In The Library at Castle Herriot by Stephanie Barr, Sophia is a repressed literature teacher, afraid of love and passion and spontaneity after watching her mother’s trip into madness after her father’s death. She’s hoping for a quiet little holiday in a lodge in Scotland to, well, read. A naughty cat, a brutal thunderstorm, and a few missteps bring her to Castle Herriot, an occupied castle on an island in the loch, where she’s like to be trapped a day or so with its eccentric keeper. At least it has a library.
But in this library, is a hidden library that Sophia finds—and it’s never coincidence—and she gets lost in the pages of one of the special books inside. When she stumbles back out with the unfinished book, she finds she’s lost in a whole different way.
“You expect me to believe that removing this book from the little secret room has transported us all back in time and that we’re trapped here in a storybook until the events have played out. You think I’ll believe that?”
“It doesn’t matter if you can believe it or not. It’s the Gods’ own truth. Would you fight me so hard if part of you didn’t already believe?”
She cradled the book in her hands as the hairs on her arm lifted again. She knew, absolutely, that this was the same book that she had read so many hours the night before, that he hadn’t changed it. She had. With tears starting in her eyes, she said, “I’m sorry.”
“Wisht, darlin’, now don’t be crying. Tis a hardship, right enough, but you didn’t know what would happen.” Charly scratched his head, clearly at a loss as the first tear fell down her cheek. “It’s the problem with secrets; you can’t rightly warn a body without giving it away. Dry your tears, won’t you? I canna bear it.”
“What can we do?” she asked.
The tears stopped and Charly breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, it’s complicated. There are some rather challenging aspects of this story, some that may be hard for one or both of us to stomach. But, if we don’t carry the story on to the end, we’ll never get back to our own world.”
“We’ll be trapped?”
“Aye.” He seemed about to say something else but didn’t.
Sophia refilled her cup. “Well? Don’t you know what happens? You talked like you knew what will happen.”
“It doesn’t work that way, sweetheart. I know the pivotal parts of the book, those steps that we must fulfill if we want to escape the book. I know what the outside characters do, as long as we follow the plans, because that part doesn’t change. But there’s no telling that you and me will do what needs doing when it needs doing.”
Sophia frowned over this last bit and kept sipping coffee while she mused. “Nope, I don’t see the problem. If you know the script, all we have to do is read our lines.”
“Well,” Charly temporized. “There’s a few potential hitches. First, the book, like most of them from that room, only provides the pivotal events we’re responsible for. It’s from the point of view of that belligerent bear out there. The lines, as you say, and details are left for us to fill in, ad-lib as they say in the states. Secondly, some of the pivotal events don’t sit very well with me; in fact, they scare me senseless, and I’m not sure you’ll like a few yourself.”
“I’ve changed my own mother’s nappies. If I have to do something unpleasant, I should be able to.”
Charly paled a bit. “Ah, well, perhaps unpleasant may not be the right word, but that leads me to the third thing. I can’t tell you what to do. You’ll have to decide for yourself.”
“Good God, why?”
You can also read a free precursor story on the origin of this library called Altered Page.
A Bite of… Stephanie Barr
How much of you is in your hero/villain?
On the one hand, not very much, less probably than my average heroine (I try to have as little in common with my villains as I can because I tend toward really nasty villains). She’s book-smart in the old-fashioned meaning of book smart/bookish and is almost a caricature of that stereotype when we begin. She’s not assertive. She dresses super frumpy. She’s not adventurous. BUT she’s also severely traumatized, first by the death of her father while she was a teenager and secondly by caring for a mother who responded to his death with a descent into madness. Between the two events, her own grieving and her creativity and imagination are set aside to deal with necessities. Even after her mother is out of the picture and she doesn’t have the same challenges, she’s caught in a tight world she demanded of no surprises and minimal passion. To her, loving someone wholeheartedly equates with insanity.
Now, obviously, I haven’t let go my creativity and imagination, but the need for security in my everyday life, I can identify with that with Sophy, the growing up ahead of time, the fear of uncertainty. I’m not much for traveling and adventure. I do love to curl up with a good book. And she has some of my OCD quirks, like hating to watch a movie in the theater if she misses the first few minutes. All or nothing. And I love that way.
I’m also readily thrown when my equilibrium/routine is disrupted and I don’t have a game plan for escape. So, we have that in common, too. Maybe there’s more of me than I first thought.
You’ll be pleased to know I don’t share her love of decadent underwear. Nor do I have an obsession with coffee. But I do like cats. 😊
Would you rather live in this world or the one you create in your books?
I have never created a world I’d rather be in than my current self (that might change with a future book, but so far it holds steady). In fact, for this book, that’s part of the point, slipping into a romantic world of seventh-century Scotland and not sugar-coating the hard labor and inconveniences, the lack of caffeine and plumbing, the miserable role most women were pushed into, the miserable existence for much of the poor. All that gets highlighted because it’s one of the reasons the past isn’t much of an allure to me.
Most of my fantasy is set in similar times so, no, I don’t wish I was there. My space sci fi has its own challenges. The closest to being comfortable is my near-term SF like Saving Tessa where it’s much like now only more so (and more environmentally friendly) or Catalyst which is pretty much set in the now. But those are variations on my here and now and not really new worlds. So far, I haven’t made a new world that I like better than now.
What is worse, ignorance or stupidity?
Ignorance—pure ignorance—can be cured. Stupidity is harder and not the same from person to person. Generally, I would stupidity can be cured, too, with patience. You can’t teach a person to be clever so much but you can help people who struggle in some areas to work around them, to find methods to deal with them, to find the aspects of their intelligence that works best. No one is stupid at everything. Innocent ignorance and stupidity can be cured for anyone willing to make the effort (and who can find good instruction).
But they have to want to be. Willful ignorance, the kind that revels in their own lack of intellect, those who refuse to learn or even acknowledge different views, that is much harder to cure. And, it’s been my observation, people who are willfully ignorant fit in every segment of society and do a great deal of damage. Once you’ve decided you already know, that you have “common sense” so don’t need those pesky facts, that being intelligent and questioning things is the sign of a fool, it is very hard to cure ignorance or the limited logic used to lock that ignorance in place.
So my answer is wilful ignorance (which is stupid, in my opinion), so the combination?
Although Stephanie Barr is a slave to three children and a slew of cats, she actually leads a double life as a part-time novelist and full-time rocket scientist. People everywhere have learned to watch out for fear of becoming part of her stories. Beware! You might be next!