Fiction

Archaeology and Historical Fiction: Creating Characters from Dust

I have a fairly standard background in archaeology (a degree from Cambridge, a PhD from UCL) and have worked both as a museum curator and as a university lecturer. I am also the author of several archaeological books (details can be found on my website), but I currently combine teaching for The Open University with writing historical fiction. My novels are directly inspired by archaeology. My first novel, Undreamed Shores (set in the Early Bronze Age) draws strongly on my own archaeological research carried out in the Channel Islands and elsewhere from 1981 to 1995. My second, An Accidental King (set in the 1st Century AD) is based on published archaeological discoveries at Fishbourne, London, Colchester and Thetford. My third, on which I am currently working, will revisit some of my own discoveries (specifically my excavations at La Hougue Bie, Jersey). For every day that I spend actually writing, I’d say that I spend at least two days researching (often at the British Library, or at the National Archives in Kew, but also visiting museums and the places I plan to write about) and three days editing (today is an editing day). Some of my characters are historical, and some are simply made up (it is fiction, after all), but some are based directly on archaeological discoveries (I have posted a specific example of this on my blog). My move from writing archaeological (and biographical) non-fiction to writing novels inspired by archaeology and history was prompted by a desire to transcend the inevitable limitations of the archaeological record in getting closer to the people of the past, to envisage them as real people with names, passions, hopes and desires, but I try to base my fiction quite closely on the archaeology and the history, writing nothing implausible, and frequently allowing the archaeological record itself to suggest a storyline.

From Cultural Property to Fiction

Cast of part of the Parthenon frieze at UCS

Is there a typical day in the life of a Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus Suffolk?

This is the week of Ip-Art, the Ipswich Arts Festival. On Tuesday night I was at Arlington’s in Museum Street for a poetry evening hosted by Poetry Anglia. The building was constructed as a museum – so it appropriately became the home of the muses! I was invited to be the first reader and offered my ‘Roman Vision‘ reflecting on the Roman remains that peep out among the buildings of modern Athens.

Earlier in the day I had attended an e-learning workshop. There was a focus on the use of iPads, a topic of interest to me through the Gwella project work at Swansea University (in my previous role). I am developing materials that can be delivered to smart phones and tablet devices to assist with the interpretation of archaeological and heritage sites.

Wednesday was the UCS research day. There was a varied programme with a keynote address on e-medicine. I gave a paper, ‘Looting matters: cultural property, conventions and compliance’. This considered a discussion of how recently surfaced antiquities can continue to surface on the market and to be acquired by major museums. I reviewed some of the international guidelines, as well as the ethical codes for museums and dealers in ancient art. The focal point was the compliance (or non-compliance) of dealers and museums when questionable material is identified. (For more on this topic see ‘Looting Matters‘.) Earlier in the week I had received my offprint of a study of the material returned to Italy from Princeton University Art Museum.

The same research conference included a discussion of project management from a colleague in the Business School. We have developed an interesting dialogue about the management of ancient projects. I was struck by the wording the (Athenian) Eleusinian Epistatai decree of the 430s BC that cites the way that the ‘management’ structure for the temple (presumably the Parthenon) and the statue (presumably the Athena Promachos) should be used as a model.

The Sainsbury Centre at UEA

Yesterday was spent in a series of meetings at UEA in Norwich. Part of the day involved discussions in the Sainsbury Centre and it was good to see the series of Cycladic marble figures from the southern Aegean. These figures formed the subject of a research paper with Christopher Chippindale (Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) that was published in the American Journal of Archaeology [JSTOR]. It was the first in a series of studies about cultural property.

One of the trends on Twitter yesterday was the submission of online poetry from around the world to celebrate the forthcoming Olympics.  I offered my ‘Shaded Marbles‘ as an audio track with appropriate images. The theme is on (historic) cultural property currently in the British Museum. (The Greek theme was appropriate given the origins of the Games.)

Another of my roles is as Head of the Division of Humanities. So this evening I will be attending the Short Story event in the Spiegeltent at Ip-Art to hear the competition winner announced. I was one of the judges for the short-listing and I have been asked to say something about our institutional support for this literary event.

Chain Bridge Forge – Overview

Chain Bridge Forge: Preserving a 19th Century Blacksmith

It is situated on the east bank of the River Welland about one mile from the town centre, only four metres away from the river itself. The building dates back to the early 1800’s and in 1826 it appeared in White’s Directory and it shows that the Blacksmith was a Francis South. It then appears to have been sold to Edward Fisher who was general town Blacksmith and from his 1850–60 day books it showed his trade also included the servicing the boats that used the port of Spalding. In 1898 the Dodd Family took ownership of the Forge and were recorded as Spalding’s last Harbour Master. Three generations of the Dodd family worked the forge. George Robert Dodd originally from Heckington in Lincolnshire had learnt his trade at Newmarket and presumably it had paid well enough for him to get married and purchase the forge for £280. The Forge had to adapt with the times and in the 1950’s Geoffrey Dodd business almost ended but he turned his hand to making carnival floats for the Spalding Flower parade and this continued for another 30years. In 1989 the building was sold to the local Council and work was done to preserve it structure but sadly was not developed as a museum.

Today we hope to fulfil this vision and The Friends of Chain Bridge Forge has been formed to conserve the artefacts, tell the story of this historic building and build an educational programme which will involve schools and the community. The building is approximately 12.3m long and 6.3m wide. It is subdivided internally into three spaces, the largest of which contains the forge and main work space. The floor is mainly of hard packed earth, with large pieces of stone and slate covering some areas. The building has remained largely unaltered and retains its original contents and is a treasure trove of artefacts and documents which illustrates this wonderful building past and the Blacksmiths that have worked it.

The Forge has recently been awarded £50,000 of Heritage Lottery Funding and therefore the project has commenced. If you would like to follow our progress or would like to contribute then please view our website http://www.chainbridgeforge.co.uk