The Alchemist's Daughter Revisited
During the time that I was writing The Alchemist’s Daughter I had a wonderful post at the University of Hertfordshire. In those days the humanities department was based in Wall Hall, once a large country house with substantial grounds. It had formerly been a teacher training college and had a dusty library full of precious old books. This, then, was rich territory for researching a novel set in the eighteenth century, about an isolated young girl, prey to a ruthless city boy who is after her wealth and sees her as ripe for seduction.
My office at Wall Hall was in the former stable block, and at lunch-time I could wander the neglected grounds which had once boasted an Italian Garden and an outdoor amphitheatre. There is an air of sadness about the early chapters of the book. My heroine, Emilie Selden, is vulnerable because she has no mother, and as I was writing, my own mother was disappearing fast because she was afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease.
And there are other ghosts within the writing. When fixing on the character of the maid, Sarah, I was haunted by a former pupil of mine, a troubled girl who had disrupted every lesson I tried to teach by her subtly subversive behaviour. I had huge fun unleashing her power on the hapless Emilie.
But above all The Alchemist’s Daughter is a love story – with a touch of Newtonian physics and a heady backdrop of alchemical experiment, a neglected country estate and the seamier side of London life. There’s false love, and abuse disguised as love. But there’s als0 tender and constant love; the love that prevails.