Following in Ada Lovelace’s footsteps

I, Ada – Rebel, Genius, Visionary by Julia Gray


Born in 1815, Ada Byron was the daughter of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke. During her childhood she studied hard and when, as a teenager, she met Charles Babbage, who was developing and automative calculating machine, their friendship was about to change the world of science forever.

I, Ada is an intensely beautiful biography by Julia Gray, which allows us to discover more about an unprecedented charated.

In this interview, Gray also uncovers more details about her research on Ada and her future projects.

Recreating the story of an unprecedented genius must have been very challenging. How did you start collecting information about Ada Lovelace?

I began by reading all the biographies of Ada that were available – in this way I was able to build up a kind of composite picture of Ada and her personality. I was particularly interested in her childhood and teenage years, given that I knew my own book would not go beyond the age of twenty. Some biographies went into more detail than others about this period. I also researched Ada’s parents quite a bit, because Ada’s relationship with her controlling mother and absent father were very important to her development, and I wanted to try to understand these dynamics as best I could. 

Could you tell us more about how you led your research?

Once I felt that I knew a sufficient amount about Ada, I started to read more widely around Charles Babbage and his inventions, since Ada’s work on his analytical engine is the achievement that she is most remembered for. I also researched the time at which Ada was alive – the structure of society, architecture, what people wore and what they ate. I even found myself studying old pamphlets about shorthand and reading texts about the allotment movement in England! A lot of the texts I needed were quite unusual and I spent a lot of time at the British Library, where I was able to access what I needed. Unfortunately many of the houses that Ada grew up in have been demolished, but I was able to visit Porlock in the south-west of England very frequently – Ada didn’t really live there until after her marriage, but there is an Ada Lovelace centre there with lots of information, and I felt close to Ada whenever I went there. 

Was you writing approach different, if you compare it to your previous novels?

My first two novels were drawn greatly from my own experiences, so although I did research Norse myths and Old Norse quite deeply when I was writing my first book, it was nothing in comparison to the amount of reading and research that I did for I, Ada. In terms of writing, however, the process for I, Adawas more straightforward, possibly because I didn’t have those tricky decisions about plot and character to make. I did a single draft and then did not have to do too much to it in the way of editing. For my previous books, I reworked them quite extensively. 

What do you think your readers will discover about Ada through your book?

I hope that they will meet someone who refused to allow anything – whether ill-health, oppressive authority figures or societal restrictions – to stop her from doing what she wanted to do. She had a truly original mind – I firmly believe that no one but Ada could have envisaged the modern computer in the way that she did, at that particular time. I hope that my book will inspire readers to find out more about her – and perhaps to pursue a career in mathematics, engineering or science. 

Can we ask you already about future projects? 

Like many writers, I expect, I’ve had a lot less time to focus on writing as a result of the pandemic because of juggling other work demands, but I have a very long list of things that I want to write next! 

Emanuela Borgatta Dunnett