Sovereign Luxury Travel Interviews Susan Stokes-Chapman, Author of Pandora

As part of our partnership with Susan Stokes-Chapman to support the launch of her paperback book, Pandora, we sat down with her to chat about the book and all things Georgian and Greek mythology. 

Follow along to find out what inspires Susan to be a writer and how she wrote bestseller, Pandora.  

To find out more about Susan’s new book and for your chance to win a Sovereign Luxury Holiday to Greece, visit our competition page here.

Tell us about your book, Pandora?

My novel Pandora is a loose re-interpretation of the Greek myth Pandora’s Box, set in the antiquity scene of Georgian London. It’s the story of Dora Blake, a tenacious and passionate young woman who dreams of being a jewellery artist. She lives with her uncle Hezekiah in the dark and crumbling antique shop he inherited from Dora’s parents who died years before in an archaeological dig gone wrong. The novel opens with the arrival of a mysterious shipment which her uncle acts really strangely around and won’t let Dora anywhere near. Completely intrigued as to what it is and why Hezekiah is behaving so oddly, she breaks into the basement where he keeps it, and what Dora finds there is an ancient and beautifully preserved Grecian vase. She ends up joining forces with Edward Lawrence, a kind and intelligent antiquarian scholar, and together they discover that the vase is the key to unlocking their destinies …

Why did you choose to set the book in the Georgian period?

I’ve loved the Georgian period ever since I watched the 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, so I was always going to write a novel set in that era. Linking the Georgians with Ancient Greece might on the surface seem a bit of a stretch, but the reality is that it was surprisingly easy to do. The Georgians were inspired by Grecian styling – look at their Regency fashions and much of the eighteenth-century architecture in London that still stands today! It was inevitable, then, that I should combine these two periods of history in the novel. It is actually a mistranslation by the Dutch philosopher Erasmus that puts a box into the Pandora myth – in his Latin account of the story, he changed the Greek pithos (a vase) to pyxis, meaning, literally, ‘box’ – and this got me thinking about Greek pottery which inevitably led to antiquities … another deep love of the Georgians. Basically, the whole thing was a no-brainer!

Where do you find your inspiration for your stories?

Usually, it is a place or an event in history, and then I work around that in terms of research – it’s like going down a rabbit hole, where you become immersed in historical resources. I often visit archives so I can hold a little bit of history in my hands, or go to the places I’ve read about if it’s at all possible. I also have a lot of framed historical prints on the wall above my desk, from cityscapes, country scenes and one of my favourites is a depiction of the Death of Nelson. I find looking at them really inspiring. Often, I refer to authentic maps – for Pandora I referred extensively to Horwood’s map of London dated 1792-99. It’s a really handy resource found on if anyone’s interested.

Are your characters inspired by real people or entirely fictional?

Dora Blake, of course, was inspired by the original Greek Pandora (whether she was inspired by a real person is anyone’s guess), and Cornelius Ashmole’s name took a nod from the antiquary Elias Ashmole who not only had a direct link to the Society of Antiquaries, but was from Lichfield in Staffordshire, my home city. There were real people featured in the novel too, though – William Hamilton, his wife Emma, and Richard Gough all existed pretty much how I wrote them.

How do you choose your characters names?

Either they are inspired by someone else (as with Cornelius), or they simply pop into my head. However, I am always inspired one way or the other by names from the era. They must be realistic. It wouldn’t do, for instance, to call a character an ultra-modern name like Aimee or Jaxon! 

Do you know the end of your book before you begin writing, or does it evolve as you go along?

I usually have an idea, yes, but it can change completely or develop as I go along. For Pandora, certainly, I knew exactly how I wanted it to end. But … no spoilers!

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I was always fascinated by archaeology and palaeontology as a child, so perhaps something in that field. But I also liked the idea of being an actress when I was younger – unsurprisingly, I always loved period dramas and would have killed for a part in one of those!

Where do you go to recharge your batteries?

Thankfully I live in Eyri (Snowdonia) National Park in North Wales, so there’s a lot of beauty around to inspire me when the tank is empty! I’ll take myself off for a walk or a drive in the countryside, or perhaps a long stroll on the beach. If the weather isn’t up to scratch then settling down with a good book, a cup of tea or wine, and some scented candles is always a winner. I love ‘outdoorsy’ smells best! 

If you could choose anywhere in the world to write where would it be and why?

I already live somewhere extremely beautiful, so it’s hard to think of anywhere else! Saying that, I would love one day to go on a proper writer’s retreat – somewhere located deep in nature, surrounded by trees and water and birdsong and absolutely nothing else. Completely off-grid. If that can’t be described as a dream writing scenario I don’t know what can.

Have you ever been inspired to visit a destination based on a book you read? 

There are many places in literature that have made me want to go there, but so far I’ve yet to fulfil the dream! I always fancied Prince Edward Island from Anne of Green Gables, Transylvania from Dracula, New Orleans from some historical romance novels I used to read as a teen … If I had all the time and money in the world I’d spend about six months of the year travelling and the other six writing!

If you could recommend one book what would it be and where would you suggest to read it?

I have a lot of novels I would recommend, but if I had to pick just one then Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is a must. It’s extremely gritty – you can taste and hear and smell old London, and then later the stately home and the institute beyond. It’s visceral, an absolute feast for the senses, and has the best twist I’ve ever read. As for where to read it? Somewhere relaxing where you can take yourself off for a walk and a breather when you need it. Outside and somewhere warm preferably! It’s a rather cold novel.

What is the best and worst thing about being an author?

I have to say the worst thing is when you’re writing a novel and get dreadfully stuck. Usually this comes half way through for me – the soggy middle, as it’s so often called! I knew where I wanted to take Dora and Edward in Pandora, but getting them to reach those pivotal plot points I found quite difficult. I spent about three months suffering from writer’s block where I got quite upset about my lack of progress until, eventually, I managed to push through. The best thing about being an author is seeing your book out in the world and knowing readers enjoy it – meeting people who have taken the time to come see you at events, it’s a really wonderful feeling, and makes the worst part 100% worth it! 


Favourite childhood book? Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery. 

Top three destinations on your bucket list?
Egypt, the Amazon jungle, the Italian lakes. 

Three things you always travel with? Chewing gum, wet wipes, and a Kindle. 

Which 3 people would make up your dream dinner party? Mary Wollstoncraft, Mary Shelley (because what things they would say to each other as mother and daughter who never met!), and the fictional Jane Eyre – hers and the two Marys principles are so different it would be fascinating to sit back and watch the conversation play out! 

What are 3 words to describe yourself? Stubborn, Impatient, Dreamer. 

Which profession do you look at and think: “I’d love to be able to do that?” Archaeology. 

What are you grateful for? The opportunities I’ve been given. 

What is one thing everyone should do? Take a risk and challenge yourself – I’m afraid of heights, but I forced myself to do a tandem skydive once in Prague, and it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done! 

What are you reading right now? I have a whole load of proofs I’m trying to work through, but I’m currently reading the excellent The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson, due out in June 2023. 

Susan Stokes-Chapman’s Pandora is out now in paperback, read an extract here.  

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