Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Danger areas

The big showdown at the end of The Explosionist takes place in a dynamite factory on the Scottish coast.

Though the novel takes place in an alternate version of history that's different from the history of our own world, lots of things are in fact quite similar, and this factory existed (for real!) in our world also. Here is the 1897 magazine story about the Nobel Dynamite Factory at Ardeer that I found most useful for research purposes...

(Hmmm, once upon a time I had a link online to a facsimile of the original article, which gives a better feel for the period - I cannot find it again now - but I am grateful to the administrator of that site for having made the full text accessible!)

This picture appeared in the original article, and if you've read my novel, it will be easy for you to see how it - along with the accompanying description of young female factory workers getting searched for any metal they might have on them before going into the nitroglycerin house, where a single spark could lead to lethal consequences - fed into the scene I envisioned:

My father was in Scotland as I was finishing the novel, and he made an expedition to the site to take some pictures. It was a working factory well into the twentieth century (here's a good article on dynamiteur Alfred Nobel's Scottish enterprises), and for a brief period a few years ago, it seemed as though the site would serve as the location for a permanent exhibition called The Big Idea, on the history of invention in general and Nobel prize-winners more specifically. But the project closed down - here's a description of it in its heyday - and the pictures my father took speak of the devastating but beautiful effects of the passage of time.

(All pictures courtesy of Ian H. Davidson. Thanks, dad!)

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