Books, Writing

What I’ve Been Up To Lately


Researching Demero’s stories, mostly.

ResearchMissing from this picture are:

  • The South-West to AD1000 (A Regional History of England) – Malcolm Todd
  • The Celts: A Very Short Introduction – Barry Cunliffe
  • Britain Begins – Barry Cunliffe

The map the books are on is the brilliant Ordnance Survey’s Historial Map of Ancient Britain, showing Devon and Cornwall there as the old Iron Age kingdom of the Dumnonii.

So far over the last two and a bit weeks I’ve read Britain BC and Britain AD both by Francis Pryor, The History of Ancient Britain by Neil Oliver, and The Celts, I’m currently part-way through the other Barry Cunliffe book, and I’ve abandoned The Druids. I’ve had that book for years, and I couldn’t remember why I abandoned it last time. I remember now – it’s so boring.

I really enjoyed Neil Oliver’s book, but I had mixed feelings about Francis Pryor’s two. Britain BC is good to begin with, but as it goes on the focus narrows increasingly onto the East Anglia/South-East area of England. I know that’s his personal patch, and he’s been working on Flag Fen for thirty years, but it got really irritating. He also has a few hobby-horses (a fully egalitarian society would be a lovely thing, though unlikely considering human nature, but you can’t make it so just by cherry-picking your sources), and has a tendency to excessively belabour certain points. That was made painfully obvious in Britain AD where he went on and on and on about how there was never an Anglo-Saxon invasion. That’s great everything, but he really didn’t need to bang on about it in every chapter. Also, not impressed with his coverage of the South-West in either volume (half a page on the Dartmoor Reaves, which even he acknowledged are the best preserved in Europe – this was after twenty-odd pages on Flag Fen), which showed up particularly badly in AD when the main thrust of the chapter supposedly about the South-West seemed centred on the mid-Welsh border. Great, because he didn’t really write much about Wales (in a book subtitled A Quest for Arthur, Anglo-Saxons and England, that’s pretty poor), but bad because it isn’t remotely south, and only just about west!

Sure, Oliver had a slight Scottish bias, but that’s understandable and his range of case studies made it fully understandable. His writing was more engaging too. Basically I just enjoyed reading it (and probably learned more, especially when he spent more than a few pages in the actual South-West).

The Celts was a bit dull, and I’m so far struggling with the other Barry Cunliffe book, but that’s because it’s covering much of the same ground as The Celts (and I’ve only read the first chapter). I’m pretty sure it’ll improve, especially as this man is one of the leading experts on the Iron Age, so I’m hoping for lots of good information. It’s also from 2011 (Kindle edition from 2013), so it’s pretty up-to-date too. (Pryor’s books were from early 2000s, so he was missing some of the important and more recent discoveries, but he probably would have ignored them in favour of pushing his idea of no elites and a big ol’ communal living Bronze Age.)

Unsurprisingly, in terms of what I need, the Malcolm Todd book has been the best, but it’s from the 1980s, so I can feel the time-lag. Still, at least it gives me a proper sense of what was going around here at the time I need. The book I’m really expecting to fill in my gaping gaps of knowledge for Demero’s tales is Surviving the Iron Age, but I’m saving it for last. I’ve already learned that chickens are a no-no, so that needs taking out. I was going to have a little bit about oysters, but though they had been eaten here before, apparently around the Roman times the locals had gone off them again.

Urgh. This is why I write most of my fantasy in other, made-up worlds. It’s only the Aekhartain who can do this to me and get away with it. I much prefer worlds where I control the rate of progress, the supply of livestock and advances in architecture and fashion. Okay, so this is mostly because I’m too lazy to research, but I’ve been getting away with it for ages now. Trust Demero to haul me back into line. I dread the day when I finally turn my attention back to Shaiel’s tale. Icarus Child is the biggest of the Aekh tales (about 150K) and it’s going to be a nightmare to tidy up.

Which is why I’m not doing it yet. Demero and Nawaquí should be practise enough for the meantime. And I did discover some interesting facts about Viking raids in this area just the other day. I’m sensing Nawaquí’s tale at least is going to be much more interesting this time around.

Oh well, back to the research grindstone. At least I have a pretty map to drool over, and all kinds of Bronze Age excursions to plan. And the sun is shining, the sky is blue, spring is springing. Happy days!

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