I loved the shape of it. The effort of it. So incredibly weighty and gothic, like the name of a castle.
It was of course the name of a not-nearly-famous-enough writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, and by extension the name of quite-famous writer, her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley – the author of the first science-fiction novel in English (Frankenstein).
The hook for the story was to partner a young Mary Shelley with Ada Lovelace (nee Byron), the world’s first computer programmer, and that these two would run around having adventures based on various steampunk-ish inventions of Ada’s (she actually did invent a pair of flying wings, for example).
The problem, of course, is that Ada and Mary weren’t exactly contemporaries. Very close – Mary’s husband Percy Shelley was Ada’s father Lord Byron’s best friend. Mary’s stepsister was the mother of Ada’s half sister. So the two characters were definitely connected historically, their families and circles linked in various ways. But in fact, Mary was 15 years older than Ada, and a friendship with such an age difference in Regency times… didn’t work for the stories I wanted to tell.
So I broke out an old trick of Shakespeare’s: anachronism. I’ll just fudge the timeline. Not a lot. Just a little bit. And I’ll confess to the whole thing up front, so nobody thinks I’m trying to get away with anything, it’s just a fun “what if?” and we’ll take it from there.
The result was that I could show how Mary’s capital-R-Romanticism and Ada’s brilliant mathematical mind could work together in concert, looking at different sides of the same problems, and reach solutions.
This raises all kinds of fun stuff like the role of intuition in science, about different kinds of intelligence, and altogether presents two very real historical pro-math, pro-literature role models for girls, like my own daughter and her friends.
I went to the crowdfunding community Kickstarter and asked for others to join me in getting this story out. The idea of giving STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) role models to girls at a really critical age (the tween years) was really important to me, and I hoped it would be important to others. So I invited them to come with me as I went forward and did this. My dear friend Claire Robertson gave me a winning character illustration, which conveyed the tone of what I was aiming for, and away we went.
The response was incredible. I struck a nerve, and the campaign went global. In 27 days I raised $92,000 for the project – which grew through those weeks to more books, more resources, and a larger world for Ada and Mary. I had my work cut out for me, and knew there was no way I could, on my own; to build this project to the scale the backers wanted.
So I brought in a team, and shopped for the right partner to bring Wollstonecraft to the world stage.
That partner ended up being Knopf, part of Random House, and with it my editor Nancy Siscoe and illustrator Kelly Murphy, who brought the characters to life. The Kickstarter funds kept the lights on while, over the course of the next two years, I wrote the first three books in the series (the fourth is under way), a screenplay, and treatments for apps and video games. I’ve had the chance to meet with hundreds of our 3,000 backers, and have read early drafts to schools and libraries as this process unfolded, teaching Middle Schoolers about Ada, Mary, and Mary Wollstonecraft – and how they shaped the world.
At a time where the contributions of women were either discounted or suppressed, we still have Ada solving the enormous problem of how to turn “big math” into “little math” that could be processed by a machine, and Mary inventing a wholly new literary genre – both as teenagers. It’s an amazing testament to the power of education, of intellect and imagination.
In January, the first book hit the shelves worldwide in hardcover, and The Case of the Missing Moonstone (with a nod to Wilkie Collins, who wrote the first mystery novel in English) is now in the hands of exactly the sort of clever and ferociously curious children that inspired the project in the first place. The rest of the books will come out at a much faster pace than the long, long, long fuse of the first book’s release, and reader’s can look forward to The Case of the Girl in Grey in months, not years.
I’ve lived with these characters in my head since that Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2012, and they don’t seem to have settled down one bit. So I shall keep writing Wollstonecraft mysteries until they tell me not to.
You can find more information on the series at www.wollstonecraftagency.com
About Jordan Stratford
JORDAN STRATFORD is a producer, author, and screenwriter. Stratford launched the idea for the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series on Kickstarter, where the response was overwhelming enthusiasm.
Mr. Stratford lives on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada, with his wife and children and is hard at work on the next book in the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series.
By Jordan Stratford
History, mystery, and science collide in a new series for middle-grade readers, perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Lemony Snicket!
Jordan Stratford imagines an alternate 1826, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency!
Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude—but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, Mary is to become Ada’s first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary.
Mystery fans will love this tween girl riff on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. History buffs will be delighted to see all the real figures who play a role in this story and appreciate the extensive backmatter that helps separate truth from fiction. Parents and educators hoping to promote the STEM fields for girls will be thrilled to have a series where two girls use math, science, and creative analytical thinking to solve crimes. But most especially–emerging readers will love this series filled with humor, action, intrigue and wonderful artwork from Kelly Murphy.
Ages 8-12 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | 2015 | ISBN: 978-0385754408
This article was written by Jordan Stratford , author of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series.
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