The Glass Woman, the debut thriller by Alice McIlroy
Author Interview + Book & Author Info + Author Pet Corner
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The Glass Woman
Black Mirror meets Before I Go to Sleep by way of Severance.
If you could delete all the hurt and pain from your life… would you? Even if you weren’t sure what would be left?
Pioneering scientist Iris Henderson awakes in a hospital bed with no memories. She is told that she is the first test-subject for an experimental therapy, placing a piece of AI technology into her brain. She is also told that she volunteered for it. But without her memories, Iris doesn’t know what the therapy is or why she would ever choose it.
Everyone warns her to leave it alone, but Iris doesn’t know who to trust. As she scratches beneath the surface of her seemingly happy marriage and successful career, a catastrophic chain of events is set in motion, and secrets will be revealed that have the capacity to destroy her whole life.
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Interview with Alice McIlroy — Author of The Glass Woman
The Glass Woman involves lost memories and AI. What drew you to those two topics for your debut?
I’ve always been fascinated by the fallibility of memory, and the use of this in fiction for unreliable narrators.
In 2017, when I began writing the novel, I started to become really frightened by the potential consequences of AI, especially if we didn’t start talking about the ethical implications. The two themes, memory and AI, combined in the creation of The Glass Woman – I was interested in how AI could impact on someone’s identity, and I took this to the extreme with scientist Iris being a test subject trialling a pioneering AI brain implant.
The Glass Woman centers on Iris Henderson, what would you like readers to know about her?
If you like unreliable narrators, hopefully you’ll find Iris interesting, even if she’s not always loveable.
All of the characters in The Glass Woman are intended to be morally questionable, and Iris is no exception to this. At the start of the novel, she wakes up in a hospital setting with amnesia and no recollection of who she is. Consequently, the reader meets her at her most vulnerable, and goes on the journey with her as she begins to reconstruct her own identity and discover her past.
The Glass Woman weaves different voices together from chapter to chapter. How did you keep those threads clear in your writing process? Why tackle such a difficult form for your debut novel?
Yes, there are two main voices in the novel: protagonist and scientist Iris’ voice and then the second person voice of the AI brain implant, Ariel, which she trials.
At the beginning of the novel, Iris wakes up with no memory and I think my debut took me as long as it did for this reason – writing first-person narration from the point of view of a character who is grappling to reconstruct her identity was quite a challenge for a first novel!
I enjoyed the challenge though and tackling a difficult form was part of the excitement for me, although it did take many attempts! The Iris sections were written first and then Ariel’s voice was woven in, so they were quite distinct in my head.
Tell us about your publishing journey with The Glass Woman.
It’s been a long journey! I began writing The Glass Woman in 2017 and since then, I’ve written a second novel, and re-written The Glass Woman almost from scratch (well, from one third of the way through).
In 2021, my agent then suggested a tonal shift towards horror, which I did. My publisher, Datura, took on the book in May 2022 and over eighteen months later, it is incredibly exciting that it will soon be on the shelves!
What can we find you doing when you aren’t writing psychological thrillers?
Ideally, walking in remote parts of the UK and Ireland – the Lake District and West Coast of Ireland with my husband, lots of reading, or listening to ghost stories – love the radio and BBC iPlayer series Uncanny.
What are you working on now?
My second novel is completely different to The Glass Woman, although it is similarly speculative in genre and includes aspect of horror. Where The Glass Woman focuses on quite a claustrophobic setting and relationships, my second novel is far more macro in scope and explores our relationship with what we leave behind in the earth.
I’ve also started sketching out a third novel which is more similar in style to The Glass Woman.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
Persevere – in such a competitive field, tenacity is really important, and the willingness to take on and be responsive to feedback. I would also advise writers to have an idea for a second book in the pipeline and to begin a second book before the first is published.
Author Pet Corner!
Alice McIlroy — Author of The Glass Woman
Alice McIlroy’s writing has been longlisted for the Stylist Prize for Feminist Fiction and Grindstone International Novel Prize.
Her debut novel, The Glass Woman, was published on 2nd January 2024 by Datura/Angry Robot Books.
Elena Taylor/Elena Hartwell
Header image from Pixabay