Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your novel, Alchemy of Glass, from Simon & Schuster! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Barbara Barnett: Thank you! Alchemy of Glass is a hopefully worthy sequel to The Apothecary’s Curse, which was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Debut Novel, and although I encourage readers to start with Apothecary, I believe they can feel comfortable beginning the journey with the second novel without being lost.
Alchemy of Glass brings us back into the universe of Gaelan Erceldoune, Simon Bell, and Dr. Anne Shawe with a twisted, spiraling narrative that spans from 1826 London to strange futuristic Chicago and all points between with cameo appearances by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and even Nicola Tesla!
In the catacombs of an ancient ruined monastery, hidden away in the Eildon Hills of Scotland, a land of myth and mystery--the place where immortal apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune found sanctuary as a lad-- Gaelan discovers a journal, apparently written by his old friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, chronicling an adventure into the Otherworld, a land of fairy castles and filigree trees hung with Spanish moss.
Falling from the journal’s pages, a small piece of glass, which Gaelan recognizes as a fragment long missing from a stained glass panel he’d created a century earlier. When the opalescent glass seems to come alive in his hand, Gaelan is suddenly thrust into strange world far from the fantastical dreamscape Conan Doyle describes.
Alchemy of Glass weaves a tale magical as spun glass and terrifying as a shattered mirror, drawing upon cutting edge science and the most ancient of Celtic mythology, intertwining the magic of fairy lore and the harsh reality of difficult choices, returning us to the world of Gaelan Erceldoune as his past, present, and future collide.
The new novel is a confluence of inspirations. I’ve always had a fascination with glass, crystal, stained glass. And I’ve always been curious about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s long-standing fascination with the fairy folk. How does a physician/journalist/ and creator of the most logical rational character in fiction possess such an undying belief in fairies. At the same time, I wanted to push forward the story I began in Apothecary, which I left quite intentionally ambiguous at the end. I also wanted to explore the beginnings of Simon and Gaelan’s frenemies-ship—and Gaelan’s relationship with Dr. Anne Shawe. So all of those conspired in influence Alchemy but allowed me to go in new directions. Although it’s not a romance per se, Alchemy of Glass, like the first installment have parallel love stories at their core. This time, in addition to moving forward with Anne and Gaelan (in what I hope is an unexpected way), I wanted to go back into Gaelan’s romantic history, as well.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving the more fantastical and scientific elements together for this story, and what have been some of your creative influences?
BB: My philosophy has always followed the Arthur Clarkian model that magic is what we don’t yet understand of science. So, the magical/fantasy elements of Alchemy of Glass to me always had to be grounded in real science. Now, how to make that work, make sense, and still possess that bit of magic? That’s the magic of writing (I hope).
So, no matter how magical, strange or fantastical (even the mythological elements), I would always ask the what if it was possible that… In that way, I ask the same question about whether, no matter how improbable something seems, is it truly “impossible.” It’s a very Conan Doyle-ish approach.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Alchemy of Glass’ story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
BB: At its heart, Alchemy of Glass, like the first novel, Apothecary’s Curse is about exploiting science and technology without the understanding the potential consequences. Whether that happens in the Nineteenth Century or far into the future, or our own time, those consequences can resonate far and wide, echoing and amplifying forever. Oddly for the times we are in, the novel (both the historical narrative taking place in 1826 and the modern narrative) has a pathological agent at its heart. It’s not a pandemic story in the classical sense, but it struck me the other day how much the novel is about viruses of various varieties.
BD: As a follow-up to your Bram Stoker Award-nominated work on The Apothecary's Curse, how do you feel that your approach to Alchemy of Glass allowed you to explore new tools as a creative storyteller?
BB: I definitely explored new ground as a storyteller. I took more risks (which I hope have paid off), having a major part of the novel take place (possibly) in the mind of a main character. That allowed me to create and explore a rather surrealistic landscape, leaving (I hope) the reader guessing along with the character whether he’s in reality or some sort of fever dream. I also realized after Apothecary came out that the whole subject of telomeres was in the public consciousness. I needed to up that game as well, since telomeres aren’t really in the realm of SFF anymore (not really), so I went in a slightly different direction there as well, since in the first novel, I left it quite ambiguous about what exactly it was that made Gaelan immortal in the first place.
BD: What makes Simon & Schuster the perfect home for your novel?
BB: My publisher is actually the imprint Pyr, which published Apothecary. Pyr is great, because it’s never tried to pigeonhole my work in a specific genre (other than fantasy). My work is, by design, cross-genre, taking in historical, medical, SF, Fantasy and underpinned by a love story.
Try to categorize that! Pyr never tried, so I am eternally grateful to editorial director Rene Sears for her faith in my work!!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
BB: I am incredibly excited to have a completely different project to be released in July. Published by Sellers Media/RSVP, it will be a daily, boxed Lord of the Rings Trivia Calendar called The Lord of Trivia. It’s a 2021 calendar, and the first of three annual Middle-earth themed calendars I’ll be doing for Sellers.
I am also working a three other novels (!) in various states of completion. One is a third entry into the TAC-vers of Gaelan Erceldoune, another is a novel based on the British legends of Tamlin and Thomas the Rhymer (Gaelan is a descendent of Thomas—so there is that connection.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Alchemy of Glass and your other work?
BB: Best way to find me is at my website, BarbaraBarnett.com, and by following me on Twitter @B_Barnett and on Facebook.
Again, thanks for the chat!