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Interviewing the AH Community: Hilde Heyvaert

Questions from Gary Oswald

Photo of Hilde by Bert Van den Wyngaert (@berttakespictures on instagram)

Counter factual and Alternate History discussion and fiction is a large and healthy online community. Sea Lion Press has always had the aim of providing a platform for Alternate History Fiction, discussion and essays but it can't fill every niche and there are other platforms doing slightly different things. As a result there are a lot of people involved in other forms of Fiction and historical discussion with a counter factual focus. So over the next few Months I'll be interviewing various members of this online community about their non Sea Lion Press projects to shine a bit of a light on what else is out there.

This week it's Hilde Heyvaert, a regular article writer for Never Was Magazine, an online Alternate History website with a Steampunk and Dieselpunk focus, who can be found on Instagram and at her blog.

Hello Hilde. First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to speak to us.

My pleasure, thank you for considering me!

You are one of the regular contributors over at Never Was, a magazine focusing on Steampunk and Dieselpunk alternate history. What started your interest in those genres?

My dad and his obsession with Jules Verne books actually. He used to read them to me as a child, and we used to watch a lot of sci-fi and old horror together ever since I was very little. So I kinda grew up with it, and I always loved the sense of adventure, the mad science and the idea that anything and everything was possible.

Your main focus on Never Was is historical fashion, how different people dressed in different eras. How much do you think Fashion reflects the larger social trends of an era and so in terms of Alternate History, do you think different fashion styles can work as immediate signifiers as to what your world is like?

What I hope to do with my pieces is to help people get started. Explain the basics of different styles, write reviews on pattern and catalogue books to give people a sense of where to begin and what's out there. Get them on their way. That's the beautiful thing about alternate history and fiction, it's all up to the creator. I think fashion, especially in visual media, is absolutely key to help set the scene, so to speak. But in the end of the day, it is up to everyone to decide what whom will wear in the world they create when it's a novel, film etc, or what they themselves will wear in their own little 'punk universe. That's the beauty of it, you take what you want from actual history, and implement what you want in your own alternate verse.

As part of your university work, you wrote up an excellent lexicon for the Steampunk subculture, which you've shared online. I think one of the things that most stands out from the description of Steampunk Fashion style is the thin line between fashion and costumes, when we're talking about fashion that represents trends that never happened in our timeline. I know you've said that you concentrate on fashion rather than costumes, where exactly would you draw that line?

For me personally, and this is legit just my opinion on the matter, a costume is an outfit you create for a fictional character or a part of yourself that isn't you as you are in daily life. Be it a persona you create for events or or even an outfit you have specifically for an event and that you see as your costume, rather than fashion. It is very, VERY, personal. Or of course a representation of the outfit of a fictional or real world person like you would when cosplaying. Again, the matter is super personal, but that's a costume to me. I personally don't cosplay nor costume, even when I go completely all out for events (which rarely happens because I find it very cumbersome whilst working the event for a magazine as I have to carry quite a bit of kit), I am still wearing pieces from my wardrobe that I wear in daily life in one capacity or another. Even the armour. At most you'll catch me bounding but the key to that is that it, again, is fashion, and not costuming, so there's that.

I'm not familiar with 'bounding'. Google says 'it's dressing in street clothes inspired by the look of a fictional character rather than mimicking them entirely', is that right?

It's half right at least! Your search engine did good!

There's also history bounding, where you take pieces that are strongly reminiscent of bygone days (such as the Gibson Girl and Victorian era inspired blouses) and incorporate them in a contemporary outfit in a way that it strongly resembles the era you are bounding. It obviously doesn't have to be centuries ago, a lot of people also incorporate mid century fashions. Sometimes it's hard to tell vintage style from history bounding as it can be essentially the same thing.

On Never Was you also review steam and dieselpunk bands, art, books, comics. tv shows and conventions. What works would you recommend for a beginner to the genres?

For sure Lady Mechanika. When it comes to steampunk at least. It is visually as beautiful as it is diverse. It has so many different kinds of story lines, settings, and a wide cast of characters. Whilst it is a victorian style setting, it's not strictly victoriana, and that variety I find so refreshing and fascinating. On top of that, it's just a very good story.

As for dieselpunk, I would say The Rocketeer, for much the same reason. It is very mid century but not just. Plus if you were to want to bound or cosplay rather than make a fashion outfit, you can immediately find inspiration aplenty in the comics.

You've recommended two comics there. Do you think those genres flourish in visual media where the costumes are actively depicted as opposed to a purely prose book?

