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Sparks of Bright Matter set in Georgian London and Cork

  • Submitted: 14th April 2024

Sparks of Bright Matter set in London/Cork

Time for tea this Sunday with cream cakes and hot sweet drinks ready for everyone. Let’s dust off  the taffeta and

Sparks of Bright Matter is set in Georgian London and on a remote mountain in the south west of Ireland. The locations were so important to the writing of this book that they felt like characters in their own right.

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

Sparks of Bright Matter Leeaane ODonnell

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

I lived in London for a year and was fascinated by the layers of history beneath the modern cityscape. Peter Ackroyd writes in London: A History that a woolly mammoth was discovered during the construction of Kings Cross station. Crocodiles, hyenas, bears and wolves have all been found under London’s streets. I had a sense of the history beneath me waiting to be peeled back like the layers of an onion. While writing Sparks I visited the locations and tried to tune into the 18th century history concealed below.

Sparks of Bright Matter map (c) Bonnier

Sparks of Bright Matter map (c) Bonnier

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

London in this book is foggy, gothic, grimy and Georgian. The story begins during a spring fog in 1780. Peter Woulfe, respected scientist and secret alchemist, is about to lose his temper with disastrous consequences. Based on a real life Irishman, Woulfe lived in immensely cluttered rooms in Barnards Inn off Fetter Lane in Holborn. Overflowing with apparatus, his rooms were so chaotic that a visitor once put down his hat and never found it again. Barnards Inn still exists though it was partly destroyed by fire during the Gordon Riots of 1780. Fetter Lane exists too, but has been rebuilt and is very different to the crowded, noisy, dirty 18th century version.

Barnards Inn off Fetter Lane in Holborn

Woulfe spends Sparks secretly trying to produce the Philosopher’s stone – a way to turn ordinary metals into gold and achieve spiritual enlightenment. I immediately imagined him trudging through the mud and detritus of a smelly, over-crowded city while in search of the transcendent.

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

This was the London of writers, chemists, botanists, explorers and visitors from all over the world. Peter visits Temple Coffee House in Devereux Court. A coffee house famed for hosting meetings of the most celebrated botanists and natural scientists of the time.

Devereux Court

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

I found Ackroyd’s history of London an invaluable resource. I poured over Roque’s 1746 map of London and fell in love with the names I found there. Fetter lane, Chick lane, Magpie Alley, Foxes Court, Maiden Lane.

Craven Street:

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

Peter’s fictional nemesis Robert Perle lives on the wonderfully ominous Craven Street and dissects cadavers in his basement. I discovered after I had placed Perle on Craven Street that in real life human remains were found underneath a building near his house. It turns out these were the remnants of an anatomy school run on Craven Street in the 18th century. Discovering this after I had given Perle a taste for cutting up the dead, gave me a real shiver.

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

The other main location in Sparks is very different. I now live in an old stone farmhouse on the foothills of a mountain called Mount Gabriel in Co Cork. A small, beautiful mountain that rises up from Atlantic coast like an ancient, mythic creature.

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

Living here makes me wonder – are some places really more magical than others? In Irish folklore we have the idea of the veil between the worlds. There is this world that we see all the time – the bricks and mortar world of day to day human concerns. And there is another world where magical beings hold sway and the spirits of the departed roam free. These worlds are separated by a ‘veil’ and in some places that veil is so thin than we can see through and spirits can cross over. The veil feels very thin at times here on Mount Gabriel.

Sparks of Bright Matter Leeaane ODonnell

Map of locations in Sparks of Bright Matter

Bridey, probably the most important character in Sparks, lives in a stone ‘cabin’ on Peter’s family farm on Mount Gabriel. My sense of her was deeply linked to the landscape here.

She claims to move between the worlds and deal with magical beings on the other side. She is a potent, mysterious woman whose earthy ‘magic’ follows Peter Woulfe throughout his life.

 

Thank you Leanne! A very special trail of some fascinating locations.

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass:  Sparks of Bright Matter

 

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