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Walk the locations of Spitting Gold with Carmella Lowkis

  • Submitted: 21st April 2024

Spitting Gold with Carmella Lowkis

Like many people, I discovered the musical Les Misérables thanks to the 2012 film starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. This quickly led to an obsession with the original book and other works of French literature such as The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac. Diving into these novels, I became closely acquainted with Paris in the 1800s, falling in love with its transforming streets and buildings.

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

Ghostly LGBTQ+ novel set in PARIS

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

As well as being a beautiful historic city, Paris during the nineteenth century is also the perfect setting for a Gothic tale. Before Haussmann’s redesign was completed, its medieval streets would have been a maze of dark twists and turns. The bloody shadow of the French Revolution still loomed large and, despite the promises of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’, class disparity continued to cause social conflict.

Carmella reading Spitting Gold in the Place des Vosges

Carmella reading Spitting Gold in the Place des Vosges

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

Most of the specific locations in Spitting Gold no longer exist, or are fictionalised versions of real places. This was on purpose – I didn’t want to break the magic by accidentally choosing a street address where there’s now a McDonalds! (This was my sad experience when I visited the site of the barricade from Les Misérables in 2017.)

Victor Hugo's house in Place des Vosges (1)Victor Hugo's house in Place des Vosges (1)

Victor Hugo’s house in Place des Vosges

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

The de Jacquinot family in Spitting Gold live in the fictional place des Chevaux, which is based on the place des Vosges in the Marais district. The Marais was an attractive place for the aristocracy prior to the Revolution, but by 1866 (when my book takes place), it would have fallen out of fashion. The word ‘marais’ means ‘marsh’, as the area was once swampland. This was always going to be the location of my haunted house, as I wanted to show how the de Jacquinots are bogged down in their noble past, stubbornly clinging to a lost glory.

The Morgue

The Morgue

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

While I’ve spent time exploring the city in person on several occasions, the majority of my research took place in old books and maps. One of my favourite gruesome discoveries in this process was the Paris Morgue, located on the Île de la Cité. As well as being a functional morgue, it doubled as a macabre tourist attraction, where visitors could come to see drowned bodies fished out of the Seine and put on display. I couldn’t resist sneaking it into Spitting Gold, even though it wasn’t really relevant to the plot.

Les Halles

Les Halles

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

Another interesting strand of research was into the city’s LGBTQ+ history, as I wanted to know what the experiences of the queer characters in Spitting Gold may have looked like. The book Sexual Moralities in France, 1780-1980 by Antony Copley was a brilliant resource on this, despite its dry title. I learned that, under the Second Empire, the public lavatories at Les Halles market were a gay cruising hotspot. To prevent any funny business between toilet stalls, the city tried replacing wooden partitions with iron ones, but it wasn’t an effective deterrent.

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

Although sex between men had been legal since the Revolution, there was still the threat of a pubic ‘indecency’ scandal, so male sex work went hand-in-hand with blackmail. Reading about this was what inspired me to add the character Mimi to my book – a former sex worker turned blackmailer – who became one of my favourites to write.

Pere Lachaise

Pere Lachaise (c) C Lowkis

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

I recently visited Paris for the first time since completing Spitting Gold, and took a walking tour of the book’s main locations, seeing some of them for the first time in real life. I’d thought it would take some effort to hunt for glimpses of the nineteenth-century city, but instead I was reminded of just how much history is easily accessible all around us, if we look for it. Even in fully redeveloped areas, clues slip through in the form of street names or mis-matched brickwork.

Map of locations in Spitting Gold

The past is always in dialogue with the present. That’s what I love most about writing historical fiction, too: it unites what came before with what’s here right now.

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass:  Spitting Gold

Twitter: @carmellalowkis

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