Please help me welcome Anne Renwick to the blog. She’s here talking about her inspirations for her amazing steampunk/historical romance series: Elemental Web Chronicles.
Why science in a historical setting? Why steampunk? Why romance?
Once upon a time, I was a research scientist. After majoring in biology, I earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology. Which is a fancy way of saying I spent six years studying one particular cell surface molecule. Sound boring? For the most part, it was.
While other graduate students kept scientific journals on their nightside tables, mine was stacked with romance, mysteries and thrillers—all of which took me to faraway places on exciting adventures. Bonus if they were set in another time period.
I read plenty of those dry, scientific articles. Heck, I wrote and published two of them myself. But I could feel my love for biology and its wonders being lost in the minutiae of research. It swiftly became clear I wasn’t cut out for a long-term research career.
Teaching came closer. I loved working with students and made every effort to make topics as interesting and as exciting as I could manage. I covered the topic of mitosis and meiosis by bringing in a laundry basket of socks. After the cardiovascular lecture, I sent my class to the hallway, blood pressure cuffs in hand, to do jumping jacks and take measurements… followed by a video clip of Monty Python’s The Black Knight to illustrate arterial blood flow.
Because of my background in biology, Steampunk called to me. It offered me a way to take today’s technology and re-imagine it through the eyes of the Victorians, a time defined by rapid medical, scientific and technological progress. It was, in short, the perfect setting for headstrong and unorthodox individuals bent on working against society’s conventions. For a crazy adventure. And, because of the restrictive morals of the era, a forbidden romance.
History! Romance! Biology! Adventure!
THE GOLDEN SPIDER and the books that follow combine all of the above. We travel back to 1885, to Victorian London, when women were only just managing to break into the medical fields, when women (and men) were expected to “know their place” in society. Enter Lady Amanda, a brilliant young scientist determined to accomplish the impossible. Toss in a handsome, brooding professor, a clockwork spider that can re-weave nerves, a rash of gypsy murders and a murderous spy… and an adventure was born.
The research for this was extensive. As I wanted a world that felt largely historically accurate, I studied Victorian fashions and traditions, dove into what technologies were available at the time, spent weeks and weeks reading about how women gained the right to practice medicine, then read about the lives of gypsies in the nineteenth century. I brushed up on all things “nerves” and worked out how to make the biology both fun and approachable.
As to the science? I do pull from my experience both as a researcher and later as a biology professor. Surrounded by bottles of reagents and equipment? Worked with racks of mice? Ran experiments late into the night only to have them fail? Check. Check. Check. Students at my office door asking questions that ranged from the relevant to the ridiculous? Check.
All this I can pull from memory, but a large part of my “process” for finding interesting facts involves “going down a rabbit-hole” on the internet. For every “fact” that makes it into my stories, I might well have spent hours exploring numerous aspects—chasing the topic first in one direction and then in another. Often, I end up buying non-fiction books to delve even deeper into a topic—or turning to my favorite “details” site, pubmed, where I can lay my eyes upon research papers ranging from the past to the present. And, I have to admit, I love every moment of it.
The best part, however, is bringing all these parts and pieces together and setting them in motion: an alternate history, a couple falling in love, villains who will stop at nothing, all with a backdrop of science gone horribly wrong… then handing the adventure over to readers in the form of a complete story to let them enjoy the ride.
About the Author
Though Anne Renwick holds a Ph.D. in Biology and greatly enjoyed tormenting the overburdened undergraduates who were her students, fiction has always been her first love. Today, she writes steampunk romance, placing a new kind of biotech in the hands of mad scientists, proper young ladies and determined villains.
Anne brings an unusual perspective to steampunk. A number of years spent locked inside the bowels of a biological research facility left her permanently altered. In her steampunk world, the Victorian fascination with all things anatomical led to a number of alarming biotechnological advances. Ones that the enemies of Britain would dearly love to possess.
Anne is the author of The Elemental Web Chronicles, including The Golden Spider, The Silver Skull, and The Iron Fin, as well as the Elemental Web Tales including A Trace of Copper, In Pursuit of Dragons, A Reflection of Shadows (May 2019) and three short stories: The Tin Rose, Kraken and Canals, and Rust and Steam.
About the Books:
THE GOLDEN SPIDER
Elemental Web Chronicles Book 1
Jen’s Audiobook Review
Want to know more? Want to read an excerpt?
And… check out Anne’s free short story:
THE TIN ROSE