Monday 18 February 2019

Back to the Bronze Age - by Lu Hersey

Most writers do a lot of research of one kind or another – in fact we can be quite a nerdy bunch. Having just spent an intensive period in a future, post climate change world, looking into plant and animal species that survive desert conditions and working out how to keep people alive through periods of intense heat and drought, I’ve recently taken a quick break in the Bronze Age. 
My replica Bronze Age dagger after a bit of filing

Research can be fun. Sometimes more fun than writing. Writing Deep Water involved a lot of time snorkelling over Cornish seas, studying the sea-life, watching the way the light reflects underwater. Hours. Days. Probably way longer than I needed to. I also visited Fowey Aquarium frequently, communing with the conger eel, watching the pollock swim, and admiring the massive blue lobster. It felt like an essential part of the process… but was it actually just a form of procrastination?

My research for Broken Ground (hopefully out early next year) meant spending hot summer days and even late summer nights in crop circles, wondering at the immensity and complexity of design. Hours of watching water bubbling up in springs. Yes, of course I’ve heard of google – but give me an excuse to do some live research, and I’m there.

Entering a crop circle at twilight

Which is how I came to spend a day earlier this month making a replica Bronze Age dagger. Okay, none of the characters in my current work in progress are actually dagger makers, but after a lethargic, bleak January, I wanted to (literally) fire some energy back into my writing.

stylishly dressed ready for hot metal pouring

Creating something beautiful and potentially useful sounded just the thing to get me started. Not only that, the course was run by an archaeologist who brought finds of Neolithic polished axes and arrow heads with him, as well as a bronze age torc bracelet – AND WE WERE ALLOWED TO PICK THEM UP AND FEEL THEM! For someone like me, that’s close to being in heaven.

Making the mould for the dagger

The process of creating our moulds, using bellows to heat the furnace to an intense, copper-melting temperature, and pouring the liquid metal was almost magical. (In case you’re nerdy enough to be wondering, you add the tin when the copper has already melted – tin melts much faster)

Furnace hot enough to melt copper and tin to make bronze

And the work that goes in when the metal cools down is so much more than I expected – a good few hours of intensive filing, hammering the blade edge, and sanding with glass paper. The result? A rather imperfect, pitted specimen that still needs work – but an invaluable piece of research. Er, probably.

All this research activity may well be stopping me from becoming a Stephen King, who famously just keeps his bum on his seat and writes - and I have to admit he's considerably more productive and successful than me. But sometimes the joy of doing something different can be inspirational in itself.

As writers we spend so many hours, days, weeks, months and even years creating a story, I can really recommend doing something practical for a change. Making something physical, tangible – possibly even useful. Not just a world in your head.

Anyway, not everyone can be Stephen King.

Lu Hersey
twitter: @LuWrites
Some photos courtesy of Laura Daligan and Esther Winckles
Bronze Age dagger making course held at Berrycroft Hub with archaeologist James Dilley


Susan Price said...

Hey, walking in crop circles and making daggers might be procrastination -- but there's no way in the world that it didn't add loads to the writing.

LuWrites said...

Thank you, Susan!! That's what I was hoping... :)

Lynda Waterhouse said...

You've certainly showed the joy and inspiration of doing something different. Can't wait to read the fruits of your labours.

Penny Dolan said...

Such a wonderful experience, Lu! All this impressive research must mean that you book is a very sound and rich novel to read - as well as making a great talk for any lucky young readers.