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Victorian computer visionary
09/10/2020

Victorian computer visionary


In I, ADA, author JULIA GRAY explores the life of Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Lord Byron and one of the first people to see the potential of the modern-day computer.

Gray's compelling novel covers the childhood and young adult years of Ada's life and explores how her imagination and intellect developed, inspiring her visions for an early computer, as well as giving us a glimpse into life at the time for women.

JULIA GRAY tells us more about I, ADA:


Q: Why did you want to write your novel as a first person fictional account of her life?

A: I did some experimental samples and decided that, for me, the first person allowed more ability to delve into sensory and emotive language. The more I described everything that Ada could see, hear and feel, the closer I felt to her - although no one can ever truly write in anything other than an approximation of someone else's voice.


Q: Where did you go to research Ada's life? Was there much original material, or material written by Ada herself, other than her essays?

A: Libraries first and foremost: the British Library for the myriad avenues I needed to explore - especially things like the history of learning Maths and biographies of Ada and her mother - and the Bodleian Library in Oxford, which houses the Lovelace-Byron papers, which were an invaluable resource. There were loads of letters and notebooks, as well as random things like an inventory of all the furniture in one of the houses they lived in.


Q: What struck you most about Ada's life and character through your research? Were there any surprises?

A: I hadn't known before how committed Ada was to music - she took it really seriously and spent hours practising the harp and singing.


Q: How did you decide which part of her life to write about?

A: Because I, Ada is a young adult book, I felt that the oldest she could be in the narrative was 20, so that's how old she is when we meet her. It was important to me to cover as much of her life as possible, so we then go back in time to when she is five, and the novel is told in three parts from there. Although it doesn't cover the time when she wrote the 'Notes', it shows (or tries to!) how she was able to do it.


Q: How closely does I, Ada follow the events in her life?

A: In terms of key places, people and events, as closely as I could! There were things that I had to fictionalise. Probably the biggest of these is the identity of the tutor with whom she had a romantic liaison - very little information about the episode remains, and although there is speculation that he was called William Turner, I gave him another name, James Hopkins - partly because not much is known for sure, and partly because there were already a lot of Williams in the book!


Q: The novel also covers some of the people and inventions of the time; which ones stand out for you in Ada's story?

A: Mary Somerville was an incredibly inspiring scientist and a special mentor to Ada, so I loved finding out more about her. There are cameos for Charles Dickens, Michael Faraday and Florence Nightingale too.


Q: What would you like today's young adult to take from I, Ada?

A: Ada contended with a lot of issues that are still relevant today, like celebrity and media intrusion, as well as wanting desperately to further her intellectual development at a time when education for girls was not the norm. She had curiosity, passion and determination in abundance.


Q: Was writing historical fiction a very different experience from writing your previous contemporary YA novels? Are you planning to write more historical fiction, or was Ada Lovelace the draw for this novel?

A: I spent nearly a year researching I, Ada before I got started with the writing. I've done research for other books, especially for The Otherlife which features Old Norse, but never on this scale. I loved the process and learnt so much from it; I'd definitely consider writing more historical fiction (or narrative non-fiction) in the future.


Q: What are you writing now, and where and when do you do your writing?

A: I write whenever and wherever possible! As long as I have my laptop and coffee, I can write.


Q: Are you offering online events to schools and festivals this autumn, as well as physical events? Can you tell us a little about your I, Ada events and what schools can expect?

A: One of the things I'm most excited about is a podcast series celebrating the achievements of women in Science. It's called 'On the rADAr' and we'll be releasing one episode per week from publication day (September 3rd). We'll also be recording a live episode at the Richmond Literary Festival in November.



Q: Have you read much other YA historical fiction that you could recommend for our members?

A: I am a big fan of Sally Nicholls, Eva Ibbotson, Tanya Landman and Matt Killeen.


Q: What are your favourite escapes from writing - and what got you through Lockdown?

A: Writing is my escape from everything else! Like so many people, I found gardening very therapeutic during lockdown - I'm not a very good gardener but it was a calming thing to do when the world was at its craziest. I also made lists of everything that I was grateful for, and that's how I went to sleep every night.
 
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