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Ireland’s Victorian Vampires: The Legend of Valentine Sorrow by Caroline Busher

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews
Valentine Sorrow

By Caroline Busher

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Many great novelists have used the Victorian Era as a backdrop to their work. What better atmosphere for a vampire story than a bleak lamp lit street encroached upon by a menacing, thick fog? It was a fascinating era inhabited by ghosts and ghouls. 

My latest novel The Legend of Valentine Sorrow (Poolbeg Press) is shortlisted for the Teen and YA book of the year at the Irish Book Awards. The book was inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, one of the greatest gothic novels of all time. 

As I embarked upon my research I wanted to know what inspired Bram Stoker to write a book about Vampires and I discovered an intriguing story.  Charlotte Thornley who was the mother of Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, came from County Sligo. She survived the Cholera Epidemic in 1832 and provided a harrowing eyewitness account of it. It is believed the stories that Charlotte Thornley told to her son Bram Stoker, when he was bedridden as a child, inspired him to write Dracula. 

When I wrote my first draft of The Legend of Valentine Sorrow, I had no idea that we were on the brink of a global pandemic. As I sat at home during lockdown reading an extract from Charlotte’s diary, I felt very connected to her. My own mother came from County Sligo and I wondered if any of my own ancestors had survived the cholera epidemic. 

One of the characters in my book, Matilda Clancy, is very inspired by the young Charlotte Thornley who had to flee her home in Sligo during the Cholera Epidemic, in the hope of starting a new life in County Dublin.” 

The Legend of Valentine Sorrow opens in 1832, as the cholera epidemic sweeps across Ireland, bringing with it a plague of extraordinary vampires. They are looking for a new home. Could Ireland be the place they have always dreamed of?

Learning about Bram Stoker’s links to Sligo town led me to set my own novel there. I have visited Sligo Town many times over the last few years as part of my research. On one of my visits, I met with Dr Marion Mc Garry from the Sligo Stoker Society and Mel Ní Mhaolanfaidh from Sligo Walking tours and they took me on a historical tour of Sligo town. Seeing Old Market Street where Charlotte Thornley and her family resided was a highlight for me, especially as this street features in my novel as Valentine’s Sorrow’s Sligo home. Dr Mc Garry was incredibly insightful and explained the various Stoker connections to me. I was astounded by what I discovered.

Cholera is a horrific disease and Sligo was the worst hit provincial town in England or Ireland. No one knew at the time how Cholera was spread. It is believed that up to one thousand five hundred people died in a six week period.  Charlotte Thornley referred to Sligo as “A city of the dead.” Entire families were wiped out within hours. It must have been a terrifying time for her. Panic and terror consumed Sligo town. Poor sanitation and overcrowding meant that Sligo did not stand a chance when Cholera arrived. A curfew on the town prevented people from entering or leaving. In Charlotte Stoker (nee Thornley’s) eyewitness account which is kept in the digital resources section at Trinity College, she remarked on the arrival of the disease:-

“Gradually the terror grew on us, as time by the time we heard of it nearer and nearer. It was in France, it was in Germany, it was in England. And (with wild affright) we heard a whisper pass: it was in Ireland.” 

What really struck me about this was the similarity with the arrival of Covid. We all knew that it was getting closer to Ireland and there was nothing we could do about it except sit and wait. 

Writing The Legend of Valentine Sorrow was like having a conversation with the past and it was a conversation that I did not want to end. 

(c) Caroline Busher

About The Legend of Valentine Sorrow:

Sligo 1832. The cholera epidemic sweeps across Ireland like a secret, bringing with it a family of four hundred year old Vampires.

Unsuspecting orphan, Valentine, is unaware of the Vampires lurking in the shadows, until he finds himself flying through the star filled sky on his way to a Vampire’s Lair.

Matilda, Valentine’s sister, returns home from the fever hospital to discover that her brother Valentine has vanished and she will stop at nothing to find him.

Valentine embarks on the adventure of a lifetime; he is shipwrecked at the foot of an ancient lighthouse, battles with a Vampire Hunter, rescues a mermaid and works as an illusionist. Valentine takes up residence in Casino Marino, an exquisite temple in Dublin with hidden rooms and secret passageways.

It is a race against the clock. Will Valentine ever see Matilda again? Can he overcome the Vampire’s curse? And does he have what it takes to defeat Lorenzo, a wicked Vampire, who has travelled through time to find him?

The Legend of Valentine Sorrow is inspired by Bram Stoker’s mother Charlotte Thornley, and her incredible eyewitness account of the Cholera epidemic in Ireland. Many believe that Charlotte Thornley influenced Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Caroline Busher is the Irish Times best-selling author of The Ghosts of Magnificent Children and The Girl Who Ate The Stars (Poolbeg Books). Her latest novel The Legend of Valentine Sorrow has been shortlisted for the Teen and Young Adult Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. Roddy Doyle describes says the book is “Gripping, vivid and very, very entertaining. I loved it.” Eoin Colfer describes Caroline as “A star of fantasy fiction.”

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