started. When the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic came out (for which my friend Kev O’Neill did the glorious and iconic artwork) I was delighted especially with Nemo’s character, as it delved so much deeper into his Indian background, something Verne himself only mentioned in passing.

I have had a lifelong love affair with science fiction; mixed with a continuous gravitation towards alternative modes of thought and living.

Steampunk is a marvellous platform for expressing all of the above and aesthetically one of the most pleasing genres to express it in. Not only that, the added joy of altering, remoulding and re-imagining that period in history into something that is more inclusive, less constrained and with a whimsical leeway to add fantastical elements makes that I always happily immerse myself in it.

What is the extent of your involvement with steampunk? I mean, you have taken some rocking pictures, and you have a significant presence online with your blog and website but what else are you doing? Projects? Writing? Film?

As far as steampunk is concerned, I write, first and foremost.You might say that my initial experiment got slightly out of hand and ran away with me: with the website and the Facebook page, I wished to gain an insight into the concept of British India during the within the steampunk genre. I had an extremely clear idea of what I wanted to write about from the very beginning, but was curious to what extent potential readers would be attracted to both India-based steampunk fiction and/or imagery.

The response was overwhelmingly rapid and positive and when the first story went up it was with the happy knowledge that I was not only pleasing myself.Because the movement itself is so vibrant, it’s very easy – and fun! – to get swept up in other activities, such as dressing in full regalia and attending events. This is not something I have much time for, unfortunately, due to my other commitments. Recently I was asked to give a talk on MultiCulturalism in Steampunk at the Glasgow School of Art and this I was very pleased to be able to do. A transcript of the talk and footage shot at the event will become available on the steampunk India website in due course.

The photo’s are really an enjoyable side effect to the writing, because I started taking them as a way to get a handle on some of the characters I was creating. The fiction is the main focus of the project.

The Steampunk has bled over into other projects on occasion, as you will be able to see in one of Erin’s music video’s.

I also convinced the band to partly perform in Steampunk gear when we opened for Hawkwind last year. As many of their most landmark albums and lyrics are based on Michael Moorcock’s writing, this was utterly satisfying on several deep converging nerd-girl, music -and book loving levels.

I noticed you posted a story on your website for a “steam-inspired tale. Not bad. Are you published anywhere else? Any other completed works you’d like to share? Anything you have in the works that we should keep our eyes opened for?

The story on the website is part of a larger project. It is the first of a series of eight short pieces that form the introduction to the alternate India I am building. The plot threads and characters in those eight pieces, in turn, will come together in a novel that ties up all the threads.

This writing route is mapped out over several years, with parts of short stories to be released on occasion, continually interspersed with music and film projects for Erin Bennett and Art Attack films respectively.

Meanwhile, one of my other Steampunk stories, Unmade, a love story set on a Caribbean plantation, will hopefully find a place in a Multicultural Steampunk anthology which is in the early stages of development in Europe. The story is close to my heart as I chose the location very deliberately: The Orange Hill plantation in St. Vincent is where my great-grandfather was shipped to in 1861. My grandfather was born on the plantation and was released from his born status later in life. It has been a long road to find this story a home and it may yet be longer, depending on how the production of the anthology unfolds. We shall see!

(Of note, I later received an email from Suna regarding the i09 article 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories Editors Are Sick of Seeing. Her multicultural steampunk story Unmade apparently breaks rule #8 with the inclusion of a rather graphic rape scene, and Suna wonders if this has something to do with the stories difficulty with finding a home.)

Jeff vanderMeer and Desirina Boskovich’ The Steampunk User’s Manual is set to come out later in 2014; extracts of my writing about Steampunk India and Steampunk in general will be featured in the publication.

At the moment I am working on the audio narration for Those Dark Satanic Mills, a short story set in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences universe, which I wrote for Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s spin-off anthology series Tales From the Archives. This will be released within the next month or so.

Tell me about your involvement with Art Attack Films.

Art Attack made music videos for bands in the US, but when settling in Scotland, branched out fairly quickly into other work. Examples are The Body Merchants, documenting the lurid trade of Burke & Hare and the film we made for the Edinburgh Surgeon’s Hall Museum about the life and work of Joseph Lister, which is part of the permanent History of Surgery exhibition.

The work is always done with a view to facilitate our true passion: making movies.

We have our connection to Accident Man, based on the comic by Pat Mills. This year Titan Comics have re-released the comic so it is the perfect occasion to make the movie. We’ve shot preliminary scenes with World Karate champion Paul Lapsley in the role of Mike Fallon.

