The Locations of Illumination 4: Bangor University

My old university features heavily in Illumination. I spent the best years of my life at Bangor, and I wanted to include the college in the story (it features much more prominently in the sequel, though!). Life at Bangor is terrific – because it’s a small town, it is a civic university that feels like a campus. Everyone knows each other. In one direction is the sea, in the other the mountains. The friends I made at Bangor are still good friends today.

Main Arts Building, Bangor

The Main Arts Building, overlooking the city of Bangor

There are three academic locations in the book, the Professor’s rooms in the Main Arts Building, the university library and outside a hall of residence. The Main Arts building is an imposing structure on the hill above the town, built in 1911. Inside, it feels like an archetypal university building, with high-ceilinged hallways, stained glass and impressive public rooms. The largest is called the Prichard-Jones Hall, after a well-known benefactor, a local boy who founded Dickins & Jones department store in London. He lends his name to my Professor in the book, with a slight change to the spelling of his name, as a nod to the surname of an old college friend of mine.

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The Locations of Illumination 3: Bangor Cathedral

Bangor Cathedral is very old – St. Deiniol founded his first cell on the site in the early 6th century. He was consecrated as a Bishop in 546 and his church became a cathedral. It was attacked (and in some cases destroyed) in 1073 by Vikings, 1210 by King John’s men and 1402 in the Glyndwr rebellion. Much of the present building dates from the 16th century, with Sir George Gilbert-Scott’s restoration in the late 19th century, and the central tower completed in the 1960s.

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Houses in Illumination

Warning: Spoilers!

In Illumination, the houses that Uncle Toby and Professor Pritchard-Jones live in are quite important clues to their characters. Hawlings has an imposing, but quite cold and frightening exterior; inside it’s dark and full of secrets, just like its owner. Nemeton, by contrast, is very different – the Tudor mansion itself is empty, and the ‘real’ Nemeton is the grove of oaks in the grounds. The character who lives here presents a respectable front (like the Tudor house provides for the grove), but his real nature is unorthodox, romantic, warm and closely allied to all things natural. So if you want to know a character’s true nature, look at their house!

I chose the name Hawlings as a nod to the book that was partly responsible for inspiring the story, John Masefield’s The Box of Delights. In that book, the mansion is called Seekings, but the wise old man of the book is called Cole Hawlings; a good character, so perhaps it’s a bit unsuitable to name the house after him. However, like the old man, the house in Illumination is ancient and full of secrets.

Nemeton, however, is a very old Celtic word meaning a sacred grove or a place of sanctuary. In Illumination, the house is both these things. You can find out more here.

The Locations of Illumination 2: Llanfaglan Church

Wide shot of Llanfaglan Church

Llanfaglan Church across the fields

One of the more romantic, true-life elements in Illumination is the pirate’s grave in the churchyard of St. Baglan’s church at Llanfaglan. I’m not sure where I first heard about it, but I investigated it in the autumn of 2009. The church itself is outside the village of Llanfaglan. When I arrived, I couldn’t see a church anywhere, and had to ask a passerby, an older inhabitant who clearly knew about the history of the place, as he said “Looking for the pirate’s grave, are you?” He directed me out of the village to the very edge of the Menai Straits. A couple of times, I thought I’d taken a wrong turn, until I spotted the lonely church standing in a field. Like the characters in the book, I trudged up a ploughed field, and into the graveyard.

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