A Conversation with Liesel Schwarz, Author, ‘A Conspiracy of Alchemists’


Liesel Schwarz is the author of A Conspiracy of Alchemists:

In a Golden Age where spark reactors power the airways, and creatures of Light and Shadow walk openly among us, a deadly game of Alchemists and Warlocks has begun.

When an unusual cargo drags airship-pilot Elle Chance into the affairs of the mysterious Mr. Marsh, she must confront her destiny and do everything in her power to stop the Alchemists from unleashing a magical apocalypse.

You’ve got a great setting here: Airships, alchemists, warlocks. How did you come up with this mix of technology and magic?

It’s hard to say, because my creative process is rather organic, so it’s really just a case of things happening in my head spontaneously. I do think however that my mind is full of stuff from reading many many books over the years and so the world sort of just materialised in my head.

What’s the difference between an alchemist and warlock? What are they fighting about?

That’s a great question because the further back into history you go, the more the lines become blurred. Alchemists were really the proto-scientists of their age and there was a time when they were greatly respected. Men like John Dee and Edward Kelley were personal advisors of Elizabeth I. Isaac Newton was al alchemist too and they sought to explain the world with reference to the metaphysical which was very much part of the general frame of reference during those times. I think alchemists became less relevant as research into physics and chemistry developed. Warlocks on the other hand are the masculine form of witches.

In a Conspiracy of Alchemists, The Alchemists are followers of the occult and I was inspired by historical characters such as Aleister Crowley and his Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Warlocks on the other hand were inspired by the Freemasons in the way they are organised. Both sides harness the power of the universe, but they have different methods and philosophies. And it is this dwindling power that is the reason they are in conflict with one another.

Your character, Elle Chance, is an airship pilot. She’s daring, brave and bold. How similar is she to you?

I’d like to think that I am daring, brave and bold, I’m not nearly as daring as Elle is. Elle is a complex character – more complex than I think most readers appreciate. The way we think today is radically different to the way people thought in 1903 and this is especially so when it comes to women. Creating a character that is accessible to the modern reader but at the same time historically accurate is a big challenge. It’s very interesting though, because most of the character traits that modern female readers experience as negative are those that were true to the time. Such is the profound impact that feminism in the 20th Century has had on the world. I also think that there are bits of the author in every character they create, but it’s probably best that these remain a secret.

Steampunk has been a huge draw for fans of imaginative literature over the last several years. What keeps people coming back to it?

Steampunk is fun and the aesthetics are hugely appealing. It is a genre which is self aware -much more so than many other genres. Steampunk gives you permission to enjoy pantomime villains who twirl their moustaches and laugh maniacally while they tie a maiden to the train tracks. I think it is this sense of fun and irreverence which draws people to it.

What’s next for you? Is there a sequel in the works?

Lots of things. The next instalment of the Chronicles of Shadow and Light is called A CLOCKWORK HEART and will be out in mid 2013 and I am currently working on the third book in the series. I am also planning to be in the US in July for San Diego Comic Con which is hugely exciting.

Thank you for having me!