We are in post-production for our first feature Selkie, a fresh take on a creature of Scottish folklore. The trailer is viewable on Youtube and the movie stars the warriors of Combat International, who have been part of mainstream movies such as Gladiator,The Eagle,  Snow White and The Huntsman, and most recently Thor 2: The Dark World.

Picture the opening sequence in Gladiator: a huge Gaul brandishes a severed head at the Roman legion and roars his defiance.

This is Charlie Allan, our lead actor in Selkie. We’d known him for some years, through filming his historical building project Duncarron Medieval Village and doing music production on three upcoming albums of his b=and Saor Patrol. We realised he (and his team) could be perfect for our script. He was.

You seem like a very busy woman, so my next question may be a bit over the top. What do you do in your spare time? Any hobbies?

Living in Scotland, the stunning countryside is just there for the taking; I go for big walks as often as possible. I love dancing excessively. If you can’t find me during a night out at a club or party, I’m undoubtedly on the dance floor. I swim. Books are oxygen and listening to music is a close second. I adore going to the cinema and the theatre, most recently seen was the NTLive broadcast of Coriolanus, which was superb. When I can find the time -which is hardly ever nowadays!- I practise archery, climbing and horse riding. This summer I will be fulfilling a longstanding wish by going on a short fencing course. 

Despite all of your interests and talents, what haven’t you done/learned/experienced yet that you would like to?

Oh, a multitude of things. To pick one, I’d like to learn kalaripayattu; the South Indian martial art on which most other martial art forms are based and the fighting style employed by the wonderful actor Naseeruddin Shah, as Nemo in the movie adaptation of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Lastly, because I’m very interested in knowing what makes people tick take this test and tell me what the results are. Do you think the results are fitting?

ENFP (Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perception)

As an overarching description of my character this is pretty accurate.

The ‘seeing everyone and everything as part of a cosmic whole’ grates on me a=s too squishy: I’m an abundantly positive person, but not indiscriminately s=o. I do enjoy socialising and am fascinated by group dynamics. I’m fond of hearing a good yarn and love spinning one, but abhor spiteful gossip. And yes, I have a decidedly silly streak!

There are some differences: I love solitude as much as I adore being part of a heaving dance floor, for instance.

And though I am very empathic and sensitive to injustice and inequality, you would not see me forfeit the interests of my nearest and dearest to change the world, unless they are standing there next to me, doing the same thing.

Suna Dasi on:

Twitter

https://www.facebook.com/SteampunkIndia

What We Already Know About Steampunk (#steampunkhands)

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LuftFlotte Steampunk...This post was supposed to be a steampunk short story called The Golden Bird. The Golden Bird was supposed to be my contribution to the Steampunk Hands Around the World initiative to showcase the art(s) of steampunk on a worldwide arena via the web. Obviously that is not what this is.

My short, The Golden Bird turned out to be not very short. Several thousand words in, I realized that my beloved story was turning into a novella length work. When this became clear to me, I decided to put the breaks on it, because I am currently embroiled in a larger long term piece of writing, and unlike many of my writerly friends, I am completely incapable of dividing my time and energies between two large pieces. I can’t. It stunts my creative juices and it steals my time, which is in very, very short supply.

Since I’m not prepared to post The Golden Bird quite yet, I thought I’d share the beginning sketches of the picture that will eventually be the cover of the novella.

Emira Amin from The Golden Bird

Emira Amin by The Artist

This post has instead become my personal tribute to STEAMPUNK.

steam∙punk – a genre of science fiction and or fantasy that typically features steam powered machinery rather than advance technology.

Steampunk has become an especially popular art form within the last 20-25 years, but it has been around for much longer than that. Some of the first progenitors of steampunk are names we know very well from literature such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Steampunk is usually identifiable via certain tropes and props such as googles, brass work, clockwork mechanisms, airships, trains, machines powered by steam or magic or both, bustles and boots, pocket watches and gun holsters, buckles, telescopes and compasses. Can you see it? I can, because in a single yet inadequate word, steampunk is beautiful.

When I first heard of steampunk, not many years ago, I was shocked to realize that I had been enjoying the art form, privately digging on the beauty and artistry of it, without realizing it for many years. And even now, when I feel as if I have a pretty good understanding of what steampunk is, I keep getting slapped in the face with the fact that there remain contributions to this genre that I have enjoyed without once giving a thought to the fact that they are considered works of steampunk.

