My latest picture book is called Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer.
I first came across Ada Lovelace in a somewhat circuitous manner. I had seen the play Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, and was enthralled by the lead character Thomasina. Thomasina is a Regency era child genius – a girl brilliant at maths, physics and engineering. I fell in love with her and the idea of a girl like her existing in that era.
About a year later I read that Stoppard may have based his character on one Ada Lovelace, little known in the mainstream world, but deeply respected in the world of computer science. Thomasina existed!
The more I read about Ada the more I became obsessed with her. Ada, the daughter of the ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ poet Lord Byron and Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke. A girl separated from her father soon after birth by her mother who feared the influence of Byron’s reckless lifestyle. A girl who suffered a long term childhood illness and an over bearing mother who tried to steer her on a safe course (poetry free!) towards becoming a respectable aristocratic lady!
As a young woman Ada entered the world of the elite. She became friends with the likes of Charles Dickens, Michael Faraday and Charles Babbage. Her friendship with Charles Babbage and her mathematical brilliance led her to write what would become know as the worlds first computer program. And her vision of what a computer might be capable of astounded the pioneers of computing in the 20th century!
I learned that Ada found her own sort of poetic experience, through mathematics. And I found this intriguing, uplifting, and a story I had to tell. Like many girls of my time I struggled with maths. I was the kid who got brought back into the classroom at lunchtime to wrangle long division. Maths made me cry.
I wondered how many other little girls have a negative experience with maths. And as I read more about Ada and her achievement in becoming the world’s first computer programmer, I realised that Ada struggled too. She struggled to write the algorithm for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, but kept on going. She struggled to be taken seriously in a male dominated society, but never gave up.
I hope Ada might become a heroine for primary school girls, not just in terms of her accomplishments, but because she used her imagination to fuel her work. And imagination is something all kids have in abundance!
When I was first thinking about the art for Ada’s Ideas I wanted to try something new – 3 dimensional images, which I hoped would capture the drama and theatricality of Ada’s life. This involved sketching out the images, then colouring them with my favourite paints – Japanese watercolours.
I then cut out the images very carefully with an X-Acto blade which is pretty similar to a scalpel. I used over 500 blades to produce all the cut images for the book!
Once cut, I layered all the images for each spread to different heights using Lego bricks and glued them in place. Then each spread was photographed.
I really enjoyed creating the art, and hope too that it will be enjoyed by many young readers!