Philippa Ballantine: Dawn’s Early Light


The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, is the steampunk series I write with my husband, Tee Morris. (In case you are wondering Steampunk is a form of science fiction set dawnsearlylightusually in Victorian England. Here’s a bit of a deeper explanation from our website. )

The story was first conceived as a podcast audio drama we were going to charge for. It was a spin-off concept from a novel idea that Tee had and we had briefly discussed. My idea was to co-write with Tee, who was just a friend at that stage, so that I didn’t have to do all the work, just in case the podcast for pay scenario didn’t work out. We never really expected it to go anywhere, but we had only written three chapters before our agent rang and said someone was interested in it as a novel.

We did an about face and hastily turned it from an audio drama into a novel. Neither of us could imagine what the novel and the world it described would have the life it has had.

A little explanation before we discuss that journey.

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a department of Queen Victoria’s government that explores the strange, the unusual, and the bizarre that the police are not equipped to handle. It is also active everywhere in the British Empire, so there are lots of stories from all over the world.

The main characters that we first started writing are Eliza D Braun and Wellington Thornhill Books. Eliza is a secret agent from New Zealand, who because of some rather unfortunate incidents in the field, is demoted down to the archives of the Ministry. Wellington is the Chief Archivist with plenty of secrets of his own, but he seems—at least initially—to be rather stuffy and addicted to rules and regulations. Eliza soon discovers cold cases in the archives, and drags Wellington along with her to investigate.

However it doesn’t just stop at the novels. So far the series includes, anthologies, short stories, free podcasts, and a roleplaying game (launching soon).

For something that started as a bit of a lark between Tee and me when I was living in New Zealand and he was here in Virginia, it has certainly gone far. It’s won an Airship Award (for steampunk writing), three Parsec Awards (for audio fiction), and been a Locus Bestseller.

The newest book in the series is out at the end of March. Dawn’s Early Light, is—as the title might hint—set in America. Eliza and Wellington are sent there to help out their American equivalents who are having spot of bother with disappearing airships in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. From there on in, it’s a cross-country adventure, with our two British agents meeting all sorts of wonderful characters, and perhaps causing chaos wherever they go.

Here’s a little snippet of the moment when Eliza meets her counterpart from America in a pub in Norfolk, VA.

What’s the game then?” Eliza asked.

Their counterpart went for her coat pocket, but froze at the sound of the tavern door being flung open.

Under a wide-brimmed Stetson, a man who was in desperate need of a shave surveyed the Artifice Club. His gaze was cold, hard, and sized up everyone in the pub in an instant. He was broad shouldered and trim, the kind of build that would have given Campbell a moment’s pause before engaging in fisticuffs.

This newcomer almost faded into the intermittent shadows, dressed in dark colours of denim and leather. When he turned to where they sat, his mouth bent into a wry grin. It made his face shift from stern to quite handsome. He pushed back the brim of his hat and gave Felicity a nod.

Thank goodness we’re working covertly,” Felicity said, shaking her head ruefully. “Otherwise, he would stand out.”

Eliza got to her feet, feeling an equal smile form on her face. “I don’t think a man like that could possibly do anything but stand out.” She felt, rather than saw, Wellington stiffen at her side.

She took her time walking around the table, closing the distance between them in long, slow strides. Eliza stopped just as the hem of her dress brushed the newcomer’s soiled, worn pants, and looked up at him. He hooked his thumbs in his belt, took in Eliza from head to toe, and nodded while his lips widened to show a smile that threatened to catch her breath and claim it for his own. Clearly, this cowboy liked what he saw.

Good for him, she thought.pip_long hair

That was when Eliza’s right hook sent him sprawling to the floor.

If you are interested in getting a free taste of the other Ministry stories then check out the podcast version for free. It is available on itunes, but you can also listen to it on our site.

Our greatest hope is that readers enjoy travelling with Wellington and Eliza, as much as we enjoy writing them!

New Zealand born fantasy writer and podcaster Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the author of the Books of the Order and the Shifted World series. Pip is the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences with her husband, Tee Morris. Dawn’s Early Light is the newest book coming March 25th. Her awards include an Airship, a Parsec, the Steampunk Chronicle Reader’s Choice, and a Sir Julius Vogel. She currently resides in Manassas, Virginia with her husband, daughter, and a furry clowder of cats.




4 comments to Philippa Ballantine: Dawn’s Early Light

  • Ken

    Happy Book Birthday, Pip (and Tee)!!!!

    The adventures of Eliza and Wellington are a heck of a lot of fun to read and I’m looking forward getting my copy of “Dawn’s…”

  • Janet Walden-West

    That was awesome!

  • This sounds like a great series–now on my list!

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Agreed with SiSi. I’ve not yet dipped my toes into Steampunk, and this series is looking like a great place to try it out! 😀

    I also think it’s pretty darned cool that it looks like you’ve managed to set up your outside-the-box character with someone who is still a product of her own environment. I think it can be too easy sometimes for westerners like me to forget that points in history were *not* as clean-cut as they’re often presented, especially when you take into account, you know, the whole rest of the world. Thank you for giving us this peek into your series!