Just today as I was perusing a list of steampunk literature compiled on Goodreads, I saw a much loved story that I never realized is considered steampunk. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. And now that I know, I can see it. It’s the metal work, the industrial feel, and the magic so embedded in the narrative that it feels “normal”. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood is the second anime series that I ever watched and it remains at the top of my list of favorites and most memorable. Other steampunk manga/anime include the very obvious Steamboy, Metropolis, and Howl’s Moving Castle, and the more subtly steam flavored, sort of new and insanely popular Attack on Titan and Baccano!.

The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker is one of my favorite books series for its fun storyline, quirky characters, interesting perils and of course, its seamlessly woven elements of steam that include magic, weird steam powered constructs, trains and submarines among other things. I also love how Lindsay Buroker throws out the occasional bit of odd word usage, necessitating the use of my dictionary and thereby making me a smarter more well-rounded person and writer… but that’s another story altogether. But this lyrical mixed period use of verbiage is also common with steampunk, as it is a genre that feels caught between many time periods.

steam∙punk – a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in the anachronistic Victorian or quasi Victorian alternate history setting.

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville is another book that I really enjoyed, for altogether different reasons than the EE series. This is one of those books that I read without being conscious that it was a steampunk rendering. But of course, it is. PSS is like a uhm… triple dark chocolate cookie served with a mocha latte. Delicious, but best if eaten slowly and in small quantities. Or like a train wreck, it’s hard to look at but you’re compelled by some sick part of your psyche to watch. None of that is to say I didn’t love PSS, because I did, even more now over a year later, but it’s a heavy piece of writing, to say the least. Which is likely why it didn’t initially dawn on me that this was steampunk. There was so much other stuff happening that I was on overload.

Here are some other steam powered books that I’ve either read or own and have yet to read: The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Flash Gold, The Time Machine, Boneshaker, Leviathan, Un Lun Dun, The Alchemy of Stone, Lady of Devices, and as they say, the list goes on.

My favorite steam flavored film has to be The Prestige. That was a scary smart movie about magician friends turned rivals and enemies. The term steam flavored perfectly describes this one because elements of steam are quite subtle here as they appear to be more about time and place, which is industrial era Victorian London than about magical gadgetry, although there is tons of magic. Hugo is an obvious and beautiful steampunk film. This movie is all about gadgets and trains and automatons. The really magical element is the storytelling itself.

steam∙punk – a rising subgenre, culture and movement…

What all of these forms of steampunk art have in common is stunning imagery, genius level creativity, a willingness to rewrite history, stretch and erupt boundaries, and the knack for positing the age old question of “What if?”. I love steampunk because it is brave. It doesn’t care about convention or genre expectations. It says “absolutely anything goes”.

All of this is why Kevin Steil’s idea, Steampunk Hands Around the World, is so brilliant. This inclusive worldwide endeavor encourages diversity of people and thought just as steampunk does. People from all over the world are participating and I am immensely proud to have been invited to participate and I hope you continue the tour when you leave my site!

Steampunk Hands Around the World

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by Ray Dean

by Ray Dean

What do you like about steampunk?

What I like is the fact that many people like and even love steampunk and they don’t even know it. That would have been me a few years ago. I’d watched steampunk inspired movies and animation, totally digging the spiff and shine, the gadgetry and magic, and the mash up of genres, tropes and imagery to create something, well…unnameable. Except it does have a name. Steampunk.

Until three weeks ago I never thought for a second that I would do more than read a steampunk book or watch a movie. This will soon change.

Steampunk Hands Around the World is the brain child of the Airship Ambassador, Kevin Steil. I was invited to participate by group member, Suna Dasi, who had put out a call to attract a multicultural group of women to participate in this quirky, fun event. I am so very glad that I accepted. The Mission Statement reads as such:

Steampunk Hands Around the World is a month long event in February 2014 showing and sharing that steampunk and the community is global and as such, all steampunk everywhere are connected. There are new friendships to be found in every conversation and event. “Hands” is presented in multiple formats from blogs to videos to live events. Each person is responsible for organizing their own content and format, but the central theme is that of global connection and friendship.

While contributions to this event will be unique and varied, by an equally unique and varied group of artists and steampunk lovers, my part will be a short story tentatively titled The Golden Bird. In keeping with the theme of this event, it will of course, be a steampunk tale and it will be multicultural. I’ll be posting it right here on February 23rd. And, if all goes as planned, The Artist will provide a unique piece of art to go along with my story. I am both excited and nervous because this puts me on a deadline. *shudders*

So…I’m signing out now so I can get back to work on this story.

by Ray Dean

by Ray Dean