I just think that when you recommend a work to someone new to the genre, you should go with something good, and something that shows off as much of it as possible. That these two works just so happen to be comics is pure coincidence. Mind you, if you want some actual book recommendations; I can oblige! :) 20,000 Leagues under the sea and Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne, both Murder on the Titania and Wireless by Alex Acks. Alex Acks really needs to write more in this series. 100% recommend!

Your own blog often focus on fashion and photography generally. Do you think the way your background is more visual than literary or historical why you engaged with AH through steampunk?

To be honest, there's really not much behind it, I just really like taking photos and wearing outfits in styles I personally like. Just like a lot of people I imagine :).

Away from Never Was, you also put out 40 issues of BCM, a Belgian magazine devoted to Japanese culture. How did that come to be and what are your feelings on the magazine in retrospect, any article you're particularly proud of?

I was in a Jfashion group that would have monthly meetings. And I thought: well, I could set up a magazine for extra credit in school. I ran it by the rest of the group and it seemed like a fun thing we could all work on together :). It just evolved from there, really. It is coming back once the world returns to normal. As 'The Rising Suns Gazette' because my current crew and I feel like its time for a different name. I'm glad to have had such a good run, and that I'm still able to bring it back at some point, with a dedicated crew that is also happy to get back to it. But what I am most proud of, is that even with our limited resources of literally no budget other than what we were able to put in from our own pocket (not much) and nothing but time and determination, we were able to publish articles people enjoyed. And of course the friends I've made through it, that's also something that can't be beat :).

The first issue of BCM was printed in Dutch, but later issues were in English. It's interesting for me, as an outsider, that your web presence seems almost entirely in English, is that a personal choice or is the audience you attract by talking about what you talk about mostly English speaking?

Well, even after the first edition there was quite a bit of interest in it from people who didn't speak Dutch at all, so it made more sense to switch to English. So absolutely because of an English speaking audience. Not that I mind writing in English, I quite enjoy it :).

Back before the current pandemic you used to regularly attend fantasy conventions which often had steampunk areas, how healthy do you think the subculture is in terms of members?

I have to say I am not the right person to ask this question as most of my interactions with other steampunks are very short and superficial. A lot of people I photograph at an event I politely ask for a photo and most of the conversation is short and has to do about that. At Elftopia I habitually stop by SteamNation's camp, and they are always very friendly and welcoming (also totally off topic, but good heavens Sven Lejeune's leatherwork creations are always to die for!). But I am not part of any crew other than Never Was, and whilst I do have individual steampunk friends aside from that, I can't actually say anything about the general state of the movement and how healthy it is. Especially not right now with the pandemic having put a stop to events and gatherings. I guess that like with everything it depends on who you hang out with and what your crew is like.

From the Alternate History standpoint, Steampunk has always been somewhat ghettoised, I know Never Was has been aiming to connect the people dressing in steampunk fashion and reading steampunk books with the larger AH community, as someone with a long history in steampunk to what extent do you think more mainstream Alternate History can scratch the same itch or do you think it has very different aims?

Whilst I do have a long history with steampunk and related 'punk fashion, I don't have a long history with alternate history. Sure, a lot of 'punk fiction is at the very least alternate history adjacent, but alternate history as a genre is not something I personally tend to reach for. Some people will feel alternate history definitely scratches the itch because as long as it's 'punk adjacent it's all good. But others might feel that if it's not 'punk pur sang, it's not their jam. And then you very likely get everyone in between. I personally have nothing against alternate history at all, it's just that there are only so many hours in a day, and I can't read all the things, alas! I have quite the back catalog of things I still wish to read and review for Never Was as is, as well as a bunch of other novels I want to read for myself that are calling my name :).

What are your plans for 2021 as we, hopefully, emerge from outside of the shadow of the pandemic?

IF we emerge this year, I would like to pick up where I left things. Release a new edition of The Rising Suns Gazette (formerly known as BCM), go back to doing event coverage for Never Was. Finally, FINALLY visit my favourite fabric store and stock up on brown fabrics so I can FINALLY make the pieces I've been wanting to make for ages. But also new things, like get better at video editting, because right now that's a hot mess. Which is normal because that's just how learning new things goes.

Regardless of whether we emerge or not, I absolutely will go back to wearing pretty much only (lounging around the house excepted) steampunk or dieselpunk (adjacent) outfits. I am well aware that I got sucked into all sorts of instagram madness the last couple of years and I look forward to reverting back to my own style that is truly mine. Thankfully the pandemic has little influence about my ability to dress up and write for Never Was, so that's most certainly happening.



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